A mish-mash of things from the wonderful Caped Crusader, from Earl, and from my own Facebook feed. The first one explains a lot about the bond between Leftists and Islamists, despite the fact that the former ought to hate the latter because of little things like religion, sexual constraints, etc., while the latter definitely hate the former because of little things like lack of religion, sexual freedom, etc.
One of the things I’ve tried to drill into my children is the truism that the single biggest indicator of poverty is single motherhood. That data, incidentally, does not reflect the old-fashioned kind of single motherhood, which was the result of widowhood or abandonment. Instead, we’re talking about modern single motherhood, the kind that sees women who are deluged with birth control choices nevertheless get pregnant with boyfriends or hook-ups who feel no emotional connection or sense of economic obligation to either mother or baby.
One of my children has a part-time job at a cafe and is, for the first time, meeting adults who have full-time jobs but who aren’t middle-class professionals living in single family homes in solidly upper middle class neighborhoods. One of these adults is pregnant and is unhappy about the fact that the cafe, where she’s been working for only five months, will not give her maternity leave.
Inquiry revealed that the pregnant woman is not married; that she’s living with a boyfriend who may or may not be the father of her child (my kid doesn’t know), and that the boyfriend doesn’t work. Except for getting regular nooky at night (assuming that the pregnant woman still wants that kind of attention), the mother-to-be will be, for all practical purposes, a single mother.
My child found it concerning that the boss won’t pay this single mother not to work for him. My child was therefore stymied when I asked this question: “Why should he pay for her foolish choices?”
I noted that, while it’s entirely possible that this woman was using enough birth control to protect six woman, and nevertheless still managed to get pregnant, the greater likelihood was that she was careless. Indeed, if she really wanted to protect against single motherhood, she could have abstained from sex until she had a ring on her finger and some economic prospects.
I threw in the fact that it’s incredibly costly to do business in California, especially in the food service industry, which have extremely low profit margins. Employers generally are drowning in regulations, which makes businesses very expensive to run. Add in taxes and all the other costs of business (rent, insurance, salaries, benefits, supplies, etc.), and it’s guaranteed that the employer is clearing just enough money for his personal expenses (mortgage, insurance, food, etc.). This owner is almost certainly not living extravagantly but is, instead, living a very temperate life.
Much of the money that the federal and state government are taking away from this man, both from his business and from him personally, is going to welfare programs for single mothers, something this employer must know. Since he’s already paying for the welfare this young woman will inevitably end up using, why should he pay twice by carrying her on the books even though she’s contributing nothing to his business? Even if he was feeling charitable, the government has left him nothing with which to be charitable, not to mention the fact that the government, by snatching money from his pockets, has already decided on his behalf which charities he should support — including economically foolish single motherhood.
Such a simple question: “Why should he pay for her foolish choices, when the government is already taxing him heavily in advance to pay for all the foolish choices of intentionally single mothers across America”?
One of the mantras to emerge from feminist side of the Leftist swamps during the late 1960s/early 1970s was notion that “the personal is political.” As used by the feminists, it meant that, when suburban women got together to burn their bras, examine their genitals in mirrors, and gripe about patriarchal oppression, they weren’t just engaging in the updated version of coffee klatches. Instead, this “consciousness raising” was a political act because the conclusions they reached would drive their politics.
As is so often the case when it comes to manipulating the political process, the Leftists were onto something. No matter what they say, most people don’t approach issues through education and analysis, nor do they abandon ideas just because those ideas actually fail when they finally leave the analysis phase and become operational. Instead, most people are driven by emotion: Do I feel like a good person when I do this? Is the beneficiary of my political act a good person? And the contrary is true too: Am I punishing an “evil” person if I vote or act in a specific way (since punishing an “evil” person elevates my “goodness” quotient).
I’m not saying anything all of you haven’t already figured out. The only reason I mention this is because I’m struggling with the way in which I can counter a compelling, hard Left HBO documentary that my daughter saw, one that has left her inclined to believe that the welfare state is the answer. The documentary is “Paycheck to Paycheck: The Life and Times of Katrina Gilbert.”
Maria Shriver, who produced the documentary, chose well when she and her team selected Gilbert as the poster child for single mothers, since Gilbert is a very sympathetic woman. She got married at 19 (no out-of-wedlock children here) and had three children with her husband. Unfortunately, her husband was addicted to prescription drugs (no tawdry illegal meth addiction here), wrecking the family finances and destroying their marriage. The show picks up with Gilbert now in her mid-20s, working hard for $9.49 an hour at an assisted living center for the elderly. She’s able to do this work because her children attend a government-funded pre-K daycare center in their hometown of Chattanooga. Further, this loving mother puts food on the table only thanks to the food stamps.
As Alfred Doolittle would have said, Gilbert is definitely among the deserving poor. When you see Gilbert — who did the right thing when she married her children’s father — struggling to cope with sick children and a flooded house (her boyfriend’s house), you can’t help but feel sympathetic. You want to help her. You want her to earn more money considering how hard she works and you want her to have better childcare opportunities. And you think to yourself, “Heck, if she lived in Denmark, none of this would be a problem. (In part, of course, because Denmark’s young people aren’t having children to begin with.) Gilbert would get free child care, a high living wage, all the benefits in the world, and be able to take endless sick days for her kids, as well as for herself.”
When the documentary ends, by which time you’re firmly rooting for Gilbert, the film hits you with the real numbers. Gilbert, we’re told, isn’t an anomaly. She’s part of a crowd: According to the documentary, Gilbert is the living embodiment of the 42 million women in America who live at or below the poverty line, along with (I believe) 28 million children. The documentary doesn’t have to say what we need to do. It’s quite obvious that we ought to raise the minimum wage, make free childcare available to all American children, and provide comprehensive welfare for food and housing.
In case you’re too dim to reach this conclusion by yourself, HBO helpfully provides a guide for you to read alone or discuss with a group. Some of what you’re supposed to discuss involves smart choices women can make. Other discussion ideas, though, encourage Big Government as a solution, and advance a highly partisan Progressive agenda:
The Chambliss Center [pre-K childcare] is very important for Katrina. When she picks up her children she says, “The kids are learning so much here. If I went to a normal day care center, it would cost me $300 per week for all three of my children …that’s a whole paycheck.” Child care expenses for families with working mothers can range from 20 to nearly 50% of the mother’s monthly salary. How do you think Katrina would function if her kids weren’t at the Chambliss Center? Do you know anyone who is struggling with childcare needs? What can we as a society do to help? How important is it that the Chambliss Center operates 24/7?
Numerous studies have shown the long-term benefits of high-quality early education for young learners. However, fewer than 30% of American 4-year olds attend high quality preschool programs. President Obama expressed his support for universal high-quality preschool and many states have been developing universal pre-K legislation and programs. What do you think are some of the advantages and disadvantages to government sponsored universal pre-Kindergarten programs?
What did you know before about federal programs like Head Start, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit? Has this changed after viewing the film?
What are the social services in your area for families in need of financial assistance? Do you think it’s not enough, or too much? How are they affected by budget decisions at the State and Federal level? Do you think people are aware of what government programs provide? How do you think people feel about receiving assistance? Can you think of other programs that could be helpful to women on the brink?
The study guide ends with a list of resources, the second of which is the hard Left Center for American Progress, which some describe as the “shadow Democrat party,” and which sets the agenda for many of the Obama administration initiatives. People troubled by the hardships Gilbert faces will quickly learn that Big Government is the only thing that can save her.
After my daughter saw the show, she was pretty sure that we ought to have more free education for the pre-K crowd, more free daycare, more free food, and mandated higher wages. She was certainly correct that each of these things would have been an immediate benefit to Gilbert. My task was to get my daughter to see that these are all band-aid remedies that might staunch small individual wounds, but will not stop the fatal hemorrhaging in the American economy.
The problem I had is that there’s nothing sexy about free market fixes. They’re abstract and the benefits fall randomly, rather than on specific, targeted people, such as Gilbert. It’s this last fact that means that market reforms cannot guarantee immediate — or, indeed, any — aid to sympathetic figures such as Gilbert.
