Monday, February 22, 2010

America's First Post-American President

John Bolton sometimes claims that Obama is America's first post-American occupier of the chair in the Oval Office. There's merit to that view. But, for my money, that dubious honor might be better bestowed on Teddy Roosevelt, the first Progressive president. Here's some evidence:
The absence of effective State, and, especially, national, restraint upon unfair money-getting has tended to create a small class of enormously wealthy and economically powerful men, whose chief object is to hold and increase their power. The prime need to is to change the conditions which enable these men to accumulate power which it is not for the general welfare that they should hold or exercise.

We grudge no man a fortune which represents his own power and sagacity, when exercised with entire regard to the welfare of his fellows. Again, comrades over there, take the lesson from your own experience. Not only did you not grudge, but you gloried in the promotion of the great generals who gained their promotion by leading their army to victory.

So it is with us. We grudge no man a fortune in civil life if it is honorably obtained and well used. It is not even enough that it should have been gained without doing damage to the community. We should permit it to be gained only so long as the gaining represents benefit to the community.

This, I know, implies a policy of a far more active governmental interference with social and economic conditions in this country than we have yet had, but I think we have got to face the fact that such an increase in governmental control is now necessary.
A clearer statement that your money is morally yours only so long as you use it to serve others could hardly be found. It also shows how self-defeating utilitarian, altruist arguments for capitalism inevitably are.

Unfortunately, even the generally very good Jonah Goldberg falls prey to that error. (Mark Steyn, interestingly, does not, declaring "Nuts to that.") By contrast, Goldberg says,
You ask: "Isn't part of the argument for tolerating concentrations of wealth in a free-market society that in one people can amass fortunes only by bringing benefits to the community?"

And I would respond, yes it is. But another part of the argument is that the state (usually) isn't better at allocating wealth than the market is. And another part of the argument is that your wealth is your wealth, no matter how concentrated it is. The state may take its share based on the reasonable needs of the government to serve its functions and duties, it cannot and should not take more than that just because you have "too much wealth."
Beware supporting freedom chiefly by the argument "we'll all be better off." That's true, but it's not what justifies your liberty. The freedom to trade and keep what's yours are inalienable rights, come what may.


Ken said...

When someone uses utilitarian arguments with me, I usually suggest they go read Ursula LeGuin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (available free online) and get back to me. I suppose one could argue that the story is a reducto ad absurdum, but I think that if one is going to advocate a philosophy, one ought to be familiar with the logical limits of it.

Ken said...

Oops. Reductio. Shucky darn.

Jeff Perren said...

I've never been a big fan of SF novels, so I've not read that one. But thanks for the recommendation. I'll definitely look it up.

Ted Amadeus said...

"Conservative" socialists like Goldberg are usually the worst kind; the ones who never see their own policies enable their own destruction - Like Germany's central bankers during the Weimar Republic.
In general, socialists don't care about "the common good" they give so much lip service to. If they did, they would see a business - big or small - serves the common good by providing the best goods or services at a reasonable price, and competition drives out the poorer quality.
The lip service to common good socialists pay is cover for their naked lust after absolute power over everyone - nothing more!

Jeff Perren said...


I've got significant areas of disagreement with Goldberg, but I can't find anything he's written that suggests he should be characterized as a socialist.

How do you figure?