What Liberals Will Get

The Cap-and-Trade bill, and Obamacare, shed much light on how life would be if the liberal left got what it wanted.

Collectivized.  Poor.  Nasty.  Brutish.  And Short.

I asked nearly a month ago what liberals want.  With the House having just passed the 2009 Cap-and-Trade bill on carbon emissions, and with Obama pushing his $1+ trillion health care plan hard, the time has come to explain what – regardless of what they want – liberals are going to get.  If, that is, we all agree to join them in the legislation they favor.

Just the two major legislative packages – Cap-and-Trade (C&T) and Obamacare – would, first of all, have a significant effect on the discretionary income of most Americans.  The effect here is a first-order effect, directly on the household budget.  Unfortunately, out here in Pundit Land, most of us can’t model the near-simultaneous impact of second-order effects, which arise because all things do not remain equal once you start the regulatory tinkering.  So the first-order effects have to be projected as if all things do remain equal.  I issue this caveat so that readers will understand:  it’s going to be worse than the projections I’m about to outline.  This is the best possible case, one that doesn’t take into account developments like your neighbors losing their jobs, your preferred stores and service businesses going under, and so forth.

Cap-and-Trade and You

We can start with C&T.  The Tax Foundation provides a website at which you can estimate the impact of C&T on your own budget, by plugging in your numbers.  My numbers aren’t necessarily representative, so I used the Tax Foundation calculator to process average numbers for an American family of four, obtained from government websites.  (For one item, “all other expenses,” I went with the default figure in the Tax Foundation calculator.)

For this model family, with the US median income of $70,354 (the median for a family of four), the following key increases in annual household costs were computed (the site reflects the total increase for 12 months, divide by 12 to get the monthly increase):

Gasoline                      $576

Electricity                    $194

Natural gas/                $126

    Heating oil

Food/drink                   $94

Housing                       $304

Health care                 $50

Transportation            $85

    Other than gasoline

There are a few other categories, with the annual total coming to $1614 for the family of four.  Some examples may be realistic for your situation, others less.  For example, the family of four average is $206 a month for apparel, including maintenance (e.g., dry cleaning).  The increase computed by the website is $20 over the course of a year.  But a family with, for example, a father whose shirts are laundered weekly by a service, a mother who has work clothing dry-cleaned frequently, or teenage boys outgrowing men’s shoes and men’s pants twice a year, is probably spending more than an average $206 a month.  Laundry and dry cleaning costs are also likely to increase more, as a percentage of their starting cost, than the prices of retail clothing, at least on an annual basis.

Likewise, the $778 a month used by the Tax Foundation calculator for “all other expenses” may apply imperfectly to your situation.  Some households would be startled at this number, and consider it very high.  Others would find it low.  It includes things like reading material (not subsumed under the “entertainment” category, where cable TV, season tickets, etc fall), life insurance, and education expenditures – the last, possibly, much higher for families with children in private schools or college.  Tuition and fees for extracurricular activities, such as music lessons and sports, also figure here.

So for the most accurate computation, readers should visit the website and use their own budget numbers.  I note that we should indeed, as the website calculator indicates, expect the cost of everything in a household budget to increase, with C&T implementation.  The costs of fuel, power and other inputs will increase for every institution a household does business with, from Wal-Mart to State U to the NBA and NFL.

Now Let’s Add Obamacare

When we turn to the impact of Obamacare taxes on the household budget, we have to look at the proposals Congress is currently considering, none of which have been definitively selected yet.  On the same budget used for the C&T computations, the two major sources of proposed tax revenue would have an approximately equal impact.  These are a federal value-added tax (VAT) on goods and services, and taxation of a portion of employer-provided health benefits as income.

Rate proposals for a VAT vary from 1.5% to 10%, with the most recently-reported Congressional consideration being given to a rate of 2%.  The rate of 2%, applied to the aggregate household costs under C&T, as computed at the Tax Foundation website, adds $1189 a year to the cost of maintaining the same budget items at their pre-C&T, pre-Obamacare level.  With the inherent cost increases of C&T, this brings the household burden to $2803.

The VAT does not, however, include the following additional taxes being considered:  10 cents a can on soda (in general, a tax on any beverage containing high-fructose corn syrup), $2 a case on beer, 70 cents a bottle on wine, $2.54 a fifth on hard liquor, and an additional $2 a carton on cigarettes.  So it understates the probable impact of the Obamacare taxes on the food, beverage, and restaurant dining element of the household budget.

