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Commentary

When the Last Republican Leaves


     
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I don’t usually write about political parties and when I do, I don’t make broad statements about their intelligence, character, etc. This is in contrast to Paul Krugman at The New York Times, who routinely tells us that Republicans are cruel, heartless, selfish and responsible for almost all our public policy problems.

If only they would go away ... well ... hmmmm ... what would happen if all the Republicans went away?

There are places where there aren’t any Republicans—or at least there are very few. And I’ve noticed that one of two things happens. Fearful of how bad things might get, voters in some Democratic cities vote for Republicans anyway. That is, they elect mayors who either are Republicans or at least govern like Republicans.

This has been the pattern in New York City for the past 40 years (up until the last election) and in almost all cases the mayor the city elected had the endorsement of the Gray Lady herself. There are other examples. When Republican Bret Schundler was elected mayor of Jersey City there probably weren’t more than five Republicans registered to vote there. Chicago has always had mayors who govern like Republicans.

But there are other times and places where this doesn’t happen. In these cases, Democrats elect mayors and city council members who think just like they think.

That’s when you get .... Detroit.

An unconstrained legislative process is completely free to take from Peter and give to Paul. Or to take from Paul and give to Peter. What you will get is a slew of taxes and a slew of subsidies. There will be minimum prices here, maximum prices there and barriers to entry everywhere. Government will intervene in the marketplace in all manner of ways in order to create benefits for some at the expense of others. Think of sharks in a feeding frenzy.

The trouble with cities run amok is that it’s so easy to pack up and move to some other city. And that’s what many productive people apparently did in Detroit.

What Detroit looks like today. I previously described how the city of Detroit was managed like a Bernie Madoff scheme. Half the people who once lived there are now gone. What they left behind is described in this article from The New York Times:

“A task force convened by the Obama administration ... recommended that the city spend at least $850 million to quickly tear down about 40,000 dilapidated buildings, demolish or restore tens of thousands more, and clear thousands of trash-packed lots.

It also said that the hulking remains of factories that dot Detroit, crumbling reminders of the city’s manufacturing prowess, must be salvaged or demolished, which could cost as much as $1 billion more.”

It gets worse:

“The blight study, which is perhaps the most elaborate survey of decay conducted in any large America city, found that 30 percent of buildings, or 78,506 of them, scattered across the city’s 139 square miles, are dilapidated or heading that way. It found that 114,000 parcels—about 30 percent of the city’s total—are vacant. And it found that more than 90 percent of publicly held parcels are blighted.”

The political philosophy that gave us Detroit. So how would you describe the political philosophy of the voters in Detroit? The most important thing to ask about any political philosophy is: Who gets what and why? If you ask a conservative Republican (at least one in the classical liberal tradition) that question, he or she probably wouldn’t hesitate. People are entitled to whatever they produce themselves or obtain through voluntary exchange with others. That was easy.

But if you ask a liberal Democrat that question, the answer is far from easy. Almost all liberals believe there should be virtually no constitutional restraint on the ability of government to intervene in the marketplace. Which is to say: government should be almost completely free to intervene in ways that take from Peter and give to Paul or vice versa. They also believe that Peter should be able to use any legal means to try to get government to rob Paul for Peter’s benefit. Ditto for Paul’s attempts to rob Peter.

In other words, conservative Republicans tend to believe in an unconstrained economic marketplace, with government only making sure that everyone plays by the rules. Liberal Democrats tend to believe in an unconstrained political marketplace in which there are very few if any limits on government’s ability to hand out favors. Although the term “dog eat dog competition” was originally applied to the economic marketplace, it more aptly applies to the competition that arises under liberal government. In the conservative world view, people should only deal with one another only using reason, persuasion and voluntary exchange. In the liberal world view, almost everything that happens is the result of coercion. One man’s gain is invariably another man’s loss.

So to return to our original question, what liberals believe you are entitled to is whatever the political system gives you after the shark fest is complete.

Social insurance. But don’t liberals profess to at least some higher minded purpose? Yes. They believe in social insurance. So do most conservative Republicans, by the way. But the conservative approach to social insurance is to make it as much like private insurance as possible. That is, create private accounts with firm property rights for Social Security. Do the same for Medicare. If they could, conservatives would privatize the welfare state. The liberal approach is to have as few restraints as possible on what government does with these programs. As a result, under liberal governance the social insurance programs become as much a part of the shark fest as everything else the government is doing.

Instead of having worker payroll taxes put aside in a secure place so that they can pay benefits in retirement, in the liberal world the Social Security and Medicare trust funds are candidates for looting. They are no more off limits than any other candidate for looting. And this of course is what has happened.

Think of the pension funds for city workers in Detroit as one more extension of the liberal belief in social insurance. They got looted too.

Am I missing something? Here is a confession. I have never actually seen a liberal say what I just said. So is there a kinder, gentler way of saying it? Or perhaps a completely different explanation of what liberals actually believe? I’ve never seen one.

I think I know why. Liberalism isn’t a political philosophy at all. It’s a sociology. For the past 80 years, what we call modern liberalism has been one continuous apology for whatever government was doing to intervene in the ecnomy. In all that time, I believe you can find only one consistent principle: people should have no economic rights vis-à-vis government.

Just in case I am wrong, here is my challenge to readers: Where can I find an explanation by a liberal of what you and I are entitled to?


John C. Goodman is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute. The Wall Street Journal and the National Journal, among other media, have called him the “Father of Health Savings Accounts.”

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