Heard a very good interview with Arthur C. Brooks, head honcho of American Enterprise Institute, on NPR this morning.
He’s pushing his new book, The Road to Freedom—apparently a spin-off title from Hayek’s Road to Serfdom.
Brooks says that conservatives have failed to make a moral argument against liberalism, especially in regard to the issue of nanny welfare states. He says liberals have been winning the moral argument for decades. They have. Disingenuously, but nonetheless.
But it’s long been my contention that moral arguments are out of order in this context; still, this has challenged me to consider their place and value in this discussion. Unlike many conservatives here and elsewhere, I’m not a Christian or anything else, and as I like to say it, I’m not even an atheist, as I see that as just another form of religion. I do believe in a higher power, but define it simply as the universe being a greater entity than myself.
Brooks’ stance on the moral argument is a simple, classic conservative one (and reminds us that the best ideas are not necessarily the most convoluted as our liberal brethren like to make them be). According to Brooks, it’s the slow drip torture of welfare entitlement that damages its recipients beyond repair over time. That’s immoral. (I’d say it more simply; it doesn’t work.) And it doesn’t just enable them, it cripples them. We see it in our ghettos, in our rural poor, in all populations who’ve become dependent on it. There was a time when some of our poor still had their pride and refused welfare. That time is now long gone.Today, we see it even more clearly in Europe where nearly half its population no longer works for a living. In England, where it is said that once you go on the dole, regardless of age and that includes the very young, you have at best a 50% chance of ever working again. So what’s the result? In England, for example, students are still funneled into trade tracks based essentially on socioeconomic background, but those jobs have dwindled. So you have a permanent lower class who have either lost jobs and can’t find new ones or have never worked and never will. How long will that be sustainable? Is it sustainable today?
Welfare in western countries has become a lifestyle. And with the rise of disabilities’ payments under Obama, we see yet another set of teeth in the welfare mouth, grinding loudly for more substance (taxation) to masticate into the body politic.
But I don’t like moral arguments any more than I like fair share arguments. Brooks even brought that up; that the fair share argument will be Obama’s prodding stick throughout the upcoming election, and that it’s a moral argument. It is and it fails as such. You can’t legislate fairness. You can’t legislate happiness. You can’t legislate success.
However it does appear that you can legislate failure and we’ve done so very successfully. Nine percent of Americans lived in official poverty before LBJ’s war on poverty that’s cost us approximately $15 trillion and now as an outcome we have fifteen percent poverty. So, as usual, liberals front the counterfactual: “think of how high it would have been otherwise.”
That logic has had its heyday and is in the process of pooping out altogether as is the liberal ideology behind it. Liberalism today is a dead religion struggling for its last breath and now is the time to drive the sword in to the hilt. Liberals once had good ideas and have accomplished much by way of moving society forward, but like all good things, liberalism has fallen apart under its own weight. It’s monopoly on the hearts of Americans has been taken to trust court. Its bad ideas have come to the surface by default after the good ideas were stretched to the breaking point and today’s liberals cling to them like psychological safety nets.It’s hard to kick a religion cold turkey and liberals are fighting it tooth and nail. We need to free them from their depredations and be gentle in assimilating them back into society as they are also part of our kit and kin. We need to be stronger and better than them. Then we win and we don’t crow about it, we open our arms. They will be a welcomed entity when they return back into the fabric of our ever forgiving society. We have missed their productive output in these dark years of liberalism.
And, oh by the way, Brooks says there has to be a safety net but it should only be for the very poor and downtrodden. Not the middle class, who now receive social security checks three times bigger than their original contributions. This is fact and has been discussed a lot lately but only by conservatives. Liberals refuse to go there.
The goal, whether deliberate or not, is to hook the middle class on entitlements as well as the lower class. Why that’s seen as a positive move is rather difficult to ascertain, but we know one thing about it; it attracts votes and polls well. Tell people they’re going to get stuff for free; they’re there.
The NPR interviewer challenged Brooks on these polls and he agreed that while Americans poll 70% in favor of gonzo free market enterprise, conversely they poll 65% for wanting health care coverage by govt fiat.
These discrepancies shouldn’t be bothersome, but rather are totally logical. Of course we all want whatever we can get for free and of course we believe in free enterprise, that’s what America is all about.
So bottom line is that we have to make some wise discernments here. Trim down government, make it leaner and meaner. See it as a last resort. Militarily, economically, philosophically. And don’t abuse its limited talents in trying to do too much with it. Make a better safety net, but discriminate who gets its services and make them time limited and means tested so that recipients, if humanly possible, have a path to crawl out of subservience. Some won’t and we will continue to protect them, give them necessary shelter. But to not wield a discerning sword over who gets entitlements; that’s when entitlements damage people. They rob them of incentive and leave them with nothing to plot their own survival going forward.
My bottom line on moral arguments: if you have to use them to push back against liberalisms’ annoying tendency to brandish them like little secular bibles when forwarding an argument, fine. But know their limits and wean yourself off them as soon as possible. Don’t attach to moral arguments, attach to common sense policies that prove to work. And do the research to make sure they do work.