What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: tmichaelmurdock
An op-ed posted yesterday in the Deseret News blew me away with its statist nonsense to such a degree that I could not help but formulate a rebuttal. Since my own op-ed was published in the paper so recently, and since I would rather not have this response be constrained to the word limit imposed by the paper, I will publish it here. I invite you to first sit down, distance yourself from any breakables, take a few calming breaths, and read the article before returning here for my comments.
The title and focus chosen by the author, one Eric Samuelsen of Provo, encourages the reader to “stay the course” with President Obama. As a preface and prelude to my own remarks, I first will bring in Lee Iacocca, himself no opponent of big government and bailouts, who nevertheless has recently remarked the following:
Am I the only guy in this country who’s fed up with what’s happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We’ve got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we’ve got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can’t even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, “Stay the course.” Stay the course? You’ve got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I’ll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out! (Lee Iacocca, via Quoty)
Agreed. So, let’s break down this article piece by piece.
At the outset, the author declares that “[he is] a liberal because [he is] a Christian”, thus aligning himself with Harry Reid who just two years ago cited the same comparison. As evidence of his political piety, we are told that he believes that the service Christ would have us render is not effectively done by individuals, and thus government should take charge—and does indeed do so “effectively” and “routinely”.
Samuelsen ignores reality by claiming that his big-hearted liberalism sets him apart from his self-centered conservative counterparts. Consider the study summarized in a book by Arthur C. Brooks who notes the following:
Although liberal families’ incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).
People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.
As for “the best-intentioned private efforts  never succeed[ing] in alleviating human suffering nearly as effectively” as government, Samuelsen ignores the following:
In 2005, Americans donated more than $95 billion to the developing world. That is almost four times what the U.S. government gives in foreign aid and many times more than what Europeans give in public and private donations, according to a study by the Hudson Institute, to be released next month. (emphasis added)
Imagine how much greater people might give if they weren’t so heavily taxed up front. As for being effective, one look at the Millennium Challenge Act shows the absurdity of our attempts to use foreign “aid” to improve others’ lives. In reality, we are funding corrupt governments around the world who pass on only a meager portion of our money to those in need, as well as financing the purchase of weapons and infrastructure. This is a far cry from meeting the basic needs of impoverished citizens around the world. Samuelsen must be a poor “student of history” if he presumes that governments have ever been effective at allocating capital and alleviating suffering.
Christ said that we should “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Samuelsen rightly notes that we should serve others, yet he opts for rendering it through Caesar’s corrupt, slow, inefficient apparatus—and forcing others to do the same.
On social services
“Thanks to effective, liberal government”, Samuelsen enjoys “electrical power, potable water, and an effective sewage system”. First, the author conflates all levels of government, lumping them into one “effective” mass. This is folly since local governments have far more authority and ability to administer these services than having it regulated and administered at the federal level. This blurring of governments also occurs in his next sentence where he lauds Social Security and Medicare—two systems that have been horribly administered, poorly funded, and which rely upon inflation and borrowing in order to meet the promises made by those in charge. Sorry, but anybody who points to such socialist enterprises as a success of “effective” government is neither a student of history, nor has a grasp on reality.
Samuelsen “reject[s] as vicious nonsense the idea that government can’t do anything right”, setting aside the evident fact that governments over-promise, underfund, and ultimately rely on force and theft to accomplish their many commitments. I suppose this all depends on one’s definition of “right”, though an individual would have to have both a poor memory and low expectation for success in order to put the stamp of approval on any government enterprise.
On health care
The “moral imperative”, nay, the “highest possible” one is, according to Samuelsen, none other than the hot topic of the day: health care. We have doctors, he argues, but “we deliver health care services poorly.” I’m sorry, is the author a doctor? For to be included in the pronoun “we”, he would have to be one who delivers health care services. Lest we constrain our definitions rationally, we must remember that the author is a self-identified liberal, and thus considers government to be a companion to every association and relationship. Thus, by inference, he is part of the collective “we” that administers health care services to others, and can therefore advocate changes and make demands as he sees fit.
By citing our “richest nation” status, the author notes that “we can afford to fix” the health care system. Despite later hollowly praising the Constitution, Samuelsen nowhere makes a compelling argument as to why the federal government (“we” the people?) should be involved, nor where it derives the authority to do so; it is enough, for him, that we can. So much for “cogent arguments”.
As further ammunition against this alleged moral imperative, the LA times posted an article this morning declaring that it’s actually cheaper, literally, to do nothing:
Analysts in the Obama administration’s Health and Human Services Department reported Friday that the nation’s $2.5-trillion annual healthcare tab will not shrink at all under the Democrats’ legislative blueprint as being pushed by happy Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader in the Senate.
Instead, they said, the nation’s medical costs will actually grow faster under the new bill than they would if that chatty crowd of Washington spenders did absolutely nothing nada zippo about it. And even if they did pass the existing version for all that money, 24 million Americans would still remain uncovered.
Moral imperative? Maybe. Government as the best and proper vehicle through which to alleviate suffering, administer health care needs, and discharge that moral obligation? Fat chance.
Samuelsen seems to fall in the camp that believes that a lack of regulation led to our current economy morass. This, of course, requires founding one’s opinion solely on the sound bytes of the financial media and politicians; the truth is that everything is already regulated.
