The Original Sin of Progressives
There is obviously some confusion in my use of the terms "left" and "right," because I don't really intend to connote their contemporary usage. Rather, what ends up as this or that policy is founded upon a much deeper characterological and even spiritual divide that determines what follows. In short, I am always dealing with what the steamed Professor Chomsky would call the "deep structure" of left and right.
You might say that the founders were free of political "original sin," and created a system that is about as close to perfection as humans can manage. The sin only came in later, eating away at the foundations of this noble country. What was it? What was the alien meme that entered the American bloodstream and infected half its inhabitants? Whatever it is, it has now come to dominate and shape most of our political debates, in a way that the original Americans would have found puzzling.
In a two part essay entitled Dangerous Obsession, I think Thomas Sowell identifies the real original sin, which is the flight from individualism amidst organic unity to an enforced political collectivism that attacks individual differences by placing equality over liberty. Although Sowell is an economist, economics is simply common sense writ large, whereas most other academic disciplines -- i.e., philosophy, anthropology, psychology -- often come down to error on a grandiose scale. Just as you can't fool mother nature, you cannot fool father economics -- at least not in the long run (i.e., "just wait 'til your father comes home, Venezuela!").
What most seems to annoy leftist intellectuals about the free market is that, not only is it something that they cannot control or understand, but it accomplishes its task much more effectively and efficiently than the most brilliant person -- or group of people -- ever could. Sowell cites a famous essay which pointed out that no single person knows enough to produce so much as a single lead pencil. That is, "there is no single individual anywhere who knows how to grow the wood, mine the graphite, produce the rubber, and manufacture the paint." And yet, no one need ever worry that there won't be enough pencils, so long as we don't interfere with the process: "Complex economic processes cause all these things to be done and coordinated by a wide variety of people, just in order to produce something as simple as a lead pencil. Multiply that by a hundred or a thousand when it comes to the complexity of producing a car or a computer."
Now, if you don't even know how to produce a lead pencil or even to put lead in your husband's pencil (Dupree, that was uncalled for), imagine the hubris of a Hillary Clinton deciding to intervene in an industry that accounts for some 17% of our economy and creating a rigid, top-down national healthcare system? Without so much as a fig leaf of economic rationality to cover this flaccid Marxism?
One of the latest memes of the left is "income disparity," a classic instance of missing the forest for the trees. Yes, there are disparities in income for the same reason that there is so much wealth to begin with. Thus, you cannot attack the one without undermining the other. But as Sowell notes, "If you cannot understand something as simple as making a lead pencil, why should you be surprised that you don't understand why someone is making a lot more money than somebody else?" Nevertheless, this doesn't stop leftists from insisting that this "problem" -- which they do not understand -- is something that requires "fixing," naturally by coercive governmental policy. This means that the collective -- the government -- will inevitably "impose policies based on [their] ignorance of what is going on."
Sowell notes that "when income taxes were imposed in the early 20th century, they applied only to 'the rich' and they took a very small percentage of their income." But "Once the floodgates are opened to this kind of political power... we have seen with the income taxes that they not only spread far beyond 'the rich,' they took a serious share of even middle class incomes."
Remember, the founders saw this coming: "The people who wrote the Constitution were wise enough to understand what a dangerous thing it would be to allow government to take money from people just because those people had it." That is why it required "a Constitutional amendment to enable the federal government to impose an income tax."
I think that right there is our original political sin, for it is the point of entry for every subsequent leftist meme, dream, scheme and scam. The power of contemporary "progressives" is based largely on the power to tax. Its other main sources of power are the judiciary, where they can pack courts to legislate unpopular ideas from the bench, and the MSM and academia, where they control the flow of information in order to make the abnormal and aberrant appear normal and healthy. Thus, "social or ideological bias" are "added to envy and ignorance," producing the progressive "witches' brew on which to base national policy."
It is a truism that progressives are obsessed with the distribution of wealth -- taking it as a given -- while conservatives are concerned with its creation. Nowhere is this more evident than in differing attitudes toward the third world. For just as progressives have no idea why some Americans are wealthier than others, they also have no idea why some nations are so much wealthier than others. Thus, for some 40 years we have been guided by this blinkered policy of simply pouring money into the third world, which disappears like water into a sandy hole at the beach. All of this misguided "idiot compassion" has only made matters demonstrably worse, and put off the day of reckoning when these poorer countries must address the dysfunctional ideas and institutions that keep them mired in poverty.
As usual, progressives have it backwards. They look at the disparities in wealth between various countries and then define the disparities as ipso facto inequalities. "Disparity" is a neutral term, but an "inequality" is something we must courageously do something about! Even if it makes matters much worse!
In asking why the United States, or Japan, or Western Europe have more wealth, "You might as well ask why bees have so much more honey than other creatures." Here again, we see how the original sin insinuates itself into our economic rhetoric, which verbally "collectivizes" all of "the wealth that was produced individually," so that the progressive becomes "aghast at the 'disparities' that are magically turned into 'inequities in the distribution of 'the world's wealth.'"
And one of the most formidable barriers to wealth is culture. There is an ironic parallel between "progressives" and primitives, in that both have dysfunctional economic ideas, even though the one presumes to be helping the other. Although it may have been different in the past, today "the economic effects of these cultural differences often dwarf the effects of differences in material things like natural resources." For example, "Natural resources in Uruguay and Venezuela are worth several times as much per capita as natural resources in Japan and Switzerland. But income per capita in Japan and Switzerland is about double that of Uruguay and several times that of Venezuela."
As always, the problem is bad ideas. But instead of correcting the dysfunctional ideas, progressives want to indulge them while exercising their own equally bad and dysfunctional ideas, all in the name of compassion. We can only thank God that America has always distrusted intellectuals.
So be aware of original sin. It will always come as a seductive idea that seems both liberating and compassionate, but is actually cruel and enslaving.
From Taranto's Best of the Web today:
"Cuba's health-care system, a favorite of pinkos everywhere, turns out not to be good enough for communist dictator Fidel Castro, as Reuters reports from Madrid:
'A renowned Spanish surgeon has been rushed to Cuba to treat ailing leader Fidel Castro....The plane carried medical equipment not available in Cuba in case the leader needs further surgery due to his progressively failing health...'"