Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wrapping up loose ends before I move on (I needed one more)

Note: this post started out as simply a comment to a new friend who made a comment to a previous post, but the answer turned out to be too long (as usual for me!) so I turned the answer into this post instead. I started out speaking to my friend, but now I will just speak generally to all who read this, and let you rebut my thoughts, if you choose.

I think the key difference between you and me (and between me and most Europeans and all "Progressive Liberals" in the U.S.) is very simple - you said it yourself in your comment when you said that you think the function of government is to "take care" of people. You think the purpose of government is "to do good" for the maximum amount of people. I suppose (you didn't say) that the government will decide on what is "good" for you.

On the other hand, my own view is very different. I think the purpose of government is to protect its citizens from enemies (both foreign and domestic) and to work to foster an atmosphere of individual liberty and opportunity for advancement. I don't want the government to take care of me; I want the government to protect me from robber barons and make it possible for me to rise to the top (even go from poor to rich) if I am smart enough and willing to work hard enough to make that happen. I don't want to fail or become mediocre because the government takes most of my personal rewards and gives them to others to "take care of them."

I want an opportunity for a quality education. I want the opportunity to compete on a level playing field. I want LOTS of things. But I do NOT want the government to provide those things for me or to take money out of my neighbor's pocket to buy these things for me.

So we approach life, you and me, (and "Progressives" and me), from a very different point of view. I want a government who protects me from those who would prey on me, a government that makes sure I don't get taken advantage of, and then gets the hell out of the way.

If a bank tries to screw me, I want the government to make them go by the rules. If there is curtailment of free competition in the marketplace because a corporation gets too big for small guys to compete with, such as from Walmart in the retail field, I want the government to break them up and not just look the other way. We have anti-trust laws and I would like to see them enforced so small businesses can start up and compete and hire people at decent wages again.

If an insurance company tries to weasel out of it's obligations or stick it to me on prices, fixing prices with other insurance companies under the table, I expect my government to enforce the law and not look the other way. I want my government to protect ME from these people. I don't want my government to protect their graft at my expense, or throw my tax money at them because they are "too big to fail". No company should be allowed to get too big to fail; it is not in the citizens' interest, nor does it foster the competition which is the mother of excellence.

My country did not become great and powerful and wealthy because it had a dream of someday having many heartless multinational corporations. It became great because it had a dream of unleashing the power of the individual citizen's creativity, drive, and inventiveness. We were not born in this country to be sheep. People eat sheep. Neither were we born to bow to some government's notion of what is "good" for us.

Having said that, I am not so naive to believe we don't need a dose of socialism, as you say. I don't think pure socialism works because it takes away personal initiative and it will eventually run out of money. As my idol Maggie Thatcher once said, "The trouble with socialism is eventually they run out of other people's money." Kidding about the "idol" bit.

Neither do I think "pure" capitalism will work - although it has never truly been tried in it's pure and unrestricted state - because capitalism is cold and heartless. I believe there are unfortunate people in every society that cannot just be left beside the road to die. So there must be a percentage of socialism in the form of safety nets and survival programs for those who are in trouble. The thing is, as I have blogged in the past, I think the recipe for a good workable government calls for a teaspoon of socialism, not a gallon.

Yes - tax the workers at all levels to get money to help those who need a temporary hand or even permanent help if they are unable to work. Since I have already shocked you, let me shock you even more:

** I don't believe the government should be providing schools (on a national level) or insuring standardization (of anything) simply for the sake of standardization. That is the province of the states and local governments. I want the people to build schools and raise the money to educate their own children - just like Americans did for so long before a big federal government started sticking their nose in. I want the states to compete with other states for providing a better life for their citizens, just like I want many business to compete with one another.

** I don't want their money for roads. I don't want their money for bridges. The only money they have is MINE anyway. With few exceptions, infrastructure is the province of the states. Stop taking our money and doling it back out to us. I'm very tired of the government taking our money and then redistributing it for projects THEY think are needed. This is the hallmark of socialism.

** I don't want the federal government thinking up things all Americans "need" to have done for them. Let the states provide what their citizens tell them and do what they can afford to do.

