Monday, April 29, 2013

What End of Entitlement?

Now he tells us.  The age of entitlement is over; the promises are worthless.  That's the word from the Washington Post's sensible Robert Samuelson.
We had a grand vision. We didn't merely expect things to get better. We expected all social problems to be solved. We expected business cycles, economic insecurity, poverty, and racism to end. We expected almost limitless personal freedom and self-fulfillment. For those who couldn't live life to its fullest (as a result of old age, disability, or bad luck), we expected a generous social safety net to guarantee decent lives. We blurred the distinction between progress and perfection.
There were four big assumptions at the heart of this, according to Samuelson: first, that we could control the business cycle; second, that we could enjoy lifetime jobs at big corporations; third, that improving productivity could pay for bigger government; and fourth, that lifestyle choices came free.

All wrong.  So now what do we do?

No answer, of course.

Let's put it this way.  There is no way we can avoid a crack-up, because people have been told, and believe, that all you need to do, as Samuelson quotes Bill Clinton, is "work hard and play by the rules, [and] you’ll have the freedom and opportunity to pursue your own dreams."

People interpret that to mean that all they have to do is sit on their butts, doing whatever they are doing, and they deserve to get supported by government.  The system will take care of them.

But life's not like that; it never has been.  The idea that hard work and following the rules is necessary and sufficient for the good life is a political chimera.  Yeah!  I put in my time.  I got my benefits coming.  I earned them.

It is not true that all we have to do is design and build a system, whether a corporate system at General Motors or a government system for Social Security and Medicare.  That's not how the world works.  And the neo-Marxists at the Frankfurt School understood that when they said that reason was domination.  Reason is always trying to impose a system on the world, whether it is a system to understand the world, a system to dominate the world, or a system to make the world go away.

You can't reduce the world to a system.  The world changes and adapts and surprises every moment.  To live in the world you have to be willing to change, adapt, and get surprised every moment.  If you don't submit to that then you are setting yourself up to be slapped upside the head.

Like right now.

So now we must start again.  We must wipe away the tears of disappointment, and cool the rage of ill-usage.  We must clear our minds and start to deal with the world as it is, not as we were taught.  Almost all religions call on their adherents to surrender to the world.  You can see why.  You can hope for salvation and for enlightenment, but first you have to live in the world as it is.

Now, of course, we already have remarkable adaptations that humans have developed to cope with the world as it is.  One of them is the family.  Another is the division of labor.  Another is the price system. Another is the credit system.  There is the tapestry of voluntary associations and civil society.  All of these are human social constructs that fall short of rigid system, but wonderfully facilitate human cooperation and sociability.

Think of it.  People care most for those nearest and dearest by blood.  So all societies down the ages have encouraged healthy families.  All except our modern progressives.  People prefer to become master of one rather than a jack of all trades.  But Marx said that the division of labor caused alienation of the worker from his species-essence.  The price system and the credit system are wonderful devices for channeling human labor into the ways that get people what they want and need.  So liberals do everything they can to attack the price system and subvert the credit system.  And civil society is much kinder and more compassionate to human needs and suffering than the force matrix of government.  So liberals destroyed the safety net of fraternal associations that grew up in the 19th century.

Why don't we go there and embrace the social adaptations from family to civil society?  Because the serpent tempted me, and I did eat.  Everyone is a sucker for a shortcut; everyone is convinced of his own virtue and his own right to the good things of life.  Everyone likes a birthday gift, a cadeau, a regalo: free stuff.  Hey, we're owed, we're entitled.

Well, now the god of system has failed.  Now we have to pick up the pieces and start again.

The only question is whether we will suck it in or continue to squabble over the fast disappearing spoils of the administrative welfare state up to the very day that the last goodie, the last benefit, the last chunk of free stuff is gone.  Cue the Fram oil filter guy.

Nobody knows how it will all turn out.  But we can work, and we can hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment