Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Welfare State vs. Virtue

James Dorn offers a fine essay at The Freeman on The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality Here's an excerpt:
Immigrants were faced with material poverty, true, but they were not wretched. There was a certain moral order in everyday life, which began in the home and spread to the outside community.

Baltimore’s Polish immigrants provide a good example. Like other immigrants, they arrived with virtually nothing except the desire to work hard and to live in a free country. Their ethos of liberty and responsibility is evident in a 1907 housing report describing the Polish community in Fells Point:

"A remembered Saturday evening inspection of five apartments in a house [on] Thames Street, with their whitened floors and shining cook stoves, with the dishes gleaming on the neatly ordered shelves, the piles of clean clothing laid out for Sunday, and the general atmosphere of preparation for the Sabbath, suggested standards that would not have disgraced a Puritan housekeeper.

Yet, according to the report, a typical Polish home consisted “of a crowded one- or two-room apartment, occupied by six or eight people, and located two floors above the common water supply.”

Even though wages were low, Polish Americans sacrificed to save and pooled their resources to help each other by founding building and loan associations, as Linda Shopes noted in The Baltimore Book. By 1929, 60 percent of Polish families were homeowners—without any government assistance.
That basic fact — that a free political system is premised on the presence of a virtuous populace — can never be emphasized too much. The great debate today, of course, is between competing ethical systems.

History gives us a guide and points to a time when Americans embraced self-reliance, self-responsibility, and self-confidence. The great open question is how to once again make those virtues the norm, especially in the face of an educational system working fiercely against them.

Suggestions welcomed.


Anonymous said...

History gives us a guide and points to a time when Americans embraced self-reliance, self-responsibility, and self-confidence. The great open question is how to once again make those virtues the norm, especially in the face of an educational system working fiercely against them.

Is it even possible? Half of the country receives some type of welfare. 20% of the citizenry receive 75% of their family income from the government (welfare). The welfare state is entrenched. Will any of the above people vote for someone who wants to end or minimize the welfare state?

There is also the demographic question. European women are not having children at the same rate as non-European women (black, hispanic, muslim) in the West. So America is bound to become something like Brazil where White people are the minority. The race issue shouldn't matter but in one sense it does because if white Europeans aren't going to embrace capitalism can we really expect a country where half its citizenry is black or hispanic (let alone Muslim) to repeal welfare statism and implement laissez faire?*

I hate to say it, but the future looks very grim. Ayn Rand's influence may have to wait for the fall of this civilization and the rise of the next one. And its anyone's guess where or when that will be.


* Also, can we expect a nation that is populated by a majority of non-whites from a more tribalist and collectivist background to ever embrace Ayn Rand? If white Europeans with the legacy of the Founding Fathers wont accept Rand how can we expect Mexican immigrants to? Immigration in the context of the egalitarian Leftist welfare state is killing us.

Jeff Perren said...

Good points and valid concerns, Max, and I don't have a satisfactory answer to them. Here are a few off-the cuff remarks, though.

Is it possible? Yes, I think it is, though the task is unquestionably daunting. I'm reminded of a point Michael Moeller has made to me more than once. Only 50 years before the Revolution, most Americans were living in communities dominated by local theocracies. Yet, the Constitution was born.

Given a choice between survival by sacrificing others and non-survival, most men will choose survival for themselves and their families. But it doesn't follow, I don't believe, that those same individuals will necessarily choose the easy ride of welfare over productive work. It depends on the incentive system, both internal and external.

There was a time when relying on welfare or even charity was considered shameful, and that undercurrent is still present in America. Whether it's on the way out, to be nothing more than an historical relic, or whether it is once more on the rise — as evidenced by the resurgence of conservatism — is, I think, too early to predict.

The demographic issue is potentially important, but I'm not excessively worried about the Mexicans, who comprise the largest group of 'non-whites' by far, if I'm not mistaken. After all, Mexicans are mostly Spaniards, i.e. southern Europeans, culturally.

It's been my experience — I find the data thrown around too untrustworthy to use at present — that the majority are hard working and mostly moral (when they can be), despite persistent pockets of gang membership. They probably already embrace capitalism at least as much as, if not more than, the average American-born, middle class or affluent descendant of Northern Europeans.

Note, too, that Asians — just to choose one 'non-white' example — tend to excel in America and their historical cultural background is decidedly collectivist and irrationalist. If they can become advocates of good education, productivity and capitalism in large numbers, surely this is possible with any individual from any group. I note also that Aayan Hirsi Ali is Somalian.

I don't expect any of them to advocate laissez-faire any time soon, but then neither will any but a small percentage from any group in the next 30-50 years. Whether the holding pattern we've been in since the 60s can last that long, I don't know.

As to Ayn Rand's influence, I don't see that as essential, even while it would be hugely helpful. I believe she has the most logically consistent and empirically well-grounded philosophy for creating and supporting liberty — and therefore potentially the most powerful and enduring. But hers is not the only one. After all, the country was largely free for over 150 years long before she published a line.

That said, I can't fault anyone for believing the future looks grim. These are truly horrific times and the trends are mixed, and not chiefly because of our economic woes. All I can say is that it does no one any good to give into despair, as tempting as that sometimes is. (I'm not suggesting you are, by the way.)

Personally, while most of my posts naturally revolve around the problems of the day, I spend the majority of my time enjoying life by creating and embracing the good things still available.

On a more mundane note, you might consider moving to one of the culturally better states, such as Idaho, New Hampshire, or Texas. None are close to perfect but I find, at least in my own case, that it does help sustain one's love for life to live among — but not too close to — semi-rational, semi-decent people. I love what the big cities have to offer — museums, architecture, and all the rest — but, culturally, they're cesspools and I can only hold my nose for so long.

Just a few thoughts more or less off the top of my head. I hope there was something of value for you in them.

Jeff Perren said...
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