Sunday, August 24, 2014

Capitalism needs your malice to survive

Capitalism digs its own grave. One way it does this is by encouraging increasingly stupid positions in its defense. More and more, its apologists become untethered from economic reality and public opinion. They sell this as intellectual independence and elite insight - but hilariously, that posture becomes a license for every contrarian crank in the universe. Thus, Daniel Payne:
Ah, “stigma:” one of the last great impediments to full-blown government dependency... Keeping welfare firmly in the stigmatized realm is not merely a conservative crusade; it’s good policy, too.
This is clearly supposed to be some kind of outrageously provocative argument, but as is so often the case with this genre of writing it isn't even offensive so much as catastrophically dumb.

Explicitly, Payne argues that Capitalism depends in the final analysis on a mass government social engineering project to micromanage our sentiments about poverty. And to the limited extent that his ideal policy outcome is even coherent, it is by his own description completely counterintuitive to ordinary human sentiment.

This is not an argument that Capitalism as a workable or even particularly desirable economic program; it's an argument that Capitalism is completely untenable and not worth saving.

lol sympathy

Notably, Payne's entire premise places Capitalism under what was supposed to be one of the strongest indictments of Socialism: both, we are now told, rely on popular attitudes that don't exist.

Supposedly, one of Capitalism's greatest assets is the way that it harnesses "natural" human selfishness. Communism, on the other hand, relied on massive government programs designed to impose on the population necessary attitudes about altruism and the common good. This was not only morally suspect for the partisans of intellectual autonomy; it was as a practical matter simply impossible to implement and maintain. You simply cannot create an indoctrination program thorough and effective enough to overcome attitudes so deeply rooted in human nature.

But that, of course, is exactly what Payne is calling for. This "Federalist" even wants it imposed by the federal government: he applauds Rep. Paul Ryan's plan, which "would essentially mandate that states opting for the Opportunity Grant implement work requirements." This tyrannical Big Government requirement, Payne hopes, would aid in "inculcating" attitudes amenable to his plan for the economy. Freed from this benevolent guidance from the nanny state, who knows what subversive ideas Americans might come up with?

A modest proposal

Payne describes his plan as a "policy" and the National Review calls it a "mandate" - but of course, neither actually want you to understand it as a government action.

Rather, hatred of the poor is some kind of natural "stigma" that would exist by default - but for the Left's sinister efforts to "make it [welfare] a no-big-deal kind of thing". So Paul Ryan's attempts to tack a social engineering project onto welfare grants is really just a way of offsetting the destructive culture of dependency fostered by those very programs.

Of course, there's a simpler way to eliminate that effect, a truly Federalist approach that takes Big Government out of the equation completely: end all welfare.

Get rid of school lunches for hungry children, and instantly there is zero danger of government dependency. Within a matter of weeks we will have our truly "independent citizenry that can provide for itself without the Left's benevolent help," because by then all of the justly reviled third-grade parasites will (hopefully!) have starved to death.

Not to tread too heavily on too many sensitive progressive ideals, but as Capitalists have long noted - correctly - the very existence of welfare programs destigmatizes them. Regardless of the rhetoric we surround them with, welfare sends a clear message to its recipients: "These are entitlements that we as a society have decided you have a legal right to."

Cowardly incoherence

There's an obvious reason why Capitalists are usually unwilling to carry their argument about welfare to its direct conclusion: it's just way too vile and embarrassing.

That's why, even as he insists that we should "bring back the welfare stigma," Payne repeatedly undercuts his own argument, pleading that welfare is "not an irredeemable sin or an uncorrectable wrong" and maintaining that "Those who have truly fallen on hard times deserve our genuine sympathy, and we should not snarl at them for turning to as easy and accessible a source of relief as government welfare."

This is plainly RINO gibberish.

The problem is that nothing about the way that Payne "moderates" his position actually provides a logical or principled basis for navigating its competing claims. Sympathy and concerns about government dependency allow for welfare - but not the destigmatization of welfare. Why draw the line there?

There isn't any economic or rational basis for Payne's stigmatized welfare program, but there's a transparent political factor: cowardice. Instead of owning his grotesque contempt for the poor, Payne finds it humiliating and realizes that it's a political liability; so he veils it with token overtures towards compassion with no meaningful policy consequences. He comes the closest towards his actual position when he talks about there being "plenty more work to reduce welfare use" - the long game, of course, being the right-wing wet dream of ending the welfare state entirely.

No one actually thinks that's a good idea, and Payne knows it. But the persistence of welfare remains an embarrassing reminder of the failures of Capitalism. If the right can find a pretext for shifting that blame onto the shoulders of children, that may buy their ridiculous beliefs a little more time.