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Tag Archive: Entitlements

The myth of a democratic socialist society funded by capitalism is finished

Posted: Thursday, September 6, 2012 (11:35 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Thursday, September 6th, 2012:

Janet Daley, in The Telegraph, explaining to her fellow Britons why “We should tune in to the Romney and Ryan show”:

What is being challenged is nothing less than the most basic premise of the politics of the centre ground: that you can have free market economics and a democratic socialist welfare system at the same time. The magic formula in which the wealth produced by the market economy is redistributed by the state – from those who produce it to those whom the government believes deserve it – has gone bust. The crash of 2008 exposed a devastating truth that went much deeper than the discovery of a generation of delinquent bankers, or a transitory property bubble. It has become apparent to anyone with a grip on economic reality that free markets simply cannot produce enough wealth to support the sort of universal entitlement programmes which the populations of democratic countries have been led to expect. The fantasy may be sustained for a while by the relentless production of phoney money to fund benefits and job-creation projects, until the economy is turned into a meaningless internal recycling mechanism in the style of the old Soviet Union.

Contrary to what many know-nothing British observers seem to think, the message coming out of Tampa was not Tea Party extremism. It was just a reassertion of the basic values of American political culture: self-determination, individual aspiration and genuine community, as opposed to belief in the state as the fount of all social virtue. Romney caught this rather nicely in his acceptance speech, with the comment that the US was built on the idea of “a system that is dedicated to creating tomorrow’s prosperity rather than trying to redistribute today’s.” Or as Marco Rubio put it in his speech, Obama is “trying ideas that people came to America to get away from”.

I’m not sure why it took a Brit [correction: she’s American born and bred, but has been “over there” since 1965] to distill the real essence of the political quandary facing the States this year, but Ms. Daley certainly sees through to the core of the issue at hand. I took the title for this post from the subtitle of the Telegraph article, and it smartly gets to the point that wealth has to be created – and that requires work. When everyone gets a free lunch, pretty soon, not only is the lunchroom trashed by ingrates contemptuous of the worthlessness they’re given, but there’s no longer any lunch to give out either, because the lunch-makers have stopped working at lunch, and are also awaiting their own free lunches. The truth of the matter is that entitlements can only be permanently effected using slavery.

As Daley notes, the West as a whole, including the U.S., is truly at a crisis point, where the direction chosen will not simply mean yet another recalibration of the extent to which the social politics of the late 19th century will dominate the culture, but will signify the readiness of self-governed man to admit fundamental mistakes, and forge a path of reform. I suppose she’s right that the U.S. is uniquely positioned to lead here, and if we fail, I think it’s hard to overestimate the wreckage that will  likely follow.

It’s not just that so much of the prosperity in the world is dependent upon U.S. prosperity. If, down the road, the U.S., incapable of functioning under its mountain of debt, significantly devalues the dollar, or outright reneges on its sovereign debt, China, swarming with women-less men who have no prospects of marriage due to their insane abortion practices, would be highly likely to perceive the move as an act of aggression equivalent to war – and understandably so – not unlikely responding so as to set off a proverbial World War III. The crisis, then, is not primarily about cozy retirement, or commoditized medical technology, or tax rates, or even about the immorality of intergenerational theft; it’s about whether the legacy of 20th century consumerism will amount to a 21st century of precarious but effective prosperity, or one that devolves into cruel warfare and the widespread grinding poverty that characterized so many pre-capitalist societies, but without a feudal system of patronage to fall back on.

Government serves best when it protects and safeguards—rather than crowds out—the poverty-fighting institutions of civil society

Posted: Thursday, May 5, 2011 (10:00 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Thursday, May 5th, 2011:

Ryan Messmore, writing at the Heritage Foundation website, on the ruse that a social and political order disciplined by a commitment to limited government is to be equated with an antipathy for the poor:

The goal of overcoming poverty is not simply to eliminate need, but to enable people to thrive—that is, to empower them to live meaningful lives and contribute to society. Thriving is much more than a full stomach and a place to sleep. People tend to flourish in the context of healthy relationships with their families and communities. Suffering and breakdown often result when those relationships are absent or unhealthy.

Efforts to fight poverty are more effective if they tend to the full range of relationships necessary for thriving. Successful approaches not only heal brokenness where it exists, but also strengthen healthy relationships, which make poverty unlikely in the first place. Preventing a problem is often more effective in the long run than continually treating the symptoms.

