How close can a person get to the heart of a matter, and still pull back — just in time! — to avoid accepting any deep truth?
The answer seems to be: Very close. Microscopically close. Nanite-nudging nearness, measured in nanometers.
That margin of closeness was today put into black ink courtesy, once again, of Nobel Laureate economist and New York Times op-ed scribbler, Paul Krugman.
In “A Tale of Two Moralities,” Krugman once again hallucinates that a variant of libertarianism — unnamed, of course, and identified with “the right” — as being a major player in recent politics. He says the two moral notions that divide our nation, today, are as follows:
One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.
The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.
Krugman says there is no middle ground between these views. Most of my libertarian friends would agree. Amusingly, the truth is that there is a middle ground between these views, and that ground is . . . libertarian, too.
But forget that for a moment. Let us take out the proverbial electron microscope that can detect Krugman’s sliver of a point, and see how far he takes it. He’s up to something. He is much exercised by the need for both sides to speak to each other and co-exist:
In a way, politics as a whole now resembles the longstanding politics of abortion — a subject that puts fundamental values at odds, in which each side believes that the other side is morally in the wrong. Almost 38 years have passed since Roe v. Wade, and this dispute is no closer to resolution.
Yet we have, for the most part, managed to agree on certain ground rules in the abortion controversy: it’s acceptable to express your opinion and to criticize the other side, but it’s not acceptable either to engage in violence or to encourage others to do so.
What we need now is an extension of those ground rules to the wider national debate.
Krugman insists that, to co-exist, we must foreswear violence:
We need to have leaders of both parties — or Mr. Obama alone if necessary — declare that both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds. We all want reconciliation, but the road to that goal begins with an agreement that our differences will be settled by the rule of law.
Krugman is audacious, here. For what he tells us is that we must abide by rules that preclude initiating force. That is, the way for “libertarians” (what he calls “right-wingers”) and “liberals” to live together is that we accept the rules that libertarians are insisting be applied up and down the line.
Think about this, a second. Libertarians oppose medical socialism or even more extensive regulation and taxation and subsidy on the grounds that it violates their rights, their liberties. “Liberal” “progressives,” on the other hand, want these new levels of government control. We disagree. So, how do we get along? Not by appealing to the “liberal” or “progressive” line on government, but to the libertarian one.
Stephan Kinsella will correct me if I’m wrong, but Krugman seems to have given us an estoppel reason for ignoring Krugman’s own and much-favored politics — and for re-affirming our own. When disagreement over how to dispose of resources happens, Krugman admits that libertarian principles work, “liberal”/“progressive” principles don’t.
How Big a Fool?
Force is no way to live in what Herbert Spencer called “the social state.” When we co-exist in society, bullying, theft, extortion — these are out of bounds. They degrade society. They disrupt the peace. They set up traps from which it is near impossible to extricate oneself.
We cannot have people shooting at each other just because they disagree, whether they disagree on what to wear or what to do with their organs, or, well, pretty much of anything.
That, friends, is the basic, liberal principle that is the libertarian idea. Libertarians merely take this further than most people do, simply because most people want to halve their cake, eat it, and save it all for later, too. That is, they want to work, and trade, and live peacefully, but they also want to use the state to make them better off at someone else’s expense.
So how do you keep statist con games going while talking the rule of law and the importance of foreswearing violence? You do it by ridiculing libertarian ideas when you can, and — when confronting them — misconstruing them when you have to.
Krugman, in his “A Tale of Two Moralities,” does this by carefully not identifying the idea of “keep[ing] what [we] earn” as integral (as it is) with the idea of force limited to defense, and the rule of law. Rules of law are there to adjudicate disputes so they don’t spiral out of control, into long-standing feuds where a beginning and and end to force cannot even be identified. The law, as it developed in society after society, sees a big difference between force as initiated — started — and force used to defend what’s one’s own.
But Krugman tries to murk that all up.
Indeed, he wants us to even foreswear violent imagery, in the name of “getting along.”
This is a typical “progressive” ploy. Muddy up real violence, so that you cannot really distinguish the initiated from the defensive, and then talk about figurative violence (metaphors and such) as just as dangerous as all other violence.
And, of course, not recognize that everything government does rests upon the violence government can do and will do if we don’t co-operate. The state as the institutionalization of violence is something goody-two-shoey “liberals” throw garlands over, to mask the truth.
How to Get Along
So let’s agree with Krugman. Let’s admit that violence has no place as a way of debate — or of co-existing. And let’s remind him, time and again, that this principle must be applied more thoroughly, not only to the politics of disagreement, but to the policies that politics would establish.
I believe Krugman, actually, is very, very wrong, on the current ideological divide. I don’t think most people who oppose the Democrats’ heedless, witless, and reactionary resorts to more government control and redistribution are doing so for the reasons he says. I suspect, they just think Democrats “go too far.” Democrats cannot even imagine balancing budgets any longer. And common sense Americans are aghast. They don’t see why we can’t have a welfare state that just does a few things. But Democrats have gone crazy. They recognize no limits to their spending habits, taxing preferences, or much of anything else.
So most Americans reject the Democrats’ policies on “middle-of-the-road” grounds.
Would that they rejected them for the reason Krugman gives! We’d get a lot more liberty, that way.
Krugman is just another ideologue who cannot understand — or willfully misconstrues — his opposition, the better to make his position look.
But now he’s gone too far. He’s making his position look crazier and crazier, and the the opposition look better.
So perhaps we should pretend he’s right. Perhaps Americans, witnessing the continuing degradation of politics and governance in the modern welfare state, are indeed reviving the libertarian idea.
And would it help, then, to remind Americans that Krugman’s “two moralities” are not so different? I am a libertarian, and yet I believe that it is right and proper for affluent folk to help the less needy.
How can this be?
Very simple: Because when I help the needy, I don’t go to the local government for matching funds. I simply help the needy. I don’t ask for a tax on those more wealthy than I, I simply ask for more help, take what I can get, and proceed to help.
Charity begins in one’s own wallet. Extending it, forcibly, to others — the old tax-and-distribute scheme — makes of it a tribal warfare item, where people who think the state should distribute the aid hold back until others provide more.
This is why the modern “liberal”/“progressive” contributes so little to charity, compared to folk on the right. They are not more generous. They are niggards. Perhaps the reason they adopt the position that the rich should be taxed to help the poor is because (a) most think of themselves as not rich enough to help, and (b) they know that, even if rich, they wouldn’t help much. So they want and demand force, and squeeze an extra dollop of self-righteousness from their stance.
It’s a sad, sad strategy. Increasingly, Americans are finding it disgusting and vile. And Krugman, arguing from the pages of the New York Times, can only defend it by leveraging the libertarian idea in favor of his own, perverse ideology. And pretending, all the while, that he’s a sage.
And not a fool.
As Agent Maxwell Smart would say, he missed it by that much.