Thursday, November 8, 2012

An unwholesome social dynamic

 ...even if a solid conservative had been running and had won the election, it would, in one important way, have made no difference.

The ideas I'm going to share here came up in an email conversation with an old friend. I thought they might be of wider interest so I rewrote them as a blog post. I added some further thoughts that would have been obvious to my friend, who already knows how I think, but which might need a little bit of unpacking to be clear to other people.

Firstly: Am I disappointed that Obama got reelected? I certainly am. I see his ideas and policies as all wrong. I am a fiscal conservative with libertarian leanings; he is a big government statist of the leftist persuasion. Unfortunately no one of my own persuasion was running: Romney, the Republican candidate, is a notable RINO. So there was really no one for me to vote for; I voted against Obama. Not enough people did.

It is difficult for a challenger to win when not much differentiates him from the incumbent. People who want a leftist are going to vote for the real thing, not for a RINO and Leftism Lite. People who want a right winger are not going to have much enthusiasm to vote for either choice. This is a mistake the Republican party makes over and over, running safe candidates who lose.

But even if a solid conservative had been running and had won the election, it would, in one important way, have made no difference. I'm fearful of the further harm Obama may do, particularly in the matter of judicial appointments, but there is a dangerous long term trend that neither conservative nor liberal knows how to do much about. The problem is that government does not know how to shrink. Instead it grows and grows.

I can foretell America's future. I am not a prophet and neither I do not have a crystal ball. What I do is read the news from Europe. The Europeans are on the same path we are and a few years farther down it. They are now experiencing long term economic malaise with no end in sight. There is not enough public money to match the public's desire to receive things from the government.

There is an unwholesome social dynamic at work here. There is not the political will to fix the problem. The prevalent political will is itself the problem: the will to give things away from the public treasury. People are little inclined to vote themselves less largesse.

There, in a nutshell, is the fatal dynamic that leads inevitably to a downward spiral of unprosperity. Once people figure out that they can vote themselves benefits and their neighbors will be made to pay, a self-perpetuating trend is established. There is nowhere to go but downward, to less enterprise, creativity and drive in the private sector, because business has less money to work with, even as more money is distributed by the public sector. Together with that you get more taxes, more rules and more bureaucracy. To the extent that some people manage to avoid work who could work, the economy is deprived of the strength their labor would have contributed.

Putting a conservative in the White House would have slowed down the growth of government, perhaps, but I have never heard a politician from either party put forth a credible plan to make the government shrink. Politicians talk about such ideas from time to time but it never gets beyond the talking stage or a few cosmetic changes. Things work in one direction only, toward more, bigger and costlier government.

Until someone figures out a way to shrink the government or at least halt its growth, we will see problems stemming from the continual proliferation of laws, rules, regulations, programs, taxation and borrowing. Of course all of these things impact the financial health of businesses and thus the economy in general. We could get by with less of all these things and would be the more prosperous.

I do not think we are at risk of a big dramatic fall of civilization. I foresee a slow decline instead into general mediocrity and shrinking freedoms. Our place in the sun as an unusually prosperous country will be taken by others who understand the link between economic freedom and plenty. The Chinese, after making a complete disaster of their economy in the last century, are now very apt pupils of the lesson that teaches about freedom, risk and gain as intertwined concepts. Though we knew that lesson well at one time, we seem to have forgotten about it.

The unwholesome social dynamic I see at work in America is, then, the tendency of government to grow but never shrink and the inevitable crunch that will come when, like Europe, we can no longer afford our government.

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