People who watch the documentary want Gilbert to be fixed immediately and her personal life becomes an overarching political argument. When I said that single motherhood is the biggest dividing line between rich and poor, my daughter pointed out that Gilbert had her children within a marriage. When I said mothers should stay married if at all possible, she pointed out that Gilbert’s husband was a drug addict who destroyed finances, so staying together was not an option. When I said that education is important, she noted that Gilbert was trying to go back to school, but could do so only with government help.
My prescriptions were a free market (as opposed to the over-regulated market we now have), which has proven repeatedly to provide increased economic opportunities for everyone, not just government cronies; education, marriage, and children, in that order; and sticking with a bad marriage, provided that it’s not violent or otherwise abusive, because that is the best way to avoid poverty for both women and children. My daughter’s prescriptions after getting a close-up look at Gilbert’s sympathetic struggles were Big Government.
I didn’t increase my sympathy quotient when I explained to her that there will always be poor people, no matter the system. (In North Korea, outside of government circles, everyone is poor.) In a strong, free-market, capitalist system, fewer people will be poor and even poor people will do better than in non-capitalist countries. For example, I said, while Gilbert is struggling by American standards, the reality is that she shares a big house with her boyfriend, complete with a modern kitchen and nice electronics; she has government-subsidized food; she owns a car; and she has a smart phone, as do all the other adults in her low-income world. It’s almost ludicrous to call her experience “poverty” when one looks at poverty in Brazil or India or Cuba or North Korea or large swathes of Africa. Yes, she’s struggling, but life is struggle.
It would be lovely to give an economic band-aid to the hardworking Gilbert. But when the Democrats demand 42 million band-aids for all the other single mothers, you’ve got a problem. If the body politic or body economic really were a body, this would be the scenario: The American body (we’ll call it Sam) gets entangled in economic brambles, and poor Sam ends up bleeding from millions of scratches on his arms and legs. He looks at the scratches and thinks, “Yikes, I need some band-aids.” Fortunately for him, a mobile blood bank rolls by and offers to buy almost all of his blood in exchange for 42 million single-use band-aids.
Sam is delighted with this offer. He’ll be able to stop the blood flow, even though he’s probably giving to the bank almost as much blood as he’s losing to the cuts. What Sam ignores is that, when the bandages are applied and the mobile blood bank rolls away, he’ll still be stuck in those brambles.
Economic reality says that, if you’re mired in brambles, you don’t sell all your blood for band-aids, while remaining deep in the thorns. Instead, you first get out of the brambles. Only then do you deal with the worst cuts, ignore the rest, and get down to the business of regaining your health and staying away the brambles that got you into trouble in the first place.
None of the above is sexy. Advocating a free market capitalist economy so that there will be fewer poor people is not sexy. Encouraging marriage, even unhappy marriages, for the sake of the children is not sexy. Acknowledging that there will always be poor people and they will always suffer is not sexy. And trying to explain that, in a healthy economy, fewer people are poor and fewer people remain poor isn’t sexy. Appearing to turn your back on the Gilbert’s of the world isn’t only un-sexy, it appears downright sadistic. And explaining that economic reality means that it’s impossible to be, simultaneously, both a comprehensive welfare state and a thriving free market is un-sexy too. (Not to mention the fact that you have to explain that Europe managed to have a welfare state with a capitalist gloss only because America paid for Europe’s defense during the long Cold War years.)
I’ve described one show and one child who was moved Left by its message. However, this close, personal focus is a chronic issue when dealing with the Left. To gain sympathy for its larger agenda, the Left always focuses on the one child who’s illegal immigrant father is deported (although never the one child whose redneck father goes to jail following drunken revelry); or the one single mother who did all the right things; or the one single Gitmo detainee who was a mere child when the Taliban forced him to kill Americans. The focus is always tight, obscuring the rest of the message.
I mentioned the other day that Ben Shapiro has written an excellent book about arguing with Leftists, How to Debate Leftists and Destroy Them, which you can get free by registering at Truth Revolt. The book presupposes an argument. My question is how does one challenge this type of gooey, emotional propaganda, which gains a wide television audience and promises that the world can be healed, one government band-aid at a time?
At a certain level, all of us are solipsistic, in that we inevitably exist at the enter of our own universe. As it is with individuals, so it is with belief systems. Whether we like it or not, we assume that our way is the way to do things. That others would do things a different way is invariably a surprise (although, as is the case with Dutch chocolate, often a pleasant surprise).
One of the things that distinguishes the mature mind from the immature mind is the ability to recognize that your way isn’t always the right way. Sometimes the other person’s (or nation’s) way is fine, even if it seems inadequate.
(As a side note, I’m not discussing moral absolutes here. I think we’re entitled to be solipsistic about certain moral absolutes, such as “cold-blooded murder is wrong,” cold-blooded stealing is wrong,” “child-beating is wrong.” Even there, though, we do make distinctions. Cold-blooded murder is wrong, but we are open to extenuating circumstances. Cold-blooded stealing is wrong, but it’s probably okay if you’re starving and steal food. Child-beating is always wrong, of course, except that some describe “beating” as a slap on the butt with a hand, while others describe it as using a child’s head as a battering ram against a wall. All decent people oppose the second; many decent people, myself included, do not consider that the first constitutes a “beating.”)
Outside of moral absolutes (or moral somewhat absolutes), what remains are behaviors and beliefs. It’s here that we all fall prey to believing our way is best. Where conservatives and Progressives differ, though, is that, while conservatives believe their choices are best, they do not believe that it is up to government to impose those choices on others. They prefer persuasion to coercion. Progressives, however, are sufficiently self-righteous (or emotionally immature) that they believe that they must impose their ways upon others.
What got me thinking about this was a discussion I had with my sister about a couple of homeless men she and her husband have befriended (don’t ask). Both men are enthusiastically homeless. They get government checks, but are incapable of — and, more importantly, hostile to — embracing a middle class lifestyle.
The two men live near a city in a somewhat rural area. They can bike to amenities, but live in a homeless encampment in the woods (which means they offer minimal inconvenience to the bulk of the city’s residents). One of them built a teeny, portable wooden structure in which he lives, and powers the TV, the lights, the radio, and the electric cook stove with solar panels. The other dwells in a tent and mooches happily off friends. They get water from a nearby water pipe that the city makes available to the encampment. They get free food from various charities, and spend their government checks on food and drugs.
From my middle class, suburban perch, they live a terrible life. From their point of view, though, they’re free men who have all their needs met: shelter, food, chemical stimulants. They don’t want anything more. Both are a little loopy (one has a mildly aggressive paranoia, while the other believes he communes with alien beings), but neither is rendered dysfunctional by those “quirks.” They are free to be themselves. They don’t miss hot showers, and La-Z-Boys, and cars, and the internet, and X-Boxes, and all of the other things with which we fill our lives. Nor do they miss health insurance, which means that they’re in sync with previously uninsured Oregonians who got Medicaid. When they’re sick, that’s what the ER is for. They like that status quo and, despite living in a state that’s embraced government medicine, they refuse to join up.
I thought of these two men when James Taranto pointed out a Fox-Butterfield moment in the San Francisco Comical:
Fox Butterfield, Is That You?
“San Francisco spends $165 million a year on services for homeless people, but all that money hasn’t made a dent in the homeless population in at least nine years.”–Heather Knight, San Francisco Chronicle, March 12
San Francisco has long spent exorbitant sums on the homeless because the Progressive government believes that it can bribe, cajole or co-opt the homeless into adopting a middle class lifestyle. The experience of 30 years of failure has only convinced the Progressives that they need to spend more. They cannot comprehend that, while there are people amongst the homeless population who are genuinely down on their luck and need a hand, there are many amongst the homeless who affirmatively embrace that lifestyle. They are homeless, not because we (society) have failed them, but because they like the freedom that comes with homelessness. They have no amenities, but they have no obligations either.
Progressives aren’t insane, notwithstanding the oft-repeated definition of insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Solipsism isn’t insanity. It is, instead, a failure of imagination and an emotional immaturity that makes it impossible for a person or belief system to accept other attitudes and desires.
