There’s a lot to be said for green plants. From water, carbon dioxide, and a handful of chemicals, they grow, reproduce [often producing edible fruit or vegetables in the process], and eventually die, enriching the soil in the process. That is, of course, a great oversimplification, because there are parasitic plants among the more “creative” ones, but it’s not a bad model. And it works in nature so long as there are a lot more creative plants than parasitic ones. In considering this plant “model,” I realized that one could definitely make analogies to modern technological societies… except others have done so, and long before me.
Extreme conservatives, of course, are always insisting that government is the parasite, taking income and resources and otherwise penalizing those who create goods, services, and jobs, and redistributing those resources to help those unable or unwilling to work. Extreme liberals, on the other hand, claim that all too many businesses are the parasites, preying on underpaid workers, polluting the environment, avoiding paying taxes whenever they can, and failing to contribute enough to governments in return for the services and infrastructure they receive.
Both sides concentrate on their “costs.” Power companies have appealed EPA’s latest regulations on coal-fired power plants to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that compliance costs will cost more than $9 billion annually over the next ten years, while EPA studies show that the benefits from reducing mercury and particulate emissions exceed $90 billion annually by reducing health care and clean-up costs, etc. Studies show that the national direct health care costs for treating asthma, just one of many health conditions worsened by air pollution, exceed $20 billion annually, and I suspect that figure is low, given the just the prescription medication costs incurred annually by the asthmatic in our family. Those medical costs also don’t take into account lost wages and indirect costs. And to put the matter into perspective, an EPA study based on Census Bureau data showed that the total pollution abatement spending by U.S. manufacturers represented less than one percent the total value of goods they shipped [nearly $5 trillion].
And then there’s the minimum wage/benefits question. Since in the United States, we largely, but not totally, try to not to have people die of starvation and acute medical problems, we provide various benefits to those practically unable to work… or to those whose earnings don’t cover many of the costs of living at a low level. There’s always been a question about how many of those of those individuals are truly needy and unable to work and how many are parasitic. Then add to that the question of wage levels, when in many areas of the U.S., a full-time job at the minimum wage won’t cover even the basic cost of living. Is legislating a higher minimum wage parasitic on business, or are low minimum wage levels a form of parasitism on workers who cannot find jobs that pay more?
So…who’s preying on whom?
And what about our national obsession with guns? A recent study completed by Dr. Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation calculated that annual cost of gun violence in the United States is $229 billion. Regardless of what position one takes on gun control, $229 billion is a fairly substantial price tag for the freedom to bear arms. Are those with those guns parasites, since they’re spreading the cost of their bearing arms across the entire population? Yet can you imagine the outcry if someone suggested an annual seven hundred and fifty dollar tax on every firearm in the U.S, since that would be the pro-rated cost per gun?
A nearby town here in Utah was considering a parks and recreation sales tax. It wasn’t very much, a penny on every ten dollars of sales, and the money was to be used for park and recreation projects to improve the community. The measure barely passed, largely because a great number of retirees protested that they would derive no benefit from it, because the parks were used by others. Parasitism or community improvement?
Or does the definition just depend on who pays the bill?