Is America turning to a different path? (1)
Posted on April 27, 2009
photo by Thomas Arhelger
Is America turning to a different path?
Something has changed in America. Or, to be more precise, a gradual change, a drift, over a period of decades has accelerated. Not only has it sped up, but if we draw an extrapolation, if we take an informed guess of where we will be in another decade or two, then the speed of that change resembles a headlong rush. A slow trickle has become a torrent.
I speak of the tidal drift towards bigger government, more central planning, and more intrusion into our private lives.
The undermining of liberty, and the right to make our own choices. The finger that reached into our pocket, and touched our wallet, has metamorphosed. In a blink of an eye, a few decades at most, the finger passed through the stage of mere fingerhood. It became a hand.
A determined, grasping hand, that denied us the right to decide over a larger and larger slice of our legitimate income.
The fruits of the people…
Will this hand in a few more decades become more? A brutal, totalitarian fist perhaps? Where will our tax rates go?
Fifty per cent? More? And will poor people and those on fixed incomes really not pay more taxes? Not even hidden taxes, passed down by heavily taxed business, or hidden taxes imposed by Government through duties on commodities, or even by cruel inflation?
But it was not always like this. I puzzle that fewer people seem to aggressively question the role and the rights of Big Government. And the meteoric growth rate. Certainly, everything was not perfect in the past. I do not suggest that. However, up to the 1920’s, Federal Government was a decidedly limited affair. When you are comparing government then and now, you are comparing the Toy Poodle and the Afghan Hound. A Chihuahua with a Pit Bull.
The question then arises: is this change, this tsunami of Central Planning, a good thing? Was it inevitable? Did we have a choice? And if the latter, then did we choose wisely?
What was the path we walked before? What was the road that built America in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth century? This much I say, without fear of contradiction: it was different.
F.A.Hayek, in “The Road to Serfdom ” (page 67) has this to say:
“The crucial point of which our people are still so little aware is, however, not merely the magnitude of the changes which have taken place during the last generation but the fact that they mean a complete change in the direction of the evolution of our ideas and social order. “
Consider the old American entrepreneurs. The men who built America. Tens of thousands of them. For a long time, there were few barriers erected in their way. (Some, mostly by government meddling, as ably described in “The Myth of the Robber Barons “) But by and large, they were able to raise capital, and pursue their revolutionary visions. They were able to freely exercise their creative visions. They could go against the norm, and challenge our way of thinking and doing business. Our way of life. They could completely spread their wings. We all benefited greatly from that. What would have happened if punitive taxation had deterred investors? If crippling Federal Debt had spurred lawmakers to devise ever harsher marginal tax rates on the “Rich “? If massive government bureaucracy had erected massive red tape? If confiscatory taxes had made entrepreneurial risk not worth taking? Our world would have been vastly different.
The point is the potential in each individual, born on this planet. Regardless of race, origin, religion or class. Freedom. To invent, to live, to dream, to create, and to pursue revolutionary new schemes and visions. The moment Big Government, lumbering, costly, manifestly inefficient, partisan and frequently corrupt, starts to intrude more and more forcefully into the sphere of human endeavors, that is the danger point that should set off warning bells.
I say again: Federal Government used to be small, and non-intrusive. Why do so few people challenge the ever growing monster in Washington? Why are so many people satisfied to allow more and more power to rest in fewer and fewer hands? Why are so many people content to relinquish their own responsibilities for their lives and families to the State?
I try and stand on my own feet. My knees have buckled at times. I have fallen down, and had to pick myself up. But I know I do not rely on any State. If a Government would ever help me, that would be a bonus, but I don’t rely on it. Yet so many people seem content to rely on their almost childlike trust in Big Government.
There has been a strange death of liberalism in the classic sense of the word. Before the socialists hijacked the word, and it came to mean something different. A strange death in laissez faire. Translated from the French as “let them do their thing “.
Let the system do its thing. Let market forces rule. Let human ingenuity flourish.
It seems reasonable to ask why? What happened?
F.A. Hayek, in his soft spoken, quiet, meticulous style, in Chapter One ( “The Abandoned Road “) documents several causes. He says that by the demise of the nineteenth century into the twentieth, that “the belief in the basic tenets of liberalism was more and more relinquished “. (page 72).
