Tacitus has an interesting piece on why he is not a Democrat.

He raises a number of good points, from the weakness of the Democratic Party on national defense to their attempts to diminish the role of religion in public life. The biggest one for me is that the Democratic Party and liberal activism in general goes against the very founding doctrines of this country. The Constitution was written with a very specific purpose: to limit the power of the federal government.

Yet liberalism demands an increasingly activist government. Liberalism is based on the concept that the best, if not the only, method for solving societal problems is government. While certainly government has a role in public life, that role was designed by the Founders to be minimal. There was a good reason why the Founders would abhor the kind of activist government we have now: because they knew that an activist government is much more likely to fall into tyranny. Not only the kind of tyranny that we would associate with fascism, but the more invidious tyranny of a system that denies the people the right to personal autonomy.

But what of the poor, the downtrodden, and the indigent? Shouldn’t the government have a role in lifting them up?

The answer to that is only as much as is absolutely necessary. Government is the wrong tool for the job. It may have resources, but it is notorious for being unaccountable and unconcerned with results. After thirty years of LBJ’s "War on Poverty" it would appear that poverty had largely won. If the solution to poverty was as simple as more government handouts, poverty would have been vanquished a long time ago. Instead of helping people in dire situations, government programs often only exacerbate their problems.

As Dinesh D’Souza once astutely noted, liberalism often fails to meet liberal ends. Government programs for the poor ended up creating a culture of entitlement that eroded the very values of hard work that are necessary to truly fight poverty. While soaking the rich to pay for these programs helped assuage the guilt of liberals, the people that were supposed to benefit from these programs received little benefit from them. Without accountability and instilling the values of hard work and self-determination, government programs are an anchor rather than helping hand.

Yet liberalism would argue that we need more of the same. They argue that the problem isn’t that these programs don’t work, it’s that they don’t have enough money. Liberals fought welfare reform tooth-and-nail, despite the fact that it helped break that cycle of dependency. Liberals continue to argue for more and more government intervention in every aspect of private life, despite the fact that government is inefficient at best and incompetent at worst.

3 thoughts on “Convictions

  1. Where do I even start ripping this one to shreds?

    One easy place to start is your suggestion that liberals want to diminish the role of religion in public life. I won’t go with the easy parallel regarding the separation of church and state that was made so clear in the Constitution you choose to selectively revere. Instead, I’ll challenge you on the front of individualism. Conservatives espouse the infallibility of cowboy-style individualism when it comes to economic, social and political affairs. The bureaucratic structure of government is an assurance that it will fail, you guys contend. Yet the theory of the corrupt nature of organized government (and organized labor for that matter too) for some reason fails to apply to organized religion, despite the fact that it has centuries of history as an abusive and manipulative institution. I’m not an ardent foe of organized religion. I can see the good and the bad of these things. However, conservatives’ black-and-white worldview of organized government=bad/organized religion=good is a product of two things…pure hypocrisy and cluelessness, and the fact that organized religion is an institution that puts money and votes into your party’s column, thus helping you to look the other way at the abuses of churches while chastising “bureaucrats and labor leaders.”

    As for perennial conservative argument that social spending is not Constitutionally permitted, you may have some leverage on that one…but I’m gonna wait until the Supreme Court starts striking down government budgets that fund Social Security and AFDC as being unconstitutional. It hasn’t happened yet so the argument is merely wishful conservative rhetoric thus far. Furthermore, the Constitution also doesn’t make reference to building other nations as the neoconservatives plan to do in “oppressed states” across the globe. I also must have missed the clause in the COnstitution that gives the federal government the right to fund a $100 million program to “promote marriage” as the Bush administration signed last year.

    In some ways, you’re right about activist government having the potential to become tyrannical. I am extremely frightened by the increasing “nanny state” presence that’s being pushed by the Left Coast-types who are more worried about breathing secondhand cigarette smoke in a bar than improving the lives of poor people. Is the big brother “nanny state” a natural extension of a government that is activist on other affairs? Perhaps, although Europe has mostly resisted the trend of government-mandated lifestyle micromanagement despite its activist government role in economic affairs. Whatever the case, government can be reasonably contained with the presence of democratic elections, so I have less fear of a big and overpowering government than I do of a laissez-faire government that merely stands back and watches a free market peyton place destroy itself.

