The Kindness Of Capitalism: How The Texas Economy Cares For The Community

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Liberals don’t like Texas. Whether they’re liberal Democrats or liberal Republicans, Texas inhabits a hard-scrabble mythology. Red dirt, rocks, heat. A tough landscape. A big sky. Openness. Hardness.

After living in California, New York and Michigan, I’m convinced environment shapes our view of the world more than we care to admit. The coasts, used to milder weather and milder expectations, don’t like the tough life inherent in living in oppressive heat, freezing cold and general discomfort.

Texas ain’t that pretty. It certainly isn’t lush. There’s space. Hard ground. Texas is big. Texas is not, however, soft. There are no rolling hills of heather. There are no natural lakes. And yet, the people come.

People have had to make Texas what they want it to be. They have wildly succeeded.

The government reflects the landscape: spare and open.

Want a life of government paid-for ease? Don’t move to Texas. Move to California, New York or Michigan–well, until they stop using debt to finance their lavish ways. They’re out of money.

So, on this backdrop, here’s a story about the kindness of capitalism in Texas.

Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and thousands of exiles trekked to Texas. When the crisis hit, Governor Perry called mayors, business leaders, and probably most importantly, church leaders. [Aside: Governor Perry’s leadership through Hurricanes has been impressive and stellar. It’s difficult for outsiders to fathom the sheer magnitude of evacuating a city the size of Houston, for example. When the first evacuation showed logistical weakness, local and state leaders did a correction of errors and the next one was flawless.]

The church leaders sent the call out to the churches. The mega churches have huge charitable organizations. They coordinated the smaller churches and resources. They asked church and community members to help. And the local people responded. So enthusiastic was the response, that when I finally got to Target to buy supplies for folks (toothpaste, brushes, and all the rest) the shelves were empty. Nada. Picked clean.

Helping Hurricane Katrina victims was probably the single largest charitable outpouring in a concentrated time for that many people in American history.

This charity was, is, a result of capitalism. People had the extra resources to give because all their extra income wasn’t soaked up in taxes.

There is a palliative effect from this sort of action–both for those who are suffering and those who are relieving the suffering. The sufferers often got to meet who was helping them. They were prayed with and cared for and loved by individuals profoundly moved by their plight. The caregivers were blessed to see their actions making a direct difference in the lives of those in need. This was not some antiseptic government bureaucrat having a person check off a list in order to get a bar of soap and diapers. This was a friend helping a friend.

The government helped, too. But it took a while to get the government engine going. It always does. People got vouchers to find homes and apartments. The Houston public school was flooded with new, and woefully behind, students (an average of two years behind academically).

After six months of the transplanted New Orleans folks living off the kindness of strangers and the government dole, a Democratic Houston city councilwoman told the visitors, pointedly, “It’s time to get a job.”

At the time of her pronouncement, the unemployment rate was 4%. She rightly noted that no one had an excuse for not working. It was time to get to work and become a member of their new community or go home. And so, some people went back home. Some people stayed.

One woman who stayed is my favorite grocery checker at my local HEB. She got plunked in my community because her house was flooded and destroyed in New Orleans. She decided to make Texas home. When I asked her why, she said that she got a job, found a rental home in a neighborhood she really likes, the schools were great, her son was happy, New Orleans was violent and scary, and she was happy here. Mind you, she’s living happily and well in one of the best school districts in Texas as a single mother on a grocery checker’s wage.

Another woman, a nurse, moved here and stayed. She was thrilled with her pay (40% more than in New Orleans!) and the low cost of living (cheaper house!).

Capitalism, the Texas kind, is kind.

The free market here in Texas creates jobs. People with jobs have dignity.

But it’s not a living wage! liberal Democrats and Republicans cry. Really? In Texas, the cost of living is a fraction of what it costs in other states in the nation. I know this from personal experience having lived, and decently, on $2000 a month gross, with a baby. Mind you, that was without delux cable, smart phones, and home entertainment systems. It was eating Ramen noodles and sitting on the floor. Is that a horrible way to live? It’s a way a person starts. Where he ends is his choice.

