Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hope Amid Despair on Thanksgiving

Today it's easy for any thinking man to succumb to despair.

The Feds are spending stolen money like Viking sailors while promising more control over everyone. Progressive columnists left and right are urging them on, more confident than ever in their influence. That American culture, what's left of it, is decaying at an accelerating rate is a commonplace observation around the political compass. The likelihood of even so simple and once taken-for-granted an act as your neighbor just keeping his word is much lower today than in prior generations.

And yet, there are many hopeful signs for a better future; quite a few if you look carefully.

Yes, it sounds ridiculous at first blush. In fact, the case can be argued in a ridiculous way. Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch at ReasonOnline did just that recently in The Libertarian Moment. Their conclusion isn't absurd — they assert that things got better after the 70s ended. The problem is they use trivial examples like ending the Civil Aeronautics Board, having wider access to effective birth control, and increased prevalence of long hair on men, more socially acceptable clothing choices, and the like.

They quote Tom Wolfe approvingly, saying: "They’ve created the greatest age of individualism in American history! All rules are broken!" Not for nothing did Rand identify libertarians as "hippies of the right."

Now, the dissolution of the CAB, better birth control, and a diversity of individual styles aren't bad. Far from it. But if that's the best they can do, it's no wonder that "The Libertarian Party… [won] one electoral vote in 1972 and 921,299 popular votes in 1980" and has gone only downhill since. Cheering the fact that "all rules are broken" is not the way to encourage a rational culture, the prerequisite for one that supports individualism and freedom.

Fortunately, a good case for a better future is possible, and the authors recognize some elements of it. "...exponential advances in technology, broad-based increases in wealth, the ongoing networking of the world via trade and culture..."

There are others, even more important.

Thanks to the Internet in particular it's possible to get out a rational, pro-freedom message for only the price of your time. That would make it much harder to establish censorship, even amid a resurgence of support for the Fairness Doctrine. The FCC can easily terrorize TV and radio stations, who have billions on the line. It would be hard for them to chill blogs.

Climate science is advancing to the point that the global warming hypothesis is being eroded daily. To be sure, it will take a while for politics to catch up to — or, more accurately, be restrained by — the facts. There's enormous momentum for some kind of cap-and-trade legislation. But apart from being slowed down by a worsening economy, its advocates are going to find it harder to impoverish Americans when the scientific justification — always thin — is evaporating.

Citigroup may be in trouble, but they still have $2 trillion in assets. The Feds are trying very hard to spend all our damn money. But ultimately they will exhaust themselves, or people will lose patience with their meddling as it shows itself not to succeed. Then, producers will produce and the money on the sidelines will emerge for investment.

Even the financial downturn itself may not be quite as bad all around as we've been led to believe. It's early, but Thomas Sowell asserts: "Amid all the political and media hysteria, national output has declined by less than one-half of one percent." To add some anecdotal evidence, HDTV prices are down by half, along with everything else in Wal-Mart's recent flyer as are, obviously, gasoline prices. That's one way economies recover, by lowering prices.

Aside from these chiefly material circumstances, there are cultural aspects that continue to be good and could well get better over the coming few years.

The intellectual resources that created and sustained what we enjoy today still exist in many forms. Despite the destructive efforts of Progressives in media, academia, and government, millions of Americans continue to think rationally and advocate the right values.

There are dozens of popular columnists — Thomas Sowell, David Harsanyi, and Jeff Jacoby just to name three — arguing every day that capitalism is good, that freedom is an important value. Copies of Ayn Rand's novels continue to be distributed by ARI in schools around the country at the request of teachers who assign them to students. Books on the history of the Great Depression showing the disastrous effects of Hoover's and FDR's policies are now more plentiful (and successful) than ever. Goldberg's Liberal Fascism, Shlaes' The Forgotten Man, and Powell's FDR's Folly are three recent examples.

These are non-material resources that will prove valuable in the years to come. Apart from the columnists referenced above, America is still burgeoning unknown citizens with good sense. (Just read the comments on articles by those columnists sometime. Look at the hundreds of anti-Green, pro-liberty, pro-technology comments in Amazon book reviews.) Many still respect science; they still love individual freedom; they're still suspicious of those who would distort the first and undermine the second.

If their efforts can be coalesced in some effective form, the country still has a good chance of righting itself.

Goldberg writes in Liberal Fascism (page 110) of one interesting method, albeit used for evil during the Wilson administration. George Creel, head of the Committee on Public Information and a Progressive journalist, had the idea to create a vast propaganda corp. He organized nearly 100,000 "Four Minute Men." They would stand on street corners, in bars, anywhere a few people were gathered and deliver a four-minute speech touting Wilson's fascist policies. In 1917-1918 they delivered over 7.5 million of them in 5,200 communities.

Re-worked for the Internet, and provided with persuasive arguments to deliver on the value of liberty, that might just make a difference. Who knows? In a few years, we might very well have something for which to give thanks.

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