Friday, April 29, 2005

Government Lesson No. 6: Socialism, Religion and the First Amendment

Of course, we could state that socialism and capitalism are alike in that both are political ideologies falling under the third definition in Webster's, which is "3 - the doctrines, opinions, or way of thinking of an individual, class, etc.; specif., the body of ideas on which a particular political, economic, or social system is based." However, the second definition applies to one and not to the other: "2 - thinking or theorizing of an idealistic, abstract, or impractical nature; fanciful speculation."

Capitalism is not speculation; it is merely an economic system based upon an observed working market mechanism. Socialism on the other hand - well, socialism is an abstract construct, and one that has never been observed to survive unless it can feed off a host (the market mechanism); and this host it has always and invariably choked to death one way or another, sooner or later.

As described in Government Lesson No. 5 and other posts, any argument to implement some degree of socialism, i.e. even that advanced by today's internationally popular progressivism, is based mainly on idealism and emotional plea, and not on observable reality. I maintain that unlike run-of-the-mill capitalism, today's progressivism fits nicely into the above sub-definition as abstract, impractical, fanciful, and speculative.

Hey, I can't help it: there's another word that creeps into my mind as I listen to the progressive philosophers. It's the word "religious." They seem to have channeled all that humanistically repressed faith, guilt and worship activity into this secular yet mystical social philosophy - something I've never seen a capitalist do, by the way. I suppose they're too busy minding their own "business." Seriously, have YOU ever encountered a rabid capitalist? Personally I haven't. On the other hand, I can't say the same about progressives.

Two of Webster's definitions for the word "religion" are "2-a) any specific system of belief and worship, often involving a code of ethics and a philosophy [the Christian religion, the Buddhist religion, etc.] b) any system of beliefs, practices, ethical values, etc. resembling, suggestive of, or likened to such a system [humanism as religion] 4 - any object of conscientious regard and pursuit."

So there you have it. Fits like a glove.

Okay, I suppose a capitalist also has his own unspoken code of ethics and values of sorts. ("Let me make my profit, and I'll let you make yours.") A socialist, on the other hand, ever the self-righteous, seems to want to appear to be taking a morally higher road, and wears the ethics of egalitarianism as though it were an a priori sanctified assumption. ("Unequalized profits are evil.")

From that higher vantage point, it's easier to manipulate our emotions to get us where they want us: in a position of reverence. Haven't you noticed lately how the Democrats - people like Al Gore, Hillary, Ted Kennedy, Kerry towards the end, and even Dean - are beginning to sound more and more like Baptist preachers? There's a reason for that.

Now, I have no real objection to people believing in socialist theory with all their heart. However, what I do object to - and most vehemently - is their forcing ME to join their holy crusade.

Capitalists never do this (and I said capitalists, not Republicans.) They are more respectful of others' right to their opinions. They don't want to coerce anyone into handing over money for causes; they're mainly just concerned with preserving jurisdiction over their own.

With the capitalists, I get the feeling that I have the freedom and moral responsibility to choose where I will spend my extra funds, to whom I will give them, and just how much of them I deem to be extra. Progessive socialists have decided that they can do it better than I, and dare to accuse capitalists of stinginess. Here again, you must look at the facts. America, certainly one of the most capitalistic nations in the world, is also the most generous; and progressivism is slowly taking that privilege away. (See previous posts as to how.)

Not only is progressivism destroying the charitable sentiments in each of us and undermining the increasingly rare charities that funnel our gifts into good works; it is also killing mutual respect, tolerance for differences of opinion, and the notion of live and let live. Since the early 19th Century, increased imposition of socialist-leaning big-government policy onto what was originally our Constitutionally limited small government has forced all Americans to participate in a presumably valid cause, but which unfortunately utilizes an unsuccessful methodology. Like some maniacal sect, the leftist politicians, with the help of their preachers and equality police, have managed to force upon you and me their cockamamie idea of charitable wealth redistribution, the implication being that without it we would be Scrooges.

I resent that. Indeed, I abhor it. I am being coerced into accepting what amounts to a political "religion," against my First Amendment rights. Whatever happened to separation of church and state?