But insurance! Texas has a high number of uninsured people. A good chunk of that is illegal immigration. I’m sorry, liberals, but I do not want to pay for someone else’s insurance. Still, Texas has programs for those who have difficulty. Lots of young Texans don’t want to pay for insurance. When we first started, we had no insurance. What’s the first thing we purchased when we had two nickels? Insurance. Many people choose not to make that expenditure. Fine. It’s a choice. With Obamacare, no one can be turned away from insurance. People make choices. Let them choose.

If they choose poorly, they end up at the free clinic where local doctors donate time. They get wonderful care. If they really get messed up, they end up an an emergency care center (Texas communities have lots of these) or the hospital. If they don’t have eye insurance (my family doesn’t), they go to Walmart (I do) and have a reasonable eye appointment and get low-cost glasses (which I have on my face right now). In a Texas hospital, you get damn good care. The problem with illegals overwhelming border hospitals is something that’s the Fed’s failing that’s become a state problem. Illegal immigration needs to stop. It’s sucking up resources.

Kindness according to big government types is some distant person making a decision for another person with other people’s money. It’s all very detached. It lacks personal warmth, connection and accountability.

Liberals want social services to not have any behavioral expectations. When a person is receiving help from a local charity or church, the organizations know the people. There’s an element of involvement and expectation. Isn’t that a good thing?

Wasn’t it a good thing that the city councilwoman loved the Hurricane Katrina folks enough to tell them to go get a job rather then subject themselves to the corrosive effects of living helplessly, waiting for the next check to come in? Isn’t it important for people to have to look those who are giving to them freely, from their own cupboards of food and necessities, in the eyes? Isn’t it important for those in need and those giving to be connected? That is the essence of community, is it not?

Many liberals find this sort of thing demeaning–both the charitable work and seeing those who need charity. It’s uncomfortable. They don’t think of the churches that built hospitals and homeless shelters and rehabilitation centers and pregnancy crisis centers. The intimacy scares them.

Capitalism, though, creates this intimacy. Both the consumer and supplier are connected. So too, are the needy and the charitable connected.

It is tougher. Just as a loving family will boot a kid out of the nest who needs to be on his own (or should), a loving society encourages its members to live as independently as possible. This is for the good of the individual and the good of the community.

From the outside, liberals see Texas and recoil. From the inside, Texans are quite content. Hard work, independence and autonomy are appreciated. And when community is needed, charity comes out of love and desire rather than force and coercion.

Is it a perfect system? No. But I’d point to the city of Detroit and to New Orleans as examples of entrenched corruption, excessive government services, and desperation among generations of inhabitants enslaved by an anything-but-loving liberal compassion.

I’ll take the kindness of capitalism any day. Given the choice between a job and independence and an unemployment check and dependency, the thousands of people moving to Texas every month agree: capitalism is kind. They’re counting on it.

The Pain Of The Great Recession: People Suffer, Obama Covered #OWS

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Playing cover up for President Obama, Americans have seen little of the economy’s human impact. Rich Lowry rightly notes that amidst the nonsense, there is real pain (something I wrote about yesterday):

If you put aside the political rants and the obnoxious construct of the 99 percent versus the 1 percent — which has the whiff of the guillotine about it — the stories are a stark pointillist portrayal of the grinding misery of the Great Recession.

And Bank of America has very little to do with it. The recession has added a layer of joblessness on top of punishingly dysfunctional and expensive health-care and higher-education systems. Despite themselves, the people posting at the 99 percent page aren’t really making an implicit case for burning down the financial system, but for blowing up how we handle health care and higher education.

As the Republicans look more likely to win the 2012 election, expect the horror stories to finally come dribbling out through the press. The point, of course, will be to paint the Republicans as heartless and uncaring. The fact that Barack Obama deepened the despair and left people worse off will go unnoticed and ignored.

People are desperate and despairing, that much is true. And the press has hidden this fact to save Barack Obama’s hide. It’s despicable.

