Liberals, as opposed to Leftists, often have admirable impulses. Sometimes they can clearly identify part of the problems that create the conditions that trouble them, but because they believe that all human problems can and should be addressed by government policies they too often propose policies that exacerbate the problems rather than ameliorate them. Bob Herbert is a case in point; his final piece for the New York Times on Saturday makes some good points:
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
He decries the growing inequality in America, the mazing increase in wealth of the very richest while the majority of the middle class faces economic stagnation; he correctly assails the crony capitalism that is damaging our social fabric:
The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.
This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.
A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.
In his passion he almost gets it; what could be wrong with this diagnosis?
Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
This has all the Liberals favorite bugaboos. We are doomed by greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil. No one since Gordon Gecko has argued publicly that "greed is good", all of us suffer from unrestrained corporate power, and our addiction to foreign oil means that we damage our own economy while empowering some of the worst countries and tyrants on he planet. Yet, sadly, Bob Herbert and those who read him and nod their heads in agreement, stop the argument just short of the conclusions that are inescapable to anyone with an even minimally open mind.
For example, if greed is bad, it is also universal. Government workers are no more immune to greed than Jeffrey Immelt. To believe that simply because Immelt is President Obama's favorite corporate executive somehow renders him uniquely devoid of greed is inane. To believe that government bureaucrats are somehow immune to the greedy lure of power rather than only driven by greed for money is equally inane. Since humans have never shown themselves immune to greed, enlarging the sphere of coercive power (ie, government) versus the sphere with far less coercive power (the private sector, which can be limited in their ability to coerce by government power alone) is counter-productive to the growth that Bob Herbert and I would like to see.
And consider our addiction to foreign oil. This should be a simple equation for Bob Herbert et al to figure out. For more than 30 years we have drastically limited the production of our vast petroleum resources. Since economies run on petroleum, that means we have had to find our energy resources elsewhere. The places where such are found tend to be inhabited by evil despots and populations which detest most of what we stand for. In order to preserve our fantasy of a pristine environment, we close our eyes to the despoiling of their environments and equally cloud our minds in order not to understand that 1 + 1 always equals 2. If we want to have a functional economy we need power. If, in thirty years, and with billions of dollars of government subsidies, alternative, clean energy has not become economically competitive (not to mention scalable and efficient) what makes anyone believe that by pouring in billions more we can suddenly mandate effective wind, solar, or tidal power?
Were Bob Herbert to look around he would notice that places on the North American continent where petroleum is being extracted are booming economically. North Dakota, Western Canada, the Gulf of Mexico are all places with lots of energy resources and exploiting them creates jobs (high paying jobs!) and moderates the price of energy for the rest of us. It should be a win-win proposition but the religion of Liberalism does not allow for such obvious resolutions to the problem of economic stagnation and inequality.
[We should all be offended that Obama implores the Brazilians to drill for oil in deep waters off their coast, with the promise that we will be their best customer, while he impedes our ability to drill off our coasts and on our lands. American firms have pioneered environmentally sensitive drilling technology. Who would do a better job protecting the environment while extracting oil than American companies who have gigantic incentives to do ti right under the watchful eye of the American MSM and American regulators? Perhaps we should continue to rely on oil drilling in far off countries where oil spills and contamination can occur out of the MSM's awareness; if it isn't on the front page of the New York Times, presumably an oil spill doesnt count.]
I won't even begin to address the issues of education. When Steve Sailer points out that Mexicans in America do better in American schools than Mexicans in Mexico or that Swedes in American schools do better than Swedes in Swedish schools, and yet no one in the MSM or the education establishment is willing to even parse the numbers, we have a problem that goes far beyond Liberal versus Conservative, Democrat versus Republican. When you constantly misdiagnose a problem, treatment is compromised. By all means elevate our expectations of our students but as long as we expect Americans of Mexican extraction to do equally well as Americans of Swedish or Chinese extraction, we will be wasting our time and money on an impossible dream. Someday, once we have figured out why some minorities consistently under-perform others and how to address the unequal outcomes, we might see the gaps close. That day is not now and blaming the teachers (among the Right's favorite villains) or some unidentifiable, unquantifiable societal bias, means we will continue to misdiagnose and waste our precious resources.
I am with Bob Herbert in his painful recognition that growing economic inequality is bad for America. Where I part company is in believing that government, with our increasing crony capitalism, and our "own goal" behavior limiting the utilization and exploitation of our bounteous resources, is any way to solve the problem.
Make energy cheaper, allow our native entrepreneurship to flourish, entice technological advances with the promise of great riches unencumbered by government, and our economy will soar, with the middle class soaring along with it. In twenty years, if we do not foul up the future, we will be discussing how to manage an economy of abundance rather than scarcity. We will get there faster if the Liberals would only open their minds to the possibilities of their fellow countrymen.
I will miss Bob Herbert's columns; I also plan on sending him a link to this post. If he responds, I will be sure to post it.