Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Teachable Moment

One of our readers has brought forward a question that some of the rest of you may have been wondering about. And so in the spirit of transparency that Obama has promised but has studiously avoided delivering on, I wanted to respond out here on the page instead of in the comments section where "Dan" responded. I suspect that David will want to fill in the inevitable gaps I will leave in my open letter to you Dan, so we'll have his wisdom to draw on also.

Dan's response to the Mark Steyn "Quote of the Week", which appears immediately below, about socialism being much worse for America, is as follows:

"much worse"...?

"Geez, you guys are fairly fatalistic about the trajectory and/or overzealously fond of the past results here in the States. I'm not just responding to this post... it seems to be a theme. "Oh, no, Obama was elected, we're going to be a socialist state." First off... that's unlikely. And secondly, would it be so bad? What's wrong with the "European way" of things?~Dan

OK Dan, first, thanks for paying attention. Socialism has been a major theme on this page since the Obama candidacy hove into view 18 months ago. It took Joe the Plumber to make overt what had until then been covert in the national mediasphere, but David and I and many other bloggers were onto the implications of Obama's indirect speech and euphemisms from the beginning. I believe if you continue to pay attention, you will find that what Obama was hiding under the rubric of "change we can believe in", and "we are going to change America" is in fact an attempt to shift the American political and economic regime into as pure a strain of socialism as it is possible to accomplish.

I will take your points in order. “[Y]ou guys are fairly fatalistic about the trajectory [of the country]”.

I will speak for myself here, and let David qualify his own position as he sees fit; but for myself, you are correct. The left has never cared a whit for the constitution, except as a device to empower themselves while at the same time restricting their reactionary enemies—that would be all who like the constitution as it is, and don’t want wholesale changes made to what the Founders designed.

The Obama administration, in league with the Congressional despots Reid and Pelosi and all their henchmen, will see to it that most of their gains will be locked in, impossible to undo. They have a huge advantage in that the ever-expanding portion of federal and even state governments that are beyond public control are on their side—the Dems are the party of big government. For example, executive branch agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency will do as typical—are only loosely controlled by the political appointee (the Secretary in charge of the agency) and the president, or even the Congress. Career bureaucrats consider presidential administrations the “Christmas help”—i.e., the bureaucrats will be in place long after the politicians are gone. They have their own agenda—witness the way the CIA and State Departments beleaguered the Bush administration with those continuous and damaging leaks. How many leaks do you expect from those agencies under Obama? The federal bureaucracy is aligned with socializing the nation because that puts them in control of it. They are unionized, and they can never be fired.

Next, the federal courts are presided over by judges totally in sync with rewriting the constitution in the manner of common law—i.e., the law is whatever the courts say it is. So, through administrative fiat and judicial activism almost all the unconstitutional changes about to be wrought in the next four years will be difficult to undo—with four votes on the Supreme Court the only governmental backstop. Don’t forget the ominous move to take the census into the White House. Do you think all those hugely funded ACORN types are going to be unemployed the next two years? According to that Ur-socialist Joseph Stalin, “the people who vote are not important; it is the people who count the votes that are important”. This, along with huge changes in immigration policy, will lock down their political gains for generations if they get a way with it. Thus, the electoral remedy is being put even further out of reach.

And yes Dan, I am zealously, though not overzealously, fond of the “past results of this country.” Political, economic, and religious liberty is rare and precious. Despots don’t like freedom and they are in the business of increasing their power, under the guise of “helping”, at the expense of the people’s liberty. Liberty necessarily produces some messy processes and less than optimal outcomes. But breathing free air is something few human beings on this planet have experienced, and the American experience of freedom will mark the high point in political history, as Francis Fukuyama pointed out in The End of History and the Last Man. It doesn’t have to end, but I fear it will. The “Last Man” in Fukuyama’s title is Nietzsche’s prophesy: the last man is socialist man, enervated, emptied of virtue, and barely human.

That is the main reason socialism is inferior. It is antithetical to liberty and all that liberty produces, most especially human excellence. Look at what has happened to us already. The nanny state directs our lives in ways the Founders never dreamed any rational person would accept. Ronald Reagan said the scariest sentence you can hear is “We’re from the government and we’re here to help.” But the help governments bring only deadens initiative, removes personal responsibility, and actively competes with God and all religions for the spiritual allegiance of the people. Can you name a socialist country that has an active and engaged citizenry, a vibrant economy, or encourages religious faith? And because of its intrusiveness, it necessarily politicizes all of life. Suddenly, it is my business if you smoke or are too fat—it makes my health care costs more expensive, since we are all paying for each other’s health care. And instead of rationing resources and services by price, we will ration with waiting lines and coupon books. But there is always a way for some people to get to the front of the line or get more coupons, or avoid the whole regime, right? Orwell taught us that some are always more equal than others in socialism.

Frederich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom and The Constitution of Liberty conclusively showed that, merely from the stand point of information science, central planners—and planning and control is what socialism is all about—cannot have access to enough information to make the economic decisions that routinely occur each day across the millions of actors in an open and free market. The “commanding heights” conceit that Marx was so fond of—from analogy with 18th century warfare—is false, and is an excellent example of how metaphors and analogies can mislead us in our thinking. Yet it is a flattering idea to men like Barack Obama—that he, along with a cadre of wizards, can command the economy to rise and the oceans to recede like some grand field marshal. It has evolved into the notion that reality can be legislated.