So what do I offer as the solution? Open up your eyes, people. See the political power grabbing for what it is. Get the federal government off of our backs, and out of our hair, with their taxes, wars, judicial agendas and general mismanagement. Let them concentrate on military defense (I said DEFENSE), security infrastructure, Constitutional judicial framework, limited federal legislation - a few national necessities and nothing else.

And here's the crux: allow the states to fix their own rules regarding the rest. If California wants to have a generous welfare system, let them do it. If Florida wants to try state-wide healthcare, they can. If New Hampshire wants to allow you to ride your motorcycle without a helmet, that's okay. If Delaware wants to eliminate all corporate taxes, let them try it. If Utah legislates a balanced budget, let's see how it works. If Alabama wants to forbid abortions, they should have that right. (Although there is no question about what a woman's rights are, there is obvious disagreement about what a woman's "body" is, and about when a fetus becomes a person with rights; and as long as there is valid disagreement, I think we should delegate jurisdiction to the states.) If Oregon wants to encourage same-sex marriages, why not?

May the best state win; and may the losers watch, and hopefully learn and imitate. One caveat: people, corporations and merchandise must continue to be allowed freedom of movement; and it should be a federal crime to reside in one state and profit, through false declarations, from those rights and privileges limited to another state's citizens, without that state's permission.

Just an idea.

Anyway, the next time you get into a discussion with your American "liberal" friends, and you start to see the eyes glaze over, the voice begin to mount in paroxysms of emotion, and the finger of guilt begin to tilt in your direction, let it all wash right over you. Write them off for the time being as hot-headed religious fanatics, and relax until they calm down. Their spirit has departed temporarily to a higher plane, risen to that hallowed place where reason is no longer welcome. The best way to handle this moment is to respond calmly, "Listen, take it easy. I'll respect your right to have your opinion, if you'll respect mine."

And here's the punch line: Once he agrees to that [read he or she], you will have won. The very admission that you have such a right puts a bullet in the heart of an ideology that depends precisely on taking that very right away from us all.

(And don't accuse me of preaching. No preacher abides human nature as I do, most don't trust logic, and few can tolerate dissent with a sense of humor.)

Friday, April 22, 2005

Government Lesson No. 5: What About Capitalism's Faults?

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of the blessings. The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery."
........Winston Churchill

I'm a bit of a renegade. Unlike most opinion writers, I'm able to find praise for the good intentions of many socialists, while faulting socialism itself. At the same time, even though I support more freedom for capitalism with all of my heart and mind, I am equally capable of finding fault with many capitalists.

I will be the first to admit that, just as there are capitalists who can be warm, generous and fair, they are some who are greedy, egotistical, devious, etc. Furthermore, I realize that there are excesses and distortions of distribution in a capitalist world. (See my discussion of how open, protected competition is the secret built-in magical (imperfect) restraint on these weaknesses, in Economics Lesson No. 2, in the March archives.)

However, the degree of idealism of one's particular brand of philosophy does not change one's underlying human nature. A socialist has the same foibles as a capitalist; one is no more or less human than the other. Trouble will definitely arise when either of them is allowed to acquire too much power.

Now, here's where they differ. In a capitalist system, government's purpose is to protect the citizens as best it can from external attack and from each other's weaker moments, through the legislature and judicial system; and government's size is purposely limited to keep elected representatives modest and away from the temptations of power's machinations. In a socialist system, government is allowed to infiltrate every aspect of our life, as though our chosen politicians are assumed to be somehow superior to other mere mortals and able to put their self-interest aside, resist the urge to accumulate power, and keep their constituents' well-being at the center of their focus.

This is hogwash. On the average, a socialist is no more nor less weak than the greediest of capitalists. The only difference is that the capitalist recognizes this true equality of all humankind, whilst the socialist prefers to promote a naive faith in the superiority of himself as a member of an elite governing class impervious to corruption.

Surely by now we have learned that power corrupts. This is such an age-old adage, I don't understand how people can forget it. Some savvy capitalists, because they are good at making money, do tend to acquire the power that comes with it - and this is definitely a corrupting influence; but the politicians in today's America have access to much more money - trillions, in fact, of yours and mine - and thus to the power and influence this access generates; and their own resistance to ego and cupidity is no stronger than anyone else's.