Meanwhile, Congress is also considering taxing a portion of employer-provided health benefits as income.  The basis for taxation would be the amount of benefits annually that exceeds the annual benefit for federal employees.  The latter figure is being given as $4200.  In the case of our family of four, with its average annual benefits of about $13,000, the income tax on the difference calculates out roughly to about $1300.  This brings the minimum household burden for C&T and Obamacare to $4103, or about $342 a month.

Families will decide to cut back in different ways to accommodate this increased burden.  Most are likely to decide to cut current expenses first, before cutting savings and investment.  Dinners at Chili’s will become dinners at Burger King – and dining out will be even less frequent than its already-declining occurrence.  Lunch from Subway will be foregone in favor of the brown bag.  Less Starbucks, more Folgers.  Wal-Mart and Big Lots instead of Penneys and Sears.  It will take substantially more savings throughout the year to afford family vacations – and families will make them shorter, closer to home, and less expensive in terms of rented or purchased equipment.

In families with major life expenses currently hitting their budgets – college, orthodontia – expenditures will be cut even more.  The purchase of new vehicles will be postponed, for example.  Even when gas prices double, the cost of purchasing a new vehicle – especially cost driven up by the impacts of C&T and Obamacare – typically outweighs, substantially, the cost of just paying more for gas.  Making everything in life cost more renders it less likely, not more, that people will buy new vehicles.

They will also, of course, be less likely to change homes, or buy their first homes, and of course less likely to buy recreational equipment, whether RVs, SeaDoos, ATVs, or home electronics.

We must also consider that they will be less likely to make charitable contributions, as the expenses of maintaining a household increase.

Spin-Off Impacts

Some might ask, What’s so bad about all this?  I note that if you’re asking that question, you already have the totalitarian idea of government, and are operating from it.  It may be that no answer would bring you to the same position as others who regard any activity of government that imposes so much on the people as an unwarranted intrusion on individual liberty.

But another point is that each impact on the average American household is an impact on the economy as a whole.  Second-order effects begin immediately, as ordinary consumption declines, yet is not requited elsewhere as savings and investment.

Businesses will start to go under:  dry cleaners, restaurants, small retailers, delivery businesses, contractors.  Their revenues will decline at the same time their costs – driven by C&T – are going up.  We are, of course, already seeing that with the economic downturn in progress.  The burden of C&T and Obamacare will make it worse.  The more regulatory cost we heap on consumption, the less we get of it, and the fewer businesses can sustain themselves.  The loss of businesses, of course, means loss of jobs.

In addition to losing jobs due to the decline in American consumption, we will lose jobs because our labor and business environment will be uncompetitive, compared to less-regulated nations.  More expensive gasoline and electric power, and the addition of a VAT, will combine with our already-high wage rates, and federal capital gains tax rate, to tip the scales for more and more businesses that have the option to move their physical operations elsewhere.  American worker productivity will inevitably decline:  it must, when the price of inputs for the worker goes up.  Productivity is measured not merely in terms of direct worker compensation, but of the overall cost of inputs to production – and as we arbitrarily force the price of those inputs up, even less-efficient workers overseas will begin to be comparatively more productive.

The C&T bill just passed includes draconian measures that violate individual liberty and would have yet more devastating effects on the economy.  The bill provides for installation of remote monitors on home thermostats, for example, as part of the mandated implementation of “smart grid” technology.  It requires a phase-in to an all-hybrid fleet of motor vehicles; i.e., individuals will not be able to purchase new non-hybrid vehicles after a certain point, and governments and mass transit will all shift to them.  Eventually, home sales would not be permitted unless the home offered conformed to federal energy efficiency regulations – meaning most resale homes would have to be refitted before sale, an expense that will typically run to $15K or more.  Utilities will, according to the House of Representatives Discussion Draft Summary of Waxman-Markey, be required to demonstrate that their customers have achieved “a required level of cumulative savings,” for which the figures 15% for electricity, and 10% for natural gas use, are included in the bill.

Think about that for a moment.  If, like me, you have very low utility bills, because you already do your best to minimize use of electricity and gas, you will be required to achieve a “level of cumulative savings” anyway.  I don’t even use my air conditioning.  My refrigerator and washer and dryer were all purchased in late 2003, and are high-efficiency models.   If I used my gas heat even five days, total, in each of the last five winters – well, I didn’t, is the fact at hand.  In five years I haven’t once had a gas bill higher than $40, or an electric bill higher than $65.  But under Waxman-Markey, I’m just a customer who somehow has to be made to use even less electricity and gas.  You may fall into that category too.  You may want to think – if, unlike me, you are in a position to do this – about running up your gas and electric bills between now and 2012, when utilities would first have to show “savings” by their customers, so you’ll be starting from a higher base.  For many people, the mandated utility “savings” will have a negative impact on quality of life.