    Our biggest bone of contention comes from your statements about government not lending a helping hand to the poor. With all your cheerleading for capitalism, it remains a system that creates winners and losers. By the nature of the system, a vast and perpetual underclass will form as a result of the division of labor necessary in a society and the business class “maximizing the efficiency of production” to enhance the profitability of ownerhsip. There is no way to avoid a culture where millions live in poverty under such a system. The contention by myself and other liberals is that if we’re going to accept a system that we know is going to leave a significant percentage of our people poor, don’t we have a responsibility to come up with alternative venues to help these people achieve a quality of life at least marginally comparable to that of the people who are reaping the spoils of this same system?

    The War on Poverty is a silly metaphor because government can never realistically eradicate poverty while simultaneously embracing an economic system that will inevitably create and maintain poverty. Nonetheless, poverty rates have fallen since 1964, but that can be better associated with technological advances and simply “moving off the cotton farms” over the past 35 years.

    A better metaphor would be a “Bandage on Poverty”. The years following the War on Poverty’s passage found the loss of millions of good-paying manufacturing jobs in the urban and rural areas where poverty has long been a problem. Here is another classic example of how capitalists taking advantage of the free market is directly related to increasing poverty rates. Good jobs were erased, often times much to the jubilation of conservatives, and people who had steady incomes plunged into the culture of poverty…often taking their next of kin with them. Couple this with lure of profits from the narcotics black market made possible with our foolhardy prohibition of drugs and you have a recipe for cultural meltdown. The war on drugs is far more responsible for the war on poverty’s alleged failure than any of the myths you espouse. Welfare merely provided a desperately needed bandage that covered the wounds of the free market “maximizing the efficiency of production” in manufacturing jobs and a government-imposed prohibition on drugs. What you’re trying to do is blame the bandage for causing the wound.

    The culture of dependence only exists so much as the marketplace dictates. When jobs don’t exist and people’s alternative is starvation and/or homelessness, welfare rolls increase. When the market’s on an upswing and makes employment available to people it normally does not, welfare rates plunge. For this reason, liberals are right to fight the GOP’s welfare-to-work fantasies tooth-and-nail because the only time they can be effective is during a market upswing. Even at that, the eradication of blue-collar and low-skill employment will rise to epidemic proportions in response to current free trade policy. Getting people off of the welfare and into the job market during the boom times of the late-90s may have been doable, but there’s zero chance of such a system being sustainable, and the long-term prospects for poor people in America being employed long-term are gloomier 10 years down the road than they were in the early 90s when welfare rolls peaked.

    I’m a liberal who does not argue for more government involvement in ALL facets of public life. I have a strong libertarian bent on matters of personal consumption and lifestyle that too many liberals are treading into dangerous territory with. However, I strongly support government as a counteragent to the flaws and excesses of a marketplace economy, and lending a helping hand to those who need it. I make no apologies for this and despite conservative claims that it breeds dependency as complacency, I think our economy is much stronger because we’ve lended a helping hand to our poor…at least in generations before this one.

  2. I don’t have the time or energy to hit all your points, so those will have to come later.

    One thing that needs to be noted is that capitalism doesn’t necessarily create some poor underclass of blue-collar Morlocks to toil away for the bourgiousie Eloi. If anything, the experience of capitalism is that over time, everyone sees their standard of living go up. Yes, it’s not equitable, but as Churchill pointed out that the unequal sharing of blessings under capitalism was far preferable to the equal sharing of misery under socialism.

    To understand why this is true, all one has to do is ask a simple question. Why do most corporations and even small business offer employee benefits? For most companies, health care costs are one of the biggest drains on profits. So why not just dump them?

    The simple answer is that they have to, and not because of government regulation. They have to because if they didn’t, no one would work there. In a free market, workers have a wide latitude of choice in where they choose to work. If I don’t like a company, I can move elsewhere. (Granted, if the economy’s bad this is a risky thing to do, but it is still very possible.) Which means that corporations that mistreat workers tend not to last long. Even the worst peon working the checkout at Wal-Mart has it better than most workers and has a level of upward mobility that they wouldn’t have in Europe.

    Corporations and small business do these things because the market forces them to. One of the reasons for the high rates of immigration in America is because most natives don’t want the jobs being done by immigrants. (Who really wants to gut hogs in Sioux Falls anymore when there are better opportunities.) Despite the fact that there is a lot of exploitation in this black market, once Hispanics become naturalized, they often can also experience the kind of upward mobility that other groups have. (Again, they may not do it at the same rate, but it does happen.) Even a hog-gutter is likely to have health insurance, and even a modest pension. Plus, if that hog-gutter has higher aspirations, they have a much greater chance at one day managing a hog-gutting plant or even owning a small business than they ever would in a stratified European country.

