Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Investment vs. "Investment"

Tonight President Obama is expected to trail his proposed "investments" before the nation in his State of the Union speech.

That's the euphemism the center left has been using for government spending for the last 20 years since the Third Way started up with Bill Clinton in the US and Tony Blair in the UK.

The purpose of the euphemism is obvious. Voters understand that government spending is waste. But who can object to an investment in clean technology and education of our kids? After all, the children are our future, right?

So that's the challenge for conservatives. It's a question of extending the narrative. It doesn't matter what you call it, government spending is still a waste.

You can tell it's a waste by the way people don't value it.

Take ObamaCare. The whole point of the government takeover of health care is that there are a bunch of people, notably people with pre-existing conditions, that can't get health insurance. So one of the marquee features of ObamaCare is a plan to subsidize high-risk people. All those high-risk people with pre-existing conditions should be rushing forward to take advantage of it, right? Wrong. Only hundreds have signed up for the plan thus far.

The reason is obvious. If you have a pre-existing condition you would be a fool to sign up for health insurance premiums until you actually get sick. Unless you have assets that need to be protected from unexpected health bills.

The fact is that government is not in the business of making investments. It is in the business of buying votes with freebies and subsidies. Don't want to pay for health insurance? Maybe the government has a plan for you.

The big problem for Republicans going forward is the fact that Americans love a freebie. They love getting a special deal, whether it's a weekly special at the grocery store, or a break on their health care costs.

Here's the issue. The great social question down the ages has been the freeloader problem. The whole idea about social animals and human society is to share the risks of this dangerous world. But somehow you have to figure out a way to get everyone to put their shoulder to the wheel. There are two ways of doing that. You can force people into contributing or you can shame them. Shaming works best in a face-to-face society where a dirty look can often work wonders. But often it comes down to force, and force is expensive.

Many societies have figured out a way to split the difference between shame and force. They delegate the punishment of freeloaders to God. God, they say, will punish the evildoer and the freeloader, if not in this world then the world to come.

The liberal welfare state stands this principle on its head. It rewards and lionizes the freeloader as a helpless victim, and it encourages people to combine in special interests and factions to loot society through piratical threats and power plays,and "investments" in the pet projects of powerful interests.

But the truth is that all government spending is a waste, starting with the defense budget and going on down to pensions, health care, education, and welfare.

Because the simple fact is that if you want something done, then it will be done better by some innovative businessman striving to sell a product or service to the consumer. For him, force or shame is not an option. He has to satisfy the consumer or go out of business.

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