I’m still developing the same theme I’ve been hammering at for a week, because I think it’s important. The ideas in this post should be familiar to you, but I’m trying to express them with more factual data and lucidity:
My mother, bless her heart, said something very important the other day. She said that Europeans are much more socially conscious than Americans and that’s why they have all those government programs (i.e., socialism or spreading the wealth). She was clearly trying to say that Americans are mean and selfish, and that’s why they’ve traditionally leaned to keeping their wealth, rather than allowing government redistribution. She’s completely wrong, of course, but wrong in a very interesting way.
What she neglected to consider with her pronouncement is that, traditionally, America and Europe had vastly different social and economic fluidity. While Europe has had an exceptionally rigid class system from which few escape, America has been since its inception a place in which people can “make it.” Every immigrant group (and such is the nature of America that all but the Indigenous Americans are immigrant groups), has managed to assimilate and rise economically.
Census records from the Lower East Side in New York, through which passed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of immigrants from all over Europe, show that within two generations, all of the families that once lived there had moved into the working, middle or wealthy classes. Certainly, individuals may have suffered and failed but, en masse, the immigrants did well. They didn’t need to become the recipients of perpetual government largesse.
In Europe, however, there were no systems by which the lower classes (and that also always meant the poorer classes) could escape their stratum. Whether by accent, education, poverty, or tradition, they stayed there. (And, interestingly, even the educational opportunities socialism provided didn’t much change that. When I lived in England a couple of decades ago, after almost 40 years of free access to college education, most English people did not go on to college and people still gave away their class instantly just by opening their mouths.) Socialism, in other words, was just a totalitarian government substitute for the old noblesse oblige that saw the upper class (or, at least, the socially conscious ones) take care of the poorer orders, all the while ensuring that they stayed in their place.
The intense stratification of that system continues to exist with the new immigrants to Europe. Whether in Germany, Norway, Sweden, England, Italy or France, these new Muslim immigrants are instantly the recipients of government largesse that gives them housing and money — and that essentially tells them to get into their immigrant ghettos, and stay there, preferably feeling grateful to and voting for the government that was so good to them. Its a shock to the ruling class, and one that they can’t seem to understand, that these immigrants, rather than feeling grateful at being stuffed away into ghettos without any opportunities, loath the countries in which they live, and cheerfully envision their bloody overthrows.
My mother agreed with me on all of these points (how could she not?), but then produced her “a-ha!” to prove me wrong: “What about blacks in America (and, she could have added, Native Americans, too)?” To her, they proved I was entirely wrong in describing America’s social and economic fluidity. To me, though, they were just the extra evidence I needed to prove that when, as they do in Europe, a government provides too much for people, it consigns them permanently to poverty and social exile.
As you know, African-Americans (and Native Americans) differed from all other immigrant groups in America because the American system essentially imposed against them, for centuries (and in brutal and horrible ways) a European style stratification that prevented any upward movement. This is true whether one is looking at slavery, relocation, genocidal wars or Jim Crow. I’ll focus from here on out on what happened to blacks when Americans finally wised up to the error of their ways, but you can tell the same story about Native Americans.
Beginning in the 1940s (with the WWII economy) and continuing into the 1950s (with the Civil Rights movement), blacks started the same upward movement as other American groups. That is, once the nation began removing the artificial ceiling it had imposed on them, blacks too made social and economic strides. The strides were slow, because prejudice is slow to die, but they were real, and they created a rising black working and middle class composed of nuclear families. I have no doubt that, had the government continued to educate and police against discrimination, and otherwise left the market to do its work, African Americans would have joined other immigrant groups in realizing the American dream in a generation or two.
The death knell for this laborious, but real, social and economic ascent was the Great Society. The moment comprehensive welfare programs began (around the mid-1960s), government workers fanned out to black communities all over America and made huge efforts to tell blacks to stop working, because the government would pay for them. White guilt was at its apex, and government welfare was its expiation.
Being rational actors, blacks gave up bad, low-paying, often demeaning jobs for free money. And being rational actors, they gave up nuclear families and parental responsibility for even more free money. And so began the terrible slide of the African-American community. Even if you all don’t remember that time, you do remember what finally arrested this slide and helped put African-Americans back on the same, slow upward trajectory that existed before the Great Society: The fact that Clinton, under duress from a real Republican Congress, ended “welfare as we know it.” Once again, African-Americans, being rational actors, were given the incentive to shelter in the strength of the nuclear family and plug into the American Dream.
Obama wants to undo the American Dream and turn us into a European economy, where all benefits flow from the government, rather than individual effort. You can call it “socialism,” or “big government,” or “spreading the wealth,” or whatever else suits you, but the outcome will be the same: People will be locked into government induced poverty in perpetuity, the middle class will become slack, the economy will enter into stagflation, unemployment will rise, and service in every area of American life will fall as people lose their incentive (because they’ve lost the ability) to rise upwards and join in the American Dream.
(I’ve cross-posted this same article at Bloggers for John McCain (aka McCain-Palin 2008), which is a site that I urge you to visit. It’s committed entirely to advancing McCain to the White House, and has smart, enthusiastic articles about all of the players in the upcoming election.)