I should name this series, "How to be a conservative without being a half-wit or self-serving demagogue?"
Once upon a time, conservatives had a set of legitimate concerns about the nature of government and of individual moral responsibility. Then, it became overrun by a group of people for whom 'evidence' is a four-letter word. It handed its party microphone over to those who were better at rationalization (embracing fallacies and fiction that supported a desired conclusion) over reason.
But it is still possible to express legitimate concerns in the realm that was once called 'conservative'.
One member of the studio audience wrote to say:
You can find the seeds of the GOP's destruction with Ronald Reagan, and his proclamation in the 1981 Inaugural Address: Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.
Yet, there is reason to hold that this view is not without merit.
It sounds like a great idea to have a government drug prescription program. However, in the real world, is it really possible to have a drug prescription program that is not written by the drug companies? What starts out in theory as a way to help people who cannot well afford it get the prescription drugs they need ultimately (and inevitably) becomes a program to transfer wealth from society at large to the drug companies – with a little bit going to those in need for the sake of maintaining appearances.
Is it possible to have an energy bill without having it written by the energy companies? In theory, the Department of Energy exists to help to form and implement an energy policy. However, an energy company executive will immediately note that it has the power (and the incentive) to manipulate these policies to channel money from the public at large into its pocket. Again, it needs to produce enough apparent benefit to give the appearance of doing something useful. Every once in a while it needs to publicly slap an oil company’s hand. However, one public hand-slapping can cover hundreds of ‘regulations’ written by oil companies to make its executives wealthier at our expense.
There is an economic problem known as the problem of concentrated benefits and diverse costs.
Let us say that there is a policy proposal that will take $1 from each person in the country, and give $150 million to one person. None of us has any incentive to grumble about this proposal. It’s not even going to make the news. You and I are never going to hear about it.
However, the person who stands to gain $150 million from the proposal will hear about it. In hearing about it, he has an incentive to invest a significant amount of effort into making sure that this proposal is adopted.
He can hire a couple of lobbyists – people who are friends of those responsible for deciding these regulations. People listen to your friends so, if I can get your friends on my side, I have a good chance of influencing you to do what I want.
He can give a few million dollars to a PR firm to design a PR campaign that will help feed the proposal. Again, that PR campaign will not be directed at the general public. It will be designed at getting favorable articles into the professional publications read by those who will have input on these regulations. It will be used to get speakers to the relevant conferences and advertisements into the relevant periodicals and web sites.
If our investor puts $50 million into this campaign, he ends up with a $100 million profit.
Government regulations and departmental budgets are filled with these types of programs – wealth transfer programs that cost each of us a few dimes or a few dollars, that get in 'under the radar', that transfer tens to hundreds of millions of dollars to those who do not need the money. It’s ‘welfare for the rich’, carefully crafted and carefully concealed by people who can afford to hire experts in the game of carful crafting and concealment.
We cannot defend ourselves from every little theft. We simply do not have the resources to tackle these wealth transfer schemes one at a time. The most effective way to do this is to battle these schemes on a wide front – to adopt policies and principles that block huge numbers of these schemes at once. The best way to fight this encroachment is to simply not give government agencies (or legislators) the power to pass these projects. Then, it will not pay these individuals to lobby for them, and we will not suffer the wealth transfer involved in schemes designed to take from the poor and middle class and give to the rich.
The government is not our friend.
The government is the friend of those who have the resources to manipulate and distort its function to their benefit. The better they are at manipulating the government to serve their interests, the wealthier and more powerful they become. The wealthier and more powerful they become, the more resources they have to manipulate the government to their benefit, the wealthier and more powerful they become.
The likelihood that the government will work for you rather than be worked by somebody else for them and against you is proportional to the amount of resources that you have available (and are willing to spend) in manipulating the government.
Yes, it is worthwhile to help the poor and the needy, to provide medical care for the ill and a decent living for the elderly. However, to think that the government can perform these functions efficiently – without its powers being exploited to channel money to those with the power to manipulate the system (with mere symbolic trickles going to those for whom the help was intended) is naïve.
So you think it is possible to have a financial bailout program that is NOT written by the financial industry? Look at the list of people who kept their jobs, kept their homes, and kept sufficient money in savings to live comfortably on. Compare that list to the list of people who lost their jobs, lost their homes, and lost their retirement.
Then compare both lists to the lists of those who manipulated us into this mess by manipulating the regulatory process to their advantage, and the list of those made worse off by that same manipulation of the regulatory process.
There is still a good case to be made that the government (and the ability of those with wealth and power to manipulate the nuances of legislation and regulation) is more of a cause of our problems than a solution.
My wish, at this point, is that we had a group of people capable of debating these points who were not half-wits and self-serving demagogues – people of academic and intellectual integrity with a serious interest in looking at these issues with an eye to how to make people generally better off than they would otherwise be. The types of people who appear no longer to be welcome inside the Republican Party.
In fact, and quite ironically, the Republican Party with its devotion to the principles of rationalization, dishonesty, and self-serving manipulation, ultimately allowed itself to become the principle agent for these types of manipulations.