Calls for increased welfare spending frequently miss the deeper problem: Poverty in America is often more the result of multiple broken relationships in peoples’ lives than the result of a lack of material resources. Financial trouble is often a symptom of a deeper breakdown. Whether a father abandoning his children, a broken marriage turning a spouse to drugs, or a teenage boy looking for acceptance in a gang, poverty and social breakdown often stem from people relating wrongly to someone or something. These broken lives resulting from broken relationships often lead to material hardship.

Effective responses to poverty address the relational dynamics that lead people to drug addiction, depression, fear, violence, and the inability to keep a job. Yet a large bureaucratic government is ill equipped to address precisely these dynamics and relationships.

Hope, trust, friendship, accountability, discipline, encouragement, and healthy personal relationships are key ingredients of human well-being. When they are missing or ruptured, the result may be poverty, delinquency, or social breakdown. Civil society institutions that foster face-to-face interaction best cultivate these ingredients of human flourishing. Poverty-reduction efforts should therefore strengthen those spheres of society in which healthy relationships grow.

When considering the role of government in alleviating poverty, public policy should acknowledge the relational nature of poverty as well as the vital contributions from local, personal institutions. Government is an important piece of a larger framework that benefits people in need, but government serves best when it protects and safeguards—rather than crowds out—the poverty-fighting institutions of civil society.

This essay demonstrates some clear thinking on a perennially important topic, but like most “conservative” views promoting what used to be called the liberal order of public life, it reads much too much like a report, and not enough like a manifesto. Still, it’s a fairly solid presentation of an idea that is going to have to be nurtured into an effective story, if America is going to avoid the slide into moral anarchy that is pounding on the doors of those European societies awash now in entitlementism coupled with fiscal insolvency. How on earth, after all, does a society deal with a constantly growing underclass of perpetually unemployed or underemployed state-dependent subjects, who expect (and have been promised) a never-ending stream of bread & circus? The domination of society by the bureaucratic state is such a profoundly stupid idea that it is difficult to even find untrammeled ground upon which to stand to criticize it

Via First Thoughts

– Update: with some discussion here, demonstrating yet again just how pervasive assumptions regarding the “normalcy” of state-dependency have quietly become.

No Child Left Unbooted in Natick

Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 (11:49 pm), by John W Gillis


Natick, MA Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Sanchioni, putting a whole lot of clever lipstick earlier this month on a “looky what I found!” decision to raid a high school construction project’s (borrowed) contingency fund to underwrite – with tax dollars – a newly discovered necessity for educating teenagers: personal laptops for everyone:

"What we feel, and the case we’re going to make to the MSBA, is that they’ve totally underestimated what a technology budget should be in a 21st century school," Sanchioni said. "We don’t just want a model school in construction, we want a model school in instruction."

The plan, as laid out in this MetroWest Daily News article, calls for raiding the contingency fund of the new Natick High School building project to the tune of $2M, to provide personal laptops for every student in the 9-12 school by the time the new building opens in 2012 (the staff is already provided for). Essentially, that means borrowing this money for 20 years, but I’ll get to that.

This is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start – and I’ve delayed posting this for days out of fear I’ll end up getting sucked into writing a long criticism.

To begin with, there’s the presumption that teens need computers to learn in the 21st century, or something like that. Well, I guess I don’t know how anyone else ever managed back in the Dark Ages of pen and paper, but I do know that kids primarily use computers for social networking, role playing, and procuring entertainments that span the gamut from the ditzy to the despicable, and I’m not seeing how saddling their notoriously undisciplined selves with such dubious tools during the school day is going to help their intellectual growth. I’ll put the primitively delivered education my two young daughters receive up against the iEducation of the tweeting teens any day.

Even if we incorrectly surmise that there is a real benefit to having classrooms full of laptop-carrying teens, there’s another poor assumption being put forth here that this makes for a proper expenditure of public funds. To the extent that computers are useful tools for producing work, it makes sense to make them publically available for use, both in schools and in public libraries that can be used outside of school hours, as has in fact been the case for years.

But it makes no more sense for the public to pay for privately-used computers for these kids than it would to publically provide for their personal clothing, their personal food, their personal eyeglasses or other medical needs, their personal automobile transportation, or the electricity they need to run their computers at home – and that’s just the beginning of the list of student “needs.” All of these things are, in one way or another, pre-requisite to the ability to use the laptops as intended, and therefore more fundamental. Perhaps in the eyes of the public school establishment, all these things should be publically provided for, either directly by a centralized government or through local soviets, but I trust most people can see both the moral and practical absurdity of it. There is absolutely no moral justification, in example, for taking tax dollars from long-time resident pensioners trying to hang onto their property, and funneling it in the form of “free” laptops to the teenagers of the nomadic dual-income professional families that often occupy the revolving-door McMansions that have become ubiquitous in Natick, as in so many similar towns.