Just as may happen with corporations, any government favoritism, corruption and eventually extortion and bribery will rot the institution from the inside. The difference is that corporations die once this happens. Not governments. They simply ignore the rot - or throw more of your money at it. We all know about the waste, the overspending, the campaigning, the pork distribution, the party politics, the overlooking of the budget deficit, the insidious inflation; but we don't take our politicians to task, as corporate shareholders would do. We're too busy cheering the MS media, like Romans at the Coliseum, watching the scapegoat corporate CEOs get raked over the coals for relatively less consequent offenses, while the politicians grandstand on the sidelines and call our attention to their perverted and counterproductive "regulatory remedies."

We also forget two things: (1) that it is the politicians, through their availability, suggestibility, regulatory favoritism and uneven-handed oversight, who may have helped many of the most offending corporations become the nasty, multi-billion-dollar lobbying forces that they are; and (2) that these same political shenanigans actually help to create the very nouveau-filthy-riche class that socialists so despise. (More later.)

Where do we go wrong? The crux of the problem is two-fold. As the voting public we are oblivious to the dangers of government, too busy looking for ways to milk the system ourselves (e.g. nationalized health care), and rationalizing with the help of our favorite rhetorician's idealism. At the same time, a politician's gotta do what a politician's gotta do, i.e. attract votes. In order to accumulate these votes, he must seduce, placate and entice the wealthy (the "capitalists"), pay off the organized special interests (groups of voters like the poor, the unemployed, the Moral Majority, the immigrants, the AARP, the unions, etc.), and snow the more naive with idealistic speeches and trinkets.

Of course, eventually it all falls apart when these distributors of goodies start giving away more money than the government budget has in its accounts. (Also, see Economics Lesson No. 3 in the March archive for a description of the monetary charade they play with our dollar.) At that point, and by the very nature of the game, these addicted power-gamblers become erratic. Scatterbrained. Incapable of controlling their own government spending. America is at this point as I write. Congress has disintegrated into a gang of apoplectics.

I say bah humbug to socialist idealists. I say to them, if you think "capitalist" (read special-favor-bloated) Enron was bad, wait until you've experienced a truly European-style socialist government, where a chimeric mix of hubris and multi-trillion-dollar government budgets brings out the worst in everyone. And I mean EVERYONE, including Robin Hood.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Government Lesson No. 4: Why Socialism's Aims Are Unrealistic

Let me make it clear that I don't criticize socialism's goal of fiscal equality. I think it's admirable and evidences our empathy for others.

However, I remember a discussion with my Dad when I was 19. (See more about Edward C. Harwood at this website, and in my previous posts, most notably this archive.) I told him that it all sounded so good, to each according to his needs, from each according to his capacity. He replied that although it may sound wonderful, socialism's formulae have been tried over and over and over, and they fail every time, turning our empathy and frustration into something much more lethal than wishful thinking: fertile ground for anarchy or fascism. I've come to realize how right he was.*

So, even if all of us were to agree that equal effort deserves an equal amount (or at least a greater part) of the wealth it produces, there are three problems with this. First, we have to be careful which assumptions we make about human nature. Second, we must be precise in defining "equal effort." Third, there just is no viable, ideal, centralized top-down redistribution system that will spread the revenue of the wealthiest to the more modest without disturbing a delicate natural equilibrium, and without starting a nation's economy down a long backward sliding slope that will end up making everyone even poorer, except the very rich. [sic - I know, it doesn't make sense at first.]

This is my observation of one of Nature's pertinent laws:


I could almost end my story here, at human nature. It's simply the way we're built, and we're not about to change, or to change ourselves - at least not before thousands of years, in spite of the inviting promise of evolution. No amount of guilt tripping, government legislation, persuasion, haranguing, harassment, preaching or policing will help. In fact, it just makes it worse. (And who wants to live in a police state anyway?)

This aspect of human nature is just a fact, and has been observed many times, and in many places, most notably in the USSR before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is axiomatic that some kind of unusual carrot is necessary for a high producer to take risk, to produce to his ultimate capacity, and to create the companies that employ the rest of us and sell us the products and services that increase our health, wealth and general well-being.

