Tuesday, October 29, 2013

GOP Establishment vs. Tea Party

Charles Krauthammer's appearance on Comedy Central's Daily Show seems to have sparked a big row.  It's between what might be called the Republican establishment's accommodationist stance towards the welfare state and the constitutional argument against it, typified by the Tea Party movement.

Charles Krauthammer defends the establishment argument here, and Andrew C. McCarthy makes the constitutional argument here.  Former leftist Ron Radosh votes for accommodation here.

I think the disagreements are based on the different assumptions of the different parties.

I don't think that anyone is suggesting that Republicans go into the elections of 2014 and 2016 and propose to end entitlements as we know it.  That is what the Republican establishment, as practical politicians, are telling us.

Anyway, the Tea Party folks aren't proposing to end entitlements; they expect to get theirs.

What thoughtful conservatives argue is that the authoritarian welfare state is doomed.  It is doomed because it has made promises that can't possibly be redeemed.  In their secret hearts conservatives would like to believe that they can persuade Americans to wean themselves off the entitlement drug.  But the truth about addiction is that people don't wean themselves off until they "hit bottom."  They have to see the wreck of their life in living color before they will swear off the demon rum.

I don't think anyone can expect that entitlements will end any other way.  They will end when the checks stop coming and the checks will stop coming when the government's credit is totally tapped out.

The question is what comes next.  How can we rebuild America on better principles?  The Tea Party, aided and abetted by folks like Mark Levin and his bestselling books such as The Liberty Amendments are reminding us that America is supposed to be about limited government.  A limited government can't make the kind of reckless promises that have got us into this mess.

Let's take Social Security.  We conservatives look at the current system and we call it unjust.  It is unjust because it expects the working population to pay seniors for the promises of the politicians irregardless.  The act of paying your payroll taxes is completely divorced from the process of getting your checks.

To illuminate this, let's look at a private system of savings for retirement.  You save your money, according to your means; you invest it in broad market index funds and bonds.  Every year you look at your nest egg and figure out whether you can afford to retire.  Let us illuminate what it means when you reach that point.  You are basically saying that the capital you have saved can now create enough jobs to support you in your retirement.

Let's say you have saved $250,000.  That money is out in the economy providing capital to companies that use the money to create jobs.  In return you get, say, 5% return, which is $12,500 per year.  Or you can get an annuity which will pay you about 10% on your money.  If that $250,000 is not enough, then you work a few years more.  If the market tanks, then you have to wait to retire until it's recovered.

This is a self-organizing and self-correcting system.  (Oh, and by the way, the news has been reporting for a while that baby boomers are putting off retirement, because they lost so much in the Crash of 2008).

The role for the welfare state in this is,  possibly, to take care of the people who have failed to save money, or have become disabled -- all through no fault of their own.  Although I think that it is better for charitable relatives and neighbors to do the taking care.  The role of the state, it seems to me, is to borrow money after a great disaster to keep house and home together while people work to recover from the crisis.

The problem with government running a safety net is that government is an armed minority that stays in power by giving out loot to its supporters.  It has ever been so, ever since the Iliad, and it is certainly still so in the day of the advanced administrative welfare state.  So instead of creating a cooperative, social network of people caring for each other, government always gives you a predatory elite and its ravenous supporters that understand nothing except power and pillage.

The fundamental weakness of the welfare state system comes fully into focus when things go wrong, as right now, when the government has to cut back a little on its disbursements in so-called "austerity."

What happens?  The supporters of the government, the pensioners and the government employees, pour into the streets and "demand" their rights.

It ought to be obvious, to anyone with a brain, that the administrative welfare state is not a self-correcting system.  Instead, it is a system that is always careering towards chaos and conflict.

I like to say that the problem with government is that the only thing it knows how to do is conduct a war.  So everything it does has to be turned into a war: on poverty, on drugs, on bigotry, on racism.

The problem with wars is that there necessarily has to be a winner and a loser.  That is not cooperative; that is not social.  It is martial.  And that is why conservatives argue that the social safety net should not be a government safety net.

Once the government is in charge then the safety net turns into jobs for the boys, and subsidies for the cronies, and outlandish promises that can never be redeemed.  Of course it does.  That's because government is an armed minority: an army.  The political leaders are the captains and they love to fight.  The individual soldiers are recruited with the lure of loot, and they expect to get it, or else they will offer their soldiering talents to another captain.

In real life, of course, the captains use the soldiers as cannon fodder.  The soldiers often don't get their loot; they die of disease or get killed in a battle.  And sooner or later they don't get paid.  That is the lot of the political supporter too.  They get all carried away with the promise of the free stuff.  But in the end their glorious leaders betray them, and leave them to rot by the side of the road, used up and broken, just like broken-down soldiers of real armies.

That, of course, is what is happening right now to the supporters of Obama, like the woman who liked the idea of Obamacare but didn't realize that she would be the one to pay for it.

Socialism, progressivism, statism, call it what you will, has always lived on utterly empty promises.  Obama's promises for Obamacare are more egregious that most, but not too much.  The problem for Obama and for his liberal cohorts is that perhaps the Obamacare promises should have been a little less specific, and should have been a little less short-term.

After all, when millions of women are getting cancellation notices from their insurance companies, they know that they cannot keep their health plan, as the president promised.

But it is only when administrative liberalism has hit bottom that the practical Republican politician and the Tea Party radical will be able to unite and offer the American people a new social safety net based on limited government and consensual cooperation.

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