Obamacare is the gift that just keeps giving . . . if you want to prove to Americans that Leftism works only on paper and, even then, only if you lie about the numbers. We’ve already had proven that you can’t keep your insurance, you can’t keep your doctor, you can’t keep your hospital, and you can’t keep your money. The past weeks have also revealed that you can’t keep your job.
The Democrats have tried to spin this last point by saying that people will be freed of the drudgery of work and suddenly have time to innovate. In fact, according to studies of people who were given that time to innovate (start businesses, invent things, etc.), the sudden time freedom made no difference:
More importantly, a thorough review of the available literature done by the RAND Corporation in 2010 concluded “On net, there appears to be little consensus in this literature on the existence or magnitude of the effect of health insurance on business creation.” To be sure, the same RAND report provides a new empirical analysis suggesting “that “entrepreneurship lock” for men is just over 1 percentage point relative to an annual base business creation rate of 3 percent.” But one way or the other, all these various studies represent efforts to infer the number of “entrepreneur-locked” individuals in the U.S.
Far more convincing is evidence of what happens after the introduction of universal or near-universal health coverage. For example, our OECD competitors all have had national health systems for decades. Yet Edward Prescott, co-winner of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Economics, has observed that “entrepreneurship is much lower in Europe.” If universal health coverage truly had a demonstrable impact on individual willingness to take risks, this disparity seems counterintuitive. Admittedly, there are many other factors such as tax and regulatory policy that might affect these cross-national comparisons. So the most convincing evidence comes from the first empirical study ever to explore the actual impact of the a shift to universal coverage on entrepreneurship. This study of the Massachusetts health reform (“Romneycare” after which Obamacare was purportedly modeled) found the following:
The author finds significant and persistent suppression of new organization formation when controlling for organization size, sector and owner gender, and limited evidence of geographic displacement of firms across the New Hampshire border. While theory suggests mandatory insurance should reduce insurance costs and improve worker productivity, the author finds that the regulation has no significant impact on worker productivity and limited evidence of increases in insurance costs, and estimates the expected cost in terms of lost employment, sales to the local economy and tax revenue to in the majority of cases exceed the benefit.
Judging by my own life, this data doesn’t surprise me at all. When vistas of free time open before me, I don’t innovate, I become inert. More significantly, my brain slows down. While I, as a busy person, can get 10 chores done in a day, as an un-busy person, I’m lucky if I get 2 or 3 chores done. My flywheel has stopped spinning and I find it difficult to marshal the energy needed to overcome the inertia and get that flywheel spinning again. It’s entirely true that, if you want to get something done, you should ask a busy person.
Moreover, if you want to build a better mousetrap, you should probably ask a busy person about that too. It’s the busy person who has an incentive to simplify tasks. It’s a busy person who engages with the world in a way that sows and fertilizes ideas in his mind. It’s also a busy person who dreams of leisure and takes affirmative steps to create sufficient wealth to bring that leisure time about. Enforced leisure lacks all of those incentives. After all, if enforced leisure went hand in hand with creativity and innovation, Europe’s once-thriving cradle to crave welfare states would have resulted in the most dynamic economies in history, rather than in economic basket cases.
It’s true that there have always been people who, because of their great wealth, were able to indulge their passions in ways that benefit the world. Reading about these people, though, one senses that they were so driven that, no matter their station in life, they would have affected the world around them. Florence Nightingale, for example, had a calling that would actually have been easier for her to pursue if she hadn’t come from a fabulously wealthy, upper-class family. Most inventions, though, come from busy people trying to figure out a better way (Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, John Rockefeller) or from people who were in a line of work that let their brain float freely to another line (Albert Einstein).
This is a sort of random, ill-thought-out post. I’m confident in my core idea, but I’m not expressing it as well as I ought — probably because of the stultification of being couch-bound for so many days now. Please chime in to support or oppose my ragged thoughts.
When I was at UC Berkeley, I had two good professors from whom I actually learned something. One of them was Sheldon Rothblatt, who then taught a class covering England from the Industrial Revolution to the dawn of World War I. He was a delightful teacher, able to infuse life and color into what would have been, in less skilled hands, a drab recital of capitalist oppression and Marxist struggles.
Looking back, I realize that Professor Rothblatt, unlike the usual Marxist cohort in Cal’s history department, viewed people as individuals with wants and desires, rather than as mere cogs in an endless struggle between oppressed masses and oppressive upper classes. Prof. Rothblatt’s recognition that individuals count may go a long way to explaining the answer he gave when someone asked why the Industrial Revolution was petering out in England at the beginning of the 20th Century while, in America, it kept roaring on.
If I remember correctly, Prof. Rothblatt said that the end of the Industrial Revolution in England lay with the working classes. The problem wasn’t that they were too oppressed. Instead, between the downward pressure from the class system (“an Englishman’s way of speaking absolutely classifies him“), and the rising level of (comparative) luxury brought about by the Industrial Revolution, working-class Englishmen simply stopped trying very hard. They knew that, no matter the effort they put in, they wouldn’t be able to break through the class ceiling. Additionally, provided that they weren’t living in abysmal poverty, they had more creature comforts than they could ever have imagined. So why work?
In America at the beginning of the 20th Century, things were different. The working classes knew that, with effort, they could rise up and their children could rise up even more. Heck, John D. Rockefeller went from a very shabby childhood to being one of the richest men in the world. Andrew Carnegie, the son of a Scottish weaver, did the same. While most wouldn’t reach those rarefied heights, there was no doubt that, with hard work, geographic mobility, and America’s open class system, a man or a woman, or that man’s or woman’s descendents, could realistically attain middle class or even wealthy status. In addition, as the original poor gained economically because of the Industrial Revolution, thereby leaving the working class behind, there was a constant influx of (legal) immigrants to provide fresh, hope-filled labor for the factory floor. Yes, many people fell by the wayside, but even more people ascended American society’s ranks — and that was itself an incentive for continued effort.
America has changed dramatically since then in three very significant ways. First, we’ve lost our geographic mobility. I know that sounds funny in a day and age of trains, planes, and automobiles, but it’s true. We are heavily weighed down by both tangible and intangible assets. If my husband were to lose his job (God forbid!), and if there were no employment prospects here, moving to find work would be reasonable. Nevertheless, we would find it incredibly difficult to move. Every room in our house is crammed with stuff that would have to be sorted, sold, packed, and transported and then, at the other end, we’d have to unpack, re-sort, and probably sell some more. Unlike people in days of old, who might have had only a few clothes, a Bible, and a cook pot, we have four computers (one for each of us), hundreds of clothes (between the four of us), thousands of books (mostly mine), televisions, kitchen gadgets, appliances, dishes and cookware, cleaning supplies, furniture (too much, since my husband can’t bear to part with old when we buy new), family photographs, art work, knick-knacks — and that’s probably only a partial inventory of the tangible clutter that is a modern life.
A move also requires transporting our intangibles. We have to engage in the tiresome task of changing our bank accounts. In the old days, you’d just deposit or withdraw money. Now the paperwork of setting up a new account to comply with the bank’s requirements, the state’s requirements, and the fed’s requirements can take hours. We have to sever all our ties to cable companies, phone companies, and utilities, and then recreate new ties at our destination. We need to change our address with credit card companies and make sure that Amazon ships more clutter to our new address not our old. As I remember from my last move, it was almost a year before I’d managed to transfer every bit of data from my old address to my new one.
Second, illegal immigration means that our new crop of workers remain as perpetual bottom feeders, stultifying America’s former dynamic of moving from the bottom of the heap up to the middle or beyond. We give the illegals marginal jobs, welfare, and food stamps, but they are, as their community organizers like to say, stuck in the shadows, something that severely limits upward mobility. The appropriate course of action for our nation to take, of course, isn’t to grant amnesty, which is an invitation to yet another large batch of economically stultifying illegal shadow workers. It is, instead, to shut down our borders, deny welfare to illegal immigrants and education to their children, put pressure on companies that employ them, and watch them self-deport. Meanwhile, if we do indeed need all these workers, we should dramatically boost our legal immigrant quota and enable more people to come here freely and work openly.