Wherein I Agree With Occupy Wall Street Protesters

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

The Occupy Wall Street folks have finally, at long last, figured out that the Bank Bailouts did nothing but help the rich and powerful. Too bad they didn’t join with the Tea Party who also balked at the huge transfer of wealth from the middle class taxpayers to irresponsible investment bankers who gave loans to people who couldn’t afford them.

Unfortunately, the OWS folks put their hope in Obama’s promised change and got more of the same. I remember a conversation with a prominent liberal activist. She was decrying the money in politics and corruption of the power. I said to her, on election day,”How do you think Barack Obama got elected? All that money came from Wall Street and lobbyists. They’re your problem now.”

Three years later, disenchanted socialists drum in circles and scream in frustration at what was blindingly obvious. The Dems are wholly bought and paid for.

Where the Occupy Wall Streeters differ from Tea Partiers is fundamental philosophy: Instead of the middle class bailing out banks and investment houses and GM, the Occupy Wall Street folks would prefer that the money had come directly to them. Pay off their student loans. Pay off their mortgage. Pay them $20/hour whether they work or not. Just pay them. In short, they want a socialist society where behavior is completely untethered from consequences.

Tea Partiers want to keep what they earn. They don’t want to pay for someone else’s stupidity. They don’t want someone to pay for their stupidity. They want to be free from the burden the Smartypants Set™ put on them and their children. They fear that this debt will make slaves of American citizens. They worry that their children will have less opportunities to pursue the American dream–to pursue happiness.

Like Tea Partiers, the Occupy Wall Street crowd feel disregarded and diminished. They feel that the little guy doesn’t get a break.

Students are disillusioned: They have student debt for worthless degrees for jobs that don’t exist. Many kids live with their parents and will never be employable with the education they have. As an aside, David Mamet has a wonderful essay on the hopelessness and entitlement of these folks in his book The Secret Knowledge.

The Occupy Wall Street folks have plenty to be angry about. Many Tea Partiers are angry, too. It’s just the cause and solutions that differ–well, solutions, and tactics.

Starting riots, pooping on police cars, laying in filth, sharing drugs, making it impossible for the working class people to work, is no way to make a point. Or rather, it makes the wrong point.

The Democrats will use the Occupy Wall Street crowd to foment discontent and cause confusion going into the 2012 election. It should be noted that they (hello Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank) were architects of both the absurd lending practices and then the bailout of those same institutions when they failed.

For those on the conservative grassroots side, it’s unwise to dismiss OWS’ers all out of hand. Some of these people really believed that Barack Obama was going to bail them, personally, out. They believed that he cared about them. They believed that he was a man of the people and understood them and would bring fundamental change in America that would benefit them.

Many of these people are seeing the suffering and believed the Democrats had the solution.

These folks share the alienation from the “elites”. Tea Partiers are scorned, loathed and feared by establishment Republicans. Now, politicians try to curry favor from Tea Party types, but it’s only to save their own hides. Will real reform ever come? Can the Tea Party expect transparency from the GOP when the Republicans are in charge again? It will be demanded. Will the demands be heeded? The Occupy Wall Street folks face the same problem with the Democrats.

The average American citizen feels profoundly alienated from the leadership who continues to make promises and continues to break them. This electoral swinging is a desire, on the part of voters, to find leaders who are responsive to the average, working middle-class person and small business guy who doesn’t have lobbyists making sure to guard his interests. The only place the citizen has to express their discontent is the ballot box. They’ve been doing it over and over and the message keeps resulting in disappointment.

Here are some areas where both sides can agree:

Government transparency

No more bailouts

Higher Education reform

Re-looking at American foreign policy and the best use of military resources

Government-corporate nexus (aka crony capitalism)

There’s more, but this is a start. There are many dark elements of the Occupy Wall Street crowd–the use of intimidation and violence to achieve ends, for one. Still, the alienation and betrayal and the looking helplessly toward the future seems to be a universal American citizen phenomenon these days.

America’s elected leaders no longer seem to serve their citizens but themselves and the big money folks who put them in power. Changing that is something everyone can believe in.