Monday, May 9, 2016

The Problem is Not Just Political Correctness

Writing in Forbes the lion of history Paul Johnson argued recently that Donald Trump is a natural excessive response to the "mental infection" of political correctness.

When dons and professors "show the white feather" to the crybullies, then something has to be done, especially in a nation that got its start in the 17th century "when the clerical discipline the Pilgrim Fathers sought to impose broke down and those who had things to say struck out westward or southward for the freedom to say them."
[So] it’s good news that Donald Trump is doing so well in the American political primaries. He is vulgar, abusive, nasty, rude, boorish and outrageous. He is also saying what he thinks and, more important, teaching Americans how to think for themselves again.
Yeah, and I will believe that Donald Trump is a true foe of political correctness when his Department of Education starts writing Dear Colleague letters to the nation's universities telling them that any university with a speech code or a presumption of guilt in sexual harassment regulation can say sayonara to federal funding.

The problem for me is that pushback against political correctness doesn't really do the job. It is a pushback, not a declaration of independence like this:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that men and women shall be free to express ideas in the public square without fear or favor, and that the power of government shall not be used to intimidate or to silence unpopular voices.
Of course, in the course of human events, it is very seldom that anything prevails but a crude orthodoxy of the powerful, because the arc of human authority tends towards imposed agreement and stasis.

But the story of humankind over the last two hundred years is that the freedom to think new ideas, and especially to implement useful ideas into concrete products and services, has created a Great Enrichment of all the people on the Earth.

The key factor, according to Deirdre McCloskey in her "Bourgeois Trilogy," is that this enrichment requires one key thing. It requires that the powers-that-be do not strangle the babies of new ideas and new material improvements in their cradles.

But the more power that government has the more that it does exactly that. Because people go to government when their traditional way of life is threatened. And from the point of view of the people, it makes no difference whether the threat is from an army of invaders or from a new technique that puts them out of work. They want it stopped, and they want it stopped by force before it marginalizes them forever.

Therefore, it seems to me that the key objective for people that want to encourage ordinary human flourishing linked to a search for something higher is this: How to limit the natural instinct of humans to use force to prevent their current material advantages from being reduced?

We can see this in the argument over immigration and imports. People want to enjoy their current wage rates without having to compete with an immigrant that will work for less. On the other hand, the US must compete on the world economy, so its wages and prices must compete on the world exchange. Special interests must not have the power to jack US wages and prices out of whack.

It is folly to give workers the power to jack their wages up above market rates; sooner or later their high wages will run their employer out of business. It is folly to give industry, e.g., Florida sugar plantations, subsidies and quotas that allow them to price their product way above world prices. Sooner or later those prices will have to come down to earth.

It is folly to set up government pension plans that make assumptions about the future. Most likely they will make the wrong projections and then expect taxpayers to make up the difference. It is folly to put government in charge of education, for the government lifers in charge will slowly turn the education system into a process that serves the interests of the lifers and not parents and students.

We have seen, in the Obama era, the utter cruelties that political correctness metes out to ordinary Americans, and the absurdities of the agenda of the Democratic coalition of the fringes that deny women the safety of women-only bathrooms and deny the right of police to arrest malefactors. We shouldn't be surprised. That is what power does to people. Give them the power to implement their follies and the power to humiliate and to name and shame, and they will take it.

The challenge for humans as social animals is to turn the instinct to dominate into the kindly sentiment to share and serve. And the challenge only starts with the vice of political correctness. There are people everywhere eager to make the shortcut to solving their problems with the clunking fist of government. The job of people of goodwill everywhere is to turn their twisted swords into cooperative plowshares.

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