Sunday, August 28, 2011
They Wouldn't Dream of Getting a Job: They'd Lose Their Welfare!"
When I asked our next-door neighbor, a well-known African-American movie actor, why his three healthy, middle-aged brothers didn’t have jobs when, as the actor complained, they were continually “hitting [him] up for money”, he answered—“They wouldn’t dream of getting a job: they’d lose their welfare!” This statement sums up the poisonous deterrent to personal initiative and the subsequent production of personal sloth engendered by the creation of the welfare state more completely than any statement I have ever heard. I should be broadcast around the country, so exactly to the point it is.
When I was a boy in the 1940s I remember that no one would have dreamed of admitting publically that he was on welfare, or even that he was poor. To confess to poverty meant announcing to the world that one had failed to provide for oneself, that one had essentially failed in achieving the national personal goal of self-sufficiency. Today, by contrast, hordes of picketers can be seen in public demanding this or that form of welfare, almost proudly proclaiming their indigence. Electoral politics have even encouraged officials, a preponderance of them Democrats, to be forthcoming with government handouts as a way of buying whole classes of future voters, and let the country be damned. Even the modern euphemistic vocabulary for welfare has served to erase the stigma of government handouts, with words such as “compensation” and “entitlement” making the reality of being on the public dole sound almost honorable.
A particularly egregious form of welfare is Aid to Single Mothers, a subsidy that not only encourages dependency but that actually discourages marriage, destroying any semblance of family life. In the Afro-American community, for example, the percentage of children born out of wedlock just after World War II was eight percent. Today, with decades of the Aid to Single Mothers program behind us, that figure is close to seventy percent (the Left, of course, blames this high figure on slavery!), with fatherless boys especially forced to look for male role models in organized groups—such as gangs.
Is it a lack of intelligence that makes us choose welfare? Hardly! Our intelligence tells us that if anyone offers us free money we should take it! It is rather our integrity and our traditional American values, both diminishing qualities in our society, that tell us not to take it because taking public money is basically taking money from other people against their will, money they badly need for themselves! What we need is leaders who have the intelligence and the integrity to realize that putting people on the dole creates a class—and eventually a nation—of parasites, a catastrophe for any nation that eventually dooms that nation to oblivion.
Even I, who loathe the idea of welfare, have experienced the seductive appeal of free government money. When I was laid off of my job five years ago I discovered that unemployment compensation, which I knew would last for a year, was quite adequate to live on, which I did for almost the whole year before looking for another job. To my great shame I interpreted it as a paid year’s vacation, which I rationalized by saying that I had paid into it, although in reality it was my employer who had paid into it. I can't believe that I am the only recipient to have reacted in this manner. Of course there is a need for welfare, but it should be reserved for the truly incapacitated, that is, exclusively for the tiny percentage of people who are actually physically unable to work.
So when the public cringes at the current unemployment numbers, particularly among minorities, they should avoid the clarion calls to “compassion” and realize that not only will more government doles foster more parasitism, but that a significant percentage of these unemployed are already in a huge and growing sub-class of people who “wouldn’t dream of getting a job—because they’d lose their welfare!”
Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea
It has always been hard to pin down just what “conservatism” stands for, what with people of such widely divergent views as Barry Goldwater, Jerry Falwell, and both George Bushes described by that term. The relatively recent addition to the political lexicon of “neoconservatism” complicates matters further. What do “neocons” believe? Where do their ideas come from? If they obtain political power, what can we expect?
To find answers to those questions, I strongly recommend Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea. In it, authors C. Bradley Thompson of Clemson University and Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute dig through the words of neocon politicians like John McCain, the writings of neocon strategists like Irving Kristol, William Kristol, and David Brooks, and ultimately to the wellspring of the neoconservative movement, University of Chicago professor Leo Strauss. What readers discover is that neoconservatism is a strikingly authoritarian movement with scant regard for individual rights. Neoconservatives aren’t concerned with individuals, the authors contend, but want to build cohesion—even if it requires great Machiavellian deception of the people—in pursuit of “national greatness.” Life, liberty, and property are all at the mercy of whatever politicians the neocon intelligentsia manages to elect.
