My recent posts have generated some great discussion. While I generally try to stay out of the discourse, I’ve enjoyed reading the comments so much that I must share a few ideas that came to me from them:
When people say that’s the last time they’ll use a Rick Steves guidebook after I spout off politically, I’m sad and I wonder why. Then I remember that I used to love Dennis Miller (and all his hilarious “rants”) until I learned of his conservative politics. While I’m sure he’s as funny as ever, I no longer find him entertaining (and therefore no longer buy his CDs). So perhaps for me, too, speaking out is bad for business.
If someone’s politics really annoy me, it’s usually because they are either flesh-and-blood relatives (my Dad) or smart and funny. Mixing funny, smart, irreverent, and conservative (Dennis Miller) confounds me (maybe like I confound some people who wish they could still like me).
I always find it interesting that I most offend some people simply by being willing to sacrifice a little business in order to share political ideas I’ve picked up in my travels. The norm in our society today is to protect your career or business by keeping your ethics and personal beliefs to yourself. I keep meeting people who support the war they know is wrong because they work for a company that builds airplanes. I meet people at NORML conventions who can’t tell their workmates that they’re at a conference working to change marijuana laws because it would threaten their chances at a promotion. I keep meeting quiet people who believe in freedom who tell me it’s courageous to speak out.
Kathy: I once literally stood on a soapbox in London’s Speakers’ Corner and gave a little lecture…it was fun and drew a huge crowd. I like how you likened a blog to Speakers’ Corner. Now that you mention it, I think you’re correct.
I’ve been visiting Speakers’ Corner for 30 years. It’s like a dozen blogs raging simultaneously. Each loudmouth has his Humberd-ian sidekick. Gentlemanly, tone-deaf, and uninvited, he chimes in rhythmically, adding to the strangely lovable, eccentric mix that keeps people heading down to Hyde Park each Sunday morning.
Some people say I should stick to travel. After 25 years of giving my “budget travel” talk all over the USA, I now give a talk called “Travel as a Political Act.” It just feels so much more worthwhile. Maybe that’s why, when my church friends were moving from my conservative suburban Lutheran church to the hip, progressive one in downtown Seattle (back in the Iran/Contra days), I chose — as a matter of principle — to stay with my neighborhood church even though I was politically the odd duck.
I find that people who are most adamant about our right to militarize the Middle East to protect our access to its oil are also generally the most evangelical about the free market. If they believe in the free market, why not just let it work? Whatever you might think of Arab states, their natural resources are captive to the wonderful (and ultimately omnipotent) laws of supply and demand. They can only charge what the market will bear. If they charge too much, it will stimulate international markets to find an alternative. With military intervention, we subvert the free market. Come on, hawks and conservatives…trust in the free market (and trust in your ability to make money without wars). I believe that the $2 trillion we’re spending on this war has, ironically, created a vast and extremely profitable industry (more so even than in past wars) that cheats the free market…and the rest of us, too. I believe the free market will humble the Arab oil barons much more effectively (and economically) than our military.
Kent: I’m the first one to admit that travel takes oil. I wish there was bold and honest leadership to put an effective carbon tax on airfares so that those of us who fly had to pay for some program to make it carbon-neutral. If it cost $500 more per ticket, I’d be thankful for the opportunity to pay the true cost of the flight. If half as many people would then travel, I’d be perfectly willing to make half as much money in my business. (In a recent interview for an airline magazine, they asked me my prediction for the hot destination in the future. I said, “Our own backyard — as that’ll be the only place we’ll be able to go if we don’t get serious about climate change.”)
The problem as I see it is that our government is “government by the people via the corporations the people own.” Therefore it is elected primarily to create and protect a business-friendly environment for those corporations to profit-maximize (which is what they are legally obligated to do in the interest of their shareholders). A fundamental difference between us and Europe is that their government is by and for the people, even if that means legislating something not good for short-term business (e.g., making people pay for the disposal costs of a car when they purchase it). While I would much rather run my business here in the USA than in Europe, in the interest of people who will follow us, the environment, and a sustainable economy, I’d trade off a little business-friendliness for European priorities and ethics.
To Kent and others who wonder: For the record, as a matter of principle, I have never paid a penny beyond the price of an economy fare to fly. If someone bumps me up to business class, I’ll happily take it, but I really wish planes only offered economy class. (Frequently as I fly, I don’t keep track of my miles, either…but that’s for another blog entry.)
Maggie: I don’t take tax breaks for my “women’s violence shelter.” Until we need it ourselves, my wife and I have used our retirement nest egg to buy an apartment building that we let the YWCA use to house 24 single moms and their kids who would otherwise be homeless. If enjoying the tax-free joy of housing people rather than earning taxable interest income is a tax break, then maybe you’re correct. But I just think it’s a smart way to put your equity to good use until you need it later. (For all the details, go to the “About Rick/Media Corner” of our website and look under “Social Activism.”)
Laura: If you’d like the text of my “Travel as a Political Act” talk, go into that same Media Corner and find the article called “Innocence Abroad.” It’s pretty close, but I’m working on writing up the talk better.
Jeff: I didn’t feel the Marine acted disrespectfully to me. I respected his confidence that he was doing the right thing. You say the tone of my comments is “growing more anti-American and hateful every week.” I don’t mean to be unpatriotic or hateful. I actually believe I am motivated by a love of my country. And if I point out that we (via our military) have killed far more innocent people than terrorists have killed innocent Americans, I inject that truth into discussions not in a hateful way, but as a patriot. Allowing our country to be dumbed down by the media…now that’s anti-American. Dumb electorate = dumb government. And that’s a mistake that we can no longer afford.