Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Who is Sarah Palin?

Like half a million other people, I purchased this book before it was published. There was a glitch in the delivery, though, and I didn't get my copy until it had be reviewed by everybody else.

At this moment, I am only on p. 188, but I thought I might jot down some things I've learned from the book, limiting myself to things that I haven't seen anyone else mention.

(Disclaimer: The first three numbered propositions below should be prefaced with "As she presents herself in this book..." How this image is related to reality is something I can't comment on.)

1. She is strongly pro-free-market. She actually characterizes her position as laissez-faire at one point.

2. She is not, however, pro-giant-corporation. She seems to understand that big business likes big government, and that the feeling is mutual. Early in the first chapter, she presents the big-picture context of her career as governor of her state:
Like most Alaskans, I could see that the votes of many lawmakers lined up conveniently with what was best for Big Oil, sometimes to the detriment of their own constituents.

When oil began flowing from Prudhoe Bay in 1977, billions of dollars flowed into state coffers with it. The state raked in more revenue than anyone could have imagined—billions of dollars almost overnight! And the politicians spent it. Government grew rapidly. One quarter of our workforce was employed by state and local governments, and even more was tied to the state budget through contracts and subsidies. Everyone knew there was a certain amount of back-scratching going on. But an economic crash in the 1980s collapsed the oil boom. Businesses closed and unemployment soared.

During the oil boom, anyone who questioned the government's giving more power to the oil companies was condemned: What are you trying to do, slay the golden goose? But when the boom went bust, the golden goose still ruled the roost. By then, state government was essentially surrendering its ability to act in the best interests of the people. So I ran for governor.
As she sees it, politicians should act "on the side of the people," which means to some extent acting against the interest of the corporate/bureaucratic complex that tends to control things. She might be the only prominent politician, other than Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich, who sees it this way. This could explain why some of her bitterest enemies in Alaska are Republicans. Could it also help to explain why some of the nasty comments on her book are by conservatives?

3. Like John Locke, she believes that undeveloped natural resources are the collective property of the people. This, I take it, is why she saw fit to impose a new tax on North Slope oil profits and give a cash rebate to every man, woman, and child in the state. The idea seems to be that extracted materials like raw petroleum are a special case as far as property rights are concerned: the "true owners" (her words) are the people. Obviously, such an argument cannot be made for refined gasoline, which is a human artifact.

4. The final point is an impression I get from the book that Palin obviously does not intend to convey: Being governor of Alaska is not a very good preparation for being president of the US. Alaska is a vast area with an extremely sparse population, including a large number of natives. Towns with no paved roads are very common. Its economy is inordinately dependent on a single industry, which consists of resource extraction and not producing finished materials or goods (such as food). In all these respects it is much like the Mother Lode and Comstock Lode areas of the West in the 1850s and 60s. If Ms. Palin is interested in the highest political office in the world, she needs to first find a national-level daytime job, such as serving in Congress.

For a rather different view, there's this:


Anonymous said...

"Like John Locke, she believes that undeveloped natural resources are the collective property of the people."

Then why is she against federal taxes on oil? The US bought Alaska from Russia and paid for it with federal money. The resources in Alaska are US resources, not just the people living in Alaska.

Lester Hunt said...

I take it that this tax money would go to the federal government. The money she took went directly to the people. If it belongs to the people, why should the government get it instead of them?

I should add that you raise an interesting difficulty in applying the collective ownership idea. Why the people of Alaska and not the people of the US? Indeed, why the people of the US rather than the people of the world? This last alternative was the one that Locke himself believed in.