Here is another law of human nature that we forget: People are not equal, no matter how much we hate the idea. Admittedly, most people of good will have many characteristics in common, such as arms and legs, cyclical 24 hour life cycles, sleep requirements somewhere between 4 and 10 hours a day, a need for food, shelter and social community, and an equal right to life, liberty, property protection and pursuit of happiness. Beyond that, every one of us is unique. Some of us are competitive and energetic. Some are lackadaisical, or whimsical. Some love the corporate challenge; some love the security of a daily 9 to 5 routine. Some like to spend money; others save. Some will work no matter what the reward, for the sheer joy of activity. Others want privileges without having to put out any effort for them; in fact, resistance to effort is a pretty common trait, and will blossom with little encouragement.

Some are leaders; some are followers. There are the organizers, the thinkers, the physically strong, the mentally brilliant. Some people's joy comes from material possessions, others' from nature. Each one of us has a different vision of what we want out of life, and what rewards are necessary for our happiness. The range of human qualities and faults is mind-boggling. Likewise is the variance in what people can do with an "equal effort," as is the amount and quality of effort of which each is capable. So if it were possible to increase everyone's well-being by allowing the most productive (read creative, energetic, courageous, risk-taking) to have what they want - which may just be a lot of goodies that we are envious of - then why not let them have it? Remember, we are ALL better off. As they say, life used to be treacherous, brutal and short. If it no longer is, we must give thanks where thanks are due.

Now to the third problem. Adam Smith described the free market as an Invisible Hand, a complex, naturally organized balancing phenomenon that economists have said is something no human genius could ever have invented, and that has raised the standard of living of almost everyone on this earth, especially when it has been left alone. (See Economics Lesson No. 2 for the basics.) In fact, we are forced to observe that the less interference there is, the more quickly the free market can ameliorate people's lives - and I mean everyone, and relatively equitably. There is some kind of universal equilibrium that just doesn't lend itself to human interference.

We must conclude, according to all the evidence, that it is impossible to give everyone a more equal amount of the wealth produced in this world without reducing the benefits we have collectively acquired, in spite of some honest attempts to create a system to do so. It is as though the Invisible Hand's enemy intervenes, and our efforts are destroyed. Our ideal society implodes. The enemy is us, with our damn fool good intentions.

* I highly recommend a book called The Road to Serfdom by F.A. Hayek, for all who are interested in pursuing this connection in more depth. There exists a very readable and downloadable excerpt called the Reader's Digest Condensed Version of The Road to Serfdom, at this website.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Government Lesson No. 3: Socialism By Any Other Name

In France, the symbol for socialism is the red rose. Now, let me be clear. The wild rose of socialism blossoms in every human heart, even mine. The sharing precept at its center is a symbol of our innate compassion and empathy for our fellowmen and women. The problem is that the beguiling hothouse variety served up to us by politicians is a colorful but odorless ruse covered in vicious thorns that kill its competition, the wild rose within us.

This is the emblem of the French Socialist Party, conceived at the end of 1969 by Marc Borret, illustrator and militant socialist. (That ominous fist reminds me of something, if I could just place it ...)

Economics Lesson No. 6 and Government Lesson No. 2 argue that capitalism is not just one of several valid choices for an economic system, but that it is for all intents and purposes a political synonym for an economic phenomenon called the free market, which is THE naked, unadulterated, untethered basic exchange system that has evolved over the millennia, upon which all other redistributive systems must be grafted to survive. (See my earlier posts on economics to get an idea of how it developed.)

The most popular of these other redistributive systems have many names, some of which I mention in my articles The Return of the Third Way and Brooks's Not So New Idea. These include American Liberalism, Progressivism, Compassionate Conservatism, and others. The parties representing them are the American Democrats, Republicans (in deed if not in word), Greens, etc.; the French Parti Socialiste, the UDF and UMP (again, in deed if not in word), Les Verts, et al., plus both sides of the English political scene, and it goes on and on around the world.

All of these compromise systems have one thing in common, and that is they all are a composite of capitalism and some degree of socialism.

So what is socialism?

The Webster's dictionary definition is:

"1. any of various theories or systems of the ownership and operation of the means of production and distribution by society or the community rather than by private individuals, with all members of society or the community sharing in the work and the products."

No matter how the present government administrations of the world might try to sidestep the label (the name itself has become passé, for some reason), socialist-leaning theory has taken hold in every country. What is the proof? Let's take the two essential elements, centralized control of production and distribution.