Meanwhile, Obamacare, as previously noted by The Optimistic Conservative, proposes to eliminate more than $600 billion from Medicare funding, as a major means of paying for the public plan.  Of course, Medicare beneficiaries who need care will not simply be eliminated by this method.  Some will turn, for lack of alternatives, to straight public assistance, and receive their treatment as if they had never contributed to the system as long-term taxpayers – even though all of them did.

Others will decide to forego discretionary elements of their lifestyle and pay higher premiums for private insurance, along with husbanding more of their retirement capital against the possibility of expensive medical care.  For some seniors, the combined financial burden of C&T, Obamacare taxes, and Medicare cuts will force them to give up independent living altogether.  Many adult children will have to include the costs of contributing more to their parents’ care in their own household budgets.  This particular “burden” is not one that honorable and loving children will complain about – but it will inevitably have an additional effect on the economy, as non-health-care consumption declines to accommodate it.

A little-discussed initial effect of Obamacare on the privately-insured will be an increase in the amount of private insurance premiums that is going to cover the health industry’s costs from undercompensation, through Medicare, Medicaid, and state programs like MediCal.  A 2008 study concluded that of the average privately-insured household’s $13K in employer-provided health benefits, about $1788 per year goes (in the form of aggregate claim payments, for all its insured patients, from the insurer) to make up for the undercompensation inherent with Medicare and the other government programs.  This puts a dollar amount on the health care cost-shifting I have spoken of on many occasions, between privately-insured patients, who pay more than their procedures actually cost, and government-paid patients, who pay less.

With huge cuts in Medicare payouts, private insurance will have to take up even more slack.  Those who remain with private programs will probably not do so for long, unless they are very wealthy:  because the premiums for private insurance will be driven to increase – or claims authorizations to decrease – or both.

The Mask Coming Off

As the prospects for victory have appeared to near for national health system advocates, they have become much more direct and honest about their real objective.  For some years, the public pitch has been made on the basis of complaints about the cost of medical care, and its impact on affordability.  What voters naturally think of in this context is the price they pay for this or that service, along with the amounts of insurance premiums, and the prices of drugs.  National health advocates have leveraged this mindset by focusing on the cost of health care in household budgets, on the stories of people who suffered financial reversals due to medical problems, and on the number of Americans who do not carry private health insurance – with the implication about the latter being that the reason they don’t carry insurance is its basic unaffordability.

But it is increasingly clear that making health care more affordable, while maintaining the same level of availability and choice, is not what national health advocates have in mind.  When they say health care costs too much, they mean society in the aggregate is putting too many resources into it.  And by “controlling” costs, they mean, very explicitly, controlling access, availability, quality, and choice.

Video of national health advocates here, and here, captures them speaking quite honestly about the fact that introducing a public insurance option is intended to drive out private insurance.  It has also been remarkable, if anecdotal, how the trend of insisting that society “must” spend less on health care, in the aggregate, has expanded in commentary online, both formal and informal.  That this insistence refers not to keeping costs down, for the same amount of access and quality we enjoy now, but rather to limiting both access and quality, is exemplified in this communication from a reader at the Commentary blog yesterday:

“The US spends three times (per capita) what Europe/Canada spend and the unfunded liabilities for Medicare/Medicaid in the out-years are around $30T (that’s Trillion). The key to Health Care Reform is to reduce and contain costs. I cannot understand why we refuse to face facts and acknowledge that major rationing is necessary…just like the Europeans/Canadians do it. Not all rationing is bad (although some is). Here’s how it might work:

“1. waiting lists and high co-pays for electives (non life threatening)
“2. major cutbacks on end-of-life care
“3. denial of some life saving services based on cost and age (e.g. if you’re past the age cutoff, you do NOT get open heart surgery. Period.)
“4. Unfortunately…waiting lines for even life essential stuff like MRIs to detect potential cancers, radiation therapy, etc. etc. This is commonplace in Canada and a lucrative industry has arisen…for Canadians coming to the US to pay out-of-pocket for life critical stuff
“5. Unfortunately…a decrease in qualilty of overall health care. Less high-tech R&D, use of cheaper but less effective drugs, etc.

“We need to grow up and admit we can’t have everything for everybody and all for free.”

But, of course, there is no serious argument being made that we can have everything for everybody “for free.”  I have found quite startling the number of people who seem to be crawling out of the woodwork insisting that we can’t keep putting “so many” resources into health care, and that there is some undefined obligation on us to decide, arbitrarily, to limit ourselves in that regard.  The argument here is not that we need to make health care affordable, but that we need to limit its availability and quality – not through the voluntary mechanisms of supply, demand, and price, but through arbitrary decision by third parties:  politicians and bureaucrats.

