Violence and socialism

I’ve been an amateur student of history over the last few years, and most of my historical reading has been an effort to find the answer to one question:

How in the Hell did we get into this mess?

It’s tempting to look for a powerful villain, such as Roosevelt, Wilson, or TR, and lay the blame on him, and indeed these men were the immediate cause of a lot of damage. But that’s not the whole story. They were as much a symptom as a cause – millions of people voted for them, knowing a great deal about what they were up to. Did one person, or a small group of people, manipulate them into doing that, and continuing to do that for a hundred years straight? Doesn’t seem likely to me.

How about the establishment of the FCC, nationalizing the airwaves and enabling the government to weasel its way out of the First Amendment, pick and choose the stations allowed on the air, and impose content restrictions on them? Much of the damage was already done by this point, although it may have helped perpetuate attitudes hostile to individual liberty to the present day.

If you argue for individual economic liberty long enough, you’ll find an interesting general pattern. Once you establish that liberty works, and refute all of the opposition’s arguments in favor of socialism, the opposition will fall back on the same argument – violence. They’ll tell you that letting some people get too wealthy will cause “social unrest”; i.e., the “masses” will become enraged and kill people and destroy property. They’ll tell you that you’ll live with socialism or the “masses” will string you and your plutocrat friends up from the nearest lamppost. They’ll even threaten you with the prospect that those “masses” will overthrow the government and completely destroy society rather than let people get too wealthy.

(And all the while, they’ll insist that these “masses” are the good guys!)

The sad fact is that, for the last century or so, the opponents of economic liberty have been willing to use or threaten violence to get their way, and we generally haven’t. We’ve been trying to use appeasement instead. When labor unions used threats, assault, and vandalism to scare off competitors and extort money from their customers, government (with our acquiescence) generally responded by giving them most of what they want. To this day, even those who deplore FDR’s economic policies will insist that he needed to give the socialists practically everything they were demanding lest those socialists stage a revolution.

So far, our only answer to these thugs has been along the lines of “we’re feeding you, you idiots! What the Hell are you doing?”. And, indeed, the opposition does generally limit its appetite for loot and power sufficiently to keep Atlas at his post, at least so far. But there’s an awful lot they can take from us without bringing civilization crashing down on their heads, and pointing out that they’ll starve right along with us if they don’t let us do any work and profit from it isn’t sufficient to neutralize their threats to riot if we don’t play ball. We give into their demands again and again, and they slow down enough to let society keep running and even advancing here and there, but our dreams of colonizing the Solar System and producing, buying, and selling miracle after miracle in every industry the way everyone once thought we’d be doing just fade away, and as long as the refrigerator is full, the TV keeps working, and us plutocrats are put in our place, they don’t care. The best of us go on producing miracles when we can, and we all quietly accept the time we had to waste in their schools, the time we go on wasting complying with their pointless rules and regulations, and the money that they tax away from us for all sorts of useless purposes, and they rest secure in the knowledge that we value our property and our civilization enough that we won’t quit, disappear, or stage our own revolution as long as they stick with the gradual approach. They’re willing to play chicken, because they’ve been winning for more than a century, and our appeasements have only whetted their appetites for more concessions.

And, spooked by the “social unrest” boogeyman, we keep voting for the sacrifices that they claim will appease the “masses.”

So what do we do now? I think we should call their bluff. If those murderous “masses” ever existed, I’m willing to bet that they’re long gone. Our friends on the left have started noticing this – they’re claiming that we’re tricking the masses into abandoning the righteous retribution that they ought to be plotting against us by feeding them false hopes that they, too, can one day become plutocrats. (And never mind that we’ve been delivering on those “false hopes” for centuries – they’re more than willing to steal the credit for that.) They’re screaming as loud as they can about the most trivial cuts and modifications to their beloved laws and programs in the hopes that Bush and the rest of us will be scared away and they won’t have to reveal their paltry hand. I only wish that our Republican leadership was 1/10 as “arch-conservative” as they’ve been hysterically screeching about, because I think now’s the best opportunity we’ve had in ages to repeal their laws and dare them to put up or shut up.

11 thoughts on “Violence and socialism”

  1. I sent this to my own Think Tank for discussion on Monday and it appears apropos to your essay.

    Rebutting Myself
    Not “The Most Selfish Generation” by Neal Phenes

    In my prior essay I described how the retirees of today make up what I called “the Most Selfish Generation” as they, throughout their 60-80 years of life, enjoyed the fruits of wealth redistribution by the government and consistently voted themselves greater entitlements while today they vociferously oppose social security reform. I opined that, much in the way Tom Brokaw sweepingly dubbed the WWII veteran generation “The Greatest Generation”, the generation that arose after them (maybe half generation) that makes up the majority of today’s retirees as a block have not dealt fairly with younger generations over the past number of decades. They have taken as much of the meal as was there on the dining table and rather than leaving leftovers for the subsequent children and grandchildren, have actually left the tab.