As concerns production, no one will deny that there is flagrant, heavy, direct and indirect government influence on - if not downright ownership of - many of the biggest industries in Europe, Canada, Russia, China and Asia, some of Eurasia, some of South America, and much of Africa. Even in America, the rest of Asia, Australia, most of South and Central America and elsewhere, big business and government go very much hand in hand. (Remember the lobbyists and special interests.)

As to redistribution, this hardly needs discussion. It is indulged in everywhere. This is not only confessed to, it is declaimed with Salvation Army pride.

So, putting aside for the moment whether or not the socialist goals are good or bad, we must all agree right here and now to rip aside the attention-diverting rhetoric so we can study the evidence, and the evidence reveals the true rose red colors behind the bland and purposely colorless political labels. All modern countries are simply in a childish stage of denial.

And I know why. It's because socialism just doesn't work, and they know it. Indeed, everybody knows it, and they're afraid to be identified with a loser. So why do they play around with it? Because it is a soothing balm for our tired wild rose, and seduces our votes.

In conclusion, from observation of the status quo on the ground, it is quite clear today that all countries, including Europe and America, have more than just a slight socialist bent. Their underlying premise is to profit from capitalism's wealth creation, and then to redistribute it according to a social plan. In my next posts, I'll discuss the nature of socialist idealism, one or two of its priests, and why it doesn't succeed.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Government Lesson No. 2: A Tale of Two Democracies

Even though present day European and American democracies are not purely capitalistic, as explained in Economics Lesson No. 6, they are still democracies based on a capitalist market system. The difference between them is that the American form, at least as intended by the creators of our Constitution, leans further toward a more pure capitalism, with its greater appreciation of individual contributions and freedom, while the European form prefers to add socialist ideas in an effort to promote social and economic equality.

The academics disagree on whether the Europeans are successful, but having seen it firsthand, I know that European-style socialist democracy is an ailing democracy. It undervalues ingenuity, genuflects to intellectual and class distinctions, discourages enterprise, encourages parasitism and corruption, and mandates centralist and wildly expensive socialist policies in a pantomime of cosmetic "egalitarian" efforts to "spread the wealth around."

And that's not all; while Europe is doing all of that, she also ignores three facts: first, that it is capitalism and capitalism alone that is the creator of wealth in the first place; second, that any effort to "improve" upon the free market is hypocritical, ineffective and even counterproductive because ultimately it reduces capital, wealth and general welfare instead of increasing it; and third, that their grandstanding social efforts put an enormous financial burden on the market system's capacity to survive, taxing away the working population's income, strength and will to sustain it.

If that's social and economic equality, I'll take American inequality every time, thank you very much. (And I'll do my social equalizing through my generous giving where and when I please, and not at the beck and call of some peacock politician's pathetic power procurement programs.)

If you compare European and American standards of living, national production, unemployment statistics, and technological innovations, you will be forced to agree with my point of view; but for some strange reason, many Americans see Europe as an older, wiser, grown-up, adult version of humanity. For me, the reverse is true. It is America (as she was originally envisaged) that is more mature and realistic in her conception of the capacity of each of us to determine our own destiny, and it is Europe that hangs on to her outdated academic hierarchy, her childish, ancestral social class rigidity, her stodgy fear of change and her lack of faith in the evolution of the human spirit.

Now, here's the nitty-gritty: The fundamental difference between European and early American political philosophy boils down to this:

In Europe, a godlike, elitist, powerful, corrupt government is seen as the source of the people's welfare. In America, a greater number of us have managed to retain sight of the fact that we ourselves are the very source of all government power (rulers can't rule if the people don't choose to obey, even when the sole alternative is death); and that to allow politicians to take some of it away is equivalent to volunteering for some degree of slavery.

When establishing our Constitution, early America's founders understood the most important three characteristics of government: First, it is a necessary evil; second, it craves power; and third, it is supremely susceptible to corruption. The whole idea behind the US Constitution was to recognize these very shortcomings and thereby prevent the federal state from acquiring too much power, as it will tend to do by nature.

That is the US Constitution's main purpose, and it is for this that our Revolution occurred, and people gave their lives. However, more and more Americans now envy the Europeans, where their entrenched power establishment has managed to control its constituency for centuries, only giving hollow lip service to independence, and where pervasive corruption is mind-boggling.

How soon America forgets.