** I guess you can tell that I think the government ought to be regulating Insurance companies instead of being one. Make insurance companies toe the line; make them become responsive to citizen's needs. Break up the bloated bastards so that new small companies can start up and compete with more personal services. Our government has failed us miserably in this regard and now would have us believe they can do it better with one big top-heavy unmotived "company".

I say let the government protect the citizens by requiring insurance companies to take the bad risks with the good, and, where needed, pay part or all of the insurance coasts for the poor. In short, let's ALL of us be insured, and let us pay a bit more than we normally would have to, in order to insure the poor as well.

The federal government in the U.S. HAS become an oppressive Big Brother and nanny. And I hate it. It is stifling to my liberty and insulting to the people, the hopeful immigrants, who built my country through the years. I don't expect you to understand. You were born on a different planet than I was. I'm sure these notions seem outrageous to you. Unfortunately they sound outrageous to a huge number of "Progressive" Americans too.

The clash of ideologies in the U.S. is coming to a head now. The next few years will bring us much turmoil. The nannies are starting to run out of money now, so the revolution is not far off.

Thomas Jefferson was one of the men who helped found my country. He believed in states rights and was very wary of giving too much power to a federal government, though he recognized the need for one. But he cautioned that we must watch it closely or it would get away from us. He said...

"I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them."

He also said: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."

I believe that tree is being strangled by the excesses never envisioned for our federal government, and I believe it is long overdue for a pruning. If blood of patriots is again needed to mix with the blood of tyrants in life-giving puddles on the ground to feed that tree of liberty, there are still enough patriots here to supply it.

My new friend, I know very well that Europe doesn't understand America. They never have. Sadly, a growing number of Americans no longer understand it either. There have always been Europeans who say they don't understand why a big government must necessarily infringe on the personal liberty of citizens. Sadly, there are many Americans now who have grown up thinking the same thing. Their thinking is short-term and shallow, and they haven't properly studied history.

It simply is not possible to cede more and more power to the government without losing more and more power yourself. It is a trade-off and a bad one. It is the path to sheep-dom. We would do well to heed the words of our founders: the larger the government, the smaller the individual citizen.


  1. You have provided a long and definitely empassioned (if not substantiated) diatribe. I have no doubt you believe it. Passionately.

    I do not. I think you're wrong and I think history is full of examples why. I am not less passionate, but I don't hate you for feeling different. If nothing else, your passion ensures I think about my own passions.

    I feel we've outgrown the hybrid landed nobility notion our founding fathers tried to instill here. We've certainly paid for it.

    I know you don't agree. Fortunately, they were farseeing enough to encourage that kind of dissension.

  2. I'm not entirely clear about whether you are arguing against any government help or just central government, because I don't personally differentiate. I expect schools to be provided but they are administered locally and not centrally. There is central "guidance" and it is often disastrous. But we do have, in the UK, quite an amount of variation in education across the country. Not everyone has the opportunity to move, though, to the facilities they think would be best.

    There are some issues where I don't want government from the centre, where local decisions should be made. As a European who doesn't understand, I find myself agreeing with you to a greater extent than I expected, Max, unless I've misunderstood completely. Always a possibility. :(

  3. Like A., I don't really see the distinction between having the federal government and the local governments providing services - but then, while Austria has a federal system, our brand of federalism is much less pronounced, and has been steadily eroded in favour of a stronger central government. A good thing IMO, especially for such a small country as Austria.

    I guess we will just have to agree to disagree on the issue of how much socialism is good for a country - as far as I can see we are on the same scale anyway, somewhere between pure capitalism and pure communism, only at different points.

    One thing that puzzles me though, and maybe you can comment on that - what's with the quasi-religious worshipping of your founding fathers you Americans like to indulge in? I am sure they were great guys, but they lived over two hundred years ago. They were (mainly) a bunch of slave owners who successfully seceded from the British empire. Sure, the declaration of independence is a neat piece of work, and your constitution is a fine example of then humanist ideals, but all this spouting of 'The Constitution' and 'The Principles of the Founding Fathers' - isn't it kind of weird to hold a piece of political writing that sacrosanct? Times do change, you know.

    Not that I am advocating the US should throw out its constitution, mind. It is indeed a good one, as constitutions go. But what kind of relevance has what politicians back then thought or said back then to problems today? An argument should be taken on it's own merits, regardeless of whether it was Jefferson or George III who said it first.

    Maybe this is an idea for one more political post?

