Friday, October 29, 2010

The Educated Youth Movement

How do we understand President Obama and his curious life journey from semi-abandoned son of a Sixties girl to graduate of leftist Midwest Academy and Radical-in-chief? I believe that the best way is to understand the movement of the left as a kind of religious movement, a secular religious movement of moral renewal that ended up, as so many religious movements do, wanting to capture the political system, become an established church, and legislate its morality upon the populace--in their own best interests, of course.

But isn't this idea of a secular religious movement rather a stretch? Not really, not if you read Discovering God by Rodney Stark.

In Discovering God Stark puts his sociological theories about religion to the test. Mainly, he asserts that there is always a latent demand for religion in society. But usually the supply of religion is throttled by the ruling elite, because religious movements tend to upset the status quo, including the political status quo. The ruling elite prefers to capture religious sentiment into an elite-dominated state religion.

Following Marx, we educated moderns like to think of religion as the "opiate of the masses." But Stark asserts that religious movements are very often started by well-to-do youngsters. Rather than plunge into the hurly-burly of ordinary life they choose a life of asceticism and meditation. Take Buddhism:

Combined with the doctrine that life is inevitably a succession of sufferings and sorrows and that in addition one must strive to frustrate all desires, to become a true follower of Buddha or Mahavira [the founder of Jainism] is to embrace unrelieved pessimism. Such pessimism seems to have attracted some alienated members of the elite to become monks or nuns, but it surely "could not attract the minds of the laity."

Buddhism quickly died out in India, but thrived in China where it grafted on Gods and an afterlife.

The movement started by educated youth in the years after the Napoleonic Wars also embraced unrelieved pessimism, the notion that the lot of the workers would inevitably get worse and worse. It was also godless. And it was particularly attractive to sons of the prosperous middle class. Think Marx, Engels, the Fabians, the Progressives and of course our modern liberals.

This Educated Youth movement began with a moral critique of modern middle class society and then went on to propose a radical reform, to purify it of getting and spending, and to restore an ancient vision of the pure community. It was, of course, a community that had never been. But after the first efforts to found such communities failed, the Educated Youth movement realized that mere voluntary religious communities weren't going to work. They decided that their secular religious movement had to become a state religion. It had to take over the apparatus of the state and impose its moral vision on a society corrupted by "false consciousness" using the force of the law and government bureaucrats.

Of course, the awful rigidities of this moral system, when imposed in practice, results in untold horrors and religious wars. The proselytizing Educated Youth movement naturally faced opposition and it naturally decided that force was necessary where persuasion couldn't persuade.

President Obama is a complete product of this movement. You can call him a socialist, or a radical, or a Marxist. But these names really are the names of individual sects in the overall Educated Youth movement, the secular religious movement to purify corrupt democratic capitalism with a state religion of caring, sharing and, now, saving the planet.

With President Obama the Educated Youth movement is reaching its moment of truth. For its millenniarian promises are turning to dust. Its government-centric model of social cooperation is foundering on a mountain of debt, corruption, and injustice and the ordinary people are rebelling.

For ordinary people the godless religion of pessimism and asceticism doesn't really work. What ordinary people need is an optimistic religion to tell them that their work, their struggles and sacrifices, their families and their loved ones will all come out right in the end, and that virtue will triumph.

In the United States, most of the time, the Educated Youth movement has operated behind a veil, pretending to be moderates instead of extremists. President Obama has been an expert in this, hiding his radical past and his radical friends with the help of a complicit media.

But sooner or later we ordinary folks are going to have to challenge the Educated Youth movement. This challenge must begin, it seems to me, with a separation of the Educated Youth church and state. Let our liberal friends remain free to proselytize all they want. But let's stop them short of building a state church to their liberalism and using government power and taxes to force their belief system upon the rest of us.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: It's in the Constitution, chaps.

Let's curb the Educated Youth movement and close the doors of its established Church of Liberalism.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Government is Force, Politics is Power

The world is full of people that talk about the sweet and gentle things that government does. It helps the poor; it gives grandma her health care; it cares about kids.

