Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Lesson I Would Never Have Learned From Rush Limbaugh

"For years, I never doubted the truthfulness of what I was taught. This is not surprising considering that virtually anything will make sense if it's all you know." ~ Robert Kirby

Jay Leno recently interviewed Rush Limbaugh. It was a very good interview and I was reminded of how generally likable Rush can be.

As Rush spoke, I began to listen critically in ways I would never have thought to do 15 years ago when I was a Dittohead. It is not that I completely disagree with him, but it is clear to me now that he only tells half a story. This is something I never caught when he, and those who share his views, were all I listened to.

Here is an example of when he presents half a story:

RUSH: The economic pie is growing. It's not a zero-sum game. Just because somebody has $800 million doesn't mean somebody lost it. It means the market produced it. It's none of my business what they make, Jay. It's certainly none of yours, and it's certainly not Barack Obama's what anybody makes.

To me, this is how one would fail to get a true perspective. Rush presents a true statement... to a degree. He wants capitalism to be viewed favorably, so the example he gives is when capitalism is working at it's best. But corporations and shareholders pockets are not lined ONLY when the pie grows. They are also lined when they use their positions of power to strong arm workers into sweatshops. They are lined when perfectly healthy companies are gutted to make a quick buck. They are lined when they use their bank of lawyers to avoid paying their obligations.

Leno attempted to bring this up, stating that HOW one makes money is important.

RUSH: No, no, it's not. If you believe in the capitalist system, then you have to erase from your whole worldview what does somebody need. It's not about need. Capitalism is not about need. It's about providing; it's about growing; it's about opportunity; it is about doing whatever you want to do.

Rush accurately points out here that capitalism has no conscience... and it doesn't want you to have one either. This is where I agree with Leno. How we make money does matter.

I was in my late teens when I went with my parents to visit my cousins in California. We decided one evening to go over the boarder to Tijuana, Mexico. There are street vendors everywhere in Tijuana in addition to the stores. Many items were to be haggled over, rather than having a set price.

Toward the end of the evening, I had some money burning a hole in my pocket and there were some necklaces I had been eyeing. An old lady was sitting on a blanket stringing such necklaces by the side of the road. I asked her how much she wanted for two. I don't remember how much they were, but I remember that it was a decent price. However, never wanting to miss a potential bargain, I offered her half. She shook her head, but I knew it was late and I figured I could get her to realize that some money was better than no money. After some haggling and my threatening to walk away, she sighed and took my money. I strutted away, jewelry in hand ... victorious.

Amidst the noise and bustle as I looked for my family, a small voice spoke in my heart:

"To you it was a game, to her it was food for her family."

My heart froze as this insight grew. It was as if the breath were being taken from me. I ran back to where the old lady had been, but she had already packed up for the night. I stood there starting at the empty spot by the side of the road. Shame washed over me.

To me, the few dollars here or there were less than nothing. To her, it was her lifeblood.

It matters Rush.... it matters.


atimetorend said...

What an excellent personal example to illustrate your point. I'm glad you went back, so sad that she wasn't there. It is important to grow in awareness of those moments in our lives, and to be able to critically analyze speech like Limbaugh's.

Unknown said...

Wow Andrew!

I know you don't see yourself as an anti capitalist. I however have anti-capitalist leanings. I really think when we take conscience out of our business dealings that we as Americans create victims. I avoid some retailers because I don’t agree with their politics.

I really suck at the bargaining game and its because of the very reason you described. I had a client recently haggle about half of my income from a deal. He didn't really need the savings it was just a game.

Unfortunately there is no compassion in capitalism and that is what makes it dangerous. At no point do we have think about our fellow humans in a capitalist society. I think that is why a little regulation and government intervention is needed to help it truly work for everybody.

Cub said...

I was a ditto-head back in the day as well. I've repented.

That being said, I don't think capitalism is good or bad, it just is. Same for socialism or any other for of government. It's what's in people's hearts that matters. I know a lot of people who have done a lot of good within our capitalist system, and I know a lot of people who have done a lot of wrong within our system. In other words, any system is only as good or bad as the people participating in it.

Unknown said...

Did you notice how Rush was applauding himself as he came out? How gauche.
Did you notice his Gucci loafers? How elitist.
That spare tire under his shirt was almost as big as the one on the car.
Did you notice how animated he was? Like he was on speed. Now, we know the secret to his rapid weight loss, amphetamines.

wellis68 said...

Great stuff.
Have you read "Being Consumed" by William Cavanaugh? You need to.

Redlefty said...

Great, great points and writing, Andrew.

And Rush looks slimmer to me. Guess he upped the dosage on the greenies?

Andrew said...

This blog gets repeated over on facebook, here is the conversation that is happening there:

But then again, Leno isn't complaining about how many cars he owns. ;-)

Capitalism doesn't work if the people in charge aren't ethical.

By the way, Rush running over Al was pretty hilarious.

Andrew Hackman
Yeah, I am not anti capitalist, but I find some of Rush's views disturbing, especially in light of the fact that so many people of faith use him as ethical marker.


