“Yes, words are useless. Gobble, gobble, gobble. There is too much of it, darling. Too much. That is why I show you my work! That is why you are here!” – Edna Mode, The Incredibles
Every now and again it’s good to remind yourself why you started down a given path, just to make sure you’re heading where you thought (hoped) you would.
Living at the Expense of Another …
Alexis de Tocqueville warned centuries ago that the American democracy would survive until people figured out that they could vote themselves a portion of their neighbors’ goodies. No, he didn’t actually say “goodies” – the quote goes something like this: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”
We’ve talked about the subject on numerous occasions, and will only recap here briefly. Much, nearly all in fact, of government policy these days is a measure of shifting burdens between constituencies in order to garner their vote. It started simple with straight bribery – “we’ll take money from [insert group here – preferably someone easy to loathe] and give it to you, if you vote for us.” It’s a good gambit, but eventually it gets so painfully obvious that a simple, subconscious calling toward “decency” (or at least the appearance of decency) pulls as in a new direction.
At this point we find more subtle means, like tax policy. Instead of taking money from one and giving it to another, we can simply tax one at a higher percentage than another. That way the burden is by definition shifted, but we don’t have to defend direct redistribution. We’ll tax high wage earners (the more productive) more than low wage earners (the less productive). (Note, we’re not talking about “the rich” here, just “the productive” – the rich know how to get out of taxes.) We’ll give tax breaks to people with children, or to married couples – unless they both work, then we’ll increase their burden. We’ll give tax breaks for donations to charity (i.e., if you donate money to charity, we’ll shift a portion of the burden of government that would have fallen on you to your neighbors). The list goes on, and on, and on …
The Mexican Standoff …
Eventually, what started as a simple game of “bribe the public with the public’s money in order to get some votes” turns into a massive Mexican standoff. There are those (and lots of ’em) who buy into the “entitlement” aspect of the game. In fact, I think we all do at least just a little bit, if only in defense against the game. Here, I’ll start just to make everybody else feel more comfortable.
[This is me, quoting myself, ostensibly participating in the entitlement diatribe.] “I deserve my tax deductions and credits for having children. First, it’s dang expensive to raise kids (and has costs well beyond money). Second, all of these government programs that you hope to extend into the future (Medicare, Social Security, etc.) are built on future revenues. Where do you think those future revenues are coming from? Folks who don’t have any kids, who aren’t doing the hard work of funding the next generation of support but are spending it all on themselves now, should have to pay a higher share of the burden. They want to reap the benefits don’t they? They want to reap where they have not sown, they want to take in the production of my children in the next generation, but they didn’t do the work of raising my children. Let them pay higher taxes now. As for those charitable donations, of course they should be deducted. They address social needs with far greater effectiveness than anything the government tries – I should be getting tax credits for them, for doing to the government’s presumed role on the cheap.”
Wasn’t that easy? You give it a try …
Whether we all fully embrace our entitlement versus everyone else’s we almost have to play along. We’re all holding guns (or our votes and the power of the government) on each other, and nobody wants to put theirs down first. Even if we readily acknowledge that we’d all be better off if there were no redistribution or burden shifting – we certainly don’t want to be the first ones to give up our share of our neighbor’s paycheck.
A Demonstrably Broken System …
I heard Jim Grant comment recently that the price of gold should not be seen as a hedge against inflation, but rather the inverse of the confidence the central banking system to work things out. The gold rally over the last 10 years ought to tell you just how confident we are in the whole thing.
It’s not just fiat currency though, the entire construct of political bribery and special interest management. This is how slaves are made.
Charles Hugh Smith has a couple of posts on the subject recently: “The Politics of ‘Consensus’ is the Politics of Failure” and “The ‘Solution’ is Collapse“. In the last one he discusses that the logical solution to an untenable system of living at the expense of the other is collapse. Eventually, we’ve all got our guns trained on each other and nobody has time to till the fields that actually produce the food we eat – and the whole thing comes unraveled.
Raison d’Etre …
The system cannot continue indefinitely like this. That much should be painfully obvious to everybody. Too much has been promised to too many. We will either pay it with worthless currency (print our way out) or we’ll take the benefits away – which we’ve seen can’t happen in the current system, or we’ll collapse into socialism. I suppose there are a few other options for pathways to the abyss, but they all end the same place.
There is another way though. We could choose freedom, we honestly, no kidding, really could choose freedom. We could choose to take away all of the “live at the expense of my neighbor” aspects of governance (we’re still a democracy, after all). To do so would take two things: (1) a willingness to take them all away at the same time (or take them all away in the same proportional rate) and (2) a majority.
It’s that later part that intrigues me. How do you put together a majority to support a policy approach that moves in the direction of freedom? You can try to make the libertarian arguments of Ron Paul, which I certainly support, but I think it will take more.
Note that I don’t hold to the libertarian line because I view the Constitution and the musings of the founders as wholly writ. I think it’s a great document and their views on government had a lot of merit – but the document is not immutable to the Christian. Our immutable document is the Bible. It is where we draw our outlook on life and it is where I arrived at my own libertarian-esque thinking.
In a government of, by, and for the people, the government is the people. Whatever the government does, it does on the people’s behalf as the people’s agent. In such a place, the Golden Rule has a lot to say about how we vote, and how the government behaves toward our neighbors on our behalf.
In a country where 80% of the populace self-identifies as Christians, building a majority around such a pervasive Christian theme ought to be doable – and this is why we are here.