Attacking the American Dream: Hiding Coercion in Palatable Phrases

This article extends our discussion the American dream and its reliance on freedom of speech. In it, we will explore how elites leverage the misunderstanding of certain key ideas in communication to undermine our freedom. Usually, they do this without evil intent, but simply because we have all, both the elites and everyone else, become confused about the strategic requirements of operating within a free society, especially about what must and must not be controlled. When the power, success, and wealth that you earn comes directly from the voluntary choices of the people with whom you deal, the result is never equality.  In this system, people are only rewarded for the value that they produce for others. Some individuals create a lot of value while others create no value at all. Indeed, some people destroy what is valuable to others by their actions. Elites can only attack the American dream by attacking the inequity of result which is almost completely created by inequality of contribution. The "fairness" of rewarding people according to the free choices of those that deal with them is not a perfect system. People who do great good in the world may be overlooked because they do not understand how to package or position their "product" so that others appreciate its value. Certainly the world would be a poorer place without a Vincent Van Gogh, but during his life few people, perhaps only his brother, appreciated his product. Because some worthy people are not necessarily rewarded by the free choices of their contemporaries, the elites can always claim that this system doesn't work and that they can make better choices for society as a whole. However, logically the value judgments of any given elite (no matter what they see as the basis of their superiority) will alway be  narrower than the rewards offered by everyone as a group, who must have a broader range of interests and values. In the American system, our system, there are many, perhaps an infinite number of routes to success. You can produce a little value for a great many people or a great deal of value for a few specific people. You can serve the needs of any group in any way you choose. With billions of people in the world, you can target aby type of need from the desire for chocolate to the desire for poetry. If all people in the world were poor, the only value would be in the creation of the basic necessities: food, shelter, etc. As more and more people move beyond subsistence, the variety of their needs and desires expands exponentially.  Given the many different communities, the different roles within those communities, the different stages of life, and the differing tastes of individuals, nothing will be to everyone's liking but an innumerable variety of things will be to many people's liking. In our individual pursuit of success, every strategic situation we face is shaped by our ability to communicate freely. The simplest and most common strategic moves in a voluntary system, such as making promises, agreements, or contracts, are all impossible if you cannot communicate.  If people cannot communicate, they cannot persuade others to their point of view, win supporters, or arrive at aggreements that both parties feel are mutually beneficial. Most importantly, without freedom, we cannot communicate the variety of our needs and desires, which is the only basis for our ability to create value for each other. By guarenteeing freedom of speech, democracies make the  American dream possible. The most common tool those who oppose democracy use to coerce others is by taking away this ability to this communicate in one way or another. Silencing can be made to sound reasonable because some communication must be forbidden to preserve freedom. An interesting example is the secret ballot, which prevents voters from reliably communicating the exact nature of our votes to others. Since we vote in an environment that prevents communication, votes cannot be sold because there is no way to verify that the agreement was kept. Nor can people threatened harm if someone votes against their interest because they cannot get that information. Since a few types of free speech must be forbidden, the general approach of the those who oppose freedom of choice is to increase the types of speech that are forbidden. One of the most common approaches used to limit free speech is to leverage the  "success is evil" and "wealth is evil" positions that the elites commonly  advanced. For example, it is common for elites to say that elections are "unfair" because one group or another is spending their money communicating their viewpoint. Here is a recent example from Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times. While Mr. Westneat may or may not see himself as an "elite," notice how many elitist viewpoints he must hold to put forth his argument. First he says "money runs politics." He equates the fact that money buys advertising, that it can broadcasts speech, with buying votes. The basis assumption here is that regular voters cannot rightly judge that value of the message being broadcast and blindly follow whatever they here. Only elites like Mr. Westneat are capable, despite hearing the same advertising, of forming independent opinions. Next he identifies two groups who are voluntarily spending their own money to broadcast their point of view. He deems these groups "fat cats" because they are willing to invest their own money to have their opinions heard. Of course we do not know if the members of these groups are any more wealthy than the average citizen (as the author assumes by calling them "fat cats"), but let us assume that they are for the sake of argument. In a free society, this only means that these "fat cats'" customers freely choose to give them money because those in return for the value they produce. I respectfully maintain that this does not make these people evil. It can mean quite the opposite. Why should those who produce a lot of value not have the right to spend their money to speak out about their opinions? Next, Mr. Westneat brands this spending as evil because it is "special interest" money. This is based on the mistaken assumption that there is some "common interest" that encompasses everyone and that such interest are easy to identify and agree upon. I maintain that as individuals we only know our own personal interests based upon our unique position. It is foolish to to think our opinions represent the interests of everyone else, especially those whose positions are far removed from out own. There are "common interests" that hold groups together, but those common interest are identified only by voluntary association.  When many individuals choose to use their money, efforts, or votes to support a shared cause, the define a common interest, but not the common interest. There is no such common interest because there is no such group that everyone will voluntarily join. The larger the community, the less likely a unanimous opinion becomes. You can accurately brand the interests that do not include everyone as "special interests" to disparage them, but to do so it only to disparage the opinion of all groups of people within a given society. This does not mean that I believe a popular opinion is generally correct nor that the larger a group is, the more likely it is to be correct. But we are not talking truth here. We are talking about people representing their own interestings and being free to do so. We are talking about our inability to define the truth in any more perfect way. We have to respect the rights of individuals to voluntarily form and support groups.  I personally do not like big corporations because they are often very inefficient, but I respect that fact that big corporations represent the interests of many customers, employees, suppliers, and stock holders. Big corporations may often be ineffiecient, but to brand them as "evil" is to say that all those people have no right to have their interests protected. Mr. Westneat then proposed a solution through the person of Terry Sullivan, who Mr. Westneat lables  "real folk." Sullivan's plan is "to fight back with money. Our money." By "our money," Westneat and Sullivan do not mean their personal money. No, they mean money taken from taxpayers. In other words, they mean that we should replaced voluntary donations to campaigns, where individuals get to represent their own interest voluntarily. We replace this voluntary donation with coerced payments. On the surface, this seems like a bad idea, but it gets worse if we think about it. Instead of everyone deciding what speech is broadcast with their own money, voluntarily given, who gets to decide whose speech is allowed via these coerced payments? Well, since we have take everyone and their free choices out of the picture, who is left? Basically, we have the elites. Individuals are no longer allowed to give money in proportion to how strong their passion or how great their earning power or how much government impacts them personally. Instead, the elites take money from everyone, (but primarily the evil rich, of course) and they distribute it according to their own vision of what is "fair."  Who benefits from these rules? First, we have existing law makers. Campaign contribution reform is, at its root, an incumbancy protection act, protecting existing elites from "outsiders" raising challenges as in the case of the Groen campaign that Westneat is attacking. Second, we protect existing parties and, especially party leaders, because they are the ones who obviously qualify as having the "right" to this money taken from the general populace. Third, we have those with access to the legal system, who can use the court system to get at this money. In other words, the money is taken from individuals who want to protect their individuals interest and given to the established powers who can then use it to protect and expand their power.