I love reading Atlas Shrugged right now. You have to have some ambition to do well, a little bit of "selfishness" and I use that term loosely.

That being said, without honesty, capitalism will never succeed. That's why we are in the mess we are in today.

My FIL is a fantastic business man. He is probably the most honest, ethical man I know. He's done very well to benefit his family, but he also gives a lot elsewhere (church, charities, etc). Not because he feels like he has to but because he wants to.

Hey guys, hope you don't mind me joining in this discussion. I actually think Capitalism helps to keep us honest. You see, the consumer is "in charge" not some dictator. I own my own dental business and the fact that my patients can always leave has a powerful effect on my mind. I feel that I had better treat them with compassion and honesty or they may not give me their business. I am also honest because of my faith in God, but I can see how having the consumer in charge really brings out the best in all of us. When have the alternatives to capitalism worked? A stark example of this is north/south Korea. The capitalist south is doing much better. If you want to experience corruption & dishonesty, and a contempt for reilgion, try the other isms.

So I am not disagreeing with your posts, just wanted to clarify that in capitalism, the big bosses aren't in charge, the consumer is! Don't like what their doing on wall street? Don't buy stock! Don't like what the credit card companies are doing? Don't use credit! The consumer holds the cards. But it is true that any form of gov/ commerce requires the morality of the people. The Book of Mormon explains: "And inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments, ye shall prosper, and shall be led to a land of promise; yea, even a land which I have prepared for you; yea, a land which is choice above all other lands."

Wow that was a really sweet story.
I can't wait to see Michael Moore's movie. It looks hilarious.

Andrew said...

More from Facebook:

Andrew Hackman
Dave - Those things are true, but I still want to be suspicious of Capitalism (as I am of any ism), rather than a promoter. Companies can do a lot of harm, and yet because of their inertia and ability to take a financial hit, walk away with no consequence under pure Capitalism. A good spinster and a team of lawyers has caused many a company to avoid consequences for bad behavior. In that case, I am really not the boss of anything.

And my point is not anti capitalism or pro anything else. I am more concerned with the cheerleader nature of Rush, and how much of America buys into it. He is like the sports fan who paints his body the color of the team. Every ref call made favoring his team is brilliant, and every call against is an injustice. He is quite the character for the crowd to watch, but not someone who you could count on to give you an objective view of what happend in the game (I can't believe I just used a sports analogy).

In his singular devotion,I believe he is losing his humanity and encouraging others to do the same. Under his worldview, I did absolutely nothing wrong in my interaction with the old woman. I did not force her to take my money. In his view, the ability to do a thing is its own justification.... Read More

I think our moral edge needs to be sharper than what he is promoting.

Very well written Andy, VERY well written!

Andrew said...

and some more:

"It's about doing whatever you want to do". That statement was taken out of context by the author. Rush isn't advocating a lack of morality in our lives, instead, he is pointing out that capitalism allows us to be free! Capitalism has no conscience? Of course not! It is about letting us be free. Now, whether or not we as individuals have a conscience...that's up to us. What? Are you going to mandate conscience? What system would mandate conscience?

No, capitalism means freedom. We are free to work in the profession of our choosing. We are free to buy the items we find valuable. We are free to earn money. We are free to give to the poor or not. We are free to give the old lady twice her asking price, or free to bargain. She is free to accept our offer or to pack her stuff. Capitalism wasn't to blame for the author taking advantage of that poor woman! It was his own morality that was compromised in that story, not Capitalism. Capitalism just made him capable to be a hero or a jerk. He decided to be a jerk, and we are reading his article anyway.

Capitalism happens to produce goods far beyond what any other system has come up with. Inventions, innovations, and strategies have all come about because of capitalism.

There was a disaster in Samoa yesterday. Who is off to the rescue? The capitalist Americans! Why? because we have the money and the goods. We have the opportunity.

I don't hold the cynical view that if we let people keep their money, that they will all be selfish with it. I think people will come to the aid of others. A few will be selfish. But that is what God intends. He knows that this life is a time to be tested. We must be free in order to do good or evil. If we are forced to do good, there is no charity.

Should the government force charity? I have more faith in people than to think we have to resort to that...

I think that capitalism is amoral by definition...in that I agree with David. Our problem, our root problem, is a lack of morality in the people who hold power. Abusing your position, whether you're president of a small business or the president of the U.S. is the evil thing. Capitalism is a system designed to preserve freedom, but using it as a guise, those immoral individuals intent on enslaving others can do so. However, the tendency to harm freedom is, I think, much less than other systems such as communism or socialism.

On the other hand, I do believe that avowed capitalists tend to put too little emphasis on the need to be a moral people and instead focus almost entirely on "getting rich". Also, the barriers of entry are almost impossible to overcome in many businesses, and not because of ability or skills necessarily. I think this is something that if improved could lead to a greater progression in this country.

Andrew Hackman
Hmmm... don't think I took anything out of context. Never said Rush was advocating a lack of morality. And why am I suddenly being referred to in the third person? :)

Andrew said...

more Facebook

Third person is the new second person, Andrew. Get with the times!