That still doesn’t even touch the specific question of whether it is proper to use building project funds to purchase these laptops, or the even more specific question of whether it is fitting to do so by raiding the project contingency funds. The fact of the matter here is that these computers are being procured on a three-year lease, and being paid for by 20-year bonds. How insane is that? If you follow the link to the article, you can find a verbose Natick School Committee member in the comment boxes trying to rationalize this behavior with a pathetic “everybody does it” argument, but it is downright irresponsible to borrow money for 20 years to pay for expense items that not only have such a limited shelf life, but will surely demand replacement six or seven times over before the initial outlay (plus all the interest, of course) is paid off.

That fact exposes yet another tawdry element to all this: these computers are being procured off-budget today, but this act effectively commits the town to a perpetual budget hit of somewhere in the neighborhood of $800K annually to replace the third part of the computer supply that ages out of the three-year lease cycle each year. Everybody knows that it will be almost impossible politically to roll back the entitlement once it is in place – the entitlement peddlers always count on that.

On top of that, according to a March 7th report from Dennis Roche, the town’s Director of Technology, this proliferation of computers to every school kid (No Child Left Unbooted?) through this new entitlement program will necessitate the growth of an IT department to support them, which appears to be a staff of twelve people under the director, including a full-time support person in each middle school.

How do the middle schools play into this? And how do I come up with an $800K annual refresh cost for a three-year cycle on a $2M initial investment? Well, it turns out that this program has been being piloted in the middle schools’ 8th grade classrooms. The $2M buys laptops for 4 grade levels, but the program actually extends over 5 grade levels, bringing the total inventory cost to $2.5M, refreshed on a 3-year cycle. That’s assuming the 7th grade isn’t next at the feeding trough… And here again, a fact has come to light that exposes even more distinctly the tawdry character of this act.

The superintendent  and school committee began piloting this program in the 8th grade before the high school building project funds were authorized, but certainly after the project planning for the high school job was underway. Then they “found” the funds in building project contingency to saturate the high school level grades with computers procured off-budget, all but guaranteeing themselves a perpetual budget allocation to feed their beast. I don’t think I’d be going too far out on the limb of likelihood to suggest that they perhaps concocted this scheme from the beginning? That they got their way through chicanery can hardly be contested (the linked article calls it “creative ways,” but the point remains the same). And if the school building project runs into trouble and needs the contingency funds being diverted for iEducation?…

The risk plan, laid out plainly enough in the Dr. Sanchioni quote above, is the very embodiment of entitlementism: go back to the MSBA cash cow, and demand more. Now, I don’t know if the MSBA would actually do any such thing – my better self tells me that they would scoff both at the idea of scrapping the agreement they just completed with the town, and at the idea of including almost disposable but costly expense items in the funding for a capital project, and that Sanchioni probably knows that very well, and is just grandstanding to try to deflect taxpayer anger onto a higher level of government (a chronic ruse perpetuated by the less honorable among both the appointed and the elected), but my more cynical self tells me that the MSBA exists to spend taxpayer money, and may yet look favorably on the establishment of a new “essential” entitlement within its sphere of power.

And if that’s what ultimately happens, I can rest soundly, knowing that I will be paying for the laptops out of both my left pocket (state taxes) and my right pocket (municipal taxes), instead of just out of my right pocket. According to the folks like Dr. Sanchioni who sold the slumberous citizens of Natick this project to begin with, that’s like getting it for half price.

Privatizing Prisons?

Posted: Saturday, January 29, 2011 (11:24 pm), by John W Gillis


Jazz Shaw has a troubling post on the blog over at HotAir.com, dealing with a recent suggestion from Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner to freeze new prison construction funding in PA. As the Entitlements Chicken comes home to roost, states are likely to begin looking at their corrections systems for ways to save. Nothing wrong with that in theory, but I have a hard time seeing how the typical alignment of political squabbling will produce a good path forward. To wit, Shaw’s two-cent’s worth on available options:

Wagner is excluding the ranks of murderers, rapists and their ilk, as previous, sensible plans have done. And rather than some sort of catch and release scheme, he’s examining alternate options including half-way houses, electronic monitoring for home detention, and evening – weekend release programs (which free up beds) for the well behaved.

All of these have potential, and I hope he’s not too badly excoriated solely for political gain over this. But the one item which seems to have been left off the table is privatization. While such plans have hardly been problem free, some have shown a great deal of promise. Getting the prison system off the state government’s books entirely and turning it over to a for-profit organization which will be motivated to do the job in the most economically efficient manner possible should also be considered.