Third, and most significantly, we’ve now got Obamacare, which acts as a disincentive to hard work. John Podhoretz neatly summarizes the key points of the CBO’s most recent report about Obamacare’s effect on employment:
If that’s not startling enough [that the number of uninsured will stay the same or even rise, there’s also the telling projection about ObamaCare’s impact on employment — “a decline in the number of full-time-equivalent workers of about 2.0 million in 2017, rising to about 2.5 million in 2024.”
Overall employment will rise, the report says, but not steady, secure, long-term assured employment. The possibility of securing government-provided health-care without employment will give people a new incentive to avoid it. “The estimated reduction stems almost entirely from a net decline in the amount of labor that workers choose to supply,” the report says.
Indeed, overall, between 2017 and 2024, the actual amount of work done in this country will decline by as much as 2 percent.
How come? Because of perverse incentives ObamaCare provides in the form of subsidies to some and higher taxes to others.
First, the report says Americans will “choose to supply less labor — given the new taxes and other incentives they will face and the financial benefits some will receive.”
Here’s why: Poor people get certain subsidies, which disappear once a worker achieves a certain level of compensation. So it may be better to work less, or not work at all, rather than reach that higher pay level, because the pay increase won’t offset the loss of the subsidy.
For those at the bottom economically who once had dreams of “movin’ on up,” Obama has placed insuperable hurdles in their way: any incremental increase in wages from working longer hours or at a more demanding (but better paying) job will be offset by a dramatic increase in healthcare costs, resulting in either more work for less money or more work for the same money — neither of which is an appealing option. Only those workers who are able to make the unlikely leap from poor to rich overnight will be able to bypass this barrier without suffering.
What all this means is that the modern American worker is now situated in the same way as the late 19th century English worker: Where the English worker knew that the class barrier meant that harder work wouldn’t see him rewarded for his effort, the modern American knows that the Obamacare barrier means that harder work will not see him rewarded for his effort. Where the English worker was frozen geographically because there were no better alternatives elsewhere (that class thing again), the American worker is likewise frozen, both because Obamacare’s perverse incentives apply everywhere and because moving is just too gosh darn difficult.
Lastly, just as that long-ago English worker had reached a level of comfort that made him willing to accept class and geographic limitations, so too has the American worker reached a fairly comfortable dead end. He’s certainly not living lavishly. However, thanks to Obamacare, unemployment, food stamps, and welfare, he’s getting an endless vacation. He may not be basking on a Tahitian beach, taking in Broadway shows, or touring Europe’s cities, but he’s surfing the internet, talking to friends on his smart phone, and getting high scores on Call of Duty, all while receiving a bi-monthly check from both state and federal governments. And when this sedentary lifestyle starts to have consequences — everything from carpal tunnel syndrome to life-threatening blood clots — he knows he’ll get free medical care that’s every bit as good as the Cuban medical care that multi-millionaire communist Michael Moore has raved about.
Some of you might be shaking your heads and saying “But no one would want to live that way. It’s a squalid, marginal lifestyle.” Well, as I’ve written here before, there are a lot of people who think it a fine way to live. At the very least, it sure beats working. For these people, the journey from a poorly paid job to permanent welfare is a much easier trip, both practically and economically, than working harder to make more money, only to see the extra wages vanish into the endless maw that is Obamacare.
While walking the dogs this morning, I listened to Mark Steyn, who was guest-hosting for Rush Limbaugh. He pointed out that the real sin of welfare isn’t wasted money but is, instead, wasted humans. As Betty Friedan (of all people) said in a talk I heard 20 or so years ago, there are three ingredients to a quality old age: strong family ties, strong community ties, and work (i.e., a reason to get home in the morning). Much as we humans like to do nothing, the fact is that the Victorians were right when they sagely opined that “idle hands are the Devil’s playground.” Given too much free time, which is what’s about to happen to vast numbers of Americans thanks to Obamacare’s negative incentives, idle hands create tremendous societal wounds as people, rendered meaningless, engaging in destructive or self-destructive behavior.
Many people looking back at the early 20th Century think that World War I and World War II (followed by the loss of India) destroyed England. They didn’t. Those earthshaking events were actually the exclamation points on a society that had already run dry by 1914. Once a society stops striving, it starts dying. It happened there and, unless we can put the brakes on the slippery slope we’re now sliding down, it will happen here.
It turns out that someone I’ve known for yours is, in fact, a conservative. We were both pleasantly surprised to find that we had that in common. He recently forwarded me an email with two telling sentences.
I’ve seen both of these wandering around the internet, but for some reason their juxtaposition struck me as very powerful — or maybe it’s just that tonight Obama’s giving his SOTU, which I am not watching, and these thoughts counterbalance whatever malarkey he’s spouting. I’ll read what he has to say tomorrow. Reading is always better than that tight-ass, clipped, whiny hectoring.
Anywhere, here’s that email:
1. We are advised to NOT judge ALL Muslims by the actions of a few lunatics, but we are encouraged to judge ALL gun owners by the actions of a few lunatics. Funny how that works.
And here’s another one worth considering.
2. Seems we constantly hear about how Social Security is going to run out of money. How come we never hear about welfare running out of money? What’s interesting is the first group “worked for” their money, but the second didn’t.
Think about it…..
I admit that I am not a Reverend Martin Luther King scholar. As is the case for every American educated after 1970, though, I am reasonably conversant with his speeches and writings. My memory is that his crusade was one to remove barriers that society had placed in blacks’ way. He was the ideological heir of Frederick Douglas, who said that white America needed to remove hindrances to black accomplishment, and then leave blacks alone:
“What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are worm eaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone!
King’s own views appear in that famous line from his “I Have A Dream Speech”: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” In other words, stop looking at our skin color and let us get on with our lives, just as the rest of Americans do.
The Left, however, has latched onto King’s legacy and converted it into one that sees Blacks as helpless creatures who can succeed only if white America supports them. That’s why the professional race activists created the following chart to “celebrate” Reverend Martin Luther King’s birthday:
Upon whom are the agitators making these “demands”? It seems pretty clear to me that they’re not saying to African-Americans “we demand that you clean up your communities; we demand that you raise your children with Judeo-Christian values that do not include gang banging, drive-by shootings, and knock-out games; we demand that you make high achievement in school a cultural value; we demand that you marry before you have children because the single biggest indicator of poverty is single motherhood; and we demand that you raise children who are such well-behaved, self-disciplined students, that people bang down the door to get into their schools, just as people beg to get into schools with high Asian and East Indian populations.”
Per this chart, African-Americans are passive victims, destined forever to float randomly upon a sea of existential despair and violent poverty. That’s precisely what Reverend King counseled against. He envisioned a world in which the barriers to entry were removed and African-Americans could take their place shoulder to shoulder with all other races. Today’s modern blacks, however, seem to envision just another form of enslavement, only one that doesn’t bare its teeth as openly as the old system did.
My Mom is living off the proceeds from selling her house, my Dad’s small pension, and her equally small social security checks. She is not flush with cash but, thanks to having owned a house in San Francisco, even with today’s minimal interest rates, she still has enough to last her for a few years. In addition, Mom’s first cousin, who is very wealthy, generously sends my mom a nice check every Christmas. This last one is, of course, purely a gift. The fact that it is a gift, however, did not stop Mom from calling me today (the checks are sent to my address) to ask, “Did she send a big check? You know, she owes me a lot of money?”
That reminded me, of course, of the Jewish joke about the beggar who sits outside an office building. Every Monday, a businessman working in the building makes it a point to give the beggar $10. This goes on for quite some time but, one Monday, things change. Instead of handing the beggar a $10 bill, the businessman hands the beggar a $5 bill.
“What’s this?” asks the surprised beggar. “You always give me $10.”
“I’m sorry,” the man replies, “but business has been very bad lately.”
To which the beggar responds, “Just because your business is bad, I should suffer?”
Too many people, my mother included, lack a sense of gratitude and operate purely from a sense of entitlement. This is something worth thinking about when it comes to America’s welfare policies.
