stat counnnter

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Preparing the Sacrificial Altar

My U.S. Congressman Sander Levin's latest newsletter to constituents was a head shaker. The letter starts with the usual statist fare. First, he tells us that the House passed a paycheck fairness act which closes loopholes that allowed employers to avoid penalties for discriminatory pay.

Then we're told the house adopts overhaul of product safety rules. It is pointless to tell him that these are not legitimate functions of government. But I sometimes do it anyway just to let him know there is a difference of opinion out there. But these things are not the point of this post. Mr. Levin ended the letter with this paragraph:
Oil Companies Post $44 Billion in Profits

While American families continue to struggle with high energy costs, the oil companies recently reported record profits for the 2nd quarter of 2008. In just 3 months, oil companies reported a whopping $44 billion in profits. ExxonMobil reported earnings of $11.68 billion over the three-month period, the largest quarterly profit by a U.S. company in history. Other 2nd quarter oil industry profits include: Shell – $11.56 billion; BP – $9.47 billion; ConocoPhillips – $5.4 billion; and Chevron – $6 billion. Profits for the top five oil companies are projected to top $160 billion this year.
Notice how this shameful appeal to envy and hatred of the good for being the good doesn't explicitly come out and say that profits are evil or should be taken away. It simply states the fact that huge profits are made by oil companies while other people suffer. This is very close to the "picturism" that Dr. Peikoff discusses in his excellent CD lecture "A Picture Is Not An Argument" which can be purchased here.

This simple paragraph projects two images rather clearly; the image of billions of dollars on one hand and people struggling on the other. No argument is being made. Mr. Levin is hoping the images will provoke an emotional or psychological 'no' in the mind of the reader which he, Levin, hopes in turn will translate into positive support for any action he takes against the oil companies. I fired off the following e-mail to the Congressman and as you can see I'm finding it difficult to maintain the required politeness towards people with such animosity towards businessmen in general.

I was disappointed in the ending to your Congressional Connector of Aug 11th. which declared that oil companies made $44 billion while people struggled. This was a most shameful display of what Ayn Rand called 'hatred of the good for being the good.'

It displays an ignorance of economics, ignorance that profits are how wealth is created, ignorance that profits mean purchased survival time, ignorance in that wealth is not a static quantity in which the wealth of some is achieved at the expense of others but rather is created by the free minds of productive individuals.

The paragraph is immoral in that it appeals to one of the worst elements of human nature, envy and resentment of the successful. For over a century oil companies have, through the profit motive, provided America with abundant and cheap energy. They don't deserve this kind of vilification. If energy costs are high, it is because of congressional activities.

I have always had some respect for you and Carl as members of the old left who in turn had some respect for individual freedom and rights. It now looks like you are abandoning even that as you attack profits in the billions. Do you know what that says? It says that you believe that morality is a matter not of principle but of numbers. In your eyes, if a man makes millions he is productive but if he makes billions he is evil and must be smashed in some way for the benefit of those who did not make it.

I urge you not to make such appeals to envy in the future and reconsider your position. It is very un-American.
I see that Congress has adjourned for a few weeks so he probably won't see it for awhile. That's good. Perhaps it will be fresh in his mind when the House reconvenes.


Darren said...

Nice email, but I bet he won't even read it. And if he did, I bet he'll just ignore it. Maybe I'm just assuming the worst from him, but when I read arguments like his I can't help but question the honesty of the person who wrote it. He points out a lot of true facts about oil company profits, but he leaves out the ones that won't lead his reader to side with him. Such as, the fact that oil companies paid more in taxes than they earned in profit, they had to spend many billions in costs to earn their profit, and their profit margin is in line with other businesses. The truth is, there's nothing different about how the oil companies do their business than other businesses. Oil companies just do business on a larger scale.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that the oil companies have the right to earn whatever they make, no matter what the scale, the tax rate, or the size of the profit margin. And the right to keep what you earn and to do trade with others freely is the essential point that people need to understand. But it doesn't change the fact that when he complains about large profit the way he did, he's essentially lying. He's hiding relevant facts from his readers in order to get them to agree with him. In other words, he's not just trying to make an argument with a picture... he's also doctoring the picture!

Mike N said...

You're right that he might not even read it. I am bouyed by the fact that he's read others of mine before and had his spokesman reply to me.

And you're right again about his dishonesty in slanting his words against oil companies. That's why I'm losing my patience with him and others like him. Last year I urged him to draft legislation to open up offshore drilling. His spokesman said those offshore sites don't have any oil under them anyway--and expected me to believe it.