A few months back I posted something on “First Principles” and the need for advocates of traditional, free-market values to familiarize themselves with some of the basic defenses and explanations of those values. I was reminded of this during President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night after hearing the president on multiple occasions mention the “idea”, “common creed” and “shared vision” Americans have about their country (and its institutions). By no mistake, the president sounded much more like Ronald Reagan than Jimmy Carter, despite the fact that his own ideology is clearly much closer to the latter’s than the former’s.
All politicians, but especially liberal-progressive ones, are often “forced” into sounding more conservative when delivering speeches or conducting press conferences on the national stage. When their poll-numbers are high (or their adversary’s poll-numbers are very low), proponents of things like socialized medicine, higher taxes, and income re-distribution are much more chatty in regards to their policy proposals. When they’ve just lost an unprecedented amount of congressional seats in a land-mark election, those same proponents began speaking of the need to “reach across the aisle” and their own new-found personal passion for promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.
So what gives? The reasonable man (or woman) would look at this state of affairs and (hopefully) eventually ask the question: “Why doesn’t someone like President Obama just cut out the middle-man and be pro-business all of the time? Why must he wait until his back is painted into a fiscally conservative corner to correctly talk like a serious person about the economy?”
The simple answer: socialism is seductive.
From Frederic Bastiat’s essay The Law:
Here I encounter the most popular fallacy of our times. It is not considered sufficient that the law should be just; it must be philanthropic. Nor is it sufficient that the law should guarantee to every citizen the free and inoffensive use of his faculties for physical, intellectual, and moral self-improvement. Instead, it is demanded that the law should directly extend welfare, education, and morality throughout the nation.
This is the seductive lure of socialism. And I repeat again: These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.
Written in 1850, The Law was Bastiat’s rebuttal to the prevailing pro-big government sentiments of his day. It was assumed then, as it is assumed now, that the government (so as long as it is run by “really smart” people from Ivy League schools) can play the role of Grand Arbiter and fairly divvy up the nation’s wealth without wrecking the wealth-creation forces that provide the Monopoly money for their social experiments (and pet-projects).
This is a fallacy of the utmost order.
Socialism (or its watered-down cousin, American liberalism) is so seductive because, like most seduction, it is based on perception and not reality. That pretty girl in the beer commercial seems too good to be true when she allows her hapless, hipster boyfriend to go watch football with his buddies instead of taking in a Rom-Com at home with her in the couch. She seems too good to be true because is. The guy who fails to see through this admittedly appealing fantasy is dumber than the guy in the commercial who left his drop-dead gorgeous gal alone at home all evening.
I see through the advertisement’s charade, but I know there are people out there who don’t. How do I know this? Because people who aren’t personally liberal or progressive in their worldview so frequently end up embracing Leftist ideas about economics as their own.
Someone hears, “It’s not fair that some people have more than others,” and because in their hearts they instinctively know that it would be nice to live in a world where people were no longer in want, they bypass all of the relevant questions and facts and end up in the “Rich people don’t pay their fair share and it’s up to Nancy Pelosi to adjudicate the situation and make sure they do” camp. Lost in the shuffle are tax rates that cripple small businesses, generational poverty that occurs because of welfare entitlements, and staggering debt that future generations are unwittingly saddled with before they are born.
Socialism is seductive because, like most seduction, it is a fantasy.
President Obama puts his progressive ideology to the side when he has nowhere to hide because he and his handlers know it will be seen for the paper-thin nonsense that it is. The president knows that offering big-government liberalism to Americans at this point would be like offering them one of those emaciated Met-Life windbreakers they give away at Wrigley Field before certain games in the midst of a blizzard. Free-market capitalism is a Nort h Face puffy coat that even George Costanzawould be envious of. Sure, the zipper may get stuck from time to time, and you may even have to send it back to the manufacturer at least once in the jacket’s lifetime, but you are warm and able to deal with the unpredictability of the weather.
The allure of the Leftist economic thought espoused by the likes of President Obama, Jim Wallis, and Paul Krugman is enticing, to be sure. The only problem with their desires is not that they are not desirable, but merely that those desires can only be fulfilled with free market capitalism.