La loi, dans un grand souci d’égalité…

August 17th, 2011  |  Published in Politics  |  2 Comments

Sometimes, I read a couple of apparently unrelated blog posts in quick succession, and immediately spot a connection between them. I’m never sure whether I’m being insightful, or just giving in to the incorrigible tendency of the primate homo sapiens to find patterns in everything. Anyway, take this for what you will.

Kevin Drum points us to a particularly galling story of the rich using lawsuits to push people around and get their way, in this case by harassing hot-air balloon operators for disrupting their “Moorish fortress castle” for “ultra high net worth individuals”.

This made me think of this recent post by Corey Robin, also discussed by Mike Konczal with follow-up here. They’re talking about Mitt Romney’s new proposal to replace Unemployment Insurance with individual UI savings accounts, instead of the pooled public insurance fund we have now.

See Konczal’s first post for an explanation of all the ways in which private accounts are inferior as a way of dealing with unemployment. What I’m interested in is that managing a personal UI account would be much more cumbersome than just having UI paycheck deductions go into a general fund, and that this is part of a more general neoliberal phenomenon where, as Corey Robin puts it, “all of us are forced to spend an inordinate amount of time keeping track of each and every facet of our economic lives”.

This is where I made the connection with the balloonist lawsuits. The underlying theme here is that in a highly unequal society, greater complexity in the institutions of the state will generally favor the interests of the rich. The more complex the law is, the more victory in court comes to depend not on who is legally in the right, but on who can spend more money on their legal team. The value of a personalized UI account will be greater, and the associated hassle smaller, for those who can afford to pay someone to professionally manage their assets. The other great example of this is the tax code, since only the rich can hire accountants to take advantage of its many intricacies and loopholes–which is why I suspect that the Republicans will never really be interested in the “lower the rates, broaden the base” genre of tax reform, even if they like to pay lip service to it.

The right has gotten a lot of mileage of out of the demand for small government. Maybe it’s time for the left to make a bigger deal out of simple government.