Wednesday, October 01, 2008

What Politicians Should Say

Tibor R. Machan

Here is what members of Congress should tell the voting public:

"Ladies and Gentleman, you asked for it and now you have got it, good and hard. The bulk of you want both, a healthy economy and provisions for the needy. The former requires economic discipline or, in personal terms, the strict practice of the virtue of prudence. The latter demands giving those who cannot afford homes, loans, etc., and so forth a substantial break. These folks need to be provided, at taxpayers' expense, with financial support—low interest loans, forgiven debts, insubstantial collateral, and the illusions that they can live the plush life but not earn enough to afford it.

"You may think that $700 billion is a big amount of money to pay for the public policy that combines sound economics with extensive support for those who otherwise would be left without the means to live well. It is not, when you think in terms of a country with 350 million people. While many are well to do, quite a few are not. Yet the policy makers and their cheerleaders in the think tanks and universities all demand everyone be living a satisfactory life. Egalitarianism is, in fact, the dominant political philosophy at universities, think tanks, and among the punditry. The top political philosophers, such as Martha Nussbaum, Amartya Sen, Peter Singer, Peter Unger are all convinced that justice demands that everyone live pretty much as if he or she had plenty resources from which to fund the good life, at least economically. Elected politicians follow the lead of these prominent thinkers by promising to help everyone who needs it with ample government support. And they are eagerly elected and then pass laws that try to square the economic circle by having a country that promotes equal conditions for everyone while also maintaining constant economic growth and development.

"But this is really impossible. In order to have everyone live more or less equally well—with roughly the same benefits in health care, vacations, education, amenities and so forth—those who are luckier and more hardworking than the rest must also be taxed far more severely than the rest which, in turn, discourages their eagerness for continuing to add to their wealth. In other words, combining the philosophy of socialism with that of capitalism is expensive and produces the kind of economic fiascoes we are facing today. However, most Americans asked for this when they voted into office the likes of Barney Frank who firmly believe in the mixed economy.

"We just ask you please not to belly ache so much since the bulk of you are surely getting exactly what you wanted. True, what you wanted amounts to the impossible—a smoothly functioning economy along with an egalitarian society. But people often want to have their cake and eat it as well, and these days it seems most Americans fall into this group. They want small government but also want the government to fund all kinds of projects they favor, such as farm subsidies or guaranteed health insurance. You want better paid teachers but also lower taxes. So why would it surprise you that as a group Americans want to balance the budget but also provide those who want it with cheap credit? You want a lean and mean federal budget but also wish for higher federal deposit insurance backed by taxpayers who may have to come up with the funds if the deposit holders will not pay what they owe.

"So we are simply puzzled about why you think the government is acting irresponsibly when, in fact, most of the voters insist government doing just that when you cast your ballot and elect your representative. You want to find someone to blame for all this, someone on Wall Street or in Washington but, mainly, it is you all who are to blame, collectively as well as individually. You want to live like a king but pay like a pauper. That, dear citizen, is not possible and leads to just what you are witnessing now. And there is no way out but to bit the bullet."

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