Sunday, March 28, 2010

What Ails Us - Part 2

Much has been made recently about all the anger over matters politic today. Peggy Noonan, in yesterday's WSJ, talks about the temperature being too high and Democrats and Republicans alike appear to be using the anger for partisan advantage. But we should examine the causes of the anger and not be dismissive. And I think that we find at its roots, a moral crisis of our own making.

Starting with the current health care debate, there is a sense of entitlement by those who argue in favor of a national program. Health care is a right they cry, and given that we have enshrined other goods as rights, how can we argue effectively that they are wrong. Other goods delivered by the government have become de facto rights, Children's education, a minimum income for the elderly and Medicare. And no one argued to end Medicare in the latest debate, as a matter of fact, the harm to be done Medicare under Obamacare was a key argument against its implementation.

However, in a free society, we have no right to the fruits of the labor of others; it is not our right to live by the sweat of another's brow. Doctors are not obligated to save our lives without just compensation, nor is the general population obligated to pay for that which we should be responsible ourselves. Ultimately, this is the moral code that we all instinctively live by, that we should be responsible for our own welfare and that of our families. We are angry because we are being punished for our integrity and figuratively spat upon and told that we are selfish and racist. We know that both our taxes and our insurance premiums will rise, we don't like it, because we have done nothing to deserve this and have made clear our desires. That many are angry is understandable. I do not condone threats or actual violence, but merely point out that the anger behind it is understandable.

Those on the other side believe that this moral code has a failing; because it does not guarantee that the less fortunate will be spared suffering. Further, they do not believe that a system of free enterprise is actually free, because people are fools, easily manipulated by those with corporate power and unable to make choices to free themselves of its tyranny, especially in the work place. They argue that we must hand over power to the "wise" who will establish an order of fairness and upend these evils through their benevolence. Hayek called this the fatal conceit. What they fail to acknowledge is that freedom and responsibility are damaged, and the "wise ones" in government will be even more self serving than any corporate leader ever can be, because of the power of competition. The self serving nature of the ruling class, even in a democracy, has long been understood.

But the problem gets even worse, because the "wise" have abandoned all pretense at having any moral compass of tradition, religion or constitution to constrain their desires. In order to gain power, they promise an electorate that we can have something for nothing; that we can take from the rich to meet our needs, nay to meet our rights. And as an electorate, we have bought into this.

Consider some history. Social Security, from the start, was never fully funded by its beneficiaries. Those who benefited in the past typically paid in far less than they received in benefits, burdening future generations with a system that returns to current workers 2% or less. Medicare was funded the same way, through a tax on current workers for the benefit of the elderly who had already retired. Both are now enshrined as rights.

More recently, home ownership became a quasi-right, propped up by easy money from the Federal Reserve and a structure that removed the risk of default on mortgages from those making the loans. It was the perfect con, everyone was getting what they wanted. No one cared that people lied on mortgage applications, no one cared that credit rating agencies had no clue about the value of mortgage backed securities, but rated them anyway. No one cared that the Federal Reserve's job of maintaining the value of the currency, a moral imperative that prevents theft by stealth, decided its job was to prevent stock market collapse or falling home prices.

Finally, we must ask why there is such a large population of people who need so much public assistance, such as subsidized health insurance, that our nation can't easily afford a small social safety net for an unfortunate few. KT has argued well and repeatedly that our culture devalues men and fathering which results in vast numbers of children lacking a father in their lives, and we are reaping a bitter harvest of underachieving, highly incarcerated youth as a result. And a typical moral failing of the incarcerated as well as those who can not complete high school is the seeming inability to take responsibility for their own lives. We see sex as recreational and wonder why so many men are then uninterested in ties that truly bind.

What can be done? Repealing Obamacare is probably the only place to start, because it has not really kicked in, so it is the easiest piece. But in the long run, merely repealing this one instance of overweening government will do nothing to dampen demand for ever more programs. We must change the culture of entitlement, to call it out for what it is, and to argue effectively, logically and passionately that this culture of entitlement and responsibility-shirking will wreck our country.

I leave with you an email that was forwarded to me by 'Dawg, but whose original authorship is unknown.

The danger to America is not Barack Obama but a citizenry capable of entrusting a man like him with the presidency. It will be easier to limit and undo the follies of an Obama presidency than to restore the necessary common sense and good judgment to an electorate willing to have such a man for their president. The problem is much deeper and far more serious than Mr. Obama, who is a mere symptom of what ails us. Blaming the prince of the fools should not blind anyone to the vast confederacy of fools that made him their prince. The republic can survive a Barack Obama. It is less likely to survive a multitude of fools such as those who made him their president.
I might no have used the word fools, but I do agree that we the people elected a man who promised us more government goodies paid for by the rich not us. I guess those who believed that are indeed fools.

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