Friday, July 11, 2014

Will Obama's Cloward-Piven Actually Work?

Back in the Sixties, lefty professors Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven proposed a political strategy to crash the welfare system to force the Democratic Party to introduce a guaranteed minimum wage.

Ever since, conservatives have been terrified that liberals are always trying to crash the system and flood activists into the street so that they can stampede us into some new comprehensive and mandatory new program on the whole nation that makes government bigger and increases liberal domination.

Today, many conservatives suspect that the southern border crisis is a deliberate Cloward-Piven-type effort by the Obama administration to force a comprehensive amnesty bill down the throats of the American people.

Perhaps we should ease off the conspiracy theory stuff and relax a little.

First of all, governments know that it always takes a crisis to push through a change.  That's the meaning of the old chestnut from H.L. Mencken:
Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
 OK H.L.  But you are missing the truth that the whole point of government is to rally the people against an existential threat.  Politicians instinctively know that.  So politicians are always trying to turn a national hang-nail into the Second Coming.  Thus the crisis of the uninsured means we need a comprehensive health insurance program.  Rising global temperatures require an anti-carbon crusade.

Conservatives have their own longing for crisis.  We know, or we think we know, that there isn't a hope of reforming the welfare state and its middle-class entitlements until there is No More Money.  So we sometimes wonder if the best strategy is to pile on new entitlements, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wants to do, and so advance the day when the middle-class entitlements go broke.

But the real problem with a crisis is that it doesn't just empower the government to act.  It creates a revolutionary situation when anyone may grab the reins of state and change things.  It may be true that there isn't a hope of reforming entitlements until they go broke, but it is also true that the American people, as mobilized by various interests, may demand reform that makes things worse.

Just today there's an article by Steve Malanga about the state and local government pension crisis.  It's pretty obvious what needs to be done, but don't tell that to the government unions and the state judges.  There's a good case to be made that the government unions should make a good deal now rather than wait until voters get really pissed off by collapsing government services.  But, really, they won't.  The unions represent existing employees and retirees; most of them will get through their retirement before the crash comes, so why worry?

That's why I don't think that President Obama has some fiendishly cunning plan up his sleeve on immigration.  He has just been doing what the liberal activists groups have wanted, and he has lazily assumed that as things got worse they would create a crisis that would grease the skids for a comprehensive immigration bill.  But it looks like popular opinion is trending away from an elite cramdown as militia groups mobilize and blacks complain and protest about immigration.

There's nothing remarkable about all this.  It's the political analog of military strategy.  Do you seek the decisive battle or do you march around and avoid battle?  Democrats have tended to assume that they will win the decisive battle.  And maybe they are right.  Until they are wrong.

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