Er, not exactly. When the government does something it does it with your money. It is you that helps the poor, gives to grandma, and cares about kids. Government is not about caring; government is force. Let's expand this notion a little further.

Government is Force. What is a government, reduced to its essentials? It is an armed force that occupies an area of land with the power to extract tribute from the people living there. It might be a band of twenty guerrillas, hiding out in the mountains. But unless it gets money from a foreign power, it will survive by extracting tribute from the people it controls--by force. If it doesn't extract tribute by force, it isn't a government, it's a business.

Politics is Power. People that go into politics are people who like to fight. They want power. They run for election and the make promises to the voters about a glorious future they have in mind for the voters. But the promises are by-play. The name of the game is to get the support of the voters and get your hands on the levers of power.

Government Spending is Handing Out Plunder. Government spending is the loot that a government distributes to its supporters. Reduced to the minimum, the guerrilla group in the mountains, government spending is spending to keep the guerrilla group armed and fed and keep the taxes coming in. But as a guerrilla group becomes a formal government it acquires the power to support not just its armed fighters but its civilian supporters. So just as a victorious armed raid on a neighboring land ends with a division of the plunder, so also does a victorious political party distribute the loot among its supporters. But wait, you say! What about all the wonderful things that government does with health care and education?

The fact is that everything government does, it does badly. Social Security? If we have to force people to save for retirement we would do better forcing everyone to have an account at Fidelity or Vanguard. The money would actually go into creating jobs for young people when we want to stop working. Health care? The current system gives a ton of people free health care by forcing other people to pay for it. People use free stuff freely. If people actually paid for their health care (and saved for the big expense of health care in the last six months of life) it would cost a lot less. Education? Half of the kids entering college need remedial courses. What about the kids that don't go to college? Let's not even think of going there. Welfare? Government welfare has destroyed the low-income family.

To repeat: government buys votes by distributing plunder to its supporters. In the old days of the absolute monarchs government used to buy support with sinecures and pensions. Today it buys support with tenured jobs and social spending. So nothing has changed.

Taxes are Tribute. Taxes are the tribute that the laborer pays government for the right to earn a living. The first thing that our guerrilla group in the mountains does is start collecting tribute to keep its armed group fed and armed. It collects taxes by going around from house to house requisitioning food and money at the point of a gun. In a settled society, government exacts tribute from everyone that works or buys and sells. Thus every time that a worker gets a paycheck, the government takes its share. Every time a merchant sells a product, the government gets a share. Every homeowner pays a tax on his property. It is tribute, the tribute that the servant pays to the master.

Debt Ends in Default. Whenever government issues debt it is spending now and taxing later. Chances are that it won't do the hard thing, and fund the debt with taxes. Instead it will default on the debt. Sooner or later all governments default on their debt. Usually they don't flat out refuse to pay interest and principal. Instead they inflate the currency. Or they "reschedule" the debt by unilaterally lowering the interest rate and moving the maturity to a later date. Or they throw the evil bankers in jail. Or they just take money out of peoples' bank accounts. Remember, government is force.

The great question about any proposal for a new government spending program is simple. Is this really something that has to be done by force? After all, if it were worth doing, someone would already be doing it. Without force.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Three Liberal Conceits

It feels like 9/11, watching the twin towers burning, thinking about "one hour buildings" and wondering what comes next.

I'm talking, of course, about the mid-term elections on November 2. We are looking at the Democratic Party as it trails a black cloud of smoke and we are wondering: could the whole thing come down in a great crash? And if it did come down would it be in that dreadful slow motion descent of the twin towers, or the sub-second dump of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis? One moment it was there, the next moment it was in the river.

Everything is collapsing on the liberals all at once. Their multidecadal war on the private sector, where they want to boss banks and corporations around to help workers get good jobs or to help minorities buy a home, is in ruins, as their confident Keynesian stimulus has failed. Their war on want is a mess as the administrative manipulations of a thousand social programs make dependents out of proud workers. Their war on tradition is a mess as the sexual revolution turns into a re-commodification of sex.

