“Don’t Listen to Her, She’s a Communist”
by Major Zed
[Wherein our intrepid Libertarian encounters a Liberal in the wild – and chokes.]
I was reading “Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal” in the dentist’s waiting room (preparing for the next round of Rand bashing at OT) and tucked the paperback in my baseball cap when I was called into the procedure room. The dental assistant, let’s call her Sue, was a tall white woman in her 50s. She asked what I was reading, so I showed it to her, and she asked how I liked it. I replied that I had read it a long time ago and was refreshing myself on it. I didn’t really want to get into it with her. She led me to the dental chair, then asked how I liked Obama. I admitted that I didn’t especially.
She thought he was great. She went on about how most people are not doing well at all now; that it used to be teens working at McDonald’s but now it’s people struggling to put food on the table. She thought the increase in the minimum wage was a great idea.
Now, this person, in a few minutes, was about to assist in a procedure involving putting high-speed cutting tools inside my mouth. I didn’t think it especially wise to get into a political debate with her. But I wonder how it might have played out…
ALTERNATE HISTORY 1:
Me: “Hey, you know Seattle just raised the minimum wage to 15 dollars! What do you think of that?”
I expect that would have been well-received.
“How about making it 50 dollars? I bet you don’t make 50 dollars an hour. Would you like a 50 dollar minimum wage?”
Now it gets iffy. She might see where I was heading. If she liked the 50, I would point out that perhaps Dr. L would opt to cut back on dental assistants rather than pay them all $100,000 a year. More likely, she would say that 50 was too much; that people needed a floor for a living wage, not necessarily to be made comfortable.
But then I would press – why is 50 too much? If she explained to me what would happen (in those same terms I might have used), then I would ask,
“What makes you think that doesn’t happen with a $10.50 or $15 minimum wage? There will be winners – who keep their jobs – and losers – who lose their jobs, or get hours cut back, or otherwise suffer as a result.”
But then again, perhaps that would not have been her response, because back in reality….
I tried to steer her in another direction. I asked,
“Why do you suppose we aren’t seeing the kind of job growth and rising wages we used to see?”
Sue didn’t hesitate a millisecond: “Corporate greed.”
“Yup, Wal-Mart made 400 billion last year.”
Now, I didn’t have the numbers in front of me, but I knew that couldn’t possibly be Wal-Mart’s profits. That would make them worth multiple trillions of dollars, and nobody is that big. I looked it up when I got home and their FY 2014 revenue was 476 billion. Their consolidated net income, after taxes, was 16 billion, or 3.4% of their revenue. Exploring the implications of that might have made for an interesting conversation.
But she was back to Obama. She said she especially liked the Affordable Care Act. She had been paying insurance premiums of 850, and now they are down to 350, saving her 500 dollars.
Despite my desire to avoid the entire conversation, I couldn’t resist probing a bit.
Me: “So, 500 dollars… where did it come from?”
Sue: “The government!”
“Ah, the government.” (Here, I returned to biting of tongue.)
ALTERNATE HISTORY 2:
I should have said,
“You mean taxpayers, like me. Basically, you got that 500 dollars from me.”
I wonder what her response would have been. Denial? Thanks? Or would she feel the need to defend herself, referring to her need? She had a decent job, being a dental assistant. Not destitute and homeless. Just… grateful for the extra 500 bucks.
I might have asked,
“Do you think that’s right, I mean, morally right? What about right now? What is keeping you from taking the 100 bucks or so that’s in my wallet and keeping it for yourself?”
Surely that would not be something she felt comfortable with.
“Is it because I would fight back? Why not wait until I was knocked out? Because I would call the police? What if the Attorney General declared that on this day, no dental assistants would be arrested or prosecuted for doing that – would you feel comfortable taking my money then?”
I expect the answer would be no on all counts.
“So why is it OK for Obama to take it from me and give it to you?”
If she had an answer, a rationale, I expect it would probably be along the lines of it’s OK because a legitimate government did it and that legitimizes it, making it morally OK.
“So it’s OK for Obama and his party to buy your vote because he knows I’m not going to vote for them in any case, so he has nothing to lose.”
That would probably get some pushback.
“He’s not buying your vote? Then what’s he doing?”
If I could just pierce that collective veil, the one that makes anything OK if “society” says so, I expect it would eventually come back to her need. Strapped for cash, having trouble making ends meet, that 500 means more to her than to me. Because, morally, where else can she go for justification but some form of Utilitarianism, or Rand’s bete noir, capital-A Altruism?
It really would have been interesting to have had those alternative universe conversations. But we didn’t really have much time. Just then, Dr. L. walked in and said,
“Don’t listen to her, she’s a communist.”
And they proceeded to work on my teeth.