Monday, April 30, 2012

Chile's Cautionary Lesson for the US


Mary Anastasia O'Grady writes about communist stirrings in prosperous Chile, the poster child for Chicago-style liberalism.  That's university-of-Chicago style, not Mayor-Daly-like-Chicago style.

Chile's Presdident, Sebastian Pinera (pictured above), is channeling his inner compassionate conservative much to his country's detriment.  He saps the nation's moral and material resources while failing to placate his insatiable critics.

The wedge issue in that nearly-developed country, as everywhere, is income inequality. It seems that where opportunity abounds, some take better advantage of it than others.
Even while the material benefits of the market economy have been piling up for decades, Chile has been intellectually swamped by leftist ideas. The common principle: Economic inequality is immoral and the state has an obligation to correct it. 
Rather than push back against this invitation to tyranny, the right too often cedes the moral high ground to its proponents. Mr. Piñera is among the culprits. His reactive half measures designed to satisfy the moderate elements of the equality brigades are undermining Chilean freedom. They are also undermining his power by making him look weak and incompetent.

For those who look only at outcomes and not at how those outcomes are achieved, income inequality is always a per se scandal.  Some static economic condition is posited as the norm, and the benefit of the Haves is assumed to have come at the expense of the Have-Nots (Saul Alinsky's nomenclature).

The Statist solution is to suppress and control opportunity, and to redistribute emoluments according to some inarticulate notion of fairness, which in practice reduces to patronage, Mayor-Daly-Chicago style.  It doesn't take much for political opportunists to foment a resentful sense of entitlement, and organize the Have-Nots into a captive, demanding community.

It is much easier for the Have-Nots to get what they want at somebody else's expense than to work for it.  In practice, the Have's are usually beyond their reach, so the Have-Some-Want-More's (the middle class) end up footing the bill for fairness, and being punished in essence for achieving modest success.

The Have-Nots (and paid agitators who deign to speak for them) need only occupy a few plazas, overturn some cars, torch a building, defecate on the flag, block a bridge or two--in general, create some made-for-media spectacle.  The chest-thumping politicians will do the rest.

The scandal, to my mind, is that some people look only at outcomes, and discount the sacrifice, effort, toil, dedication, commitment, risk, planning, ingenuity, innovation, education, anxiety, hard work, luck and blessings it takes to achieve success.  Where opportunity abounds, there are many pathways to material advancement.

Some people view income inequality as proof that opportunity doesn't exist rather than as proof that in any human endeavor people will finish in a hierarchy.  They are unable to accept people as God made them.

To the extent that their political choices suppress human capabilities and potentialities under the weight of an aggrandizing state--even a democratically elected one--they, not those who favor the opportunity to succeed, are the immoral ones.  Ultimately, the affects of their fairness are to deprive people of the means to develop and flourish through productive activity, and correspondingly deprive society of material resources that would otherwise derive from augmented productive capacity.

The foregoing is not meant to reduce man to a producer or consumer, e.g., homo-economicus.  Rather, it aims to acknowledge the connaturality of what a man does to who he is, and, moreover, to recognize that in a world of embodied creatures, it is folly to impede their access to the means of generating material sustenance.

As I see it, the solution to the income-inequality conundrum is for those who view only outcomes to broaden the scope of their vision.  Rather than clamor for bigger government and hector people already carrying a heavy load, they need to help and exhort the Have-Nots to emulate the Haves and Have-Some-Want-More's, not envy them; to strive and take better advantage of opportunities available to everyone by sacrificing more, trying harder, etc.

Society could, for example, encourage couples to marry and stay married for the sake of the children they bring into the world, who need love and a stable home to develop into mature, capable adults.  The worst thing society could do is what it currently does: to foment resentment by telling Have-Nots, and even the Have-Some-Want-More's, that they are entitled to the Haves' posessions by virtue of mere disparity.

In terms of principles, nobody deserves to be left to die, whether or not they are able to take advantage of the many opportunities that democratic liberalism provides.  But, that primordial tenet of enlightened civilization does not translate into an entitlement to have the government take money from one party (living, or yet to be born) in order to pay for another party's stuff.

Income inequality is not immoral.  It is what happens when people are free, and indicates success or failure, both moderate and extreme.

Albeit, sometimes inequalities result from unfair play.  That is what law is meant to protect against and correct; not to make it impossible for those who play fairly to win.

Successful outcomes redound into the future because people transfer wealth to their heirs.  That is neither immoral nor unfair, as the ability to provide for one's posterity is partially what drives sacrifice, commitment, etc., the building blocks of success.

Society needs more people to make sacrifice for the sake of their own and their loved ones' success.  No society can afford to breed an ethos into its citizenry that demands some to make government-compelled sacrifices for the benefit of others simply because those others want free education, or diapers, or contraceptives, or what-have-you.

That too many Americans embrace such an ethos gives credence to the Nancy Pelosis of the world who consider people a burden and cost to society better preempted by government, cut off in the womb, than allowed to live and be free.  People with that ethos are, indeed, a burden and cost to society, which nevertheless doesn't justify her conclusion.

But, nobody has to have that dead-weight mentality.  It is immoral for the Nancy Pelosis of the world to foment a sense of entitlement, and then exploit it to justify confiscating society's resources to make decisions about who society can and cannot afford to take care of, or, indeed, permit even to be conceived.

People must learn to take care of themselves and their loved ones--as has ever been the case--in ever-broadening circles of identification.  It is the role and competence of families, Churches and elective associations to foment this dynamic, not of government.

There are better ways to take care of free beings who fall through the cracks of political economy than to have government assume control of their sustenance.  Civil society consisting of family, Church and sundry intermediate associations are better suited to the task, minimally because proximity between the helper and the helped breeds mutual accountability.

My fear is that the US under President Obama specifically, and Democratic hegemony generally since 2006, is further down the road to Statist utopia than Chile.  Sadly, it appears that the US provides a cautionary lesson for Chile, and the developing world, rather than the other way around.

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