  4. It seems a great part of what you say is almost unintelligible to those of us who are not American, yet we in europe are following, unknowingly, on the same path.
    Without any proper vote on the subject, the individual countries of europe, each with their own history, traditions, and character, are finding their own countries' laws and politicians overruled, trumped by a federal european parliament, and by a european court.
    We pay dues to europe, europe returns subsidies and grants, and edicts, without asking us, or giving us a reasonable chance to set our own destiny.
    Why is this? Because our politicians lied to us. Quite simply, if you asked most britons "Do you wish to be ruled by a federal govovernment of greater europe?", the answer would be an emphatic "NO!"
    But it's happening.
    And I think that's where you are, wishing for devolution, for the rights of local legislation over continental legislation.
    Here in Britain, we have multiple parliaments. Wales, Scotland, northern Ireland, Channel Isles, and the Isle of Man all have some degree of independent legislature.

    Consider it as like your states, yet all are subordinate to parliament in London, which itself is progressively trumped by the european parliament. Of course, all these talking shops are full of pigs guzzling at the trough, and doing rather well off the taxpayers whose wants they ignore.

    Well, you say you're abandoning political debate, so I won't go on.


  5. Stephanie Barr: Diatribe? DIATRIBE???? I know you aren't less passionate. You are just wrong. "Hybrid landed nobility"? Somebody buy this lady a history book.

    A.: Against the central government, of course. I can't really think of an example that equates to your situation because you don't have 50 far-reaching states with their own distinctly separate governments (the only legitimate governments that should be interacting directly with their citizens, btw). Instead, you have four countries, 3 of which, maybe all 4, who don't much like the central government either. Even so, in truth, it's just not the same. I would have to drag in the EU in order to get my point across.

    Still, you instinctively agree with me, and that's encouraging!

    Boris Legradec: Size matters. It is key in this conversation. Earlier on, people (in the U.S.) didn't have as much in common as they do now. Even with modern communications and transportation, we still don't have NEARLY as much in common between Vermont and New Mexico as you might imagine. For example, people who live on the sea from San Francisco to Seattle are on almost a different planet compared to people who live in Alabama or Nebraska, with regards to how we want to live. We simply don't all want the same things or have NEARLY the same vision for our future as perhaps some people think. I think you really do understand that difference quite well. Any one of our our states, for example, could easily get by with just its central government and no form of federalism. Even so, there is still a need for local services I would think, even in Austria.

    Boris, I'm sorry I have been gone so long since you made this comment, and sorrier still that this space is not going to allow me to go on and on like I want to---there are several points you bring up that just BEG for more discussion. For example, I want very much to give you my explanation of why our Constitution (and the men who conceived it and brought it into being) is still so important to conservative Americans. It isn't really a question of "longing for the past" as it is following principles which have been proven to work over the long haul. Perhaps another post, as you say. In the meantime, try to keep repeating to yourself, "Americans are not Europeans at all. They are an odd breed peculiar to themselves." I also wish the "progressives" in America who dream of a European Utopia will repeat that too. Fat chance. :) Thank you for waiting for me, BL.

    Soubriquet: You, of all my readers, are "seasoned" enough to know where I am coming from, even if you don't agree with all I say. Thank you for what you said. You are right on. Spot on, I mean.

  6. Sorry, bud. You will not get me bowing. My mother was two credits shy of her degree in American history and I grew up eating and living American history. My father was a huge Civil War buff and I've been all over that.

    Your view of it is, in my opinion, vastly skewed. And a deep interest and study of European history is key to understanding ours.

  7. No worries, mate - I have been known to neglect comments for much longer on my own blog.

    And I do see that you guys (crazy! All of you! Ask anybody here!) are quite a different breed from Europeans, which is of course not a bad thing in and of itself. If only you weren't so misguided... ;)

  8. @Stephanie Barr - Well, I wasn't talking about the Civil War. I was referring to your comment about the founders attempting to install a "hybrid landed nobility". I don't think that's what our constitution did at all. The people at the constitutional convention did indeed include several "landed nobility", but, ironically, they were the ones who had the most to lose by backing our constitution. And, no, I don't agree we have outgrown the principles in that constitution.

    @Boris Legradic - Misguided? Heh. I guess time will tell...

    Thank you for your comment.



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