A little while ago, I wrote about the people who are permanent residents on welfare because of drug abuse issues. My point was that while they appear like a natural Democrat constituency, the fact is that most of them are too dysfunctional to vote.
Here’s another perspective on that particular class of welfare recipient:
I have a job.
I work, they pay me.
I pay my taxes & the government distributes my taxes as it sees fit.
In order to get that paycheck, in my case, I am required to pass a random urine test (with which I have no problem).
What I do have a problem with is the distribution of my taxes to people who don’t have to pass a urine test.
So, here is my question: Shouldn’t one have to pass a urine test to get a welfare check because I have to pass one to earn it for them?
Please understand, I have no problem with helping people get back on their feet. I do, on the other hand, have a problem with helping someone sitting on their BUTT—-doing drugs while I work….
Can you imagine how much money each state would save if people had to pass a urine test to get a public assistance check?
I guess we could call the program “URINE OR YOU’RE OUT”!
Pass this along if you agree or simply delete if you don’t. Hope you all will pass it along, though. Something has to change in this country – AND SOON!
P.S. Just a thought, all politicians should have to pass a urine test too! They should also have to pass an intelligence test, a common sense test and an understanding the constitution test, as well!!! Remember November 2014 is coming.
Hat tip: Caped Crusader
This post needs to begin with a very important observation: Since the end of WWII, and with increasing speed and force since the 1960s, Leftists parents and educators have encouraged young people to go into America’s institutions (most notably education and entertainment) to change those institutions — and change them they have. By contrast, conservatives today steer their children away from education and entertainment, for fear that those institutions will corrupt their children. Conservatives therefore tend to congregate in powerless ghettos, rather than doing what’s necessary to re-take the culture. I’m guilty of this myself, because I hate the thought of sending my children to an expensive Ivy League to learn Leftism, rather than sending them to a more affordable place where they might actually learn something.
Keep the above thought in mind as you read the following post about yet another highly visible Leftist inroad into education, one that sees the fruit of seeds planted forty years ago.
Owing to a Little Bookworm’s decent PSAT scores, our mailbox has been deluged with promotional materials from colleges all over America. They are remarkably generic, featuring pictures of beautiful campuses and good-looking, smiling, racially-diverse students. They all promise that students attending these collages are academically challenged and emerge, at the end of four years, as better people for the experience. More and more of them also include “fun” quizzes that ask the student to state “true” or “false” to sentences such as “I like to party all night long,” or to pick the best candidate from three sentences such as (i) “I like to party all night long,” (ii) “Reading is my only source of pleasure,” or (iii) “I like walks in the park.” In other words, they’re precisely the same tests that used to feature (and probably do still feature) in Cosmo or Glamour magazines, except without the focus on sex.
I hate these tests because they lack any nuance. For example, what does “party all night long” mean? Binge drinking? Group sex? Dancing? Talking with friends? Without that info, any answer one gives is useless and meaningless. Likewise, the fact that I used to love to dance all night long, that I live to read, and that I enjoy walks in the park means that, when I have to choose between three statements, there is no “best” answer. All three are true and, when I’m forced to pick one, I’m essentially lying to myself and the test giver by denying the other two.
When I saw the story about the Common Core political ideology survey currently handed out in Illinois public schools, I ended up being offended at two levels. First, Illinois being . . . well, Illinois, I think it’s reasonable to believe that parents who self-identify may well find that their child is either shunned, or penalized, or (worse) subject to an extra dose of Leftist propaganda to offset “dangerously” individualist parenting. And yes, perhaps one day the conservative parent may find social services standing on his doorstep telling him that the government is taking his child because it’s been determined that the home is an unsafe environment. Why unsafe? Because a conservative parent is presumptively a gun-shooting, child-beating, racism-ranting, government-hating fruit loop, that’s why.
Second, I find the quiz offensive because it’s both insanely and inanely stupid. As with all these true/false tests that do not revolve around provable factual details (a provable one would ask “True or false: The first President of the United States was Jerome Washington”), the questions are dreadful because they are invariably predicated on false premises:
Statement one: “The government should encourage rather than restrict prayer in public schools.” To begin with, to which government does the question refer? It’s certainly an important distinction. As far as federal and state governments go, those governments should stay out of the matter entirely, neither encouraging nor banning. Both activities advance a religious viewpoint, whether Christian, Jewish, or Atheist. (And yes, atheism is a belief system, which makes it a religion. After all, atheists are even building churches now and demanding military chaplains.)
Once one gets to the municipal or school district levels, however, it seems to me that communities should be able to make those choices. It seemed that way to the Founders too, who applied the First Amendment only to the government, which was barred from imposing a federal religion on citizens, interfering with any faith’s doctrine (although it didn’t stop the feds from attacking Mormon polygamy in the 19th century), and banning practitioners of varying faiths from federal office. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement two: “The federal government has an obligation to regulate businesses in order to preserve the environment for future generations.” Wow! That’s a loaded, stupid statement, one that combines the free market with Al Bore’s apocalyptic view of global warming. In fact, I do believe that the government can police the marketplace to some extent to punish fraud, usury, and other manifestly dishonest dealings.
I also believe that government is within its rights to impose reasonable controls on emissions. While I think anthropogenic global warming is hogwash, that doesn’t mean I approve of a factory dumping manifestly poisonous sludge into a community’s drinking water. That last sentence makes me sound as if I should support the anti-fracking movement, but I don’t. There’s no actual evidence that fracking poisons drinking water, while I distinctly remember from my childhood bodies of water near factories that were so poisonous nothing could live in or near them.
As in all things, there’s a rule of reason before you hit the downward slide to radicalism and sheer nonsense. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement three: “Affirmative action programs deny equality of opportunity to whites in hiring.” Well, yes, in fact, they do deny equality of opportunity to whites. They also denying equality of opportunity to Asians, who never benefit from affirmative action.
More than that, affirmative action programs deny equality of opportunity to blacks in hiring. The fact is that affirmative action, a temporary post-Jim Crow fix that has become a permanent institution has operated deleteriously for blacks, and it’s done so at several levels. Affirmative action’s existence fifty years after Jim Crow is premised on the racist assumption that blacks will never be able to succeed on their own merits, efforts, and ability. As Thomas Sowell points out, too many blacks have internalized this pernicious belief-system and therefore treat themselves like mental midgets.
Affirmative action is also bad for blacks because it applies, not just at the hiring end, but at the firing end too. The bald fact is that companies are afraid to fire minorities for fear of getting hit by a lawsuit. Because minorities know that they’re tough to fire, they have no incentive to do their best.
The previous statement is not racist, because it applies to all people, regardless of race, religion, sex, etc. Human nature is such that people do their best work when there’s profit for success and punishment (within reason, of course) for failure. That is, if you reward a worker for good performance, and fire him for bad performance, you will get a good worker.
Problems arise when you have a worker who gets the reward regardless of the performance level, and who knows that there’s almost no downside for bad performance. Under those circumstances, the average person who is doing “just a job” (rather than following a passion) will exert the least amount of effort possible.
These realities mean that I disapprove of affirmative action not only because it perverts the marketplace for whites and other disfavored races, but because it destroys African-American’s sense of self-worth, their self-image, and their self-reliance, while downgrading them in other people’s eyes. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement four: “The federal government should provide funds to improve public schools and make college possible for more young adults.” You realize that the premise of that question is that, if you throw more money at these institutions, they’ll get better. Keep in mind that the federal government already provides billions of dollars for public schools and colleges, which are still failing our students. I don’t think the government should provide more money; I think it should provide no money. Our education system, because it is in thrall to Leftist teacher’s unions, is broken, and no amount of money will fix it.
That loaded statement also ignores the fact that, when colleges get more money, they don’t open the door to more students. They pay their administration more, they increase the size of their racist “diversity” departments, and they build luxury dormitories to entice the children of rich parents. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement five: “The individual is basically responsible for his own well-being, so the government should make welfare recipients go to work.” Again, wow! Yes, I believe in individual responsibility. That doesn’t mean that the government is absolved from responsibility. Governments still need to manage infrastructure, act on public health matters, deal with foreign nations, maintain a standing military, etc.
