The Ship of a Fools is traditional allegory that depicts a pilotless ship with crazed and foolish passengers who are incapable of reaching a destination, much less understanding what their destination should be. It is not too difficult to jump from this picture to an image of the Missouri Republican legislature.
If you doubt the aptness of the metaphor, just think about the response of the Missouri Republicans to the federal stimulus money. Not only are these particular fools throwing tantrums and strutting around declaring that none of the money can be used to extend unemployment benefits or shore up social services, but they even have the gall to propose that some of it be frittered away in tax rebates — in spite of the fact that the Bush stimulus package, which depended on tax rebates and business tax cuts, had a minimal impact on the economy.
These same Republicans want to categorically preclude using the stimulus money for unemployment benefits. They conveniently ignore analysis demonstrating that increasing and extending unemployment benefits would provide one of the biggest boosts to the economy of any of the proposed spending programs, with an estimated return of $1.64 for every dollar spent.
In general, spending money to shore up state government has been estimated to return a very respectable $1.36 per dollar spent, which is why the stimulus package was designed to be used in part to help maintain necessary state services:
Adam Posen, an economist with the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said helping states bridge budget gaps would help keep teachers and police officers on the job. …
The more people stay in their jobs, the more they are able to pay mortgages, auto loans and credit card bills, and the more likely they are to continue spending.
Missouri Republicans argue that if they use the stimulus package funds for anything other than discrete projects, the state will be unable to sustain the spending when the one-time funds are exhausted. This argument, however, ignores the fact that if they act promptly to get the fullest stimulative effect possible, the resulting economic upturn should insure that claims for unemployment dollars and state services decline accordingly. Of course, that particular consideration is of little interest to those who do not believe that government should provide such services at all.
Cupidity may also play a role in the Republican agenda. Apart from floating the tax rebate idea, state Republicans seem dedicated to using the stimulus money for one-time infrastructure projects. While this type of spending is desirable and should be effective in terms of stimulus, one does wonder if these gentlemen, true to past form, aren’t hoping to steer as much money as possible towards business cronies, the developers and construction interests who can be counted on to support their political campaigns — as opposed to those poor souls hardest hit by the Bush depression who need the extended unemployment benefits and state social services.
One suspects, however, that the major culprit is blind adherence to the simplified conservative ideology that seems so prevalent among Missouri’s Republicans. If they have to take the stimulus money, they want to insure that it cannot be used to create the very type of government they have set out to destroy.
Ideology is essentially a set of generalizations that develop as people try to solve problems. Wise people abandon or change ideologies that no longer work. Only fools cling desperately to rules and belief systems that fail repeatedly or that are not appropriate to the situation at hand. The sad thing, though, is that when this ship of fools finally sinks, we all may be carried under with it.
(Picture from Wikipedia Commons)
Foucault believed that the “Ship of Fools” allegory actually referred to real ships that wandered the major rivers of pre-Renaissance Europe. The “sailors” on these ships were insane people exiled from the urban centers of the time, and the ships functioned like mobile asylums.
I would love it if the citizens of Missouri decided to exile the insanity from our House Republican leadership and put them on a casino boat or something.
The Pogues did a spoof of the painting for the cover of their alblum Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.