Andrew is David your dentist?

Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same Door as in I went.

Ha ha! YOU are the author? Sorry Andrew, all this time I thought you were posting an article you read somewhere. I probably wouldn't have been so strong calling you a jerk etc, because I know you personally. My point was that your freedom to be a jerk wasn't to blame...it was your choice in that moment. I find that you are not usually one to take advantage, so this was just a learning experience...

Capitalism may indeed be amoral like Daniel said, but any other system to control humans would be immoral.

I love how the critics of capitalism never come out with their alternatives. Socialism, Communism? You may say that you aren't into "isms" at all. But the fact is, if a bunch of people adhere to a certain philosophy somebody will label it an ism.
I say, let the people be free, and then those who are fortunate enough to have the gospel, teach others the word of God. That will elevate the characters of the people much better than taxation or coercion.

Steven, what door did you come in through?
Kevin: hello! I like to debate politics. In the end I can argue and still be friends with the person who challenges me. So hope you don't take this too seriously.
Daniel: great post. I tend to agree with you. Not sure that I can paint with broad strokes the fact that "most capitalists" put too little emphasis on morality. I think it varies from person to person. There are some selfish suckers (Madoff) and some very generous people (Oprah, Huntsman, Buffet).

Andrew Hackman
Heh! No worries David ... :)
Not that I am not into any isms, or that I reject Capitalism, I just want to be "suspicious" of it. I want to keep it and all ideas in my life constantly on the judgment seat and weighing it in the scales. My reason for this is why I use Rush as an example. When Rush becomes a cheerleader and defender of an idea, he starts leaving out details that he feels would "harm" the idea.(and I think we all do this on one level or another, and rarely conciously) When ideas get this status, we start to present only their best attributes, lest we put the idea in danger of "losing". I think it is this win/lose attitude that has developed in our culture that causes us to speak in extremes; rather than considering the ideas truthfully from all angles: the good/bad, beauty and warts.

OneSmallStep said...

**Capitalism is not about need. It's about providing; it's about growing; it's about opportunity; it is about doing whatever you want to do.**

In essence ... capitalism is a selfish system?

And that's why I don't get why so many conservative Christians flock to that system, when so much of their theology is based on a concept of self-sacrifice. And when you add that to the idea that all people are inherently sinful, and thus have a good chance of making a harmful choice -- not just for themselves, but others -- why wouldn't you want to place some sort of checks and balances on a system that allows one to do whatever s/he wants to do? Half the time, that "want" is going to be some sort of sinful thing.

The Metzes said...

Good post Andrew, way to stir it up across the Facebook world! I saw Rush on Leno that night, and the exact lines you quoted stood out to me as well. At the very least, as Christians we should be able to acknowledge that how other Christians make their money is our business. We must be accountable to one another. Perhaps if there were more open conversations in regards to personal finances in churches, our churches would look much different.

A great case study in the viability and morality of the capitalist system is the topic of health care. "Consumers are in charge" goes the response. What happens when consumers cannot afford any of the options for health care? Our family premium just went up on a health care policy for a family of 5 (all of us are under 32, three children) all healthy, no existing conditions - $5,000 deductible, and our premium is now over $500 a month. That 10% of our income before we ever spend a dime on doctor's visits or prescription drugs. The problem is, of course, the high cost of health care.

The moral dilemma enters discussions on health care because there is no advantage for a health care provider to cover someone who will cost them money in the long run. That just doesn't make fiscal sense. The only way to appeal to the customer here is to lose money - which isn't viable.

A global perspective shows the great advantages of a capitalist economy . . . however, a Christian must look at these things differently than the rest. We must consider the harmful side affects and those oppressed by the system. We must play the part of the prophets crying out against all injustice, even if the rest of the world views it as necessary collateral damage.

Steve B said...

I once listened to Limbaugh defend the salaries of NFL players by stating, in essence, 'Hey, the market determined that salary, so it's okay'. I can't defend that line of thought and find it kind of abhorrent. Yes, there are moral or ethical values that need to be applied to how one makes money; it can't be left simply to blind market forces. However, I'm not sure exactly what your personal anecdote has to say about capitalism. The essence of capitalism, as I understand it, is simply a private person borrowing money - capital - in order to fund a business venture. Trading sharp with an old lady for a few baubles is not capitalism, it is simply bartering. The old lady you traded with was more the capitalist - you were the consumer, and in feeling remorse for your deal with her you seem to be affirming the value of capitalism more than critiquing it. I understand that you want to stress the importance of ethics in capitalist dealings, but that anecdote isn't quite an exact 'fit'. Capitalism is about production, you didn't produce anything by buying a string of beads. If anything, your anecdote speaks to the evils of consumerism, which is an offspring of capitalism, I will admit. Perhaps one needs to stress the need for values on both sides of the equation, e.g. it is ridiculous that football players make such outlandish salaries, but also equally outrageous that we are so focused on entertainment as a society and that we spend a disproportionate amount of money and time for it - or to apply to your example, we shouldn't crave a particular good so much that we ignore the needs of others.

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