October 30, 2010

Some Truths Well Put

Justin Katz

I'll be relieved when today has passed, for community engagement reasons, and I'll be relieved when Tuesday has passed, for political involvement reasons, and I'll be relaxed when November has passed, for professional reasons. Which all serves obliquely to explain why I'm just now, of a Saturday morning, catching up on Mark Steyn's week of insightful daily posts. Read them all, by all means, but as usual with Steyn, a few paragraphs stand out from each. On Tuesday:

An America comprised of therapeutic statists, regulatory enforcers, multigenerational dependents, identity-group rent-seekers, undocumented laborers, stimulus grantwriting liaison coordinators, six-figure community organizers, millionaire diversity-outreach consultants, billionaire carbon-offset traders, a diversionary-leisure "knowledge sector", John Edwards' anti-poverty consultancy, John Kerry's vintner, and Al Gore's holistic masseuse will still offer many opportunities, but not for that outmoded American archetype, the self-reliant citizen seeking to nourish his family through the fruits of his labor. And nor for millions of others just struggling to stay afloat. A statist America won't be a large Sweden — unimportant but prosperous — but something closer to the Third World, corrupt and chaotic, broke and brutish — for all but a privileged few.

The new class war in the western world is between "public servants" and the rest of us. In Washington, the marching bureaucrats are telling us government doesn't suck. But in Greece, the bloated public service has sucked so much out of the economy there's nothing left.

On Wednesday:

Got that? If you own a deli, you better have, because New York is so broke they need their nine cents per sliced bagel and their bagel inspectors are cracking down.

In such a world, there is no "law" — in the sense of (a) you the citizen being found by (b) a jury of your peers to be in breach of (c) a statute passed by (d) your elected representatives. Instead, unknown, unnamed, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats determine transgressions, prosecute infractions and levy fines for behavioral rules they themselves craft and which, thanks to the ever more tangled spaghetti of preferences, subsidies, entitlements and incentives, apply to different citizens unequally. You may be lucky: You may not catch their eye — for a while. But perhaps your neighbor does, or the guy down the street. No trial, no jury, just a dogsbody in some cubicle who pronounces that you’re guilty of an offense a colleague of his invented. ...

This is the reality of small business in America today. You don't make the rules, you don't vote for people who make the rules. But you have to work harder, pay more taxes, buy more permits, fill in more paperwork, contribute to the growth of an ever less favorable business environment and prostrate yourself before the Commissar of Community Services — all for the privilege of taking home less and less money.

On Thursday:

In the 20th century the intermediary institutions were belatedly hacked away—not just self-government at town, county, and state level, but other independent pillars: church, civic associations, and not least (as the demographic profile of Dillon indicates) the basic building block of functioning society, the family. After the diminution of every intervening institution, very little stands between the central authority and the individual, which is why the former now assumes the right to insert himself into every aspect of daily life and why schoolgirls in Dillon, South Carolina think it entirely normal to beseech the Sovereign in Barackingham Palace to do something about classroom maintenance. ...

The object is to reduce and eventually eliminate alternatives — to subsume everything within the Big Government monopoly. Statists prefer national one-size-fits all — and ultimately planet-wide one-size-fits-all. Borders create the nearest thing to a free market in government — as the elite well understand when they seek to avoid the burdens they impose on you. John Kerry, a Big Tax senator from a Big Tax state, preferred to register his yacht in Rhode Island to avoid half-a-million bucks in cockamamie Massachusetts "boat sales and use" tax. Howard Metzenbaum, the pro-Death Tax senator from Ohio, adjusted his legal residency just before he died from Ohio to Florida, because the former had an estate tax and the latter didn't. This is federalism at work: States compete, and, when they get as rapacious as Massachusetts, even their own pro-tax princelings start looking for the workarounds.

Bazillionaire senators will always have workarounds — for their land, for their yachts, for their health care. You won't.

And today:

In California, the people can pass a ballot proposition, but a single activist judge overrules them. In Arizona, the people's representatives vote to uphold the people's laws, but a pliant judge strikes them down at Washington's behest. It is surely only a matter of time before some federal judge finds the constitution unconstitutional. It is never a good idea to send the message, as the political class now does consistently, that there are no democratic means by which the people can restrain their rulers. As Pat Cadell points out, the logic of that is "pre-revolutionary".