    Is capitalism perfect? Surely not, as WorldCom, Enron, and others can attest. (Although they were punished for violating the rules of transparency and ethics that are a cornerstone of a capitalist system.) Do free-markets produce equal gains for everyone? Again, no. Do they work in the long run? Absolutely.

    The proof is in the pudding. If the US system was so unjust and exploitive, there wouldn’t be people literally dying to get in. Yes, the system has its flaws, but given the choice of being in the market here or having to live in the high-tax and low-opportunity EU, I know what choice I would make. (And currently being unemployed, I’d actually be better off in the short term living in Europe – but it wouldn’t be worth the long term lack of opportunity.)

  3. Capitalism DOES create an underclass and sustains that level of underclass to whatever extent regulators will or will not allow it to. There’s no reasonable way to deny it. Justifying economic disparities in America on the grounds of poverty in America not being as bad as poverty in many other places in the world is just a red herring that allows free-market ideologues to ease their conscience enough to sleep at night. The opinion out of most of these third world countries that know how America operates finds the fact that the extreme wealth of our nation coupled with the 70 million Americans at, below, or just barely above the poverty line as an embarrassment and a liability. Many of them do come here, but when they see the working conditions they’re subjected to and the high likelihood for crippling workplace injuries on loosely-regulated factory floors, a great many wish they would have stayed where they were at. Even those that do put up with “underclass America” conditions rarely embrace the renegade individualist ethic that you support, as evidenced by how they behave in the voting booth once they get that right.

    “Why do companies offer benefits?” Simple…unions. If not for the presence of organized labor (and the level of activism in the government a half century ago that helped them flourish), employee benefits today would be what they were 100 years, save for a few specialized industries whose employees had the leverage to command more from their employers. Other than that, capitalism’s modus operandi of “maximizing the efficiency of production” is wholly inconsistent with the idea of providing medical benefits and vacations to the average worker, blue collar or white collar. As unions role in our economy is diluted, we are seeing these benefits weakened or downright unraveled. Were it not for the option of unionizing still being on the table, there would be no incentive whatsoever for companies to offer benefits and as the global economy offers them more options, an increasing number will opt to relieve themselves of this profit liability. That, my friend, is how capitalism works.

    This leads me to your next point, about “natives not doing the jobs immigrants end up taking.” This point strikes a particular nerve for me coming from a meatpacking family in a meatpacking town that was gutted as badly as any hog by the meat industry and the government regulators who turned the other way while they pillaged my family and community of our livelihood. You do have it half right, as so many do. Americans won’t do the jobs the immigrants take….at the wage level decided adequate by the meatpacking companies. The mythology of the free market dogma is that wages will be upwardly mobile when the demand for labor outweighs the supply. Through our ruinous immigration policy, companies are able to operate outside of local market forces and artificially suppress wage levels into infinity so long as that pipeline from the third world keeps flowing.

    Let me tell you this. Meatpacking was the highest paying manufacturing industry in the nation 25 years ago, paying nearly $11 an hour (in early 80’s dollars). Today, adjusted for inflation, the median meatpacking wage stands at about 38 cents on the dollar what it was in 1978. Meatpacking was able to command such a high wage level then for a variety of reasons, but the presence of a strong union and the labor-intensive work required a special breed of worker. Yet “these jobs Americans refuse to do” today never had a problem filling their factory floors up with local workers who used their generous paychecks to lift local economies to unprecedented peaks. Now, thanks to trade policy and the government-sponsored availability of cheap labor, meatpacking has regressed to the working conditions of Upton Sinclair days.

    My dad currently works for the railroad and I’m convinced that’s the next blue-collar industry to go down the same path of meatpacking. With Bush in the White House just salivating at the prospect of sinking his venomous fangs into more working-class throats, it would surprise me if he didn’t pursue “deregulation” efforts of our railroads with the intended consequences of erasing tens of thousands of good paying union jobs and turning them into “jobs Americans won’t do” and fill the rail lines up with the same exploited immigrant groups that built the rail lines before they were regulated in those glorious Gilded Age days when the free market was last able to create such upward mobility for Americans.

    Perspective and upbringing determine alot about people’s worldview. I don’t know your background is, but your values definitely seem to indicate a privileged upbringing that keeps you from comprehending why anyone would have a grievance with a system that is inherently abusive and ineffective unless counteracted with a variety of checks and balances. At the risk of sounding condescending, I think it would do you some good to live in a working-class town or a poor urban neighborhood for a few months….and then return back and see if you still believe that the kind of economic system you embrace doesn’t create and sustain an underclass. From personal experience, I can assure you it does…and it greases those lower rungs of the ladder consistently, making it easier for those who are just starting to climb out to slip and fall right back down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.