Friday, September 17, 2010

The Tea Party Versus The Rot

In his tiny, focused classic Communism Richard Pipes illuminates the moral rot that infected the Soviet Union after years of Communism: "Lying became a means of survival, and from lying to cheating was one small step. Social ethics, which make possible a civil society, were shattered. No moral onus was attached to stealing. This manner of thinking led to the corruption of the whole nation."

In his great article delving into the Greek sovereign debt crisis, Michael Lewis describes a similar rot that has infected quasi-socialist Greece: "The Greek state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it worked you could understand a phenomenon which otherwise made no sense at all: the difficulty Greek people have saying a kind word about one another. Individual Greeks are delightful: funny, warm, smart, and good company. I left two dozen interviews saying to myself, “What great people!” They do not share the sentiment about one another: the hardest thing to do in Greece is to get one Greek to compliment another behind his back. No success of any kind is regarded without suspicion. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his real estate. And this total absence of faith in one another is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing makes any sort of civic life impossible; the collapse of civic life only encourages more lying, cheating, and stealing."

The Soviet Union and modern Greece do not share this degraded civic state by coincidence. Complete civic rot is a feature of socialism, an unavoidable result of that governing system's destructive force. Thus Ludwig Von Mises rightly notes that socialism is not an alternative to capitalism, it is an abyss: "A man who chooses between drinking a glass of milk and a glass of a solution of potassium cyanide does not choose between two beverages; he chooses between life and death. A society that chooses between capitalism and socialism does not choose between two social systems; it chooses between social cooperation and the disintegration of society. Socialism is not an alternative to capitalism; it is an alternative to any system under which men can live as human beings." (HT: Carpe Diem)

Don't think it can happen here? Just take a look at the size and broken state of our entitlements, our public pension crisis, the bitter struggle emerging between those who finance the system and those who feed off of it and how that struggle has polluted our politics. Politics in America today is not about solving our problems, it is solely about taking away and handing out money. It is simply about who finances what for whom and the rot is setting in; you can't have a civil discussion about fiscal priorities - i.e. Chris Christie has to wage all out war to keep from spending billions more than the state has, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino gets sued by the County Board to stop from cutting $160 million out of a $1.8 billion budget. You can't say "wait a second" regarding the gargantuan and growing expenditure of resources that we don't have without incurring the vicious ire of whole swaths of our society. Question teacher pensions in New York and you can be sure that transit cops in California and sanitation workers in Seattle will hate your guts. It's early but the rot is showing early signs of arriving on these shores. The Tea Partiers see it, that is why they are so passionate, that is why they emblazon themselves with Founding Era garb and slogans, and why they are so keen to find ways to succeed - they are out to cleanse the system before the rot gets worse. It is a restoration project and the stakes are so high. When people say we could "end up like Greece" they are talking about unsustainable debt levels but the real danger is not the debt but the civic rot that lies underneath that allows the debt to pile up so high that it buries the nation. Well before we get to Greek-like debt levels, the rot will be so bad that there will be no turning back. The Tea Party is going to ensure we don't get remotely close to that point.


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