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The Year of the Looter

by Christopher Chantrill
November 27, 2005 at 10:35 am

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WHAT A YEAR! First of all we got to see New Orleans looters calmly pushing shopping carts full of plasma TVs and expensive athletic shoes down the flooded streets of the Big Easy. Then we saw the rioters of the Paris banlieus calmly torching the cars of their neighbors and friends. And let us not forget the corporate looters, men like media mogul Lord Black, accused looter of Hollinger International, who apparently needed the money to fund the extravagance of his wife, the lovely Barbara Amiel. The year 2005 was the Year of the Looter.

Even ordinary middle-class Americans are getting into the looting, judging by the reports from Florida on the day after Thanksgiving. Of course they are not really looting, but just fighting each other for the privilege of buying off-brand plasma TVs at rock-bottom prices.

The big problem of the Year of the Looter is not the looters of TVs and the street rioters of Paris. Almost everyone agrees that they are thugs. The big problem is the looting that does not provoke outrage from the chattering and the moralizing classes.

What about the special election in California in which the voters approved of the looting of union workers’ paychecks by their union leaders so that the leaders could use the money to buy politicians and loot the public treasury on behalf of their members? What about the good liberal voters of King County, Washington, who reelected County Executive Ron Sims after the looted gubernatorial election of 2004 in which King County elections officials Counted Every Vote, legal or illegal, until Democrat Christine Gregoire came out the winner? What about the good citizens of France, who demand to continue looting their social model and The Wretched of the Earth be damned?

Then there is the bankruptcy of Delphi Corporation, looted of its ability to make a profit by its unionized, and now retired workers who secured their pensions out of the future revenue of the company rather than from their own savings. Now we read that General Motors is going to close 12 manufacturing facilities and lay off 30,000 workers to cut costs. Why is General Motors eating its seed corn? So that it can pay the pensions and health benefits promised to its retired workers. The current workers at Delphi and General Motors will pay with wage cuts and job losses so that Delphi and General Motors can continue their primary business of furnishing pensions and health benefits to retirees.

Pity the opportunistic looters of New Orleans. They are dealing in chump change compared to the billions in loot that the retired auto workers have commandeered. Pity the street punks and incendiaries of Paris. They are pikers compared to the cultured readers of Le Monde with their lifetime jobs and pensions.

But don’t envy the auto workers. Their buccaneering days are done now, and their loot will seem like chump change compared to the hoard being amassed by today’s robber baron, the government worker. Already, state and local government workers earn 40 percent more than workers in the private sector, as Steve Malanga reports in City Journal. What happens when it comes time to pay the unfunded pensions of all those government workers as guaranteed in their state constitutions? Don’t expect to find many state judges to believe in “living constitutions” when their pensions are at stake.

It’s odd isn’t it? In the bad old days of the patriarchy the looters were young men like the buccaneers who cruised the Caribbean for Spanish gold. In the future it will be little old retired nurses and teachers demanding their booty from the tax-enslaved American people.

Here’s an idea for the future. How about working to build a world with a little less looting? Let’s have less looting in the streets and less looting in the corporate suite, of course. But let us also work on the bigger problem, the out-of-control looting in the state legislatures and in the Congress.

There’s a practical reason for this. When people obtain their income from voluntary exchange they end up producing more product than when they behave like the fabled robber barons of the mountain passes. They work harder and they work smarter.

There’s also a moral reason. When people are organized into special interests fighting to secure special privileges and subsidies from the government then their fellow citizens are enemies, looters competing against looters for the political spoils. But when people turn away from looting then they start to see their fellow citizens as potential customers. They still want to get their hands on other peoples’ money, but they learn to get it by lawful exchange of products and services. That makes them better people.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Class War

In England there were always two sharply opposed middle classes, the academic middle class and the commercial middle class. In the nineteenth century, the academic middle class won the battle for power and status... Then came the triumph of Margaret Thatcher... The academics lost their power and prestige and... have been gloomy ever since.
Freeman Dyson, “The Scientist as Rebel”


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


Conservatism's Holy Grail

What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Drang nach Osten

There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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