What Judge Bolton in Arizona and Judge Walker in California have in common and share with Mayor Bloomberg's observations on opposition to the Ground Zero mosque is a contempt for the people. The rationale for reversing the popular will in all three cases is that the sovereign people are bigots. In Arizona, they're xenophobic. In California, they're homophobic. In New York, they're Islamophobic. Popular sovereignty may be fine in theory but not when the people are so obviously in need of "re-education" by their betters. Over in London, the transportation department has a bureaucrat whose very title sums up our rulers' general disposition toward us: "Head of Behavior Change."

What Steyn excels at laying out is the application of a basic understanding of America's conception of liberty and the civic structure that supports it to broad issues of the day. We can see those applications in every layer of government. Town-level school committees that bend to the will of state-and-nation-level labor unions that have had decades and publicly funded full-time jobs to restructure the public debate in such a way as to hinder necessary change. State legislators who apparently have no concept of the effects of the legislation that they pass at the behest of self-interested and ideological constituencies, and a gubernatorial front-runner whose "vision for Rhode Island's recovery" is 100% driven by the decisions and top-down crafting of government policies — picking industries and individual winners and, of course, spending more money on government activities. A federal government that is nakedly hostile to citizens who wish to govern themselves by different standards than the ruling class prefers.

Pared down, there are two paths to take this coming Tuesday — chosen at every level of the ballot. One begins to turn the nation back toward a liberty and self-autonomous spirit that can restore the United States to its city-on-a-hill status and, indeed, ensure that the nation continues to exist as such. The other allows the noose to continue tightening.

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Hilaire Belloc on Capitalism:My emphasis.

With the close of the Middle Ages the societies of Western Christendom and England among the rest were economically free.

Property was an institution native to the State and en joyed by the great mass of its citizens. Cooperative institutions, voluntary regulations of labour, restricted the completely independent use of property by its owners only in order to keep that institution intact and to prevent the absorption of small property by great.

This excellent state of affairs which we had reached after many centuries of Christian development, and in which the old institution of slavery had been finally eliminated from Christendom, did not every where survive. In England in particular it was ruined. The seeds of the disaster were sown in the sixteenth century. Its first apparent effects came to light in the seventeenth. During the eighteenth century England came to be finally, though insecurely, established upon a proletarian basis, that is, it had already become a society of rich men possessed of the means of production on the one hand, and a majority dispossessed of those means upon the other. With the nineteenth century the evil plant had come to its maturity, and England had become before the close of that period a purely Capitalist State, the type and model of Capitalism for the whole world: with the means of production tightly held by a very small group of citizens, and the whole determining mass of the nation dispossessed of capital and land, and dispossessed, therefore, in all cases of security, and in many of sufficiency as well. The mass of English men, still possessed of political, lacked more and more the elements of economic, freedom, and were in a worse posture than free citizens have ever found themselves before in the history of Europe. . . .

In other words, by the first third of the seventeenth century, by 1630-40, the economic revolution was finally accomplished, and the new economic reality thrusting it self up on the old traditions of England was a powerful oligarchy of large owners over shadowing an impoverished and dwindled monarchy.

Just as the central authority as exemplified by the monarchy was supplanted by a few industrial capitalists and the English middle class was eventually whittled away so the pull to shrink the central government here will result in the establishment of an oligarchy and the diminution of the middle class.


Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 30, 2010 9:14 PM

OTL, and when was it exactly that you got a job from a poor man without property?

I never let my daughter watch Robin Hood movies. I got the latest 2010 version the other night. In this iteration, Robin Hood (Russel Crowe), is the efficient force behind the Magna Carta. Still, they are unable to end the film without having Robin chased into Sherwood Forest where he lives in a society where "no one is rich, and no one is poor".

Posted by: Warrington Faust at October 30, 2010 10:23 PM

Silly question we both live in a society of rich men possessed of the means of production. The question is moot, and getting "mooter".

Posted by: OldTimeLefty at October 30, 2010 10:37 PM

Courageous,hard hitting commentary,Justin. Awesome. Thank you for articulating so well these things so often sensed,but so difficult to clarify and say.

Posted by: helen at October 31, 2010 1:07 AM

"I never let my daughter watch Robin Hood movies."

Amen! I keep my kids away from Dora. No wild animal-coddling on my watch. And can we see a green card, please? Something about her screams anchor baby. Como se dice, "Close the borders!?"

Don't even get me started on Elmo (red fur = communist).

Posted by: Scott at October 31, 2010 8:49 PM
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