What’s so bad about Euro socialism? Holy mackerel, where to begin. Aside from the truncated freedom, the social pathologies it breeds, and the economic stagnation and unemployment, what’s not to like? Economically, socialism is willing to accept a high number of permanently unemployed people who are placed in hammocks and provided for, in order to lock down a minuscule number of permanent jobs for people who can never be fired from jobs in moribund industries, and are taxed at confiscatory rates. I suppose it’s a good deal for those with jobs; but take John Rawls’ “initial position” idea, and suppose yourself to be one of those European sad-sacks locked out of a job because the State determined as a child you were not going to university. You want to live in government housing, cashing minimal government checks for doing nothing, with no prospect of useful employment? Swedes, Danes, and Swiss all kill themselves in disproportionate numbers directly related to this sort of ennui. Epidemic numbers of Brits are falling down drunks; Belgium and Holland are full of heroine addicts who smoke pot in bars between fixes—all of them on the dole.

There are some socialist arrangements that maybe don’t seem that bad—Sweden, Denmark, Finland, if you don’t care about individual freedom. But these countries and all of Europe have been riding behind the huge economic locomotive of the United States economy since WWII. We have provided for the defense of Europe, and they all spent the money that would have gone to defense budgets on welfare programs. They all depend on selling into our huge open and free market. What happens when we are taxed and regulated into mediocrity? Who’s going to buy all those BMW’s and Volvo’s? When the entire Western world is socialist, that will mark the beginnings of the real sorrows. America is still the last best hope of mankind, because of LIBERTY.

Besides, socialism is not American. It is an alien plant, as welcome and as useful as kudzu. It cuts against every line in our constitution. And that is the main reason I detest socialism and will continue to warn and rail against it—it is unconstitutional and un-American.

David Innes adds:

Harold, I echo your "Where do I begin?"

First it is interesting that Barack Obama wants to reduce the tax advantages for charitable giving quite significantly. Even Democrats are surprised (a) that he would do this, and (b) that he would do it at a time when charities are suffering huge declines in contributions. But this behavior is characteristic of socialists and of statists of all sorts. They want all relief in the hands of the government where it can be properly directed and where it can further establish the necessity and ubiquity of the state. For this reason also, people on the poltiical left are notoriously stingy givers. They give almost nothing to charity compared to conservatives, especially religious conservatives, as Arthur C. Brookes has documented.

The best refutation of socialism I have read came from Alexis de Tocqueville in his "Memoir on Pauperism." (That link takes you to a pdf download.) It's a short but life transforming read. His chief concern is for what it does to the citizen character and the human spirit. It ennervates, infantilizes, and enslaves.

Tocqueville's chapters on soft despotism in Democracy In America (Part II, part 4) are also essential reading. We're vigilant against the tyranny of the majority, but we get blindsided by what he calls democratic despotism. "The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."

He adds, "They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain."

Another short but great work advocating individual liberty and thus refuting state socialism is Milton Friedman's classic, Capitalism and Freedom. Here's chapter one.

Note this also. If Barack Obama succeeds with his changes to the tax system, there will be a majority of Americans who pay no federal tax at all. Thus, the voting majority will be able to benefit themselves with one spending program after another while charging it to the minority. We need to remember Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's counsel: "The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money." It's a strategy for national disaster.

If our public schools would provide an education that actually fit our young people for life in our particular regime, this good regime--industrious and civic spirited life--then we would not have to make these arguments.

Thanks, Dan. This was a useful exercise.


David C. Innes said...

Here's a initial thought, and it comes from David Brooks the moderate-conservative columnist who has been fond of Obama from the start. In his recent column, "A Moderate Manifesto," he says:

"So programs are piled on top of each other and we wind up with a gargantuan $3.6 trillion budget. We end up with deficits that, when considered realistically, are $1 trillion a year and stretch as far as the eye can see. We end up with an agenda that is unexceptional in its parts but that, when taken as a whole, represents a social-engineering experiment that is entirely new.

"The U.S. has never been a society riven by class resentment. Yet the Obama budget is predicated on a class divide. The president issued a read-my-lips pledge that no new burdens will fall on 95 percent of the American people. All the costs will be borne by the rich and all benefits redistributed downward."

After ennumerating further indications of this governments determination to expand government control to levels far beyond anything we has experienced before, he confesses: "Those of us who consider ourselves moderates ... are forced to confront the reality that Barack Obama is not who we thought he was." As Harold said, the mask is off, but those of us who are not moderates are not surprised.

The link for Brooks is:

Roundhead said...

here is the contradiction inherent in contemporary `liberalism' (ie. socialism).

According to liberals/socialists, the wealth acquired by the `corporate elite' is deleterious to freedom, because the elite by its nature restricts opportunities for the average guy and gal to get ahead - as promised by the `American dream.'

It is necessary, then, for government to be invested with enough power, in order to adequately control the `corporate elite' - which (according to `liberal' philosophy) is very powerful indeed.

But, if the state is so powerful as to be more powerful than an all-powerful `corporate elite', how will then the average citizen fare in the face of a very powerful state? Remember, it is on behalf of the `little guy' that `liberalism' supposedly exists...

The answer is, not very well at all.

THAT, commenter `Dan', is what is wrong with `social democracy.'

ps - I think the terms `social democrary' and `democratic socialist' are, inadvertently, telling: they are admissions that, on their own, plain old `socialism' is essentially authoritarian.