Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Liberte', Fraternite', Pessimisme'

Your Tuesday morning pessimism is brought to you by Richard Fernandez, who looks at the wreckage of Detroit - brought low by liberal social policies - and wonders what the prospects for America are now that we have health care reform: Motor City

Given the scale of the failures of Detroit and perhaps now of California why is repeating the same mistakes not only inevitable but actually described as being desirable public policy? Maybe it is because we cannot help ourselves. Consider that before the year is out the Senate may have voted in health care bill which a majority of voters, if polls are to be believed, actually detest but which they are going to get anyway. Like the residents of Detroit, we take the handout we know will kill us and do it despite everything.

One of the saddest sights a man can watch is during election time in the Philippines when the poor are rounded up in dump trucks and rented buses and sequestered by politicians near polling precincts to vote. There they will receive ten dollars, if that, and an afternoon’s worth of gin and peanuts. In exchange for this meager handout they will troop to the precinct and vote for the villain. The luckiest of that sad crowd are too stupid or drunk to care. But a substantial number know exactly what is happening; they are fully cognizant that the pittance they are about to receive will be taken back from them a hundredfold by the corrupt politician. They know it with the certainty of a sentient cow walking into an abbatoir. But they take the money anyway. They take it because they need the money and the forgetfulness today. Today the money will buy some rice; the gin will let them forget. Tomorrow is a luxury they cannot afford. Of all the tragic sights on earth, nothing is so pathetic as watching a man sell his dignity with both eyes open.

Detroit, like Rome, did not fall in a day, but was instead taken down brick by brick, handout by handout, until everyone woke up one morning and realized that the glory days had ended years ago. Worse, the people receiving handouts - whether Phillipino peasants, Detroit welfare queens, or adjunct law professors - like the idea of receiving free money (or "grants" if you want to feel better about it) and are blind to the economic damage that an overweening government will do in the course of collecting and disbursing those grants.

It really is amazing how apathetic people can be about this sort of thing. Even out here in SF, it's hard to find people who are literally gung-ho for health care reform. Oh, sure, there are plenty of activists on street corners, but it's not something you hear buzzed about at Peet's. Instead, conversations are of the "Well, if there is health care reform..." variety, as if the speaker knows something is happening and will simply adjust to whatever rears its head.

Progressives base their political world view on the premise that The People are beset by impersonal forces from which they must be liberated. But, at this point, the impersonal forces are the progressives, who would impose new entitlements on the old ones, tying everyone down to a top-down centralized system, even as technology and globalization offers us more and better choices. If only we knew enough to make those choices.

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