“The neocons,” the authors write, “might be best described as cautious or pragmatic liberals in that they think reform should be modest, slow, and experimental, and that it should be devised in such a way that it relies more on traditional social values . . . than on bureaucratic authority and ideological dogmas.” But while neocons are thus tactically at odds with the headlong statism that dominates the Democratic Party, they are strategically at odds with Americans who want to downsize the State. In one of the book’s most memorable phrases, we learn that neocons believe that “leave us alone is not a governing philosophy.” That is, they want to use governmental power, not dismantle it. They abhor the idea of people telling government officials, “You have no moral or constitutional right to dictate my life.” Neocons, Thompson and Brook contend, are sharply opposed to the philosophy of the American founding, a fact they obscure behind rhetorical smokescreens.
So if the neocons are against Obama-style statism but also against libertarianism, what are these supposedly pragmatic people for? And why? Much of the book is devoted to teasing out those surprisingly difficult answers. The authors trace the movement back to Strauss, a political philosopher who was captivated by the ancient Greek idea that individuals fulfill their purpose by working and sacrificing for the good of the city-state. Strauss took Plato to heart, arguing that the people should be subservient to the greater collective, and while the connections to Strauss aren’t always perfectly clear, present-day neocons adopt that same belief. Instead of worrying about governmental intrusions against individual liberty, neocons are animated by a desire to grasp power for malleable, big-government Republicans such as McCain, then use the levers of power for what they think are “good” national goals.
What kinds of goals? That is left vague because, lacking true principles, neoconservatism leaves it up to political leaders under the sway of neocon thinkers to decide what our national goals should be. “Nation building” in places like Iraq and Afghanistan certainly qualifies. The neocons realized that the 9/11 attacks provided the ideal excuse to tear Americans away from their petty personal lives and dragoon them into a crusade against international terrorism. In that, the neocons show their allegiance to expansionist presidents of the past, like Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, who gloried in the use of military power abroad.
Since they lack a core philosophy, however, how can the neocons argue with those who wish to use government power for different kinds of “national greatness” projects? They can’t have any principled objection to a party that pledges national greatness through deep environmentalism, for example. (The neocons have so far opposed the wild-eyed environmentalists but it’s not clear why “green” central planning is necessarily inconsistent with their belief system.) They might scheme to keep such a party out of power, but what if they fail? It seems not to worry the neocons that the power they covet and seek to expand will certainly fall into “bad” hands at some point.
All in all, neoconservatism turns out to be another of those foolish movements that seek to commandeer the liberty, property, and even the lives of ordinary people so that “great men” might use them in pursuit of their dreams. Obviously it doesn’t bother the neocons that when they exert their will over the rest of us, millions of individual, peaceful plans and projects are wiped out. When the State sucks in resources for “national greatness,” less is left for business growth, charitable operations, and other voluntary activities. The neocons seem to care about that just as much as, oh, Napoleon did.
The petition process of initiative and referendum
Legitimate government is anchored on the consent of the governed. Yet, ours not only lacks popular approval, the men and women pulling the levers are actively trying to cut “We the People” out of the picture. Except, of course, to shut up and pay our taxes.
From Washington, D.C., to Sacramento, California, to little towns like Boulder City, Nevada, and Monroe, Washington, elected representatives of the people conspire to remove those people’s most effective means of oversight. They block the opportunity for those whom they should serve and to whom they must answer to decide issues at the ballot box.
Why protest Washington, D.C., chapter and verse? Everyone knows that Congress doesn’t represent us, regularly passing laws that a majority of folks oppose. Voters have booted majority parties three times in the last two decades. No change ensued. Today, Congress has set another all-time mark: the lowest public approval. Ever. Twelve percent.
Likewise, President Obama’s approval ratings are drooping. And it’s not simply due to the economy. All rational people now know that the problem with Barack Obama is not that he is “so different,” but that he is so much the same as every other politician. On the biggest new law, ObamaCare, while the candidate understood that “part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process,” and passionately promised “the public will be part of the conversation,” the president reneged in full.
Maybe Candidate Obama was pulling our leg. (Not funny.) Or he was recklessly not serious about following through on the promises that so led so many to place in him so much trust. Take your pick.
As the country reels under crisis, no one in the White House or Congress has even stumbled upon an idea that would include the American people more deeply in the conversation, give the voters a small role in decision-making, or, heaven forbid, any sort of check on their representatives’ awesome power.
Sadly, this studied lack of interest in ‘government by the people’ has also found its way to your state capital and even your city, town, village or hamlet.
