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Liberals Say US Is Ungovernable. Again Science's Big Problem

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The Back-pocket Manifesto

by Christopher Chantrill
February 24, 2010 at 11:31 am

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THIS WEEK the Tea Party conservatives launched their “Contract from America.” And a group of conservative luminaries released the “Mount Vernon Statement.” The first proposes to cut excessive spending, but doesn’t say what, and the second is a noble expression of soaring generalities.

If you wonder why bold conservative reformers are so timid, you only need to step over to usgovernmentspending.com and check out the gory details.

United States Federal State and Local Government Spending
Fiscal Year 2010

Pensions: $0.99 trillion
Health Care: $1.09 trillion
Education: $1.04 trillion
Defense: $0.90 trillion
Welfare: $0.75 trillion
Protection: $0.35 trillion
Transportation: $0.27 trillion
General Government: $0.13 trillion
Other Spending: $0.58 trillion
Interest: $0.31 trillion
Total Spending: $6.50 trillion

These numbers tell us that when you talk about cutting excessive government spending you had better be talking about the big four: Pensions (including Social Security and government employee pensions), Health Care, Education, and Welfare.

The government has utterly failed at these major programs. That’s because of two inescapable facts of government. It always promises more than it can deliver, and it is always more interested in rewarding its supporters than in actually delivering a product. Business is different. It has to deliver the product before it pays its wages, and it has to deliver on its promises or politicians will know the reason why.

In the end, we will have to take these programs away from government. They are too important to fail.

But is it really possible to do all these social programs without government? What will happen to grannie? What will happen to the poor? Don’t we care about kids?

Let’s think about how this is possible, just between you and me. Let’s call it the Back-Pocket Manifesto. Liberals, go away and watch Keith Olbermann for a while.

Social Security. In Chile they have replaced most of their government pension plan with a true savings plan. It is heavily regulated, but it delivers such high returns to Chileans that many of them retire early. It is obvious that Fidelity and Vanguard could scale up to administer a national program of worker savings for the US in very short order.

Education. We know that homeschooling works. We know that school choice works. But there’s more. In the Third World, James Tooley shows in The Beautiful Tree that unregulated, off-the-books, private, fee-paying schools for the poor are outperforming government schools. To replace government schooling fully we will need to put teenagers to work. According to Harriet Sergeant, we could ask Father Parkes, president of Cristo Rey, a Catholic parochial school in East Harlem, how that works. His students work one day a week on Wall Street.

From the age of 14 they join a team of five pupils each performing clerical work one day a week. They know their salary pays “a big chunk” of their education. As one young man said: “They treat me like an adult.”

Child sweat-shop workers back in 1913 thought the same. They hated the way they were treated at school.

Welfare. We already know that welfare can be reformed. We did it 14 years ago. If we’ve forgotten, we can always go back to the ABCDEFG method used by social workers in the 19th century to get discouraged workers back to work. Then we’d have money for people in genuine need.

Health Care. This is the hardest nut to crack. Let’s pose the issue in its starkest terms. Suppose we didn’t have government-provided health insurance: What then? We’d still have modern life expectancy, due to clean water, sewage disposal, garbage pickup, vaccination, asepsis, neonatal care, and antibiotics. There would still be Wal-Mart Care, which costs about 80 percent less than a regular doctor visit. People would be a lot more careful about carrying catastrophic health coverage. Maybe US health care would look a lot like Singapore’s, with medical savings accounts and prices about one third of US rates. Need a knee replacement? That’s $12,000 to $14,000, about the price of a good used car.

But the real reason to dismantle the welfare state is a moral one. The only moral way to help the afflicted and relieve the poor is with personal action. Simply writing a check, whether to the government or to a charity, is not enough. Herbert Spencer wrote in “The Proper Sphere of Government,” of an analogy between established religion and established charity. “The form will always be substituted for the reality,” in religion and in charity. “The payment of [taxes] will supplant the exercise of real benevolence, and a fulfillment of the legal form will supersede the exercise of the moral duty.”

I’m not suggesting here that we should immediately throw all our beloved national welfare-state programs on the bonfire of the liberal vanities. I’m only pointing out that we could.

But when the day comes, and the liberal welfare state hits the wall, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. The end of the world is here, the bribed apologists will wail.

No it isn’t, well-informed conservatives will say, hauling out our Back-Pocket Manifestos. It says here that there are alternatives to the liberal government programs and they work every time they are tried.

There is a problem, we’ll admit. There won’t be many government jobs for liberals. That would be the end of the world as we know it.

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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