As for welfare recipients being made to work, the statement is way too simplistic and makes me look like a monster if I say I agree across the board. In the real world, there are all sorts of welfare recipients: mentally impaired people who can’t work, elderly people who can’t work, healthy young people who don’t want to work, young women who view as their work the practice of having babies so as to get more welfare money, families that simply view welfare as a way of life, people who are temporarily down on their luck, etc.
I don’t believe in government-funded sloth, which is expensive and profoundly damages healthy young people whom Nature or God intended to live lives of purpose and productivity. What I do believe is that the best thing the Obama administration could do is to stop policies that kill jobs — policies such as Obamacare, punitive regulations, quantitative easing, etc. With more jobs available, one can more readily distinguish what Stanley Doolittle, in Pygmalion, described as the deserving poor from the undeserving poor. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement six: “The federal government should limit its spending so that individuals enjoy the maximum freedom of choice in spending their income.” I actually agree with that statement, except it’s incomplete. It’s not just that government, which doesn’t create wealth but only prints money, is sucking money out of the free-enterprise marketplace. It’s also that government is regulating Americans to death. Even if there was less money flowing into government coffers, and more money in the marketplace, Obama’s regulations, especially (a) those resulting from ObamaCare, (b) those aimed at stopping global warming, and (c) those giving too much power to unions, also prevent freedom of choice in the marketplace. The constraints on the individual don’t just flow from the government’s greed, but also its regulations. I’d probably put a check mark by that statement, but I’d be fulminating about the fact that it’s incomplete.
Statement seven: “Unregulated free enterprise benefits the rich at the expense of the poor.” Yet another inanely simplistic statement. In fact, unregulated free enterprise makes a lot of the poor people rich. Also, as the depredations in the 19th century shows, it can be very harmful to the poor. Moreover, there’s a difference between telling businesses how to do their business (which destroys the economy, benefiting no one but government cronies) and policing wrongdoing, such as poisoning water supplies, locking workers into factories that can turn into blazing infernos, or committing fraud against the public. (“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Period.”) The question is stupid, because it denies reality, which is nuanced. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement eight: The government should guarantee medical care for all its citizens. On its face, this one looks like a no-brainer: I cannot think of a single reason why a government should guarantee medical care. When I look at the countries in which the government has done so, whether Cuba, England, Canada, or any other place, I see that people fare less well than they did in pre-Obamacare America, with the only successful metric being that all people get to see a doctor for free. When government “guarantees medical care,” who cares that citizens die young? After all, they saw a doctor.
The statement therefore ignores something profound about government guaranteed healthcare versus health care in a healthy public sector economy: The way to guarantee citizens face-time with a doctor is a government takeover. The way to guarantee quality medical care for the greatest number of citizens is a free market. This means that a government can indeed guarantee medical care (as opposed to doctor’s appointments) for all its citizens by staying out of the marketplace. It can police fraud and such things, but it should not control business and medical decisions. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement nine: The Supreme Court should reverse its decision to legalize abortions in order to protect the right to life for a fetus. Whether one is for or against abortion, Roe v. Wade was one of the worst, most legally and constitutionally dishonest decisions ever to emanate from the Supreme Court. It’s an excrescence that should be voided. But remember, if I put a check-mark by that statement, I come out as pro-life, when I’m actually anti-Roe v. Wade. (As you know, I’m also more, rather than less, pro-Life, but the purpose of this essay is to attack the statement’s flawed assumptions.) So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement ten: “The federal government should guarantee the rights of homosexuals.” Umm. Excuse me. What rights are we talking about here? The right not to be hanged, as happens to gays in Iran? The right not to be beaten, as happens to gays in Saudi Arabia? The right not to be sodomized, as happens to young boys in Afghanistan? The right not to be beaten on the streets? As to that, every American has the right not to be beaten on the streets. The right not to be ridiculed and humiliated in schools? Again, we all have those rights, although they’re inconsistently enforced. I was routinely humiliated when I was in school because I was small, wore glasses, and read a lot. The right to marry? Well, last I saw, any gay person could go to a church or synagogue that is willing to marry gays before the eyes of God and, in fact, get married.
The right to have the government acknowledge that marriage? As you know, I oppose gay “marriage” because I think it will inevitably lead to a constitutional crisis. As has already happened in England, if a particular church won’t marry gays, the gay couple sues, claiming its depriving them of their rights. In America, the constitution means that such a suit would pit the First Amendment right to freedom of worship against the first-time-in-history recognition of a “right” to gay marriage.
The right to civil unions? Hey, I’m okay with that. I think governments should be free to decide what relationships they want to encourage through legal incentives or disincentives, even if those decisions prove to be damaging to society. In other words, the question is meaningless. So, if I were taking that test, would I put a check mark in front of that statement?
Statement eleven: “Present federal laws effectively guarantee the rights of women and make passage of the Equal Rights Amendment unnecessary.” One thing you can say about Leftists is that they never forget an issue. The ERA died in the mid-1970s, but here the Leftists are, resurrecting it again to a generation that has no idea what this quiz is talking about. I hate the way our laws parse people into categories. I would have laws that actually apply to all people, not laws that apply to some people, invariably at the expense of other people. I’d probably put a check mark next to this statement but, again, I’d be fulminating.
Those questions reveal how completely Leftism has taken over American education. This takeover didn’t start yesterday. Remember how I mentioned that the march into education was led by young people who entered conservative (or neutral-ish) bastions deliberately with the goal of effecting change, no matter how many decades it took? The company that provided the above quiz is a perfect example of the patience, discipline, and comprehensiveness of the Leftist drive into education.
The company that created the quiz is “The Center for Learning.” You can get a sense of its ideological orientation by looking at the materials it sells to schools, as well as the materials from its parent company, “Social Studies School Services.” Both of these companies provide course material for American schools and both came into being around 40 years ago, just when Progressivism began its full-bore march on American educational institutions.
If you’re a teacher or school district shopping at The Center for Learning, you might decide to buy the lessons for American Social Issues. You can see “Lesson 32: The American Melting Pot — Myth or Reality” for free, online. The lesson’s objectives are twofold:
- To distinguish between an ethnic group and a minority group
- To consider ethnic groups and their contributions
The lesson itself is described as follows (emphasis mine):
In this lesson, students read a play that incorporates representatives of a variety of ethnic groups. They dramatize the roles, write answers to questions about the play, and discuss the play’s message. Students expand on this by talking about the inequities found in our society today and remedies for them. The final aspect of this lesson deals with the American Dream. Students study a chart showing the variety of minority groups and their income levels. Students answer questions related to the chart determining whether or not the American Dream is attainable for everyone. This lesson presents facts and concepts in a positive way and helps students determine whether we are a melting pot or a tossed salad.
There’s a handout with questions the students have to answer. Question 6 asks “How were the Japanese, Puerto Ricans, and African Americans victims of discrimination?” (The correct answer is “Japanese Americans were put in internment camps during World War II, while African Americans were subjugated to slavery and segregation. Hispanics are often denied jobs and opportunities because of their background.”) Interestingly, the course material never asks about the discrimination and poverty almost all Americans experienced in their home countries, which caused them to come to America in the first place. (And yes, even African Americans experienced staggering discrimination in Africa. It was their fellow Africans who captured them and sold them to the usually-Muslim traders who, in turn, then sold them to British and, later, American slave owners.)
One of the proposed “enrichment” activities is to “Research and report on laws that have discriminated against or excluded ethnic groups.” None of the suggested activities include looking at the way myriad groups in America — Irish, Jewish, Italian, Mormons, etc. — have overcome discrimination through hard work, followed by economic, political, and social success.
Social Studies School Services, which is Center for Learning’s parent company is, if possible, even more hostile to America. One of the items they promote for American classrooms is a video called “The Flaw” which is described as follows (emphasis mine):
Directed by David Sington. Explaining the fundamental reasons for the recent economic meltdown and, along the way, recalling U.S. 20th-century U.S. economic history, this award-winning documentary’s animated graphs and interviews with renowned economists build a case against credit-based capitalism: Because banks lend, consumers spend and corporations profit, so banks and investors become wealthier. Then, the wealthy (partially thanks to easy credit from banks) drive home prices upward, creating a mortgage boom that generates more wealth and further inflates the bubble. Includes plenty of detail on the mortgage debacle. Grades 10 and up. Closed captioned. Color. 82 minutes. Docurama. ©2010.