In Sacramento, California, Governor Brown has already vetoed a bill passed by his own party’s legislators that would “drive up the costs of circulating ballot measures, thereby further favoring the wealthiest interests.” Another bill is now on Brown’s desk that would force people compensated in any way for circulating a petition to wear a sign that reads: “Paid Signature Gatherer.”
A majority of California representatives believe they have a right to slap a sign on a citizen’s chest if that uppity citizen engages in democratic acts legislators frown upon.
“We are trying to take on a giant with one hand tied behind our back,” Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gatto told the Los Angeles Times. The “giant” is the democratic right of Californians to petition issues onto the ballot and counter their out-of-control legislature.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported via headline that “Sen. Loni Hancock acts to thwart Amazon referendum.” Amazon.com is financing a referendum to challenge and place to a public vote legislation that will tax online retailers. Hancock argues, “The initiative and referendum process has increasingly been hijacked by large corporations for measures that would benefit their companies and businesses.”
Wealthy interests can, indeed, leverage the initiative process. But voters ultimately get to decide, and are not tricked like toddlers by TV ads. In 2010, Pacific Gas & Electric outspent its opposition 161 to 1; its ballot measures still went down to defeat. Amazon’s effort, self-interested no doubt, solicits nothing more than a decision from the citizens of California; Sen. Hancock’s goal is to prevent just such a public vote.
You can find the same disdain for citizen input even in small-town America. In this space in January, I told a story of Boulder City, Nevada, where citizens petitioning to place several initiative measures were personally sued by their own city government in an attempt to intimidate them and block a vote. Then, they were sued again after the measures passed.
In Monroe, Washington, citizens are locked in an ongoing battle to gain a simple vote on a measure to stop red-light cameras. Initiative activist Tim Eyman sums up the disrespectful, irresponsible behavior of local officials: “After working tirelessly to obstruct citizens who have attempted to participate in the traffic camera discussion, suing their own citizens, insulting the citizens by offering false choices at the ballot box and finally breaking all ethical boundaries by contaminating the anti-camera committee” by appointing “their pro-camera obstructionist” to it, “the Mayor and City Council's silence in the wake of this broiling battle has been absolutely deafening.”
It’s not just Monroe. Every time citizens anywhere in the country have voted on such traffic-ticketing cameras, they’ve said, “No!” Yet, politicians in city after city attempt to install the cameras to fleece citizens without their consent. When challenged in this unpopular endeavor, in localities in which citizens enjoy initiative and referendum rights, the politicians work to overturn the applecart of democracy.
Disaster isn't a stimulus package
by Jeff Jacoby
COLUMNISTS MAKE PREDICTIONS at their peril, but I'll go out on a limb: If Hurricane Irene turns out to have wrought the havoc some forecasters have predicted, it will be only a matter of days before some expert reassures us that all the destruction will actually be good for the economy. "One of the most reliable results of any natural disaster," remarks economist Russell Roberts, "is the spreading of bad economics." And few economic fallacies are more enduring than the belief that disasters are really a net benefit to society, since the money spent on recovery stimulates new jobs and construction.
Consider the massive earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan earlier this year -- a catastrophe that killed more than 22,000 people, caused the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, and pitched the already sagging Japanese economy into recession. Three days after disaster struck, the Huffington Post published California intellectual Nathan Gardels's essay celebrating "The Silver Lining of Japan's Quake." Urging his readers to "look past the devastation," he rejoiced that "the need to rebuild a large swath of Japan will create huge opportunities for domestic economic growth" and observed that "Mother Nature has accomplished what fiscal policy and the central bank could not." Now the Japanese would have lots of bridges to build, "entire cities and regions" to reconstruct, and information networks to revamp.
"The result of all the new wealth creation," Gardels concluded, "will be money in the pockets of Japanese."
Japanese who survived, that is. The tens of thousands who died won't be pocketing any new wealth. And all the money in the world won't make whole the countless Japanese whose minds, bodies, or careers were permanently broken by the mayhem. True, trillions of yen will be spent to repair, rebuild, and restore. But equally true is that all those trillions will no longer be available for everything they would have otherwise been spent on. Whatever Japan may gain from the resources committed to reconstruction will never outweigh the value of everything lost through wanton destruction.
Yet the conviction that devastation is really a boon never seems to go out of fashion.
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Posted by JR at 10:16 PM