    As I reconsidered my earlier charge of selfishness (and Ayn Rand would advise them that it was a compliment), I must admit that much of the explanation for what they have collectively created was done out of self-preservation. With so much of their world controlled by government and a diminution of the concept of personal responsibility that was largely developed by the New Deal, they had no choice but to work within that system to survive and prosper.

    Our country has been moving towards statism in varying degrees since its founding. Essays written by Jefferson and Madison contain their admonishments to a government that quickly discarded many of the principles of the Founders as stated on the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and instituted federal control in many areas. The initial erosion of individual rights was never been checked adequately.

    By the 1930’s and 1940’s the intellectual elite of government, academia and media were generally acceptant of government involvement in economic and social structures. Who was reading Hayek and von Mises at the time they were actually alive and writing their cautionary essays? Bill Buckley was a “lone wolf” for years as a known critic of the burgeoning state. In some way, the all institutions of communication were acceptant towards socialism on some level. Only with the recent advent of the internet has some of these concepts made its way to mass audiences world-wide.

    Therefore, the retiree’s generation saw little support for a different way of living. Their success in such a system required “gaming” it for their betterment.

    Much like the citizens of the Soviet Union (and much of Europe and the 3rd world today), in order to get by and improve their lots, they had to become a bureaucrat, know one, be related to one or bribe one. We see these techniques are necessary to own property, start a business or become educated when the government controls access to these institutions. Basically, the same techniques were employed by savvy people in the United States. For instance, look at the gaming done by scientists grasping at government grants.

    This retiree generation, besides being subject to a communications monopoly airing such theories on wealth redistribution, state-run economies and egalitarian theories, not only believed in such things as appropriate but, whether they adopted such beliefs or not, had to mouth such sentiments in order to improve their positions. These are acts of self-preservation.

    As a Baby Boomer, I also fell into line on this “statism must be” philosophy. However, I was exposed to alternative opinions starting from Barry Goldwater to implementation by Ronald Reagan. Seeing is believing. By the 1980’s I had much less invested in collectivist thought than my parent’s generation. With the advent of the internet, cable TV and the blogosphere, Gen Xers and my generation (to a lesser extent) are assessing the marketplace of ideas through independent eyes. Such can lead a reasonable person to agree that social security, for one issue, should be reformed with some privatization if not abolished completely, for the betterment of ourselves individually and as a nation.

    So, maybe this “Most Selfish Generation” is inaptly nicknamed by me. Who can fault anyone for trying their best to get the best deal possible in a faulty system that requires such gamesmanship? In that sense, they are no more or less selfish than any other people who have ever lived.

    If anything, their generation has been very accepting of the world order that they inherited. But, in the instance of the fight for civil rights in the 50’s and 60’s, they did recognize that something was terribly wrong in their world and struck at it for change. Such an exception to the rule points to their ability to face up to reality (though more credit must come from the victims themselves, the black people like Martin Luther King). The retiree generation’s biggest flaw has been their acceptance of big government without question. Is this an indication, then, of intellectual laziness? Did they just fail to attempt the difficult job of analyzing how things were and decided it is better to join it than fight it?

    Without quite the same ring as the earlier nickname, maybe the retiree’s generation is more deserving of the nickname, “the Most Lazy Generation.”

  2. If I were to end up at such a point in debate, I would like to think that I would have the presence of mind to say “I believe that the idea of truly free markets inevitably leading to a howling mob crying for capitalist blood to be utter nonsense. For a second though, I’ll assume that the other side is right.

    When the mob comes howling for capitalist blood, where would you be? The answer, for all too many on the left, is that they will be at the head of the mob or will be knitting at the front row, watching the most productive people of their generation meet their ends in blood. Fundamentally, the argument of placating the mob with the bread and circuses of welfare statism is a collaboration with barbarism.

    Fortunately, the mob will not howl because the left is wrong. The great mass of the people will not be reduced to destitution by free markets but will be vastly enriched by it.”

  3. –As a Baby Boomer, I also fell into line on this “statism must be” philosophy. —

    I’m a tail-end boomer and don’t agree.

    We were raised to question authority. Who is the authority? 60s boomers.

    I’m their worst nightmare – this is intragenerational warfare and I’m willing to go against them. We are the Jones Generation.

