Saturday, January 11, 2014

Do no harm

Rod Dreher has been pondering poverty in white Appalachia. To his credit, he acknowledges its inevitable persistence.
What do you do with people like that? Many of us — conservatives and liberals both — are outraged at the idea that there is nothing that can realistically be done to ease their estate, to deliver them from this kind of grinding suffering. But what if, for some people, it’s true? What if the reality of the situation defeats idealism? What do you do then? Can you do anything that matters? I’m not asking rhetorically; I mean it.

Then, in a subsequent post, gets hopelessly tangled pondering causation.
It’s not economics, it’s not race, and it’s not the frontier experience (“New England was once a frontier too,” says DHF); it’s culture.

Well, yes and no, it's actually all those things. More fundamentally, it's about people, because people generate culture. And it's also very much about economics because we have pursued deliberate fiscal and monetary policies to drive the jobs such people used to hold offshore and devalue their labor here. And it's about genetics, because that's a very large chunk of our organic intelligence and impulse control, and it's the resulting breeding patterns that direct the cultural folkways. That these unchanging facts of human existence make Rod "outraged" bespeaks his underlying porogressivism: if we could just change the Culture!

For all Rod's front-porch, crunchy-conservatism, his Christian Orthodoxy and intact family, he seems unable to ditch his cosmopolitan striving and belief in human malleability. He talks localism (he moved back to his rural, Louisiana hometown) but seems strangely immune to where this down-home attitude must inevitably lead: even a nation of immigrants becomes over time a nation of natives. (Rod never observes the numerous means by which this process is deliberately thwarted.)

But getting back to Rod's question above, Chris Roach has written an excellent post.
Most Americans find it beneath them to get something for nothing; they’d be embarrassed to envy or prevent their neighbor’s success. But they do rightly worry that the system seems rigged and that the big banks and Wall Street gamblers and welfare queens play by one set of rules, complete with welfare bailouts when they fail, while their own job-hunting and entrepreneurial endeavors are pretty much on them. This is demoralizing, but the problem is not “inequality,” and the solution is not wealth redistribution to “fight inequality.” It’s rather to create the rules and environment for wealth creation, to grow the pie, which will always be unequal. If it grows, that it grows more for you does not hurt me, of course. It’s what economists call “Pareto Optimal.”

Of course, those rules mostly involve benign inaction: lower taxes, lower spending, sound government finances, reduced regulatory burdens, and the like. That set of policies is not very sexy and does not accrue much power to the Barack Obamas and Bill De Blasios of the world. But it works. It worked for the first 200 years or so of our country’s history and, when coupled with lower immigration and an economy where smart people focused on making useful things, we saw a real significant rise in wealth during the post World War II era up through 1990 or so.
"Benign inaction." As our Lord said, the poor we have with us always. Even the pagan Greeks knew better: first, do no harm. Back when Republicans were clever, they were able to recall Friedman’s quip, “Don’t just do something, stand there!” As I've noted, the effect of public welfare is to enable the modern poor to commit the sins of the Biblical rich.

This is the sort of thing conservatives should be saying, but the only thing conservatives are conserving at this point is 20th century American progressivism.


Bert said...

I've always found Rod Dreher to be a worthless mediocrity and a pathetic mealy mouthed wimp.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Now, now.

It's actually deflection of the worst kind. It's not about economics, so no need to re-think open borders and the whole neo-liberal experiment; it's not about race, so we can safely avoid that. Nope. It's all about this culture that just got dropped on us 400 years ago so just lie back and enjoy it. Don't even do no harm; true American conservatism means rolling back nothing. What are you, some kind of fascist?

Harold Lloyd said...

"Most Americans find it beneath them to get something for nothing; they’d be embarrassed to envy or prevent their neighbor’s success."

While this may have been true one day long ago in America, it is getting less so every day and is one of the nation's issues. Assuming the best out of an Ideal American is simply naive. It reminds me of libertarians claiming we just need FREEDOM and our problems will solve themselves.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

This is a big problem: 50 years into the great American welfare experiment yields millions of Americans incapable of supporting themselves.

I don't have an answer, short of conditioning welfare on vasectomy or tubal ligation as we start winding down the transfer payments.

That's not going to happen, so welfare will end when it ends.