Lefty Matt Yglesias has a couple of posts that provide some insight into the liberal, statist, progressive mindset: “The Incentive Compatibility of Dictatorship” and “Better Fewer, But Better“. In both, Yglesias attempts to rationalize the topics he wants to discuss. Yet, something bothers me about both pieces. In the end, either Yglesias shows himself to be hopelessly naive (which is understandable considering he seems to have soaked up the teachings of leftist professors) or a dispenser of agitprop for supporting a monstrous system of government.
The arguments for either possibility have merit. But I tend to think it is more the latter.
Leftists like Yglesias hate it when they are called socialists, Marxists, or communists. As Obama-worshipers and Democratic supporters, they hate it when those phrases are applied to this administration and the Pelosi/Reid-led Democratic Congress as well. They attempt to spin those politicians and their policies as centrist, which means they have dishonestly moved the proverbial center of political thought way over to the left. Both of his posts reflect Yglesias’ train of thought.
In his “The Incentive Compatibility…” post, the key point Yglesias makes is:
Historically, few authoritarian regimes have seen that their own self-interest is best maximized via enlightened policies. But at least one interpretation of what’s happening in China is that the most important authoritarians around have figured this out (Abu Dhabi also seems to have) and this is driving major improvements in human well-being.
So does this mean Yglesias was for democracy at one time before he was against it? Look at the argument he’s making. Yglesias is a big supporter of an overarching, redistributive federal government over state and local governments and the people, which is contradictory to what is in the U.S. Constitution, and he supports this due to the potential efficiency that can be brought to bear in providing the services government is supposed to provide. About the only thing one can say about that is the math is right; one national government handling regulations and such would be more efficient than 50 state governments handling these duties. Of course, that assumes that all things are equal all across the United States; what’s true is that this isn’t even close to being the case.
What also is true is that Yglesias and his ilk are more than willing to ignore the main tenet of the Declaration of Independence: that the rights of all Americans, those rights that are enumerated and not enumerated in the Bill of Rights, “are endowed by their Creator”, not the government (it’s too bad liberals, be they pundits, politicians, judges, or Justices, believe otherwise). That means the rights were and are already there, not something thought of out of the blue. I’ve never read anything from Yglesias or the vast majority of those on the left mention this except when a judge or Justice issues an activist ruling they like, as was the case with last week’s Perry decision (then, the leftist will attempt to claim how “conservative” such rulings are, except their arguments are so specious they can be refuted rather easily). So while Yglesias (and especially Thomas Friedman) welcomes how things in China have improved due to the actions of its authoritarian regime, the way the improvement was done is completely antithetical to how things are supposed to be done in America. Why? Because in China the Communists control everything, especially the rights they are willing to dispense to the Chinese people. And any rights that the Communists can dispense to the people can be taken away from the people by the same Communists at a moment’s notice.
The other point I want to make here has to do with the first sentence in the above quote: what Yglesias wrote is completely untrue. The reason, historically, that “few authoritarian regimes have seen that their own self-interest is best maximized via enlightened policies” is because most authoritarian regimes are able to last without establishing any “enlightened policies” at all. In fact, the hallmark of authoritarianism is a paranoid fear of losing power that has kept more regimes in place than not; most recently, this was shown in Iran during last year’s “elections.” History is replete with examples of mass quantities of blood spilled by an authoritarian regime in order to keep that regime in charge.
While I don’t believe Yglesias is all that naive, there is a sense of naivete when he wrote this [emphasis mine]:
It seems to me that the clearest thing you can say about growth and democracy is that when growing democracies hit economic downturns, what tends to happen is you vote the incumbents out of office. But when growing dictatorships hit economic downturns, what tends to happen is you throw the dictators out of office. I’m not sure whether China’s leaders can keep delivering growth, but if they can’t it’ll be hard for them to stay in charge.
It’s not just a matter of throwing a dictator out of office, but throwing a whole regime out of power, almost always by violent means. Look at Cuba or North Korea; nobody with a scintilla of reasonable thought (which leaves out leftists) believes the Castro and Kim regimes running those countries have ever given a rat’s proktos about the welfare of the people they rule over, yet they’ve been in power for over 50 years. Our own journey towards self-rule began after violently kicking out an authoritarian government via a revolutionary war. If anything, the fall of the Soviet Union was one of the more peaceful transitions away from authoritarian rule; of course, the Communist government of the Soviet Union was exceedingly violent over the course of its 74-year history, murdering tens of millions of its own people in order to maintain a stranglehold over them. The Communists running the Chinese government itself, along with all other authoritarian regimes in the world, have shown they have no problem with using exceedingly violent means to repress the people. And again, that is because these regimes exhibit a paranoid fear of losing power and will literally do anything to maintain control.
Within his post Yglesias links to a piece and highlights the following from it:
Authoritarian regimes, by contrast, ultimately produce economies that are as fragile as their political systems.
He follows that up with this [emphasis from original]:
Both the strength and the weakness of this argument, I think, is captured in the observation “[f]or every Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, there are many like Mobutu Sese Seko of the Congo.” The strength—historically that’s been the case. The weakness is that if you’re a modern-day dictator, the lesson of history is clear that the less-corrupt, less-exploitive Singapore model was not only better for the Singaporeans it was better for the dictator.
The man completely ignores what he’s commenting on. There is no weakness to the argument he is trying to refute. By its nature, an authoritarian regime is always weak because it requires the strength and character of just one or a relative few to determine the course of the millions of people under their authority. Historically speaking, monarchies have mostly been authoritarian. Success for a king or queen depended on how well that individual did their job; but it was almost always undermined by a weak person who took power after the previous monarch died simply because the only qualification for becoming the new monarch was being the previous one’s child. Even in today’s dictatorships, oligarchies, and socialist governments, individuals are given power not because they can convince people they would be good at governance but because they know the right people. In the case of Singapore and China, the people benefit from the somewhat benign authoritarianism of its leaders; but, that could change at a moment’s notice if new leaders with a complete lack of character rule after the current rulers are gone, or if the current rulers feel threatened and revert to tyranny to maintain power, which is by and large impossible in a democracy. Even Hitler had to fight democracy through the ballot box in order to get rid of it, and it took longer than he probably would have liked; in Rome, after Augustus took power, emperors spent at least three centuries presenting an illusion of republican government, which included leaving in some of the structures of the government of the Roman Republic, before Diocletian dumped the charade altogether.
Leaving Yglesias’ naivete’s aside, he makes it clear in his “Better Fewer…” piece where his policy preferences lie, and it isn’t towards the freedoms from an overreaching government that are supposed to be guaranteed by the Constitution. He uses circular reasoning to justify an expansion of the federal bureaucracy, and heaps insults on those in the productive private sector when he says, “Similarly, regulatory agencies with worthwhile missions need to be able to hire lawyers and scientists good enough to go toe-to-toe with industry stooges.” Like I said above, leftists like Yglesias hate it when they or their supporters are called socialists, Marxists, or communists, preferring to be referred to by the relatively benign terms liberals or progressives. Of course, they would make their case better if they didn’t reference socialists, Marxists, or Communists to support their points. From whose template did Yglesias reference on how to improve the federal bureaucracy? Vladimir I. Ulyanov…Lenin. As any American would know, the only thing we in America can learn from Lenin is how not to do things.
Ladies and gentleman, I rest my case.