The more that individualism can be portrayed as a chimera, the more that any individual’s achievements can be considered as derivative from society, the less the achievements warrant respect. And the more society is entitled to conscript — that is, to socialize — whatever portion of the individual’s wealth that it considers its fair share. Society may, as an optional act of political grace, allow the individual to keep the remainder of what society thinks is misleadingly called the individual’s possession. Note that “society” necessarily means society’s collective expression: the government. Note also that government will not be a disinterested judge of what is its proper share of others’ wealth. This collectivist agenda is antithetical to America’s premise, which is: Government — including such public goods as roads, schools and police — is instituted to facilitate individual striving, a.k.a. the pursuit of happiness.Strictly speaking, roads and schools are not public goods, although delegating their provision to government agencies might be defensible, although I (along with Mr Will) have my doubts.
With the first debates of the presidential campaign about to take place, though, it's going to be another round of Whose Wise Experts Are Better. Sorry, you don't quite get a "none of the above."
It is conservatism, not progressivism, that takes society seriously. Conservatism understands society not as a manifestation of government but as the spontaneous order of cooperating individuals in consensual, contractual market relations. Progressivism preaches confident social engineering by the regulatory state. Conservatism urges government humility in the face of society’s extraordinary — and creative — complexity. American society, understood as hundreds of millions of people making billions of decisions daily, is a marvel of spontaneous cooperation. Sensible government facilitates this cooperative order by providing roads, schools, police, etc., and by getting out of the way of spontaneous creativity. This is a dynamic, prosperous society’s “underlying social contract.”You can bet on emergence, and you can even entrust some of the roads, schools, and law enforcement to markets, but it's not to that I wish to speak. Rather, it's to the unintended consequences of the Credentialed Elite rigging things in their favor that Mr Will raises.
After more than half a century of attempts at ameliorative social policies, it is undeniable that there exists an underclass trapped by the intergenerational transmission of poverty. Furthermore, the middle class believes, and is not mistaken, that as society becomes more technocratic and complex, and more given to rewarding cognitive elites, those elites become more adept at entrenching themselves by passing their advantages on to their children.Thus, the Cloward-Piven effect doesn't have to be the internal destitute or the in-migrating destitute overwhelming the social services, the rent-seekers will crash the system themselves.
A perverse form of entrepreneurship is spawned as economic interests maneuver to become dependent on government-provided opportunities. As people become more deft at doing so, government becomes an engine of unearned inequality. This is especially a peril in successful societies. Economist Mancur Olson warned that the longer a successful society is stable, the more numerous are the successful factions — not the poor, or the unemployed or the new entrepreneurial risk-takers who are trying to gain a foothold against established competitors — who become deft at gaming the political system for advantages. These include domestic protectionism in the form of occupational licensure; or regulations that are more burdensome to newer and smaller entrants into a market than to large, wealthy corporations; or international protection in the form of tariffs and import quotas. More and more factions figure out how to prosper by achieving distributional advantages through politics. And society slowly succumbs to energy-sapping sclerosis.Yes, and in this presidential cycle, the masters of achieving distributional advantages are in a massive faction fight over whether the old-style advance auction of stolen goods or a new intersectional auction shall be offered. (Via Cafe Hayek.)