Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Live by the State, Die by the State

There are two narratives out there about Margaret Thatcher.  The conservative line is that Maggie saved Britain.  The liberal line is that she divided the country and cratered manufacturing, wiping out the working class.

For a conservative view of the wipeout, let's turn to Brit-born John Derbyshire.
Mrs. Thatcher’s defeat of the frankly communist National Union of Mineworkers was a triumph for economic sense, but left mining towns and villages without work. Most of them remain in that condition today. As the grandchild of two coal miners from just such places, I know what has been lost.
The great virtue of John Derbyshire is that he tells it like it is, without shading his views in deference to the Zeitgeist.  That's what got him fired at National Review: saying something non-PC about race.

But he got me to thinking.  What did those miners think they were doing, joining a political strike against the government?  Didn't they understand that they were essentially engaged in civil war?  Didn't they get that, but for the left-wing press, they would have been tagged as rebels?  What did they think happens to defeated rebels in this sub-lunar world?

It's a bit rich to complain about your miseries after you've been defeated in a civil-war-by-other-means.

And the same goes for all those who worked for the failing nationalized industries in the 1970s.  What did those folks think would happen in the end, long after government had "saved" their jobs?   What did they think happened to the competitive qualities of their employer after he's been rescued by the government?  Did they think they could go on forever producing substandard products and services for their fellow Brits?

One of the great cruelties of our age is that lack of truth-telling from our educated elite.  And one of the failures on the truth front is the failure to tell people that when they get the government to bail them out they are forcing the rest of society to cut checks to them for doing, well, not very much.  A small business cannot survive at all not doing very much.  A big corporation cannot last very long without satisfying its customers. True, a government can go for quite a while by taxing and borrowing and spending.  But in the end it all collapses in inflation and default.

Our educated elite won't tell ordinary people just how much they risk by sucking on the government teat.  Because in the end a Pharaoh will arise that knew not Joseph, and will decide that it is too much trouble to continue the customary subsidies.  Anyway, he has other supporters he needs to look after.

What about the truth, from Deirdre McCloskey, that it is capitalism, not government, that brought us in 200 years from $3 per day to $120 per day?

There is no substitute for a robust independence and competence, in individuals, in families, in businesses, in nations.  When you work for years and years for some big corporation or government bureaucracy you get further and further from reality, where reality is the market wage you could earn if you got laid off tomorrow.

If you want to know why the ranks of people on Social Security Disability are expanding so rapidly, that's where you start.  With people who have been taking a paycheck for years at some long-established employer, but not really producing, not really keeping their skills up, not really making themselves useful and employable.

On the other hand there is capitalism and the market.  There is no doubt that capitalism is a stern taskmaster.  It operates by profit and loss.  If you can offer a product or a service to the market at a profit, you get to live another day.  If you can't, they you'd better think of something else.  But what alternative do you propose?  Do you propose to impose yourself on your fellow citizen and force them to support you, because this is such a cruel hard world?

Margaret Thatcher had an interesting take on earning a living, as she experienced it, growing up as the daughter of a shopkeeper.
For them [the critics] capitalism was alien and harsh: for me it was familiar and creative. I was able to see that it was satisfying customers that allowed my father to increase the number of people he employed. I knew that it was international trade that brought coffee, sugar, and spice to those who frequented our shop. And, more than that, I experienced that business, as can be seen in any marketplace anywhere, was lively, human, social, and sociable: in fact, though serious, it was fun.
Come on, fellahs.  The basic social contract is that we work to serve others, so that we may earn our own living from that service.  The alternative is the life of the robber, to hold up others and take their money.  But life is not so hard after all.  If you surrender to the rules of capitalism you can break through the seriousness of it all, and transform the struggle into fun.

And isn't that what the whole of human life is about?  It is a brave and resolute gesture against the awful truth, that we are just pond-scum living on the margin of a great rock in space, and that every one of us will soon return, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

But meanwhile, let us live life as a glorious gift, and live and work and love, giving the grim reaper and our fears no more than a grudging respect.

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