Wednesday, February 10, 2010

"Hurtling Down the Road to Serfdom"

(Hm, this one may not interest many of you, either.  Maybe the next entry. . .)

From "Hurtling Down the Road to Serfdom", by John Stossel:
Government is taking us a long way down the Road to Serfdom. That doesn't just mean that more of us must work for the government. It means that we are changing from independent, self-responsible people into a submissive flock. The welfare state kills the creative spirit.

F.A. Hayek, an Austrian economist living in Britain, wrote "The Road to Serfdom" in 1944 as a warning that central economic planning would extinguish freedom. The book was a hit. Reader's Digest produced a condensed version that sold 5 million copies.

Hayek meant that governments can't plan economies without planning people's lives. After all, an economy is just individuals engaging in exchanges. The scientific-sounding language of President Obama's economic planning hides the fact that people must shelve their own plans in favor of government's single plan.

At the beginning of "The Road to Serfdom," Hayek acknowledges that mere material wealth is not all that's at stake when the government controls our lives: "The most important change ... is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people."

This shouldn't be controversial. If government relieves us of the responsibility of living by bailing us out, character will atrophy. The welfare state, however good its intentions of creating material equality, can't help but make us dependent. That changes the psychology of society.

. . .

According to the Tax Foundation, 60 percent of the population now gets more in government benefits than it pays in taxes. What does it say about a society in which more than half the people live at the expense of the rest? Worse, the dependent class is growing. The 60 percent will soon be 70 percent.
And once the majority of people are using the tax and welfare systems for their personal gain, what's to stop them from voting in new law-makers and legislation that will further entrench us in the kind of problems that are already bogging us down?

You can only squeeze so much from the earners of the world before they run dry.  Besides, once you totally obliterate their incentive to work hard and earn, many of them will either move elsewhere or give up and fall into mediocrity.  Why earn more only to have most of it taken away?  Why work harder if industrious behavior is punished?
Kurt Vonnegut understood the threat of government-imposed equality. His short story "Harrison Bergeron" portrays a future in which no one is permitted to have any physical or intellectual advantage over anyone else. A government Handicapper General weighs down the strong and agile, masks the faces of the beautiful and distracts the smart.

So far, the Handicapper General is just fantasy. But Vice President Joe Biden did shout at the Democratic National Convention: "Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you." If he meant that we're all equal in rights and before the law, fine. If he meant government shouldn't put barriers in the way of opportunity, great. But statists like Biden usually have more in mind: They want government to make results more equal.

Two actual examples of the lunacy:
When colleges innovated by having students use Kindle e-book readers instead of expensive textbooks, the Justice Department sued them, complaining that the Kindle discriminates against blind students. The department also is suing the Massachusetts prison system because it makes prospective prison guards take a physical test. Since women don't do as well as men on that test, Justice claims the test discriminates against women.
(This is actually beside the point, but I can't resist. . . ) I don't own a Kindle, but I'm sure I've heard that there's a feature that allows you to listen to your books-- a computerized voice reads it to you-- so it's almost like having an audiobook version for the price of the e-book.  Wouldn't that be ideal for blind students?  I mean, I know it's not Braille, and they couldn't read/listen to the text during lectures, but still. . .

And as for the second example. . . I'm a woman (obviously, I hope, if you've seen my photo up there in the upper righthand corner), and I say that many of these "gender equality" cases are pure rubbish.  If a woman can do a job as well as a man, then yes, she ought to have a chance to do it, if she likes. (And vice versa.)  However, if the job requires certain physical qualities-- such as strength-- and an individual simply isn't physically capable of passing the test, it's ridiculous to say that it's discriminatory to refuse to hire her.  If a male applicant is too fat or feeble to pass the test, is he being discriminated against?  You hire the person best qualified for the job.  For some jobs, the person best qualified will more often be a man than a woman.  When will people finally admit to the obvious and drop this pretended(?) cluelessness?

Anyway. . . There's a little more to the article (linked above), but that's pretty much the gist of it.  That and a question: What do Americans really want-- increased personal freedom or a Mommy State to take care of their every need and want?  I know what most of the people in my life would prefer.  (And lately, I'm finding it harder and harder to be tolerant of people with opposing views.)