Thursday, August 12, 2010

Never Enough, William Voegeli

"America's Limitless Welfare State", by William Voegeli.

SUPER, SUPER important, extremely well written and readable book. I reviewed it on Amazon (which I don't usually do), so I'll start with that as "the short version".

No review is going to do this book justice, just buy it and read it. While it is a very serious work on the very serious issue of the ever more unaffordable and expanding US welfare state, it is ALSO highly readable and witty. It successfully covers the difficulties of the competing liberal and conservative world views, philosophical strengths an weaknesses in each, and what Voegeli sees as the political realities that affect the debate. The conclusion is that the best hope for heading off the impending (or already occurring) collapse brought on by the lack of limit in the liberal view, conservatives must cease trying to turn the clock back and focus on a discussion about "how much" rather than "we have already gone to far". It may well be true that we have already gone too far, but a discussion of what is an appropriate limit will engage the liberals in a discussion that rests on the weakest part of there position rather than the strongest, and be the best hope for finally getting to some level we have at least a prayer to afford and sustain.

I stand by that, but I like to leave some key memories for myself out here.

p86 is a good discussion of FDRs "2nd bill of rights", which the left in this country has continued to try to pass.

p99, "Liberalism is even more of an attitude than it is a program. Liberals are critical of injustice, suspicious of vested interests, friendly to change, hopeful of peaceful improvement and convinced that reasoned argument ultimately overcomes selfish opposition."

One wonders if reasoned argument can also overcome vacuous platitudes, straw-man arguments and wishful thinking?  It reminds me so much of a liberal survey person that once asked me "are you in favor of clean water" -- to which I responded "compared to what?". They simply could not conceive of a heart so foul that there would be "strings". I think I proffered something like "at what cost? My eternal soul? the life of my first born child? a buck ??? ... it makes a difference." Needless to say, not to the "survey taker". "critical of injustice" is sophistry plain and simple ... the opposition is NOT "critical of injustice"???? Oh, I'm sure they are, they are in fact likely critical of the very injustice (in their eyes) that the "liberal" is about to foist upon them.

"The danger liberalism poses to the American experiment comes from it's disposition to deplete rather than replenish the capital required for self-government. The operation of entitlement programs leaves the country financially overextended, while the rhetoric and rationale for those programs leave it politically overextended. They proffer new "rights", goad people to demand and expand those rights aggressively, and disdain truth-in-advertising about the nature and scope of the new debts and obligations those rights will engender.  The moral and social capital required by the experiment in self-government is the cultivation, against the grain of a democratic age, of the virtues of forbearance, resolve, sacrifice, and restraint."

"The refusal to answer or engage the question of what would be enough--specifying the point at which the welfare state has done all we can expect and can no longer be expanded--leaves liberalism inviting, if not demanding, that dissipation ...permanently. Conservatives will have discharged a significant portion of their duty to protect our experiment in self-government if they can induce liberals to fulfill their duty by treating this question seriously--or make them pay a political price for refusing to."
The book is full of that kind of writing. It's major specific policy proposal is that means testing of all the benefits of the welfare system is our best hope. Conservatives need to admit that such a system is going to exist, but ask the question "should someone that makes over xxx $ be getting FICA"???  The only way that the welfare system can do the most good for the needy is to focus the benefits on the needy. The fiction that everyone in the US can be a net importer (eventually, if you live long enough) of the dollars of the welfare state, vs a net exporter has to stop!

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