Let me be blunt: the notion of privatizing prisons is inane – and perhaps insane. Securing the public order is one of the few unquestionably legitimate functions of government, and that includes the administration of punishment for wrongdoers. In fact, in one of his more famous and widely-quoted passages, Saint Paul tells us in Romans 13:4 that it is a sacred duty of the state; that the ruling authority “is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” Trading this duty for a price break is grossly irresponsible. Furthermore, it establishes a dehumanizing institution wherein human punishment – human degradation – is undertaken as a for-profit enterprise, which while not as completely evil as, say, the abortion industry, nonetheless flagrantly flouts decency’s law against the objectification of our fellow human beings, in ways more than a little reminiscent of slave trading. Yet, I fear this idea is likely to gain traction within certain circles.

Before this gets too far, I hope we can have a serious public discussion (ha!) about the meaning and purpose of punishment for crime. We seem to take the prison system as being essentially synonymous with the idea of a penal system, as if there aren’t any other serious alternatives except for options that could be bundled under the rubric of leniency – this despite the historical reality that the ubiquitous use of prison time  for punishing crime is relatively new. I realize the prison-focused model was implemented as a humanitarian alternative to older forms of punishment, but I’m not convinced prisons aren’t often very expensive means for completing the social alienation of men (and women) who are obviously already at least tending anti-social – further coarsening them, and facilitating and/or creating a criminal sub-culture that in turn facilitates permanent alienation from whatever virtue “straight” culture can manage to foster in its conforming members.

It’s also true that some people get their lives turned around in prison. But I suppose there are prisons and there are prisons, and again, there are prisoners and there are prisoners. For every prisoner that gets his life turned around doing time, how many become conformed to an anti-social norm that mitigates against their ever being prepared to function properly in virtuous society, and how is this related to the unmistakable and steady decline of virtue in an “outside” culture that lionizes moral transgression as a kind of counter-cultural bravery? At any rate, it should be clear enough that the actual consequences of the prison movement have not produced the results liberal society expected to achieve in its penal system.

Any serious conversation about this issue would require that civic leaders and other concerned parties understand the overall purpose of criminal punishment in American society; its intended goals from both a societal perspective and that of the individual offender; the relation of punishment to rehabilitative purposes in modern penality; the breadth of content of the actual practices of incarceration in America; and the effects of both actual and threatened incarceration on various elements of the population.

No small task that, but America has a ridiculously large prison population, and people are about to start arguing over whether or not we should turn its administration into a profitable business for someone – in order to expand that population even further, without interrupting tee times.

The Edge of Politics

Posted: Tuesday, April 13, 2010 (11:21 pm), by John W Gillis


Richard Fernandez over at Pajamas Media posted a disturbing commentary yesterday on a couple of articles he had recently read concerning the apocalyptic economic problems facing both California and Great Britain. The root of the problem, in both cases, is easy enough to identify: the entitlement mentality that believes that something can be had for nothing (or little). The title of his article (I Want My MTV) sums it up neatly (money for nothing, chicks for free…).

But it’s easy to hammer on the unsustainability of free lunch programs for massive numbers of people. In the abstract, more or less everybody understands it. What’s disturbing about the viewpoint of Fernandez (and his interlocutors) is a pessimism that politics would even be capable of tackling the problem – but they may be right:

Britain has gone into debt to buy a ball and chain. Who’s going to tell the electorate that? And how do you sell solutions to such monumental problems to an electorate accustomed to being promised ever more comfort, safety and ease? The answer: you can’t. The political system can’t meet the challenge without liquidating itself. Faced with an insoluble problem the political elite marks time by becoming obsessed with trivia. It rearranges the deck chairs on its Titanic. It whistles past its graveyard.

I keep telling myself that America has a reservoir of resiliency that will surge up to fend off the dangerous lurch to the left that the country has taken – telling myself that the overreach of the Obama regime will waken the sleeping giant that has too quietly acquiesced to the steady leftward march of the nation over the past century, and manage to do so before we plunge over the edge.

But listening to people rationalizing the government takeover of the healthcare market – whether various flavors of the Obamacare vision, or even the current regulatory shakedown of (non-profit!) insurers here in Massachusetts under Romneycare – it strikes me that the defense of these actions is almost invariably couched in moralistic terms that defend taking (i.e. stealing) from the “haves” for the greater good – whatever that may actually entail in practice. In other words, this is hardly a political problem at all, but a spiritual one, which displaces even basic morality with a moralism rooted in the will to power – and those crafty paving stones of good intentions.

This is a very different rationale than Fernandez pursues, but it certainly supports his conclusion .