  4. Here is what I see:

    1. September 11 was so scary that we were willing to give up our rights/privacy to feel safe. Ironically named “the patriot act” you cannot purchase a home, leave an airport or use a computer without giving the US government permission to keep track. Scared stupid.

    2. Our appeasement techniques extend to our social behavior. In order to avoid the the scorn of offending someone dissimilar to ourselves (or the resulting lawsuits), we remain tight-lipped in our opinions and “tolerant” of obnoxious behavior. And so, we mind our business from day to day, trying not to ‘rock the boat’.

    Now we are left with apathy and appeasement. It is increasingly a part of our social value systems. I am not surprised that it surfaces in our political decisions, which seem to me to run parallel to our own psyche. I strongly agree that this is no way to act.

  5. Just a personal note from a mid-baby boomer. I was “raised” in a Democratic family/neighborhood and began to change my political outlook (although I didn’t actually change party afilliation for some 20 years) as an undergraduate. At that time it became apparent that there was great discrepancy between Stalin’s Soviet Union and the virtues of the communist system described by leftist’s (Rhodes scholar, Bill Clinton comes to mind) in this country. Something just didn’t add up. I wasn’t politically minded but it seemed obvious that some folk’s perceptions were askew.

    I don’t think many folks are looking to Russia these days for inspiratation but it seems that anti-American provincialism of the left is alive but perhaps not as widespread.

  6. Here’s a link to Aristophanes play, “Plutus” (“Wealth”).

    I’d like to suggest that ideas considered appropriate subjects for public scorn and satire for the last 2500 years do not suddenly stop deserving said scorn merely because a handful of irresponsible politicians and pundits cannot be bothered with trivial thing like honesty or sincerity during public discourse.

    Speaking as a Gen XYZ person on the subject of Social Security in particular. Can anyone over the age of 35 offer those of us whom will likely never see a dime from social security a reasoned argument as to WHY exactly we should continue to contribute to the program? The younger generation is already laboring under a historically unique degree of debt to pay for the costs of grossly inflated tuition hikes, which we carry WITH interest. Now we are told that a “social safty net” that pays retired MILLIONAIRES thousands of dollars a month in benefits by TAXING working people is somehow FAIR??? Hunh?

    How is it fair that millionaires are paid social security checks every month? How is it “Social Justice” for one able bodied adult who is RICH to ask another able bodied adult who IS NOT RICH to pay over 5% of his wages into a “savings” that’ll be bankrupt in 30 years?!? Why shouldn’t young professionals believe they’re being ROBBED to support lazy, irresponsible baby boomer grasshoppers who couldn’t be bothered to save for their winter years?

    This particular “ant” refuses to pay Social Security Tax, and would advise others to do the same (there’s a simple legal way to do so). Don’t ask old dog baby boomers to learn a new trick. Some will, but only a small honest minority of boomers can be counted on. The majority are selfish children who value their own personal comforts over the well being of their grandkids. The truth is that until the Young and Productive stop allowing themselves to be taxed for the pleasures of the Old and Sterile, they Latter deserves every penny they manage to steal from us.

  7. The Wall Street Journal today analyzed the bottom-line in an article by David Wessel titled “Some Bush-Style Social Security Scenarios”. The charts show pretty close to a wash in retirement benefits for various aged workers who retire with or without the reform as currently proposed by Bush. He is basically saying “What is the point?” His 2 scenarios assume either a 3% or 4.6% annual return after inflation and the current 4% private investment by workers. With his assumptions, I agree with the conclusion.

    However, in this and other Social Security reform analyses, it is usually presumed that the retirement age will remain as is and the private contribution percentages will be constant to the current proposal.

    First, as respects retirement age, this cannot and should not continue. Besides demographics showing fewer workers being born to pay the load, the retirees are surviving longer. If all numbers-crunchers retool to an assumed retirement at 70, either SS as is can deliver close to what it currently delivers and can extend the eventual insolvency date (a decade?) or the private accounts can grow well beyond the pessimistic forecasts by liberal economists for a truly anxiety-free retirement.

    Second, Bush’s SOTU speech spoke of a $35,000 per year earner building a $250,000 nest egg by retirement. Let’s double the private funding percentage and extend his retirement to 70. That is now a $700,000 nest egg? Annuitize some for retirement and hand off another chunk to the grandkids. Grandpa’s picture will hang in the living room of every family in “I Now Own My Own House” America just next to the plasma TV. What a world.

    What is ignored is that under a fixed government program you will have to work to a given age prescribed by law while, with the private system, the decision can be made by the individual. And, of course, under the latter program the money is yours to hand down to loved ones.

