Thursday, June 26, 2014

What Went Wrong: Bad Political Philosophy

Yesterday we looked at the foolish politics of liberals, punching through major legislation on a partisan vote, running a permanent campaign as though Americans were at war with each other.  (Beginning of series here.) But now we look at the foolish philosophy at the bottom of it.

The difference between a society and a bureaucracy or army ought to be obvious. A bureaucracy is a goal-oriented organization. Like an army it has simple, strategic goals. It is an instrument to collect taxes, like the IRS, or to coordinate health care programs, like the federal Department of Health and Human Services. But a society is different, because society is a work in progress. The truth is we do not know what a society is for, just as we don't know what humans are for, or the Earth, or the Solar System, or the Universe. The closest we can come is in vague words about the good society like “human flourishing” and “something higher than just material prosperity.” People disagree earnestly and deeply about what a good society is, and even when they agree about the nature of the good society they still disagree about how to get there.

So how can a president say to his defeated opponents: “we won?” How can we build a good society in the United States when the victor in the latest round of political fisticuffs says, in so many words: “screw you, loser?” He can only say it if he is a fool.

Moreover, how can a political party advance the cause of “human flourishing” with a comprehensive and mandatory administrative program like Obamacare, not to mention all the other big entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare? Administration and bureaucracy kill human flourishing; they pave over paradise and make it a parking lot. The whole point of administration and bureaucracy is to prevent autonomous activity and replace it with rigid rules. The whole point of life and liberty is that you don't know what is coming up next. The world will probably throw you a curve ball and you will have to adapt. How do you adapt to change when the whole of e.g., health care, is rigidly defined by legislation, bureaucracy, and entitlement whether or not the resources are there to deliver? When the world changes, how long does it take your activists, your politicians, your legislation, you bureaucrats, your regulations to adapt and catch up? Actually we know. With great national programs it is only possible to do political reform once in a generation, if that.

Our great national problem is that our ruling class, in order to advance its paltry idea of an administrative state and implement its elite fantasy of top-down springtime for rulers, has reduced the people of the United States to the pathetic status of freeloaders and foragers. To win the next election and the mandate to enact the next tranche of administrative authoritarianism the rulers must again and again bribe the voters with the promise of some free stuff. Hey kids: more student debt! Hey uninsured: super-subsidized health insurance! Hey illegals: amnesty! Hey veterans: free health care for life! But what actually happens? Students get buried in debt, because a twenty-year-old has no clue what kind of income he'll earn after college. The uninsured get lured into expensive insurance that doesn't help them because the uninsured don't need health insurance, not having any assets; they just need a bit of help with their health-care bills. Kids from Central America get lured to the border. Vets find that the free health care has a real cost: waiting lists and second-rate service.

Golly, who could have seen all that coming?  Evidently our educated ruling class could not.

So what do we do about all this?  Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.

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