Saturday, September 17, 2011

Welfare State

Recently, David Brooks concluded a column with this:

Over the past decades, Americans have developed an absurd view of the power of government. Many voters seem to think that government has the power to protect them from the consequences of their sins. Then they get angry and cynical when it turns out that it can’t.

So I'm wondering, since my brother recently lost his job after about 20 years of faithful service because his employers felt that they needed to cut costs, where has he sinned? In what has he offended?
Similarly, if a master cabinet maker loses his livelihood because his company decides to mechanize, where has he sinned? How has someone with skill who has worked hard all of his life now become suddenly consigned to the ranks of the transgressors?

Sorry, I don't buy the Calvinist bullshit. What can a cabinet maker do about the price and demand for furniture in China? What can my brother do about conflicting monetary policies in Europe and Asia? How many of us can claim direct influence on the global economy which determines so much of life, and has for 5 centuries?

We myopic Americans who habitually view the world exclusively through the lens of our own preconceptions (which don't always agree with our experiences) see the European welfare states with their cradle to grave guarantees as naive idealistic liberal generosity at its worst, taking away the goad of failure from the backsides of evil depraved humanity. In fact, the welfare states of Europe were the creations of sober political calculation born of very hard recent experience.

The instabilities of international capitalism, especially in the early 20th century, drove the totalitarian movements of left and right which almost destroyed Europe. The cycles of international markets could make thousands very rich, but they could also impoverish millions through no fault of their own. Huge populations of newly poor people proved to be a mortal threat to democracy and the rule of law as fury and desperation destroyed constitutional governments and replaced them with totalitarian movements and participatory tyranny. After the conclusion of World War II, many Western European governments decided to soften the impact of capitalism's cycles to keep from repeating that experience. They figured that a relatively high progressive tax rate was a small price to pay for domestic and international stability. After almost 70 years of peace, it appears that calculation paid off.

I've always ragged on this blog about Americans being such meek servile peasants quietly suffering abuses and humiliations that would never be tolerated in other countries, not even in China. Well, another sober calculating politician warns that even meek and passive Americans have their limits. Mayor Bloomberg:

As it emerged the number of people applying for unemployment benefits in the U.S. jumped last week to the highest level in three months, the Mayor spoke out, insisting that if nothing is done Americans will start revolting. 'We have a lot of kids graduating college, can't find jobs,' he said on his weekly radio show. 'That's what happened in Cairo. That's what happened in Madrid. You don't want those kinds of riots here.' His comments were in reference to the recent uprising in Egypt, which toppled president Hosni Mubarak, and protests in Spain by people outraged their government was spending millions on a papal visit rather than on dealing with unemployment. The comments came as President Barack Obama put pressure on Republicans to pass his jobs plan.


Robert Brenchley said...

Remember Job. He was thrown on the scrap heap, as it were, yet God himself declares him righteous. We need to stop acting like Job's 'friends' and blaming people for their own misfortunes.

Tristan Alexander said...

This seems related

JCF said...

Sometimes Brooks can be tolerable, but I read this column too, and was MIGHTILY pissed. >:-(

IT said...

We seem very disconnected from the system that is perpetrating these actions.

Unknown said...

Those with money (many of them anyway) see those who have lost their employment as slackers...they never seem to look at the facts. That would be just wrong!

And you're right it is the Calvinist point of view and it makes me sick!!