3.11.12

MATT TAIBBI MEETS FREDERIC BASTIAT.

The State is that great fiction by which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.

In Mr Bastiat's essay, the Constitution of the United States was a safeguard against such things.  The new French Constitution he contemplated was something different.
Here there is no chimerical creation, no abstraction, from which the citizens may demand everything. They expect nothing except from themselves and their own energy.

If I may be permitted to criticize the first words of the French Constitution of 1848, I would remark, that what I complain of is something more than a mere metaphysical subtlety, as might seem at first sight.

I contend that this personification of the State has been, in the past, and will be hereafter, a fertile source of calamities and revolutions.

There is the public on one side, the State on the other, considered as two distinct beings; the latter bound to bestow upon the former, and the former having the right to claim from the latter, all imaginable human benefits. What will be the consequence?
Here's how it is to play out in France.
For, between the State, which lavishes promises which it is impossible to keep, and the public, which has conceived hopes which can never be realized, two classes of men interpose: the ambitious and the utopians. It is circumstances which give them their cue. It is enough if these vassals of popularity cry out to the people: "The authorities are deceiving you; if we were in their place, we would load you with benefits and exempt you from taxes."

And the people believe, and the people hope, and the people make a revolution!

No sooner are their friends at the head of affairs, than they are called upon to redeem their pledge. "Give us work, bread, assistance, credit, instruction, more money," say the people; "and withal deliver us, as you promised, from the demands of the tax-gatherers."

The new State power is no less embarrassed than the former one, for it soon finds that it is much more easy to promise than to perform. It tries to gain time, for this is necessary for maturing its vast projects. At first, it makes a few timid attempts. On one hand it institutes a little elementary instruction; on the other, it makes a little reduction in some taxes. But the contradiction is forever starting up before it; if it wants to be philanthropic, it must attend to its exchequer; if it neglects its exchequer, it must abstain from being philanthropic.

These two promises are for ever clashing with each other; it cannot be otherwise. To live upon credit, which is the same as exhausting the future, is certainly a present means of reconciling them; an attempt is made to do a little good now, at the expense of a great deal of harm in future. But such proceedings call forth the spectre of bankruptcy, which puts an end to credit.
Here's Mr Taibbi, using the recent Northeastern storm to question the supposed debate over the size and scope of the United States government.
In the abstract, most Americans want a smaller and less intrusive government. In reality, what Americans really want is a government that spends less money on other people.

Hurricane Sandy is a perfect, microcosmic example of America's attitude toward government. We have millions of people who, most of the year, are ready to bash anyone who accepts government aid as a parasitic welfare queen, but the instant the water level rises a few feet too high in their own neighborhoods, those same folks transform into little Roosevelts, full of plaudits for the benefits of a strong state.

The truth is, nobody, be he rich or poor, wants his government services cut. Drive up and down route 128 outside Boston, you'll see a lot of affluent white people waving Romney signs, complaining about entitlement spending. But about four thousand percent of those same people working along the high-tech ring there are totally dependent on the Pentagon contracts that keep doors open at companies like Raytheon and General Dynamics.

Here in the tri-state area, and especially in the lower Manhattan region I'm staring at out my window right now, you'll get much of the same – lots of whining now about deficit spending and the parasitical 47%, but also conspicuous silence a few years ago, when in one fell swoop, taxpayers had to spend about twice the amount of the annual federal budget just to save bonus seasons on Wall Street for the few thousand of our local assholes who nearly blew up the world economy.
More easy to promise than to perform, indeed. And, forsooth, living at the expense of everybody else!
The point is, we will end up with a big government no matter who wins next week's election, because neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama is supported by a coalition that has any interest in tightening its own belt. The only reason we're having this phony big-versus-small argument is because of yet another longstanding media deception, i.e. that the only people who actually receive government aid are the poor and the elderly and other such traditional "welfare"-seekers. Thus a politician who is in favor of cutting services to that particular crowd, like Mitt Romney, is inevitably described as favoring "small government," no matter what his spending plans are for everybody else.

But everyone lives off the government teat to some degree – even (one might even say especially) the very rich who have been the core supporters of both the Bush presidency and Romney's campaign. Many are industrial leaders who would revolt tomorrow if their giant free R&D program known as the federal military budget were to be scaled back even a few percentage points. Mitt's buddies on Wall Street would cry without their bailouts and dozens of lucrative little-known subsidies (like the preposterous ability of certain banks to act as middlemen in transactions when the government lends money to itself).

And if it's not outright bailouts or guarantees keeping the rich rich, it's selective regulation and carefully-carved-out protections from competition – like the bans on drug re-importation or pharmaceutical price negotiation for Medicare that are keeping the drug companies far richer than they would be, in the pure free-market paradise their CEOs probably espouse at dinner parties.
Unlikely. Pro-business policies are not necessarily pro-market, and the aristocracy of pull is almost surely more appealing than the aristocracy of money to the captains of protected, regulated industries.

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