“What had been achieved, came to be regarded as a secure and imperishable possession, acquired once and for all. The eyes of the people became fixed on the new demands, the rapid satisfaction of which seemed to be barred by the adherence to the old principles. ”
One of the most interesting books I have ever read was “The strange death of Liberal England ” (George Dangerfield), and in that work too, one senses the puzzlement of many observers. It was as if a system that had worked so well, and for so long, was suddenly discarded with impatience. Society was to be re-modeled. For the better. In a hurry.
And a critic of the old order did not have far to go to find rocks to hurl. There were indeed injustices. There was hypocrisy, and those who cynically “used liberal phraseology in defense of antisocial privileges “.
Many good and well meaning folk thought -sincerely- that they could do better. And they turned their attention to achieving power, through Government, and increasing the sum total of human happiness by their unique wisdom and insight.
They were helped in this by an Old Guard, who resolutely refused any change. Who insisted on a rigid adherence to ‘laissez faire’ with zero compromise.
This, if you like, was ground zero. The early twentieth century, and an impatient surge of intellectuals who wished for more. But how did we get from there to here? Allow me to draw a pencil line on a white sheet of paper, from the lower left of the page, representing the ending of the age of the “individualist tradition “, right up to the 1920’s, with minimalist government intervention in the lives of its citizens, to the middle of the page, half way up, representing the current state of affairs in the year 2009. This period covers some ninety years or so. What a sea change in the role of government! What a massive increase in the Federal tax burden! What a massive reduction in personal Liberty….?
And, if the left half of this sheet of paper represents the period 1920 to 2009, I ask you, what will be yet written on the remaining right half? Will this curve drop back down? Or will it rise until it intersects the top right hand corner? And if it does strike the upper right hand corner, a doubling of the effective current tax burden on ALL Americans, need we wait another ninety years for this to happen?
I suggest not…
I believe in the spontaneous forces of society. Forces for good. Forces of human energy, ingenuity, creativity, and compassion. I once had somebody sneeringly ask me if I wanted to go back to a society with child labor, fourteen hour work days, no social security and no health care.
This is an easy contrivance: the allocation to an opponent of a position that they do not hold, and then a subsequent onslaught on an indefensible position. But it is also not helpful. It smacks of a hard eyed party political position. A dogmatic approach, that admits of no good in an opponent’s point of view. We only have the (good) White Hats and the (really, really bad) Black Hats, right?
Before the advent of FDR’s Social Security, a theoretically reasonable system but not without very serious flaws, there were many charitable organizations at work. The State -for political propaganda reasons- has often intruded into social areas that were actually well catered for on the local level. Before the advent of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, it has often been argued that individual effort counted for more. A man had to be seen to be trying. But then his community would help.
The laggard, the drunk, the drug addict, the child molester might go hungry. If work was about, and you didn’t work, well, you might just go hungry. Certainly, there was no system that permitted any individual, regardless of his blatant lack of effort, to receive massive Government Aid. At the expense of his hard working neighbors. Housing, food stamps, and medical care. There was no system that effectively taught a man that he was entitled -by government decree- to live, eat and procreate. The meaning of work, many say, was debased. The value of family cohesion was undermined. The result was a permanent underclass, who were placed effectively on a 100 per cent tax rate. It would cost them more to go to work, on account of the government benefits they would lose.
We have, undeniably, abandoned a road. A road that served us well for a long, long period of time. The road that applied to everybody, equally. The road of hard work, of individual responsibility, of striving to be better. We have turned down another path. Swept along by seemingly unstoppable forces, we are wandering along a path of surrender of responsibility. It’s the Government’s job. Not ours.
And politicians, with varying motives, and varying degrees of intellect and foresight, are frequently all too willing to dress themselves in the robes of the White Knight. To make promises, and -worse- half promises, that they know will be very hard, if not impossible to keep.
We have abandoned the individualist tradition which has created Western civilization. We are relying on a handful of elite planners in Washington. Power has fled from the States, and is still -effectively- being concentrated in fewer and fewer technocratic hands in Washington. Brace yourself for more Presidential, regal, Executive Orders. Bypassing not just the man in the street, the humble peon, but even the elected members of Congress and the Senate. Stifling debate.
Many point out that this is not a democracy, but a republic. But the cynics remark that it increasingly looks more like a drift towards a collectivist , totalitarian state. With dissenters branded as unpatriotic, right wing zealots.
Freedom, it has been said, is often lost piece meal. In small, incremental steps. A nibble at a time.
If you consider that white sheet of paper I mentioned, ask yourself where you think that graph, and our taxes, and Central Big Government, are going.
And, sadly, our Liberty.
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on September 2, 2010, 11:02 am