That this arbitrary resource scalpel is to be wielded against the old has become bizarrely obvious.  I say bizarrely because it seems to me that there was a time when people would have been embarrassed to make comments like this, where anyone else could hear them:

“I once was asked to revise the arterial-venous shunt that an elderly priest required for renal dialysis. He was 95 and living at the San Juan Capistrano Mission. As I was fixing his shunt (under local) I asked him, ‘Father, why do you want me to do this? I would think you’d be ready to see God.’ His answer was something like, ‘Shut up and fix it.’ The next time he needed it revised, they called somebody else, which was fine with me.”

Or this:

“A good friend of mine was called into the hospital about three in the morning to assist in a surgical procedure on a 90 year old Comatose woman shipped in from a nursing home. My good friend told the ordering Doctor to Stuff it, and find someone else to assist you. Not only was my friend not fired, which could have easily happened, nothing more was heard about this patient. She was shipped back to the Nursing Home, end of story. People do have to stand up to those ripping off the system.”

None of the people quoted here advocated national health care.  But each of them has a primary perspective that the medical procedures in question, if performed for the very old, are a waste, a misuse of resources, a misguided effort to remain alive, or a rip-off of the system.  Another poster captured the premise here:

“The only way to control health care costs in this country is to stop treating the terminally infirm or the elderly nearing the end of their life. But I can’t possibly stomach a government *ordering* these people to not get medical care, which is what rationing is in practice.

“Either we change how we as a society approach the last years of our lives, or we’ll pay the price for our stubborn insistence to fight death off in return for a few more painful days here on Earth.”

Man, one thing I know for sure is that I don’t want any of these folks making decisions about my geriatric or end-of-life care.  And these are commenters at a conservative website, most of whom are generally in sympathy with principles like economic liberty and consumer choice.  Yet they are operating from a premise that it is possible to spend, in an absolute and aggregate human sense, “too much” on health care, and in particular, too much on the elderly.

In a converse vein, I heard a caller to Rusk Limbaugh’s radio show this week describe the situation in which a 95-year-old woman had had a hard time finding a doctor who would prescribe a pacemaker for her.  She finally found one who would.  She and her family paid for the pacemaker from their own resources, since it was not covered by Medicare or private insurance due to her age.  She is still alive five years later, and she and her family are happy with her quality of life – her “joie de vivre,” as the caller put it.

Yet there are not only policy advocates who insist that we can judge, by some absolute criteria, that this pacemaker implantation was a poor use of resources – there are voters who agree with them on that, even if they don’t agree that we should commission government to make such judgments.  There is, in short, a world out there of people who think they are qualified to judge these things for everyone – and the objective of the left-liberal agenda is to put them in charge of you.

That is, after all, the projected consequence of the cost-effectiveness studies to be commissioned under Obamacare.  Authors like this one at the New York Times use the correct, market-oriented argument that rationing is inherently a fact of economic life, to argue incorrectly that having the government do cost-effectiveness studies, and then consciously ration by fiat, will make our rationing more “rational.”  The argument assumes a tacit premise:  that we can measure the rationality of rationing by looking at our practices, and evaluating our priorities, in terms of “percentage of total resources used.”

Mr. Leonhart pulls a classic bait-and-switch tactic in this article, offering examples of the misuse of societal resources, like families having to pay for health care premiums instead of saving for college tuition.  OK, health care is expensive.  But that is a different argument from the argument that we are, in fact, spending “too much” on health care.  The latter is an abstract and absolute assertion.  When we think about the impact it would have on specific cases, it is not at all clear that people would, if it were their decision to make, spend less on “health care” and more on college tuition.

The alternative Mr. Leonhart poses invokes cost-effectiveness studies to tell us which procedures are yielding the lowest payoffs.  This sounds reasonable, until we think about what the criteria might be, by which that is to be determined.  Few criteria are quantifiable enough to be seriously considered.  Among them are survival rate, and length of survival, after a procedure.   Quite obviously, results focusing on these criteria would be inherently biased against the elderly, who on average do not live as long after medical procedures as their younger counterparts.

We could expect some results to be effectively equated to each other, as if they are the same, and a result that would be less satisfying for most people favored by the study criteria if it costs less.  Examples might include amputation and prosthetics, rather than extensive surgery, follow-up treatment, and therapy to save a limb; or radical mastectomy in a single procedure, instead of multiple procedures, with intervals of therapy and monitoring, that might save some of a woman’s breasts, and leave her with a quality of life she much preferred.

