Progressive Views: Infinite Pie and Scarcity

by Meredith Sterling
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, December 5, 2019

Image of the earth from space
”Blue Marble 2012” by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

Whenever a progressive policy is discussed or a new progressive piece of legislation is presented — the cry goes out: Socialism! They want to take everything away from the folks who worked for it and give it to the layabouts and the undeserving poor!

Socialism. And, Racism. Both are associated in hearts and minds with fear, scarcity, a lack of resources, and an undeserved austerity. This state of mind can be somewhat eased, however, by a tasty slice of “Infinite Pie.” More on that later…

Socialism vs. “socialism”

I’m going to liberally quote Heather Cox Richardson, “a political historian who uses facts and history to make observations about contemporary American politics.” She is the author, most recently, of To Make Men Free: A History of the Republican Party, and is a professor at Boston College.

Richardson explains that what U.S. politicians mean today when they talk about socialism was born after the Civil War when Black American men got the right to vote.

“Eager to join the capitalist system from which they had previously been excluded, these men voted for leaders who promised to rebuild the South, provide schools and hospitals (as well as prosthetics for veterans), and develop the economy with railroads to provide an equal opportunity for all men to work hard and rise. Former Confederates loathed the idea of black men voting almost as much as they hated the idea of equal rights. They insisted that such programs were simply a redistribution of wealth from hardworking white people to blacks who wanted a handout, since they would cost tax dollars and white people were the only ones with property in the Reconstruction South…

“This idea that it was dangerous for working men to participate in government caught on in the North as immigrants moved into growing cities to work in the burgeoning factories. Like their counterparts in the South, they voted for roads and schools, and men of wealth insisted these programs meant a redistribution of wealth through tax dollars. They got more concerned still when a majority of Americans began to call for regulation to keep businessmen from gouging consumers, polluting the environment, and poisoning the food supply … Any attempt to regulate business would impinge on a man’s liberty, wealthy men argued, and would cost tax dollars and thus was a redistribution of wealth…

“The powerful formula linking racism to the idea of an active government and arguing that a government that promotes infrastructure, provides a basic social safety net, and regulates business is socialism has shaped American history since Reconstruction. … We are now in the final stages of that argument as Republican leaders are dismantling the active government we have lived under since the New Deal. As in the past, during this process wealth has moved upward.”

Richardson reminds us that what the GOP messaging is calling socialism is “nothing of the sort; it is actually regulated capitalism.”

Zero-sum vs. infinite pie

Now, to the pie. The concept of “Infinite Pie” is applied most often to situations where arbitrated solutions must be found to conflicts between bitter adversaries. We all know that our culture, our world, is based on the concept of competition and winners vs. losers. Winners win and get everything, the whole pie: losers lose and get nothing.

But, what if the Pie of Rewards is bigger/broader/deeper than we imagined initially? What if through discussion and thinking about the issues, we expand the pie so that there is more to go around and each participant will get enough? No one “wins” and no one “loses.”

We might add job retraining programs and assistance in moving and finding jobs in more livable communities. We could make solar power more affordable on a large scale which would reward business owners, the people who pay less for electricity, and of course, future generations who will have a living planet home. We could downsize our bloated military community so that more of its members can spend their lives building, producing, growing, creating, rather than protecting our country in endless wars by killing other people.

Money, power, and expensive things are not the only prizes worth working for, worth sharing. If we as individuals hold faith and love to be powerful, then we can transition to a different way of seeing our opponents and our conflicts. It starts by recognizing our fears and then talking with each other about how to redistribute, rearrange, and re-create more of the rewards worth having.

Tasty indeed, and not a whiff of ‘socialism’ to spoil the flavor!

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