I suspect that the film makes no mention of Democrat-driven laws that forced banks to make bad loans so as to achieve full redistribution when it came to home ownership. (Would it surprise you to learn that the director, David Sington, is a career BBC employee whose main crusade is anthropogenic climate change?)
The company also offers a series of mini-documentaries about the American presidents. There are no clips, so one can’t tell how the documentary approaches the various presidents, but you can probably get an idea about content based upon this single fact (emphasis mine): “Prepared by a former Daily Show and Colbert Report producer, these fast-paced three- to five-minute segments deliver solid content in a format energized by lively puns, visual jokes, and memorable quips.”
In the beginning, people whose values skew to individual liberty, a free market, and limited government, didn’t really realize what was happen. They blithely pursued their day-to-day lives, laughing at places such as UC Berkeley or morality-free Hollywood, without realizing that the Leftists were slowly reshaping these institutions and, by extension, reshaping society. Now that the deed is done, conservatives respond by angrily pointing out the problems, usually to approving cheers from a chorus of like-minded people. (My blog is a perfect example. I love, absolutely love, my conversations with all of you, but we are definitely preaching to the choir.) What we don’t do is seek employment at NPR or in the Hollywood studios. Part of it, of course, is the blacklist those institutions have against hiring conservatives. Back in the day when institutions ran scared of Leftists, though, the Leftists had no compunction about lying, subterfuge, institutional sabotage, etc. Their goal was to get in. Once in, they knew that they could change the world.
Our refusal to use our children to storm those institutions is worrying, because it suggests that we’re afraid that our ideals will collapse when faced with their ideals — much as Muslims, terrified lest dissent expose flaws in their faith — execute dissenters. And we have good reason to be scared. Leftism is an easy sell to the young: sex, drugs, and rock & roll. All that we have to offer are hard work, rationalism, and moral decency. That our values make the world a better, safer place, with people who score higher on happiness indices isn’t very convincing for an 18-year-old walking into an art-house porn movie, comfortable in the knowledge that he can afford to go to movies because, thanks in part to Obamacare, which makes sure he has his parents’ health insurance for another eight years.
When I read John McWhorter’s superb Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America, I learned something I hadn’t known before. Outside of the Jim Crow South, in the years leading up to the Civil Rights movement, black people were very slowly, but still steadily, moving into the middle class. They had stable nuclear families, with working fathers. The Civil Rights movement should have accelerated this trend by removing barriers to black employment.
But something happened at the same time as the Civil Rights movement, and that “something” was Johnson’s Great Society. Burdened by white guilt, and holding welfare checks, well-meaning whites fanned out through black communities and told black men to stop working. Black men had been slaves for too long, they said, and it was time for the government to pay them back. When the men spoke of pride, and manliness, and responsibility, they were told not to let their pride stand in the way of getting what was “owed” them.
The result was inevitable: black men quickly became useful only for sex and procreation. The government stepped in as the family breadwinner. Women with children didn’t have to rely on a man who might do everything from drinking and beating her to leaving the toilet seat up, and men were able to get sex without the burden of fatherhood. Blacks became the only minority group in America that was perpetually mired in the lowest societal echelons. This was not the case for other, equally reviled groups, such as Irish Catholics, Jews, Italians, Asians, or the first generation of Hispanics. (It is somewhat true for the current generation of Hispanics, who have also been seduced into believing that the state should be the pater familias.) Asians who immigrated after the 1960s probably avoided the welfare trap only because they came from Communist countries and had experienced a surfeit of government “largesse.”
If you want to see the end result of the hard-driving government effort to place blacks on welfare, you need only see this video (which I call “All attitude; no gratitude”):
Now that I’ve given you some background into the scourge of a government’s unconstrained push to get citizens onto welfare, you are ready to read Zombie’s article about the advice the San Francisco Comical, er, Chronicle, offers to people trying to figure out how to deal with Obamacare. It’s time to be very, very afraid for America.
I knew back in 1990 that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was going to be a disaster. Why did I know that? Because I was a lawyer and I immediately started to spend my time doing defense work for employers who were being sued by every employee who had a backache (illegally bad chairs), a phobia (I must have an office with an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean to combat my claustrophobia), or any other junk claim you can imagine. I only saw the cases that went into litigation. For every case I saw, there were undoubtedly 10, or 50, or 100 times as many cases in which the employer instantly caved when confronted with the employee’s demands.
And of course, once a person gets that “disability” diagnosis, suddenly the person qualifies for SSI (social security payments, not for retirement, but for disability). I never did government work, but I can’t count the number of hale, hearty people who were suing their employers for ADA discrimination, collecting SSI payments, and living the lush life, with government subsidized housing and lots of free time for fun and travel. Please understand that I’m not complaining about SSI payments for those who are genuinely unable to care for themselves. (Although there are people who, despite what others think might be a handicap, are more competent than most people you’ll meet.) A moral society helps those who can’t help themselves. It has no obligation, however, to help those who won’t help themselves.
Handicapped claims are expensive in other areas too. I’ve written before at this blog about the insanity that is bureaucratic control over handicapped access. I agree generally that handicapped access is a good thing. It benefits mothers with strollers as well as handicapped people. I’m grateful that, when I’m with my Mom who’s quite disabled, I can grab a handicapped parking space and and have her totter up a ramp under her own steam, rather than having me lift her up the stairs. Having said that, the notion of handicapped access becomes insane when a city spends tens of thousands of dollars to install a wheelchair ramp within two feet of a wide driveway, or forces a school to spend a quarter million redoing a wheel chair ramp because the bureaucrat’s tape measure reveals that the ramp, as built, is a quarter-inch narrower than the building code demands (but still wide enough for the widest wheelchair).
As with Prohibition, ADA was another over-the-top case of legislating morality. A decent people make an effort to accommodate handicapped people, elderly people, and even young mothers. An insane legislative mentality creates a world in which employers have to give mail room clerks corner offices if they claim claustrophobia, cities are forced to build ramps next to ramps, and schools have to spend hundreds of thousands over quarter-inch deviations.
In a very surprising move, the latest attack on the insanity that is modern disability law and welfare comes from, of all places, the Left. Channa Joffe-Walt spent months investigating disability claims around the United States and concluded that it’s the scam what am. Her conclusions first appeared on the Left-leaning radio show, This American Life, and she followed that with an NPR article:
In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government.
The federal government spends more money each year on cash payments for disabled former workers than it spends on food stamps and welfare combined. Yet people relying on disability payments are often overlooked in discussions of the social safety net. People on federal disability do not work. Yet because they are not technically part of the labor force, they are not counted among the unemployed.
Read the article or listening to the radio show. Joffe-Walt’s findings are eye-opening for those who, unlike me, haven’t had a front row seat for this costly, inefficient, discriminatory Big Government bureaucratic travesty. It’s a reminder that when we substitute government mandates for private morality, everything goes out the window. How much better it would have been to create a moral culture that sees people voluntarily providing access for people who have true disabilities, but who nevertheless have gifts, energy, enthusiasm, and abilities that would make it morally criminal to prevent them from engaging in the world.
I am standing Hwy 2, passing through the Blackfoot “Res” in Montana. What I see before me doesn’t look like much, a scrubby field under low hills and Montana’s incredibly beautiful big sky.
Where I am standing is the former site of the Badger Creek Indian Agency, where the Blackfeet Indians gathered after their buffalo had been slaughtered and the government promised them food and support in exchange for having given up their independence and self reliance.
By the winter of 1883-1884, however, the government had really, really screwed up. The Indians’ own source of meat (buffalo, deer, elk) had been destroyed. Their limited crops had failed. Their limited livestock was depleted. They were running out of food.
