What moral/religious/ethical principle can the broadest possible spectrum of a diverse nation agree on? It might seem to be the fifth commandment, but it isn’t. That one is on something of a roll – even Texans are losing their traditional enthusiasm for having the state kill people, and murders are on a twenty year slide – but we have a military, we allow some killers to plead self-defense, and police carry deadly weapons with broad consent.
I propose that it’s an eleventh commandment, Thou shalt not waste. There’s lots of waste around, but who puts forth a moral justification for whacking the fin off a shark and throwing the rest of it back in the ocean to die? Who expects to be admired for leaving windows open in the winter, or throwing away food? Tiny symbolic sacrifices figure in some religions, but I can’t think of any faith or tradition that doesn’t broadly condemn waste as foolishness, a character flaw, or a sin. I myself take the last view, not in a pietistic or obsessive-compulsive way (I don’t print on the back of used paper, nor drive the smallest possible car the least I can). I have too much stuff and my house is too big, but I try to keep on top of it and most important, I’m not proud of, say, the computer gadgets I don’t use and haven’t recycled yet. My personal hostility to waste distinguishes clearly between waste and use: I think that we are obligated to do what we reasonably can to assure that everything that gets used up creates the most possible value. Much more important, I claim that this rule is very broadly accepted as a moral, not just an economic, principle. It is, in particular, a conservative principle; it’s not an accident that before the formal organization called “The Republican Party” went insane with fear and hate, it was quite hostile to waste of all kinds.
I condemn the US Republican party of the present era for a variety of sins, but today I wish to highlight its radiant, smug, knowing wastefulness. I know you can find examples of waste in other countries, and among Democrats, Independents, anarchists,…, and there’s a lot of waste that flows from ignorance, but no-one else has made it such a central, conscious, operating principle.
Let us count the ways: Obviously, intending to waste the capacity of the planet to support life, from the littoral zones that are due to go under water to the productive capacity of farmland ruined by droughts and floods, has to be high on the list. What’s the net value created by letting James Inhofe lead the band on energy policy, and who gets to enjoy it, for how long? Climate aside, millions of years of solar energy collection by long-dead plants stored up a nice pool of very useful liquid fuel. Who wants to drain America’s first, and burn up the world’s supply as fast as possible? Republicans, the party of waste. Sure, they have intimidated Democrats into going along with this nonsense, and bad on the Obama administration for its mostly feckless energy program, but the false prophet/destructive bully is more to be condemned than the adherents and victims.
What’s right up with the natural environment and the resources it provides us as a central, dominating source of value? We are, of course, and the unit of measure is person-days. Every day a human being can’t do the work he is fit for, and wants to do, because the necessary infrastructure is broken or missing, or the economy is broken and can’t manifest the demand that would put him to work, is gone forever. Sure, leisure time creates net value even if it isn’t priced; it’s not wasteful to intentionally take a vacation, or pass up overtime to take the kids to the beach, or even to live on a trust fund if you have one and want to. But sitting home sending out endless resumés for months, and spending weeks and months on a bench at the unemployment office, are waste. They waste the idle days, and they waste future capacity, because long-term unemployment makes long-term damage. Our Republicans deplore unemployment and prate about making jobs, but they don’t mean it, and I know they don’t mean it because for four years they have done everything they could to sabotage everything that might ameliorate this particularly inhumane, abusive, tragic waste. Period. The idea that giving rich people more money (tax cuts) makes jobs has been disproved in theory and by experiment. Giving rich people more money makes them richer; government spending in recessionary times puts people to work, end of story.
A lot of the unemployed wasting their days in work that doesn’t use their skills, or not working at all, are hardhats, also engineers and architects. Everything we make degrades with time, weather, and use, and roads, buildings, levees, parks, light rail lines, and all the rest of the built environment is complementary to everyone creating value. We can fix that stuff cheaply if we catch it in time, and build more (which we desperately need if only because there are more of us) or we can let it rust away. Conservatives want to conserve capital; Republicans (now) want to waste it along with the days of the people who could maintain and expand it.
When someone has a job, those working days can create more or less value depending on many complements they have. Technology is good for this, but the most important one is education: less education, less value created every person-day. Republicans don’t like education, and act it out by trying to spend less on it, at every level of government. They also like to sabotage minds by affirmatively infiltrating schools with ignorance and superstition, so the remaining days in school are wasted teaching what is not true. Democrats are not trying to turn science courses into religious indoctrination; Republicans are. Democrats are not about firing teachers and shortening school days, Republicans are. They have become the party of collapsing the knowledge of future citizens and workers into nothing more than what Mom and Dad (or maybe Grandma and Grandpa) knew, including stuff they knew that was wrong.
Environmental waste, capital waste, human waste. Your Republican Party, distinctively and proudly so – and crosswise to the moral teaching of every faith and creed.