Thursday, August 05, 2010

Conservative corner

Jacob Weisberg, Financial Times:

[The] fear of overreaching government is deeply ingrained in the American psyche.

This reminds me of a discussion I have regularly with my father-in-law, who makes all the usual points about people becoming dependent on big government thanks to social welfare programs, and so on.

And the fact is, I don't disagree with conservative arguments that are framed this way. Obviously it's true that if you're receiving a check from the government in order to survive this puts you in a relation of depending on the government. The problem is that this is where conservative thought seems to dry up: there's no appreciation for the fact that relying on an employer for a check produces dependency also. It's just dependency of a different kind.

For most Americans, modern life may be summarized as falling into either or both of these dependencies -- not independence. Personally, I am all in favor of classical conceptions of independence, but until that transpires, between a nominally democratic government and some corporate hierarchy, against which of these two dependencies might we hope to strike our best "libertarian" pose? We're talking about one institution which is supposed be administered by its constituents, and another that is supposed to be managed by a tiny minority pursuing narrow self-interest (if tangentially for the benefit of all).

If a fear of "overreaching government" is deeply ingrained in the American psyche, that's because people with lots of money sponsor the national mentality. We must always remember who speaks loudest on questions of what it means to be an American: it is whoever owns the means of having their voice reproduced. The rest of us only learn about it afterward from experts who draw their salaries from the same source. This is called being informed.

Americans distrust government! Well, I don't trust government, but I'd rather it come pick up my garbage than grant me the "freedom" to pay someone who knows I don't want it accumulating in my house -- or the "freedom" for my neighbors to let it accumulate in theirs, because they can't afford such "premium service." Anytime big government supplies me with an alternative to the choices that institutions constrained by the profit-motive have to offer -- more of a whole lot less, all the time! -- that is rarely a bad thing.


fwoan said...

Playing devil's advocate on your first point of dependancies:

Sure, it's a dependency but even you say it is different. The difference being that you work for the money you receive from your employer and you receive money from the government for not working!

JRB said...

Hey fwoan,

What's interesting is that the criticism is made against social programs in general. So if the government uses public money for public purposes, that feeds a "culture of dependency" by definition. And naturally that's bad because this is money that *could* be contributing to profits, either by a lower tax rate or by direct subsidy to private sector concerns.

You'll notice the new catchphrase isn't "welfare"; it's "entitlements." People feel they are "entitled" to medical care or a retirement stipend, unemployment insurance, etc., so you have to beat that out of their heads, and promote a culture of liberty or something -- which just means accepting the terms of the labor market, whatever they may be. Dependency shifts to a realm where capital is best positioned to exploit it: this is called "freedom."

what the Tee Vee taught said...

JRB, good stuff in your comment. My thought:

What people are thinking (I'm guessing) when they say, "I work for my money" is "I had to suffer for my money and I'll be damned if everyone else isn't going to suffer with me."

So, in lieu of recognizing the suffering as the problem in need of a good reckoning, the recipient of government funds becomes a target for, what I would suggest, is misplaced frustration.

The work we do is the real difficulty, but, (I assume) that we assume we're beyond being able to do anything about that. "Got us by the balls", to use a wonderfully graphic turn of phrase (bare balls or through the pants, I often wonder).

But I can yell at one of those liberal welfare Queens who are spending my hard earned money. A good yell, that sounds soothing.

Anonymous said...

Yes. I always marvel at people who leap to condemn food stamp recipients, the disabled, etc., but hear nary a peep from them about the 75% of corporations that pay no taxes or Park Ave doyens collecting millions in "farm" subsidies for their palatial estates stocked with a few cows.

They call it "working the system." What a bunch of rubes. they're the ones being worked.

But, sure, like kiss up/kick down John Bolton, they aspire to be the pricks that are fleecing them, dumping on the destitute and never realizing that if they don't know who's the sucker in the game, it's them.