Wednesday, November 7, 2012

End of an Illusion

The basic idea behind modern conservatism has been that we can persuade the American people to move away from their client relationship to the administrative welfare state, and build a different society, one based on freedom and free association, in particular the free associations of civil society.

The historic reelection of President Obama means that the conservative dream has become an illusion.  With the confirmation of Obamacare we now have in the United States a four-sided iron cage of administrative confinement.  For old age we have government pensions, for health care we have government health care, to educate the children we have government education, and for the relief of the poor we have government welfare.  And we will have all of that that until it breaks.

It will break, that we know.  The one great lesson of history is that people don't give up their free stuff without a fight, so governments like ours are forced to give out more and more out of a dwindling "stash."

The great blessing of the free market is that it offers humans a way of adjusting their behavior to the needs of their fellows.  If you have a job, or if your company makes a profit, it means that you are rendering valuable services to your fellow humans.

But government is different.  It is a system of force.  It is, always and everywhere, an armed minority occupying territory and taxing the inhabitants thereof to provide for its supporters.  In the past these supporters have usually been a warrior elite, but in our day the government's supporters are the entitlement program beneficiaries and the government employees.

In The Great Wave David Hackett Fischer has described how an age of rising prices ends.  It ends in social collapse, in inflation, in disease, war, and famine.  Fischer isn't a very good economist, and still less a political philosopher.  But he can shovel out the facts.  In each era of rising prices governments start to live beyond their means, and they resort to borrowing and inflation.  They do that because to disappoint their supporters and reduce their stipends would deny the government's very reason for being.  And anyway, people denied their benefits usually resort to the streets.

Program beneficiaries are like NRA members who say you can get their guns out of their cold dead hands.  It is not just that they are selfish: we are all selfish.  The beneficiaries of the welfare state have organized their lives around their benefits.  They are, as they self-describe, people on "fixed incomes."  They don't propose, and maybe cannot, "do something" about their situation if it heads south, except to demonstrate and riot.

In our case projected government health care costs alone are going to eat the federal budget.  They cannot be paid and they will not be paid.  The same probably goes for the national debt.  We have three states already, California, Illinois, and probably New York, that are going broke.  With the reelection of President Obama they are probably going to get bailouts, meaning that they will not be forced to reduce spending.  Then we have the hyper-regulation of the Obama state that will probably keep business hunkered down on its capital strike.

Is there hope?  Of course there is.  We conservatives can continue to work on what comes after.  After the present welfare state of the educated liberals and their clients runs out of money and blood.

Our chance may not come for a generation.  Of maybe it will come in four years.  Who knows?

Paradoxically, the solution to our problems has probably received its most penetrating analysis from the neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt School.  It is they that realized that all instrumental reason, whether used in government or business, leads to domination, and a triumph of system over people.  The solution, Juergen Habermas realized, was a balance between our modern rational systems and the human-all-to-human lifeworld.  Or as we conservatives say, civil society, where free people in free association join with their fellow citizens face to face to meet their social needs and solve their social problems.

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