Families who would, if asked in a context-free vacuum, naturally say that they’d like their health care costs to be less, would not necessarily give that answer, if situational alternatives were spelled out for them.  Perhaps some families would be just as happy to trade 10 years of Grandpa’s life for a better college for Junior – but there are a whole lot of families that wouldn’t.  Maybe some wives would rather cut health care costs than save a husband’s leg after an industrial accident, and would be satisfied to watch him strap a prosthetic limb to a stump for the rest of his life – but many, many wives wouldn’t.  Perhaps some parents of a 21-year-old daughter with uterine cancer would prefer saving money with a prompt hysterectomy, over trying a more expensive course of treatment that could allow her to go on and bear children – but I venture to guess that the overwhelming majority would not.

The pretense that under collectivized health care, actual patients and families would still have a choice, in these matters, is beginning to fade.  The very concept of “cost-effectiveness studies” implies a single set of absolute criteria by which to judge effectiveness – criteria that would serve as tiebreakers and decision factors.  A world in which other people get to tell you how much relative value to assign to your mother’s lifespan, your father’s quality of life, your wife’s body parts, and, conversely, everything else “society” uses resources on – that is the world left-liberal advocates are trying to bring about.

The Left, In Charge

When such advocates gain control of mankind’s resources, we do not have to look far for clues about what they will do.  Increasing your power of choice is not their objective.  If it were, the Central Valley of California would not be drying up as it is in 2009: not because there is not enough water to irrigate its highly productive farms and orchards, but because a federal judge has prohibited the pumping of the water it needs.  Using the reservoir pumps disturbs a small fish called the delta smelt.

The “drought” that now plagues thousands of small farmers in the world’s most fertile farmland – and threatens to shut down farms that have been in operation for generations – is entirely man-made.  No weather phenomenon, like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, is standing between the desperate farmers of the San Joaquin Valley and restoration of their livelihoods – although politicians have been at pains to sell the situation to the public as the result of a natural period of drought.  But there is not, in fact, a shortage of water for irrigation of the Valley.  The obstacle to irrigation is a human decision.

The same has been the case in other situations, and for decades.  Environmental advocates have successfully prevented the building of new oil refineries in the US, and the expansion and retooling of existing ones, since the 1970s.  They have, of course, prevented the drilling of ANWR, and gotten oil rigs shut down off the coasts of California and Florida.  They have also prevented the construction of any new nuclear power plants in the US since the 1970s, enjoined exploration for shale oil, and shut down attempts at expanding fossil-fueled power generation capacity in California – the latter career of prevention creating the power shortfalls of the early 2000s that led to the recall of Governor Gray Davis.

It is environmentalists, as well, who often prevent the clearing of brush from public land in California – clearing that would in many cases inhibit the spread of wildfires, and avert damage to homes, ranches, and businesses.  Public land managed by the US Forest Service or the California Department of Forestry does receive such maintenance; but on city and county land, mesquite and ceanothus (wild California lilac) are often left to proliferate at the behest of advocacy groups, which oppose human intervention to remove brush that nature removes with fire.  These uncleared lands, close to suburban homes in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas, are often the ones across which fires are roaring, when you see them being covered on national TV.

We can be sure, then, that if we give our government the power to control society’s use of energy resources, and to allocate health care, that power will be exercised as it has always been, according to the agenda of leftist advocacy groups.  A key feature of their perspective is that the natural desires and interests of humans have to be subordinated – forcibly, where necessary – to other priorities set by themselves.  On their priority list, the delta smelt (which, incidentally, is lurking in reservoirs:  man-made water sumps, which are not even necessarily the smelt’s “natural” habitat) ranks higher than the California farmer.  This also means the smelt ranks higher than the American consumer in general, who has to pay more to import food from elsewhere when the farmers of the San Joaquin Valley have no water.

Their priority list is also weirdly – frighteningly – inexplicit, even coy, on the issue of health care for the aging.

It is one thing for hospital ethics boards to have to decide who gets scarce commodities like donated organs, and to use patient age as a criterion.  This form of scarcity is dictated to us by the most fundamental of moral principles: that donated organs are harvested only from those on the verge of certain death, and only with consent.

But it is entirely another thing for bureaucrats to rule against “society’s” resources being used to supply pacemakers to 95-year-old patients who are prepared to pay cash.  This latter case is the forcible application of a generic abstraction that values a vague “societal” interest in “resources,” over the individual’s liberty to exercise economic demand on his own behalf.

The Unbearable Pessimism of the Static “Resource” Pie

It represents a gathering form of hubris, one that asserts an authority to set boundaries for other human beings, based on theory.  We must not mistake the truth here:  what liberals will get, with the programs they advocate, is control over others, and the authority to enforce a regime of scarcity on them.  Neither the C&T bill nor Obamacare can produce abundance of any kind, nor is either intended to.  They are both intended to dramatically limit the access of the American people, to energy and health care.

