Monday, April 02, 2012


"Every word of this depresses me deeply, because I know from bitter lived experience that it’s all true"

I find my self often siding more with libertarians on issues than most conservatives, not because I have a problem with conservatism, but because too many conservatives are not intellectually and logically consistent with the positions they hold. One of the problems with having a given policy position is that it may have consequences you don't care for or would rather avoid, and sometimes people just don't think that far.

For example, getting the government out of your life. Most conservatives and all libertarians would prefer to see the federal government almost entirely missing from their life, and government in general reduced in its interference with daily living. Libertarians especially lean toward anarchy in this way: they want to see the government almost never to affect their personal and daily life; the less, the better.

But what would be the consequences of this position? Kathy Schaidle at Five Feet of Fury noted a commenter at Hot Air (which usually has lousy comments) who brought up some of these concerns:
You know what’s really goofy about Steyn and all this libertarian anti-government care crap? It just ignores the forces of human history and social structure that are completely beyond the control of any political movement. Lets put aside that in this golden era before Teddy Roosevelt began to expand the federal government’s interest in citizen health and safety, the nation had a huge population of people who were non-citizens (women and all non-whites), lets totally ignore that fact.

Even ignoring that, we’re talking about a moment in history where “self-governance” was possible because a significantly greater number of Americans made their own food and their own subsistence products. We’re talking about a moment in history were people were significantly less mobile and were family bonds were significantly stronger. If a kid left home, it was to send money back to the family. Otherwise families (including grandparents) would come along with. When families thought about finances, personal luxuries were always put behind the food and clothing needs of family networks. Those that fell on hard times could rely upon those networks.

But conservative libertarians never quite seem to accept that there’s a hugely important cultural element to a reduction of government in our lives. When Americans got it in their head that instead of living on a family farm, we were going to live in a single family house in the suburbs that may have room for one grandparent (and even that eventually became taboo) that’s when the government *really* came into our lives, to subsidize that new way of life. One that was unprecedented in human history mind you. So the government built the highway system that connected the suburbs to the jobs in the city, the government set up the FHA and the GI Bill which made it easier for suburban families to finance homes that would be the basis of individual wealth creation in this country. The state funded higher education via the GI Bill as well. And the state made older relatives more financially autonomous with social security and medicare programs that allowed the elderly to be less of a financial burden on families. We even created these handy little containment boxes called “old people’s homes” which basically bundle and organize the distribution of federal social security and medicare monies.

If you *really* want the government out of our lives, then we are going to have to return to a society that (ironically) was significantly less individual than the one we have now. “Liberty” back in the day meant operating under a different kind of tyranny, the “tyranny” of the family, the obligations and demands of not just a wife and kid, but of in-laws, parents, grand parents, family elders, cousins and their kids. Whatever jokes people make about their obligations to family now, it is *NOTHING* compared to what would be necessary if we actually shrunk the size of government down to what libertarians want.

And what would actually happen to our economy if more American money was being funneled into self-care? How much vacatoining or consumption of random goods and services would folks engage in if they had to care for an eldery parent or a sick relative with *no* help from the government? How many community fundraisers could people do for cancer treatment in a decent sized city? I’m not even talking NYC here. How about a place like Tallahassee Florida? Is there really enough local money to pay for everyone’s medical needs via charity if the state were to withdraw back to Teddy Roosevelt levels? Libertarians never ask these questions.
Now, this guy is trying to defend government health insurance and "Obamacare" but he brings up some salient points: eliminating government intrusion on health insurance and health care would shift the burden on our shoulders, and how many of us would like that? It would damage the economy somewhat due to costs of care and time to do so. It would require us to deal with our families more than at least this commenter has to already.

And he's right, libertarians tend not to think that through. I strongly doubt that most libertarians (at least the "leave me alone so I can smoke weed and look at porn" splinter) would support: this means you have to care for mom and dad when they get old, the burden is on you. And he's right it would have some economic impact, shifting money spent on leisure to money spent on caring for the elderly and ill. I doubt many libertarians have considered this.

I think most social conservatives have, and embrace it. That's part of why we are social conservatives, because we believe we have a duty to care for the ill and elderly in our society. That's part of what drives our social ideology, a concern for the weak and poor and helpless, how the present system damages not just them but all of us.

However, note his definition of liberty, a key to the distinction between left and right in America the world today. He defines liberty more in terms of individuality (something I think some libertarians do, as well) than in terms of freedom from oppression. He thinks that caring for your family hinders your liberty because it reduces the ability to Do Stuff You Want.

Liberty as understood by the classic liberal and the modern conservative is freedom from government oppression. The founding fathers understood liberty in terms of reducing the government's boot on your neck. They thought having that boot as light as possible was ideal for freedom and the good of mankind, but this fellow seems to believe that responsibility and caring for others is a source of oppression - something Ayn Rand seemed to think as well.

Being forced to care for others is not tyranny, that's what as human beings we're called upon to do, we have a responsibility to help those in need around us, an ethical duty to do so. And as it turns out we're better as a society and personally if we do so.

But make no mistake: if we got rid of the unconstitutional federal programs, we'd have to pick up the slack ourselves and help our family members and needy neighbors. This isn't just about personal responsibility, but a responsibility to our loved ones and neighbors. And I agree; I doubt many have really thought that through.

Would that mean a reduction in our "standard of living?" In terms of economic transactions and leisure, absolutely. We'd have less free time and less money for personal pleasure. But it would greatly increase the standard of living for us as a society and move us away from such a corrosive focus on self and happiness.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Great points here, C_T. I don't tend to think of myself as a social conservative, but really one of the reasons I am for smaller government is because it would force people to take care of these kinds of things themselves, and I believe that would help return a sort of cultural psychology to our nation that could help make us great again.
I think in some ways I have some of the same goals as social conservatives, I just differ with them in that I don't believe more government can bring about those changes.

That is actually one of the places where the Tea Party, as a national movement, has disapointed me. A significant number of middle aged Tea Partiers are opposed to major overhauls of social security or medicare, yet they still want to claim to be for small government. You can't really have it both ways.

Also, you often point out the differences between metropolitan and rural areas, and here's a pretty big one that I have noticed: in rural areas, there is still a vestige of guilt and shame associated with sending your aging parents to a nursing home, even if the nursing home provides a better quality of life for them than you can...

That is something you touch on in this article that I think is important for people to realize: if we were to get rid of Medicare, the elderly would probably die earlier, suffer more, and spend their declining years in worse conditions than they do now, albeit they'd ostensibly be more surrounded by family who love and care for them, which is no small thing (but hard to quantify).

Libertarianism is much less utopian than some proponents would make it out to be. It doesn't create unlimited opportunity or happiness for all. What it does create are citizens who lack the entitlement psychology that is ruining this nation.