2.28.2005

Cut and paste

No opinions, just one train of thought. Start with this post from The Decembrist, How Social Security Phase-Out Makes Republicans:

"The positive theory that [private] accounts will make people excited, entrepreneurial, wealth-accumulating owners, and thus Republicans, expresses one idea about human nature. The negative, anti-government theory embodies another: that people, unless desperate, will not rise up to demand what they don't have and have never known. Here it's useful to remember that Karl Rove's historical parallel is the 36 years of Republican dominance from the McKinley election in 1996 to Hoover's defeat. That was a brutal period in American economic life. Government offered nothing in the way of benefits for workers, minimal widows' pensions, no aid for children, monetary policies that were cruel to farmers and regulatory laissez-faire that was cruel to workers. And yet, year in and year out, people took it, without question. It was the natural order of things."

And one of his commenters says:

If you see society as essentially Darwinian, how do you improve the quality of a species? By making it stronger, of course, through trial and difficulty. I think this lies behind the whole 'dependency' malarkey - they see the 'coddling' of individuals by the State as emasculating. Strauss (and others) railed about the weakness and lack of backbone of modern democratic man, as did Nietszche (Herd Men, anyone?).

"Hobbesian" may be the word he wants, since I don't think of Darwin and the Republican party together, but you see the point. And that reminded me of this old post from John Holbo, on David Frum's Dead Right:

It turns out economic inefficiency isn’t what ‘offends’ conservatives after all, at least not Frum.


“The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. Social security, student loans, and other government programs make it far less catastrophic than it used to be for middle-class people to dissolve their families. Without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do not.”

The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundaton is hereby laid for a desirable social order.


(Emphasis added.) There's something about this that feels right to me -- something that jibes with my childhood experience of religion; that it wasn't there to make us happy, but to keep us from going to hell. (In fairness as I became older my teachers and parents made clear that they held a broader and more cheerful faith.)

Our only hope is order. Or those wolves from the campaign commerical will get us.

16 comments:

Rob said...

That's 1896, unless the Republicans have been in the White House in reverse order.

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