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Monday, November 19, 2018

Social Issues: Distractions in the Fight for Liberty

In the summer of 1988 I visited East Berlin. I spent an entire day walking along the Wall on the east side - or, as it was officially known in DDR, the "anti-fascist protection rampart". What was really a construction to keep people imprisoned in a totalitarian country, was spoken of by the prison management - East Germany's socialist leaders - as a barrier to protect the prisoners from the outside world. 

A bit over a year later, in November 1989, the wall crumbled. On the 9th of that month the East German government opened the border, declaring that all East Germans would now have the right to visit West Germany at their own discretion. 

It was the beginning of the end of an era of tyranny. A year later, the East German communist republic ceased to exist, and by 1991 the Soviet Union was gone.

Next year, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the event that brought to an end the 20th century's second war on an evil empire. After World War II and the defeat of Nazi Germany, it only took three years until the Berlin Blockade marked the beginning of the Cold War. The end of the Soviet Union brought that unarmed but dangerous conflict to an end.

The fall of what President Reagan rightly referred to as the Evil Empire liberated hundreds of millions of people from Saxony to Sakhalin, gave numerous countries the opportunity to grow and thrive in freedom, and established, once again, that tyranny always collapses under its own weight. The end of socialism at its imperial height once again told us that freedom, not tyranny, is man's natural state of existence. Only a society built upon that principle can sustain over time. 

This is why United States of America has prevailed for almost a quarter of a millennium. Yet there are growing reasons to ask how long she will prevail. The very same socialist ideas that gave birth to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, the official name of the Soviet Union) have made deep inroads into American society.

And America's most ardent defenders - her conservatives - are slowly conceding defeat. Being distracted into fights over social issues, they have lost the will to resist the socialist onslaught where it really matters: the economy.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new Democrat majority is getting ready to take charge of the House of Representatives. They appear to be the most radical caucus ever to gather on Capitol Hill, increasingly infiltrated by destructive, socialist thought - and increasingly bent on putting them to work.

Their momentum is frightening, and the lack of conservative resistance is all the more alarming. One reason is the slow, inevitable progress of time: our collective, living memory of the Evil Empire is dissipating. Today, there are Americans who have graduated college, who have embarked on professional careers and even started having kids, who were not even born at the end of the Cold War.

In a world without the bipolar contrast between good and evil, it is understandable that the perception of those two contrasts is distorted, even lost. When I grew up, it was comparatively easy to learn about good and evil. I was ten years old when the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the end of Nazi Germany; my entire childhood and adolescence was framed by the Cold War and its sharp line between freedom and tyranny. It was comparatively easy to gain a clear understanding of what totalitarianism meant, with a wall dividing a city and thousands of miles of barb wire dividing the heart of Europe. 

Everyone of us could easily gain his own understanding of the government that built the fences that kept people from escaping its socialist blessings.

Today, the same pure contrast does not exist. Yet the lure of socialism remains the same. Front loaded with seductive ideas that offer something for nothing - government will take care of your needs without asking anything in return - the socialist cloaks his true intentions in an appealing wrapping paper. To spice up his case, he combines his positive emotional selling point with another, negative and conflict-provoking narrative. It is, he says, the fault of someone else that you do not have everything that socialism has to offer. 

Alleged villains in the socialist narrative tend to change with what flavor of tyranny he offers. Under the welfare state, unfairness is blamed on "the rich"; under national socialism, the enemy is "the Jew." 

While totalitarianism continues to appeal with an emotional, benevolent fa├žade, proponents of freedom have grown complacent. Still resting on the laurels of their victory in the Cold War, scholars of freedom all too often take for granted that the defeat of the two big tyrannies in the 20th century - the Nazis and the Soviets - has written history for the foreseeable future. When totalitarianism once again rises to prominence in the public debate, advocates of freedom are ill prepared to step up to the plate.

