Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Politics and the Nature of Man

Katherine Kersten at The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has some thoughts on the welfare state and its consequences, based on her trip to Scotland:

Some of the Scottish people I met were eager to detail the burdens of life in a "nanny state." Among them were the husband and wife who ran the guesthouse where I stayed, and the guide who helped me find my way through the Highlands.
These folks work seven days a week to keep their little businesses afloat. What irked them more than the gas tax and the strike, they said, was what they called "spongers" -- the substantial and growing percentage of the Scottish population supported by the nation's expansive welfare system.

Footing the bill

"Spongers" include able-bodied young men who live off government benefits, and turn down jobs with impunity because "that sort of work is unsuitable for me." They also include legions of young, unmarried mothers who expect taxpayers to support them and their children indefinitely.

The hard-working, middle-class taxpayers I met are proud of Scotland's beauty and rich heritage. But many seem fed up with footing the bill for a bloated welfare state.

"The government talks about redistributing wealth, but it rarely talks about the importance of creating wealth," complained my guesthouse host. "That's what we're trying to do."

One of the primary things that differentiates the individualist from the collectivist is that the latter believes both in grand historical forces as the primary drivers of history, and that bad things happen to good people because of bad acts by bad people. When one believes in both of these things simultaneously, the justification for the sizable welfare state becomes clear and obvious: the poor and weak are poor and weak because society has made them so, and so society can, through public policy, cure what ails them. That the collectivist should have the necessary authority over the policy goes without saying.

But there is no room in the collectivist’s model for the “sponger.” People are good, and will work if given the chance, and will be happy to provide for the defenseless through high taxes and other submission to state control. If the sponger inconveniently shows up anyway (not so much as the welfare cheat as the businessman who evades government price controls, or the farmer who refuses to produce at repressed state prices), he must be dealt with, by whatever means necessary. So too are people prisoners of their demography, with all social interaction being carried out on the terms of and decisively defined by the unholy trinity of “race, class and gender.”

The individualist, in contrast, believes that it is within the capability of every man to do great things, provided only that he be given the freedom to do so, and to bear the consequences if he fails to do so. Great things happen because great individuals achieve them. The collectivist has a fundamentally dispiriting notion of man and what he is, possessed of no authority over his own destiny and thus tailor-made to be led by the (state) slavedriver. The most compelling argument against the growth of the welfare state is not its bad incentives for work, its destruction of traditional social networks that,before they were crowded out, used to deal with social problems, and its violations of individual liberty (although those are all damning objections in their own right), but its reduction of man to an animal, fit only to be made the captive of the technocratic elite even as he is a captive of history's inevitable forces too.



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