According to the left-liberal mindset, it is possible to determine, in an absolute (but frequently undefined or inconsistent) sense, that people are using up too many “resources.”  The inherently limited and pessimistic perspective behind this postulate must not be missed.  Left-wing policy advocates believe that people, left to their own devices, and economic exchange, left to rely on the price mechanism, will “destroy the planet.”  Indeed, this last formulation is particularly important, because it actually represents a shifting of the proposition.  The prospect of there not being enough resources for future generations is really just an interim rhetorical convenience.  The real objective is not to preserve resources for the future, but to curtail the use of resources absolutely – an objective sought not for its value to humans, but for its own sake.

Hence, in the interest of optimum cost-effectiveness with resources, we must steel ourselves to make “hard choices” about medical care for the elderly.  Perhaps today’s elderly can afford to spend $300 a month on prescription medications that measurably improve their quality of life – but “society” cannot afford to devote “resources” to the industry that makes those medications available.  And lest the elderly themselves, or their families, sustain that industry, or induce its development, by evincing demand for the product, the left’s guardians of societal resources will so overwhelm their earning power with artificially-imposed economic burdens that individuals, other than the very wealthy, will have less and less discretionary income to evince demand with.

Consider, again, not just your home energy use, but that of your police and fire departments and your schools, having required “savings” imposed on them.  Think about the dual impacts of Obamacare and C&T on hospitals, which are enormous users of energy.  It may be possible to realize the “savings” mandated by Waxman-Markey without producing a negative impact on the responsiveness of ambulance service, the frequency of police patrols, the capacity of hospitals, or the educational programs available in schools. But the fact is, these utility and fuel customers all use way more energy than you do – and you’re going to have to change things about the way you live, to satisfy Waxman-Markey.  What is the likelihood that public services will not have to change their operating profiles?

Think, in other aspects of life, about things like what it takes for small contractors, plumbers, lawn care services, and so forth to be economically viable.  How many of them cannot be so, if the price of fuel is kept artificially high, for the avowed purpose of discouraging its use?  Americans do not all live in Manhattan, where people don’t have lawns – and yet even in Manhattan, many people make their living doing things that require work vehicles.  Putting them out of work by pricing them out of their occupations – making their cost of doing business too high for what they can charge their customers – is not something that can be resolved by simply finding 9-5 office or manufacturing jobs for all of them.  Even in an expanding economy, much of the expansion depends precisely on the viability of small contractors.  And many (perhaps most) of them depend on affordable fuel, and other energy inputs.

The difference between left-liberal advocates and the rest of us is that they don’t see impacts like these as a bad thing.  They don’t have the concept of life that sees it as good, even in the circumstances of a small contractor, with limited means, when you have the freedom to choose your occupation, enjoy what you do, be your own boss, start something of your own, make it grow, and turn it into a legacy for your children.  This is a naturally optimistic mindset that assumes huge potential to be inherent in hard work and human ingenuity.  And life would be very different without this mindset.

It would have no concept of generosity, but would be, rather, parsimonious in everything.  It would be wholly self-absorbed, since no purpose would ever be to create more than there was before.  Merely satisfying the same urges over and over again would constitute the cycle of life. One would not hope for the day in the future when one bought that 20 acres in the country, or sold the paid-off home and got a tricked-out RV, or started a new, late-life career as a volunteer with the poor, after cashing out the IRA and putting it on auto-pilot with the pension.  One’s allotment of resources wouldn’t allow such dreams and plans.

Neither hard work nor ingenuity could break the bonds of allotment, in this idea of life.  Only political connection could do so.  We can accurately imagine the currency with which political connection would be cultivated.  The disincentives to hard work and ingenuity would far outweigh the incentives, and a general poverty would descend over almost everyone because of that factor.  People will not do any more than they absolutely have to, when they are controlled, and denied choice about their gratifications and priorities.

As has been the case with Europe, Russia, China, and other largely collectivized societies, people would choose to have fewer children, partly because children are very expensive in such conditions, and partly because the optimism that essays sacrifice with a high heart is lacking.  What passions people had left, they would put into urging increasingly detailed and meaningless political refinements on each other, as with Europe’s EU, or into preying on each other through corruption and secret police surveillance, as in Russia, or China.  The incidence of alcoholism, drug dependence, and suicide would all increase:  there might be state control of the resources that would be used in industrial production of alcohol, or hallucinogenic drugs, but this has never stopped any people from home production, or the development of black markets.

