Nov 24 2008

One of the more depressing columns I’ve read lately

Category: socialism,taxesharmonicminer @ 9:16 am

George Will reminds us that “spread the wealth” has been the order of business for quite some time in Washington DC, and suggests that we use the term “socialism” a bit more circumspectly. (More at the link, and all worth reading.)

McCain and Palin, plucky foes of spreading the wealth, must have known that such spreading is most what Washington does. Here, the Constitution is an afterthought; the supreme law of the land is the principle of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs. Sugar import quotas cost the American people approximately $2 billion a year, but that sum is siphoned from 300 million consumers in small, hidden increments that are not noticed. The few thousand sugar producers on whom billions are thereby conferred do notice and are grateful to the government that bilks the many for the enrichment of the few.

Conservatives rightly think, or once did, that much, indeed most, government spreading of wealth is economically destructive and morally dubious — destructive because, by directing capital to suboptimum uses, it slows wealth creation; morally dubious because the wealth being spread belongs to those who created it, not government. But if conservatives call all such spreading by government “socialism,” that becomes a classification that no longer classifies: It includes almost everything, including the refundable tax credit on which McCain’s health care plan depended.

Hyperbole is not harmless; careless language bewitches the speaker’s intelligence. And falsely shouting “socialism!” in a crowded theater such as Washington causes an epidemic of yawning. This is the only major industrial society that has never had a large socialist party ideologically, meaning candidly, committed to redistribution of wealth. This is partly because Americans are an aspirational, not an envious people. It is also because the socialism we do have is the surreptitious socialism of the strong, e.g. sugar producers represented by their Washington hirelings.

In America, socialism is un-American. Instead, Americans merely do rent-seeking — bending government for the benefit of private factions. The difference is in degree, including the degree of candor. The rehabilitation of conservatism cannot begin until conservatives are candid about their complicity in what government has become.

The power to tax, in any amount, for any purpose whatsoever is at the root of the corruption of the American ideal.   The founders understood this, and carefully limited what Congress could do.  But Amendments since then, put in place by a people with less wisdom than the founders, have allowed essentially unlimited taxation of anyone for any purpose, limited only by what is politically feasible, and does not produce immediate economic disaster (long term disaster being just fine, it seems).  We may be about to find out, the hard way, exactly what those limits are.

There is one sentence in Will’s article that I’m sure has been true in the past, but I’m not so sure is true in the present: “Americans are an aspirational, not an envious people.”

I am afraid that, for a majority of Americans, their main aspiration may be to acquire the objects of their envy, by any means necessary, except actually earning them.

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7 Responses to “One of the more depressing columns I’ve read lately”

  1. dave says:

    So do you agree with George Will? Because he is essentially saying the same thing that I said over and over again at Melody’s blog, and you continued to attack me for it.

  2. harmonicminer says:

    Um, Dave, read his column more carefully. He isn’t saying the same things. His definition of socialism is not so restricted that no nation on earth qualifies for it.

    Yours is.

    I don’t think Will would say, for example, that no European nation is “really” socialist, which you did.

    As with all things, there is a spectrum, not an absolute line of separation. Obama would like to move us in a more socialist direction. Arguing about exactly how we’ll define the arrival point as “socialist” or “not yet socialist” is silly, when the direction is clear, and we’re bound to get there if we keep moving that way, in the absence of countervailing forces, few of which exist at the moment.

  3. harmonicminer says:

    And Dave: when I post something, it doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with every single detail in it, but it means I think it’s worth reading, and credible food for thought. What I think is lacking in Will’s column (but which is clear in other writings of his) is any way to distinguish what he calls “rent seeking” with “socialism”. But I don’t really care what he calls it: what matters is that he agrees that redistribution can be very harmful when it interferes with markets (which is mostly), and trying to solve problems caused by redistribution by doing more redistribution is foolish, or maybe just insane.

    And I would have to disagree with him that we’ve never had “a large socialist party ideologically, meaning candidly, committed to redistribution of wealth.” What we’ve never had is a party named socialist, but it is getting harder and harder to distinguish the Democrat party from a typical European socialist party. The Democrats ARE quite candid about their intent to redistribute wealth.

  4. enharmonic says:

    Dave is quite candid in his intent to redistribute your wealth. You might as well get a job flippin’ hamburgers because he wants to take the wealth of university professors (like William Ayers) and redistribute it to fast food workers like you. Ain’t you lucky?

  5. harmonicminer says:

    Maybe if we can just hold it off a few years I can retire before it gets too bad… except, of course, that Pelosi wants my 401K to bailout the social security system.

    Truthfully, I don’t expect to ever really retire… I’ll probably teach till I drop, and they can plant me in the courtyard under the rubber plant, which will promptly start singing… offkey.

  6. dave says:

    Melody… why do you continue to turn everything into something personal about me?

  7. enharmonic says:

    Dave, I guess it’s because you are so cute.

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