  8. The perennial Christmas classic – It’s a Wonderful Life – is based on Phenes last point and one others bring up here regularly. Sure it’s a feel good movie, and sure, it’s just a movie. But its essence is that a system which lets you take responsibiity in the form of a mortgage and own your own home makes for what must be one of the surest and solidest forms of happiness in this life. When we own our own retirement accounts or our own houses or our own cars we have a different sense of our self – we think in longer terms, in family terms, in community terms. I’d like to know that if I save pennies my kids will get those pennies. It will help me spend more wisely in my declining years, will lead me to feel a connection with the future as my now more sympathetic and more aware memories are beginning to connect me more firmly with the past.

  9. Scott: I have had the same discussion with my own son. I was born in 1947, he in 1987. You are right. I have no right to retire at his and your expense.

    I have known that Social Security was a ponzi scheme that would break down in the 21st century, since I was in law school more than 30 years ago. I have saved money diligently against that circumstance. Your generation must demand that the system be clamped down so that you will have a reasonable opportunity to raise your own families and retire yourselfs.

    You must demand that the retirement age for Boomers born from 1947 on be increased above age 66. You must demand that all SS benefits be subject to federal income taxes. You must demand that your contributions to SS be accounted for separately and be guaranteed at least a 2.5% inflation adjusted return and that you and your heirs have property rights in your account, without tontine.

    I think these are essential minnimums to prevent the whole thing from being bled dry by the boomers.

    Private investment in the stock market is optional. I say that because I am not convinced that a government program should be within 30 miles of the stock market. And because you need to save more money than goes into SS anyway.

  10. Robert,

    Yeah. My rhetorical flourish has been heated this cycle of posts, but we’re in agreement.

    I had a S-Corp and have 10-99ed my way out of paying SS taxes for over a decade. I have good accounting (inside joke).

    The heated schtick aside (I’ll save it for the next cycle). There’s little chance of any reform of the SS system that’s serious. The Bush admin is in a great political position and frankly if I were Rove or anyone remotely close to the GOP leadership, I’d beg the President to talk in that magic way that causes others to make mistakes, and to do absolutely zero to reform SS. Retirees vote in midterm elections, but won’t punish Bush for talking. If Bush doesn’t make new enemies, the Democrat radicals will make him new friends.

    The idea of Howard Dean leading the DNC into the 2006 midterms when a super-majority in the Senate is at stake is hard to grasp. Every DNC crowd is going to have a radical Dean fringe in the front row howling for more anti-America lines, and the back half of every Democrat crowd is going to be embarrassed or insulted or asking their buddies what happened to the old Party.

    This might seem cynical, but in the long run it’s best if the new majority coalition establishes itself and learns exactly what all it’s new centrist and Ex-Democratic block allies will need to stay loyal.

  11. The trouble we are in comes from bad ideas– bad philosophy. It takes two forms: the general and specific.

    Generally, the world has been experiencing a movement toward the Maternalistic welfare state as a reaction to the Enlightenment and America got dragged along with it. Self responsibility got replaced with corporate responsibility, but the rejection of religion also had much to do with this.

    Specifically, The US government was subverted quite early in it’s life. In 1819, in the following case, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall overturned the rational for the constitution. Before, the Constitution gave the government limited powers which were specifically spelled out. Marshall changed the definition of “necessary” to mean “sufficient.” This meant that the government could do anything it wanted that wasn’t forbidden. This has had a slow corrupting effect that didn’t cause great changes until the 20th Century. It’s that strict construction/ loose construction argument you hear about.

    “Here, the logical error of interest occurs in John Marshall’s reasoning in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819.[3] The issue was the meaning of the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution, which states:

    [Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 18] To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by the Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

    Marshall said this of the meaning of “necessary”:

    [t]o employ the means necessary to an end, is generally understood as employing any means calculated to produce the end, and not as being confined to those single means, without which the end would be entirely unattainable.[4]

    This is a grotesquely false statement. A necessary condition in logic has always meant a conditio sine qua non, a “condition without which not,” i.e. precisely that “without which the end would be entirely unattainable,” just as Marshall says.[5] Those laws which are necessary “for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers” will therefore only be those without which the Powers cannot be carried into execution. What Marshall describes instead, as “any means calculated to produce the end,” refers to the opposite of a necessary condition, namely a sufficient condition. A sufficient condition will produce the end, but is not necessary to produce it. Therefore, there may be many more sufficient conditions to an end than necessary conditions. Thus, to burn a haystack, any source of fire will do, from a match to a nuclear weapon; but it is not necessary to use a nuclear weapon (and one would hardly call it “proper”). By the principle laid down in Marshall’s reasoning, however, the use of a nuclear weapon to burn a haystack would be “necessary,” a statement which even in ordinary usage is obviously and grotesquely absurd.”

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