It is not clear what options there would be, within the borders of the US, for individuals to opt out of the “grid” of modern society.  The comprehensive nature of Waxman-Markey means that even attempts to do so would incur arbitrary expense, and might well be subject to government inspection.  Home generators, subsistence farming, even the burning of wood for heat would not long escape regulation, in the name of the same principles that animate Waxman-Markey.

It is accepting the principle of the need for allocational regulation that is the game-changer.  The theory that use of and access to “resources” must be controlled and allocated by a central human authority is antithetical to political and economic liberty.  It is the core tenet by which the progressivist, collectivist left has long sought to impose centralized organization on mankind.  It is fundamentally opposed to life, hope, and optimism.  If we choose it – out of fear, lack of knowledge, and intellectual hubris – we are, pari passu, choosing deliberately to embrace the existence the left’s agenda will yield:  one that is collectivized, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

12 thoughts on “What Liberals Will Get”

  1. Terrific article. It certainly deserves a wider distribution somehow.

    I’d be curious to know how an individual that’s in favor of both C&T and some form of Obamacare would respond to this. How do you imagine they would counter your arguments?

  2. typically full of crap and entirely incoherent. “optimism” is the solution for everything? who would have thought!!!!

    “As has been the case with Europe, Russia, China, and other largely collectivized societies, people would choose to have fewer children, partly because children are very expensive in such conditions, and partly because the optimism that essays sacrifice with a high heart is lacking. What passions people had left, they would put into urging increasingly detailed and meaningless political refinements on each other, as with Europe’s EU, or into preying on each other through corruption and secret police surveillance, as in Russia, or China. The incidence of alcoholism, drug dependence, and suicide would all increase: there might be state control of the resources that would be used in industrial production of alcohol, or hallucinogenic drugs, but this has never stopped any people from home production, or the development of black markets.”

    there is so much wrong with this paragraph that it’s hard to know where to start. first of all, are europe, russia, and china “collectivized” to the same degree? no, i don’t think that even you are stupid enough to think that. but then why lump them together? they have extremely different historical experiences, cultures, and political systems, but because they are according to some entirely unstated formulation “collectivized” they are all essentially the same. brilliant. this is the sort of “thinking” that gets an F in an introductory political science class.

    proceeding to your next contention the idea that there a direct correlation between “collectivization” and fertility. this is laughably stupid, but let’s try to think through the problem. if there really was a connection between your undefined concept of “collectivization” and fertility we would expect to see countries that have moved away from collectivization (particularly those in east-central europe that had it forcibly imposed on them) become more fertile and “optimistic.” well, what has happened? surprise! the fertility rates in east-central europe have all taken nosedives and many are now among the lowest on the planet, lower than in much-dreaded “western europe.” in fact, in those countries, (and in russia and the ukraine as well) it seems as if “collectivization” was propping up fertility, not depressing it.

    moving along, it’s flatly inaccurate to say that “collectivized” societies generally have higher rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide. it’s true that russia has stratospheric rates of all three, but europe’s rates of social maladies are all significantly lower than the united states’ (i simply don’t know about china, but given your batting average i’d expect that their rates are also lower than in the us).

    overall this is really a pitiful screed of “mind over matter,” and elementary-school level wishful thinking. economists, demographers, and social scientists agree that the world is getting more crowded and resources are becoming more scarce and expensive? no, that can’t be true, because that would be unpleasant and inconvenient! no wonder our country is such a hellhole these days, we had head-in-the-clouds morons such as yourself in positions of importance

  3. Your anger results from your political desire to see birth rates plummet because you believe there are too many of his here already. You can’t seriously believe that people are taking the advice of those “economists, demographers and social scientists” and having less children to preserve resources for the rest of us, can you? For that matter, you want resources to get even more expensive, so as to force people to use less of it, or, more precisely, to use only what the government permits. So, pessimism is your answer. That makes me hopeful, because it is the optimists who will have more children, which means fewer leftist scolds and would-be tyrants. And let’s give the Eastern European countries a chance to recover from the devastation of collectivism, shall we?

  4. adam — I think yaai has made a start on answering your original question.

    It’s yaai who needs to do his homework. In terms of the collectivization of their economies, all the nations of Europe are significantly more like Russia and China than they are like the USA. Russia and China are not the same in every feature, of course. In a political sense, Russia has disavowed forced collectivization, and China has not. But state direction of the economy differs only by a matter of degree in these Asian behemoths.

    Look across all of Europe, Russia, and China, and you see these same features:

    – Government-granted/cultivated oligopolies in major industries.

    – Government management of all facets of the economy, including labor policies that dictate length of workweek, leave, pay scales, and benefits.