Since 1881, Indian agent John Young’s repeated requests to the government for more food aid had been met with bureaucratic indifference. Frankly, the “government” didn’t care very much and there were budget constraints that had to be met.
Then, in the winter of 1883-1884, the inevitable happened: starvation came. By the time the world outside the reservation heard about it, one quarter of the population (600 Indians) had already starved to death. The surrounding Montana communities responded immediately, sending relief trains of emergency food, livestock and blankets to the Blackfeet survivors. The government, by contrast, did nothing. After the fact, they held hearings, absolved themselves of responsibility and, finally, blamed Indian Agent John Young for gross negligence.
This is a story to keep in mind for all those that believe that it is somehow a good idea to surrender their independence and self-reliance to a faceless entity called “government”. Whether it is welfare, social security, Medicare or Obamacare, I can guarantee this: the government will screw up through indifference and people will die. Not because government is “bad” or that the people in government are “bad”, but because people are people and government can never be better than our collective human nature. And, once stripped of our independence and self-reliance, there will be no recourse. We will not be able to rely upon surrounding communities to rush to our aid.
[UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, there is now reason to believe that Roberts issued his opinion for the wrong reasons, not the right ones. If I were to rewrite this post today, I would be less charitable to the man. Nevertheless, putting aside Roberts’ motives, I stand by the substance of my post, which is that it forces conservatives to recognize that they cannot look to any branch of the government for succor from Big Government.]
Now that the first shock of the Roberts opinion is over, many conservatives are very busy digging through the pile of manure, confident that there’s a pony in there somewhere. In this, we are distinct from our Progressive/Democrat counterparts, who would be busy rioting in the streets and sending death threats to John Roberts.
Having had more than 24 hours to come to terms with the decision, I’m beginning to think that there may indeed be a pony (or several ponies) hiding in there somewhere. Moreover, I’m also realizing that Roberts, despite the apparent wackiness of his decision, stayed true to his constitutional roots.
As is always the case with me, I build my argument slowly, so please bear with me. I’ll try to maintain some tension and excitement as I go.
Speaking of tension and excitement, my first point involves a screaming fight some colleagues of mine got into yesterday. Because they’re nice folks, it wasn’t a vicious, personal, ad hominem fight. They just kept making the same points over and over again, at ever-increasing volume. They seem to have locked into the same line of reasoning that says that, if you speak really LOUDLY to someone who doesn’t understand English, you will make yourself understood.
The topic my friends were debating was whether heroin should be legal or not. One side staunchly opposed legality because heroin is so dangerous; the other side equally staunchly advocated legalizing the drug, because it has benefits that go beyond the medicinal. (I’ll take the other side’s word for it, since recreational heroin seems merely self-indulgent to me.)
What was fascinating was that both sides laid claim to the government to support their argument. Those who feared heroin’s risks felt that only the government could protect Americans from the drug’s dangers. Those who believed it should be legalized, after pointing out correctly that making heroin illegal doesn’t stop either its use or the societal downsides, believed that only government could manage heroin. These people envisioned corner dispensaries, apparently along the line of the DMV.
At a facetious level, I have to agree with the guy who wants to put heroin in government hands. Can you think of anything that would make heroin less appealing than having to deal with government functionaries a la your local DMV? I can just see it now: Long lines, rude clerks, poor quality service, mountainous bureaucracy and, to make it worse, you’ve got the joneses the whole time.
At a more serious level, both sides were right and both were wrong. Making heroin illegal hasn’t stopped heroin use, just as it hasn’t stopped marijuana use, or underage drinking. Putting it in government hands, however, is a recipe for corruption and still won’t stem abuse. It will just make the government the pusher, which is a sleazy and awful idea.
Perhaps the smartest thing is to legalize heroin and put it into the free market. Then, as we do with alcohol, we punish behaviors that stem from the abuse, such as driving under the influence or, less directly, any robberies, assaults, etc., that results from someone’s need for the drug or use of the drug. Let individuals make their choices.
Of course, some individuals aren’t in a position to make a choice. They get the burdens, not the benefits. Which leads me, inevitably, to Prohibition. (Believe it or not, I’m still on track to a rip-roaring conclusion about Justice Roberts’ opinion.)
Prohibition was not the result of whacked out Church ladies, anxious to destroy all joy in the world. Instead, it arose in response to an alcohol-soaked culture, one that saw working men instantly spending their paychecks at the local saloon. “Father, dear Father, come home with me now,” wasn’t just a maudlin song; it was real life for tens of thousands of children, begging their father to leave the saloon and bring what little remained of his week’s pay home to the family. Of course, when father came home, there was always the risk that he’d beat the living daylights out of Mama and the kids, but as long as he brought some money with him, what could you do?
The Dry Movement was a direct response to America’s sodden state. But here’s the thing: the reason Prohibition passed was because the culture changed so radically that a critical mass of Americans could force a change to the Constitution. By 1920 — and this is something no one at the time realized — the paradigm shift in American culture was probably sufficient to change its drinking habits without coercive pressure from the federal government. Drinking was no longer morally acceptable in many communities, which were already dry by 1920. Local values controlled. People who hated alcohol could move to a Dry town or they could agitate to change things within their own communities.
Once the government stepped in to control alcohol (and it was controlled, rather than completely prohibited, as certain religious or “medicinal” brews were still allowed), all Hell broke loose. We became a nation of scofflaws, organized crime, and corrupt law enforcement. Yes, drinking did continue to diminish, but it had already been diminishing before the Feds stepped in. All that happened with government-control is that bad things happened too.
You can see an analogous situation with Johnson’s Great Society. In the years leading to it, two things happened in America: The Civil Rights movement, which focused on the serious wrongs done to black Americans, and which was a topic that dominated America’s intellectual airspace; and the rise of the black middle class, which happened behind the scenes as the culture changed.
Laws banning discrimination rightly addressed the Civil Rights crimes. However, the Democrats added to the mix huge changes in welfare, i.e., Government-involvement in black lives. As is so often the case with the government good intentions, the massive legislative intervention into American life — and, specifically, into black American’s lives — reversed black folk’s economic advancement. If the government could just have stopped itself with leveling the playing field, it’s questionable whether today blacks would consistently rank among America’s poorest, least educated, and crime-ridden population. The problem was that, in the 1960s, as in the 1920s, Americans, especially educated Americans, couldn’t conceive of an organic solution to a visible problem. Government had to “fix” things.
Which, at long last, gets me back to health care and Justice Roberts’ decision. (And you doubted that I would ever loop back to my main point. Oh, ye of little faith!) Roberts wrote the decision at the end of a 90 year continuum holding that Government fixes problems and the Supreme Court fixes Government. This approach makes “We, the people” unnecessary. Rather than elections being the corrective, the Court is the corrective — except that the Court’s make-up is controlled by the Government. (Remember the Bork debacle?)
Roberts refused to play this game. He slapped back the Democrats’ hands when it came to the Commerce Clause, telling them that the federal government cannot legislate inactivity. And he held — quite correctly — that if there’s any possible way for the Court to salvage a law, it must do so. His salvaging was to say that, this particular law, written in this particular way, with these particular controls over the people, can be salvaged by calling it a tax. It’s an ugly decision, but probably a correct one. And then he tossed the whole thing back to the American people.
I can just see Roberts’ thought-process (although he might have thought in more polite terms): You idiots elected a Congress and president that used every kind of political chicanery known to man in order to pass the biggest tax in American history and one that, moreover, completely corrupts the free market system. It’s not the Supreme Court’s responsibility to correct that kind of thing, provided that the judges can, as I did, find a smidgen of constitutionality in it. There’s an election coming up in November. Let’s hope you’ve wised up enough to figure out that my Supreme Court is returning power to “We, the people.” We will not pull your chestnuts out of the fire. We will not legislate from the bench. We will construe things as narrowly as possible. If you, the people, don’t like it, you, the people, elect different representatives.
In the short run, this is an enormously painful pile of manure for American conservatives. In the long run (a run that, I hope, includes November 2012), if we Americans are smart and genuinely believe in our liberties, we’ll find so many ponies in that manure we’ll be able to have a pony parade right up to the steps of White House and both Houses of Congress.