The Winning Mindest Wins. Everybody Loses.

Conservatives love to ascribe laziness to large swaths of the population. They think the prudent thing to do is to give the lazy moochers a kick in the butt. A kick in the butt to do what? People who are unemployed are not lazy, contrary to a widespread conservative belief. The mistake, or rather the convenient excuse, of the libertarians/conservatives is that they apply their own abilities and their own career trajectory to all the others. They think “if I can do it, so can anyone.” This is the fork in the road, this is the basis of all other aspects of their political philosophy: low-taxes on the rich, ripping of the safety net, worshipping of self-reliance, as if there are no children, single mothers, elderly and the disabled in this world – only white frat-boys, stomping the ground in their bullpen, eager for a race. “Let the best one win!” they yell, knowing full well, even before the race started, that they are the best. Wouldn’t you want to participate in the race if you knew in advance that you’re going to win? And then, they attach philosophy to their own abilities. Then, after they won, they create a narrative that they won fair and square, missing the fact that their skill is the result of their current proximity to the trough, not the way they got there. This is the idea behind “Trading Places” – it doesn’t take a special pedigree to be a trader. One just needs a platform and a nice suit. But still, they pontificate about their scrappy childhood and the bootstraps and hard work and risk-taking and wallow in their own narcissism, followed by a humble-brag “I’m just a regular guy” mandatory display of modesty. Is then there’s any surprise that people like Tom Perkins think only the winners should be allowed to vote? They think that it’s validated by them winning the race.

If you view society as a competitive construct, as many social Darwinists do, then it is a natural conclusion: The winner gets to claim the prize and to write rules and history books. Thus the pitting of citizens one against the other at the altar of “competitiveness” is a normal course of events. The suckers lost, too bad. That’s just life. And that would be fine, too, if only the winners knew moderation. Here, the winners would be wise to stop and take, or rather give the suckers, a breather. But the winning mindset and moderation do not go together. The game is in full swing, we can’t just stand up and leave. If we don’t take that last stack from the sucker at the table then someone else will. It’s just the cruel truth. Who can stop a train at full speed? We would rather just jump on the bandwagon.

And what or who can play the role of a moderating hand at this point? Where is that ‘invisible hand” that restores the balance, applies breaks to a runaway train? Where is the mitigating factor of supply and demand, the efficient markets, the equilibrium that we learned about in Econ 101? There’s no push and pull, no regression to the mean. The “pull” is nonexistent, or has been sidelined, or denied meaningful levers. The classic argument is that if the customers don’t like the product they will stop consuming it or go to another provider. But what if, at this point, the product that we’re talking about is a bare minimum of food, shelter and basic health care? Are those customers really in the position to dictate anything, to refuse to buy food, to refuse to pay rent? Where the hell are they gonna go, what the fuck are they gonna eat?

The train won’t stop on its own. It can either crash into a wall or go off a cliff. The winners will be playing musical chairs till the very end, because they will always think to themselves: “I can get out just in time. I’m the winner.”

 

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