    – Controlled access to government-sanctioned employment, which guarantees perpetually high levels of unemployment.

    – In consequence, very large numbers of people living on public assistance and not even looking for work. The number of such people in Britain, for example, is 25% of the entire population.

    – As another consequence, high and widespread levels of non-sanctioned economic activity (e.g., black markets in a variety of commodities that are overtaxed in the legal economy; day labor for cash; unlicensed service providers).

    – Immigrants get tracked into these twin pathologies through social pressure and inertia, and, with the exception of Britain, do not assimilate to nearly the extent they do in the US, Canada, or indeed most of Latin America. Their overrepresentation in these pathologies also makes the incidence of the patterns themselves less visible, particularly in the case of black market and non-sanctioned economic activity. In Sweden, France, and Spain, it’s largely immigrants from Africa and the Middle East that you’ll find engaged in the underground economy. This gives the “white European” demographic — the one Americans are familiar with — the appearance of having sustainable success with the controlled, collectivized legal economy. Russia shows similar patterns with migrants from the Central Asian republics. It is a phenomenon Americans have very little experience with. In Italy, Greece, and parts of Eastern Europe, however, you find more of the indigenous locals engaged in the underground economy.

    – High income tax levels, a hefty VAT, and additional taxes on specific items to pay for state bureaucracies. A minivan that costs Americans $20K costs Europeans $40K with the addition of the VAT, the luxury tax, the lifecycle disposal tax, and other taxes levied locally.

    – National health care systems, which all of the nations in the list have. On average, national health care takes up 50% of the typical EU nation’s budget. Russia and China both spend much, much more of their budgets on military equipment. For them, national health care simply offers less than it is intended to in Europe.

    Coincident with all these patterns of collectivization, all of Europe — the entire continent — and Russia and China are reproducing at less than population replacement rate (2.4 births per woman). All of them. Russia and China have the lowest of the birth rates, and Eastern and Western European birth rates are very similar, at slightly higher levels than Russia’s and China’s. These birth rates factor in the birth rates among immigrants — so even WITH the immigration waves to Europe from the Middle East and Africa, the population is dying out. Most of the nations are under the critical range of 1.8 births per woman that means the population decline is irreversible.

    China, of course, has sought for some decades to enforce a one child policy, so its demographic situation is largely deliberately imposed. In the other nations, however, the “soft” socialism of Western Europe has brought all of Europe and Russia to the same demographic place.

  5. Well, this all goes back to “what do Leftists want?”, doesn’t it? For me, the problem is how to engage them. Arguing with them, or trying to persuade, is a waste of energy–that’s not what they are interested in. In a sense we are still living within the world view produced by the New Deal, which marginalized conservatives as permanently irrelevant–all the successive conservative revolts (Nixon’s “silent majority,” the “Reagan Revolution,” Giuliani, Gingrich, etc.) are, form this standpoint, funadmentally illegitimate and evoke nothing but rage. The Left sees the opportunity to wipe out this rebellion once and for all, and everything they do can be understand in these terms. They will crash, of course, and destroy a lot; the question is, how to position ourselves to help pick up the pieces under what will be dramatically new conditions.

    I suppose I’m a bit less optimistic than you!

  6. adam, if your “what do Leftists want” defines leftists as something far further along from liberals, maybe you have a point.
    If you think that most everyday children of the New Deal are consumed by rage when confronted by conservative views, maybe not.
    We’re all children of the Enlightenment, ain’t we?

  7. I can’t speak about everyday people–most of the Leftists I meet are, in fact, consumed by rage, and it would be simply impossible to say a good word about Bush or Reagan around them. But that’s merely anecdotal, and it may be due to my environs. What does seem to me undeniable is that the “Progressive” (to use the most accurate term, and probably one most on both sides would accept) institutions–the Democratic Party, the “mainstream media” (those media that can trace their origins to the post WWII order, but I suppose I’d add CNN as well), Hollywood, the universities, and the unions–do not accept the legitimacy of any challenge to equality and freedom as they have defined it (the state provides equality of distribution; freedom is absolute in the private, personal sphere–i.e., the aim is to breal down intermediary institutions between the individual and the state). Their phasors are set on kill, to use a Star Trek idiom.

    The question of the Enlightment is a big one–let’s just say that there is a lot of discussion, the spirit of which I agree with, regarding the distinction between the French-Continental Enlightenment and the Scottish-Anglo-American one.

  8. Ooooohhh…. aaaahhhhhh…. the different Enlightenments.

    We’re all influenced by the Enlightenment(s) today. But I would dispute whether we are all actually descended from them.

    Big subject. ‘Nother post.

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