Compounding their weakness, conservatives have been led astray by the left's smoke screen of identity politics. Battles over social issues and identity politics are distractions meant to draw attention away from the main line of totalitarian advancement.

The economy.

In its resurgence since the end of the Cold War, the socialist has drawn his conservative opponent away from the main ideological battle scene by provoking him into fights over gay marriage, gender pronouns and bathroom designations. As an extension of his distraction tactic, the socialist has also peeled off libertarians from the lines of his opponents: by luring the libertarian into a fight for legalization of drugs, the socialist has turned him against the conservative. 

Eager to be seen and elevated to relevance, the libertarian thinks he can find common ground with the socialist over drug legalization. Naive as he is, the libertarian has believed that the pursuit of this common ground will somehow allow him to influence the socialist on other issues. Yet as the socialist continues to advance his agenda - full control over society by means of economic socialization - the libertarian again fades into irrelevance, this time in a plume of smoke from his legalized joint.

In the meantime, the socialist has brought the American family perilously close to the point where they lose their understanding of our nation's most consequential character trait: economic self determination. 

The path to socialist tyranny runs through the checkbook of the American family. Its advancement is marked by the gradual expansion of entitlements into increasingly intimate parts of our lives. The debate over paid family leave is just one example, but an important one. This new entitlement, a staple of the left, is not economically as important as single-payer health care, but ideologically it is of the same relevance. Therefore, it is tragic to see how this entitlement has gained ground among conservatives and their think tanks, whose arguments for it are often so bad that they exhibit signs of intellectual fatigue

Instead of trying to resist this new entitlement, the American conservative has basically chosen to stand down. There is little doubt that the new Democrat majority in the House is going to push paid leave in its negotiations with President Trump. Since Trump himself included a paid-leave idea in his first budget, we can safely expect him to be open to creating it. This, however, opens for the next entitlement program: single-payer health care. 

If conservatives surrender on paid leave, what is to say they will hold the line on a government take-over of our health care system? 

The question is far more important than the issue itself. For every entitlement program that government creates, America's families lose control over one more item in their lives. On the one hand, 

  • When government redistributes income, people don't have to worry about making more money;
  • When government provides for retirement, people don't have to save for it;
  • When government takes care of income security - as in paid family leave - people have one less reason to build and maintain financial independence;
  • When government runs health care, people have no reason to manage their own health needs.

On the other hand,

  • When government redistributes income, it raises taxes and disincentivizes hard work;
  • When government provides for retirement, people depend critically on whatever government can afford to pay them;
  • When government takes care of income security - as in paid family leave - it decides when, why, how long and for what reason people can, and can not, take paid leave;
  • When government runs health care, it, not people, decides what patients will get treatment, when and where, and what patients must wait or go without any treatment. 

When conservatives subscribe to these two lists, accepting the gradual expansion of the welfare state as a fact of life, they also concede to the next list. There is, namely, no principled difference between the items on the list above and the following entitlements:

  • Mandatory, government-run child care for every child;
  • Single-payer housing including a government "IKEA" furniture monopoly;
  • One government-provided mass transit system for all, with "state Uber" replacing privately owned cars;
  • Tax-paid clothing for all, with coupons for you to trade for clothes at designated dispensaries;
  • Universal food stamps.

Where in its entitlement expansion does government step over the line between a benevolent welfare state and a malevolent, totalitarian dictatorship?

It is worth noting that in countries where government has indeed completed the welfare state to the point where food is no longer an individual responsibility, it is also illegal to defend private property rights. The reason is simple: in order to pay for this full roster of entitlements, government must get its hands on such a large share of the proceeds of our work that there is - literally - only crumbs left. Household spending, namely, amounts to $14 trillion per year, or 70 percent of our GDP. To pay for that, government needs to tax away 70 percent of GDP. 

Plain, simple and painful.

Again: at what point in its expansion of the welfare state does government step over the line between a free society and totalitarianism?

Could some big-government conservative please answer this question for me? Thank you.

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