05 October 2008

Grim Prospects For Liberty

It’s done.  On Friday, President Bush signed into law the $700 billion “economic bailout” bill that Senators and Representatives bickered over last week but ultimately passed.

Personally, I am extremely discouraged with the prospects for liberty in this country, more so than in any time in my life, I think.  There must have been worse times, when Americans’ freedoms were more in jeopardy than now, but the New Deal years were before my time, and I was too young to remember Johnson’s Great Society programs and Nixon’s price controls.  This year had already been bad enough with the woeful selection of presidential candidates, featuring two men who each in his own way have an utter contempt for individual rights.  (I found myself actually hoping Hillary Clinton would become the Democratic candidate so that I could vote against the religion-infested Republicans.  With Obama as the nominee, I will not vote for any presidential candidates in November.)  But this heavy-handed and accelerating intrusion of the federal government in the economy, starting with the Federal Reserve’s “emergency loan” to Bear Stearns and culminating in the outrageous $700 billion giveaway (or more accurately, takeaway), has put it over the top.

I was going to use this post to say that we had finally plunged headlong in tyranny, but on second thought, that is not an apt characterization.  This is tyranny all right - the soft, relentless oppression of the paternalistic state - but it’s hard to characterize it as a plunge.  We did not just move from a state of freedom to one of subservience.  If we had, surely there would have been more protest.  No, we have been serfs for some time now.

How did we get here?  How can there be a nearly universal sense that it is the free market that has failed, that “deregulation” has not worked, that more oversight is needed to contain “greedy” Wall Street executives that care only about fleecing the poor and middle class?  How can most Americans not only leave the federal government blameless for the crisis, but think it is a good idea for the government to seize almost a trillion dollars that American citizens have earned, then concentrate the dictatorial power to determine the value of “toxic” mortgages and assets into the hands of a few federal bureaucrats who have no financial interest in the outcome?

It can only be by imperceptible degrees.  Americans by nature do not roll over when attacked from the front.  Freedom cannot be taken from us... but it can be handed over willingly to con men.  There was a time when Americans stood on their own two feet and would have been appalled at the thought of enlisting the government for help.  But apparently, desperation can soften up a population, and men will discard their principles for a loaf of bread.  I’m sure that some shame was felt at first - a little during the “trust-busting” days of the turn of the 20th century, and more so in the bread lines of the Great Depression years - but nowhere now do I see any shame at all.  It is now taken as a given that it is the governments’ job to regulate, restrict, prohibit, and prescribe.  Absurdly, bureaucrats whose interests lie in consolidating power are propped up as the safeguards of prosperity, while businessmen whose livelihoods depend upon pleasing customers are painted as the enemy.

The American spirit has not broken; it has withered.  We bleed not from a few mortal wounds, but from countless small cuts - the “cuts” being ideas, of course - over more than a century.  We are slain not with swords but with pins.  It is death by a thousand pricks.  

And since the “bailout” bill is fresh in my mind and the villains this week are the Senators and Representatives of the United States, I am tempted to call it death by 535 pricks.  If the phrase has a coarse secondary meaning, I make no apology for it.  

1 comment:

Burgess Laughlin said...

Was the current fiasco predictable by individuals who understand the economic principles involved? If it was, based on legislation passed years ago, then I wonder if any opponents, such as Objectivists who have chosen to be intellectual activists, began preparing at that time for this moment. If they had done so, they would have been well prepared to be informed, articulate, practiced spokesmen for capitalism and against statism--using their expertise in their chosen special issue as a springboard.

No one has an automatic, contextless obligation to work for the future of his culture. Specifically, no one has an obligation to be an intellectual activist. There are other ways of supporting efforts to make the future better (e.g., donating heavily to ARI or similar organizations). But among those who make the choice to be intellectual activists, I wonder if long-term specialization--each activist in a separate niche that fascinates him most--might be more effective in the long-run (and more satisfying) than many intellectual activists being generalists who have to lurch from crisis to crisis scrambling to find facts about the current crisis and hurriedly preparing arguments that are specific enough to sound like they are coming from someone who has studied the issue all along.

The work that Paul Hsieh and others are doing in fighting statist medicine is an example. Dr. Hsieh is steadily accumulating not only mounds of information about particulars but also he is polishing his principled arguments through steady year-after-year practice. From year to year, medical issues may wax and wane among all the other crises to come, but he will be steadily accumulating intellectual capital.

By contrast, a bevy of generalists will in the years ahead only touch on the issues as each emergency arises. Individuals such as Dr. Hsieh will, I suggest, be far more effective in the long-run than dozens of ill-informed generalists.

Am I saying generalists have no value in a fight for a rational society? No. I am saying that I would suggest that long-term specialization--perhaps following one's own passionately held central purpose in life as a guide for choosing a specialization, as in-line activism--might be more effective and more personally rewarding for some in the long run.