Nevertheless, our dear author believes in government regulation of big business “to encourage competition and innovation”. Funny, I thought price wars and perceived market needs did that. To champion regulation as the method by which we enjoy competition and innovation is to deny the moral hazard that exists as a result of such regulation, to say nothing of the oppressive burdens such regulations impose on those smaller entities who would otherwise be able to more effectively compete and innovate. Big business can fund expert lawyers and lobbyists, hence the corporatism that has substituted capitalism in our country; those who would compete and innovate cannot sway the regulations in their favor as “big business” can. Samuelsen has his sights set on the wrong target.
For the next “cogent argument”, we are presented with another “belief” held dearly by the author. This appears to be more of a testimony meeting in the church of state-worshipping neo-liberalism than it does a rational analysis of sound policy, but we’ll work with what we must, I suppose.
Wealthy people, Samuelsen writes, “can and should pay higher taxes” than those who do not command as much capital. Well, this is already the case: according to IRS statistics, the top 1% of Americans make about 23% of total income, but pay around 40% of the federal income tax. Also, the top 1% pays more federal tax than the entire bottom 50% of Americans. The author should be elated by these numbers.
The question should be: is this right? The communist economic theory is summarized as “from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs”—an eerily similar sentiment to the one advocated by the author. As the rich are more “able” to fund the government’s policies, they should, Samuelsen argues, be required to do so. To what extent, one wonders, should the rich be “soaked” through taxes? Samuelsen does not realize that the wealthy are far more able to pack up and move than the rest of us—look at the steady exodus from California as an example. Keep up the desire to rob these individuals more so than their less-wealthy neighbors, and they’ll simply leave. Who then will fund your Caesarian do-goodery, Mr. Samuelsen?
The author claims that “we know now that tax cuts for the rich have no stimulative value and increase the deficit.” Last I checked, high government spending caused deficits. This is part of the statist’s playbook: assume an individual’s wealth belongs first to the government and must be delivered in order to fund the various programs and policies to be enacted, and make no mention of reducing government spending, thus leading people to think that the need and support for high spending is a foregone conclusion. Why not reduce bloated government spending (to, you know, adhere to that Constitution the author later claims to revere) and let people keep their own money? Shocking!
On stimulating the economy
Another belief: “that government spending can have a stimulative effect on an economy in recession”. What, pray tell, is a “stimulative effect”? If it is like having a momentary buzz through artificial drug use, while ignoring the long term consequences of one’s actions, then the author is correct. This, however, is far from sound economic policy, and much farther from constitutional and moral use of authority. More on this topic here.
On the shortcomings of the Constitution
Samuelsen loves the Constitution, or so he tells us. And yet citing the document for verbal praise—perhaps to quell the conservative uneasiness towards his liberal diatribe—hardly implies any constitutional validity to any of his “beliefs”. But the next line brings us the real reason he even bothered to mention the framework of our government: to dismiss it as the work of old, white farmers whose work should be relegated to history books, and not public policy.
The Constitution protected slavery, he says. It allowed the continued slaughter of native populations, he further argues. Far from protecting slavery, the Constitution actually reduced the political power of those who enslaved others, and imposed a deadline by which the nefarious practice would have to be cut off from its main supply.
As Richard Allen, once a slave in Pennsylvania, said in an address “To the People of Color”, he said:
Many of the white people have been instruments in the hands of God for our good, even such as have held us in captivity, [and] are now pleading our cause with earnestness and zeal.
One professor notes the following regarding the Constitution’s treatment of slavery:
[T]he Constitution allowed Southern States to count three-fifths of their slaves toward the population that would determine numbers of representatives in the federal legislature. This clause is often singled out today as a sign of black dehumanization: they are only three-fifths human. But the provision applied to slaves, not blacks. That meant that free blacks–and there were many, North as well as South–counted the same as whites. More important, the fact that slaves were counted at all was a concession to slave owners. Southerners would have been glad to count their slaves as whole persons. It was the Northerners who did not want them counted, for why should the South be rewarded with more representatives, the more slaves they held? (Thomas G. West, “Was the American Founding Unjust? The Case of Slavery,” p. 5.)
Yet Samuelsen would lead us to believe that the Constitution enshrined and perpetuated slavery. The reality is the opposite: it was the Founders who succeeded in sowing the seeds of its eventual demise.
And the second amendment? Our liberal friend considers it “an embarrassing anachronism of no contemporary relevance”. That’s right: in our contemporary utopian world, there is apparently no need for self-defense! Samuelsen would, I’m sure, maintain his disdain for guns if an armed intruder entered his home, violated his wife, and kidnapped one of his children. After all, the average police response time would be a speedy seven minutes—ample time for the author to politely criticize the assailant’s use of a gun as being “anachronistic” and explain the contemporary irrelevance of individual gun ownership. Good luck with that.
On our President and his agenda
“It’s time to support the president. It’s time to stay the course.”
So concludes Samuelsen’s tirade. I cannot conjure up a better response to this intellectual idiocy than this one by Theodore Roosevelt:
Every man who parrots the cry of ‘stand by the President’ without adding the proviso ‘so far as he serves the Republic’ takes an attitude as essentially unmanly as that of any Stuart royalist who championed the doctrine that the King could do no wrong. No self-respecting and intelligent free man could take such an attitude. (via Quoty)
And there we have our insight into Samuelsen’s mind. Forging their own fetters, he and like-minded liberal statists beg for the government that enslaves them. Oddly, they revel in their bondage. Samuel Adams’ words seem to apply to those that so openly and eagerly desire the nanny welfare state: “Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you; May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.”