There are, I think, Three Conceits at the heart of this liberal meltdown. Let's take them one by one.

First, there is the Economic Conceit, the idea that government can run the economy. There certainly is a need for the government to commandeer the economy in case of all-out war. But the record of the last century is that, absent war, government should keep its cotton-picking hands off. Government shouldn't muck around with monetary policy and the credit system. All it does is institutionalize inflation and play favorites with the credit system. Government shouldn't muck about with corporations vs. labor vs. the consumer. The wreck of the auto companies ought to tell us that. As George McGovern found out when he opened a resort hotel and then went bankrupt, business is incredibly difficult. Politicians shouldn't make it harder.

Secondly, there is the Social Conceit, the idea that government can spread the wealth and alleviate poverty, that government can run the education system and supervise the health care system. No it can't. The education system is dead in the water, and has been for a generation. The reason? It's been captured by the producers who don't give a damn about the consumers, children and parents. The Obamis are in the middle of bollixing up the health care system by leaning on it to serve an additional 30 million people who are reluctant to pay for their own health care. Government just can't do this efficiently and effectively.

Thirdly, there is the Moral Conceit, the idea that government can muck around legislating morality. Oh yes, liberals believe in legislating morality all right. That's what all the fuss about abortion and gay marriage is about. Liberals decided to change, by judicial fiat, the moral rules on babies and marriage. Now everyone wants to use the government to force their moral views on the rest of the nation.

What is going on here? What do liberals not understand?

I think that we need to look at society in a new way. Think of a circle, divided into three sectors. One is the political sector, with the institutions of government at all levels. This is the sector of force. Then there is the economic sector, of businesses and consumers, producing and consuming products and services. This is the sector of stuff. Then there is the moral/cultural sector, with various non-economic institutions, churches, schools, charities, foundations, and voluntary associations. The point about these insitutions is that they are not immediately economic. They have moral or social goals, not economic goals. This is the sector of faith.

The big mistake that liberals have made, as reflected in the Three Conceits, is that the political sector can supervise and co-opt the other two sectors. It can't. The political sector is the sector of force, and force is the only thing it knows. When you do force in the economic sector you get serfdom. When you do force in the moral/cultural sector you get a clash of faith, a religious war, and even a religious civil war. The three sectors need to be separate and equal in a Greater Separation of Powers. None should dominate another sector, and no two should gang up on the third.

This is all very well, but there is something missing. It is people. It one thing to understand the relationships of the institutions in society, it is another thing to figure out the people.

The people, I believe, are a circle in the middle. Call it the personal sector. The personal sector is the face-to-face sector, where people deal with each other verbally. It is the sector of trust.

The whole universe of society is a question of trust, but trust is only possible between face-to-face people. Without people in the middle you have nothing but force, the mechanical interactions between inanimate objects rather than the relationships of trust between people.

So when we say that the three sectors should be separate and coequal, and kept so by a Greater Separation of Powers, we understand also that this social compact is made possible by the folks in the middle, in the personal sector. These people in the middle act in face to face relationship with other people and it is the trust that they develop over time that creates the delicate balance between the sectors.

It is people representing institutions in the economic sector that link with people representing institutions in the moral/cultural sector that put material content into moral concern. It is people representing institutions in the moral/cultural sector linking with people representing institutions in the political sector that define the boundary where moral disapproval turns into legal restraint. It is people representing institutions in the economic sector linking with people representing institutions in the political and moral/cultural sectors that define the boundaries where a bad deal turns into a fraudulent deal.

Our liberal friends are good people. But they were tempted by vanity, and vanity turned into conceit. And now conceit is turning into humiliation.

After November 2, let's cut the political sector down to size and reanimate the spirit of trust that turns adversaries into friends.

Then we can build an America as it was meant to be.