Shaffer: Too big still fails

On Truth and Lies

Zak Newman ’13, says our new health care legislation will “increase competition,” “lower the government deficit,” and fulfill our “promise to the protection of life” of the most unfortunate in our society (“Realizing reform,” March 22). Let’s hope he’s right.

Watching the debates on C-Span and Facebook, I was reminded of a line from Ambrose Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary: “Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from a Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” More charitably, conservatives fear new evils; progressives hate present ones. That’s fair, but there’s an imbalance that makes compassionate people more inclined to progressivism — we can see and feel current evils, but future evils are invisible, uncertain and distant.

To progressives, conservatives seem callous to the unfair suffering currently permitted. How could a good person oppose reform, seeing all that pain? And conservatives lack eloquence — they can’t tell real stories about real people suffering under the new system because that world doesn’t exist yet. Future speculations are weighed against real, visible injustice. For a deeply compassionate audience, the rhetorical scales are weighted in favor of progressivism.

The failure of the right may be one of compassion, but the characteristic failure of the left is want of humility and trust that good intentions will go according to plan if we just plan enough. Conservatives should demonstrate more sincere compassion. But progressives should have less trust in good intentions and government. Religion aside, the left is the party of faith, the right that of skepticism.

I won’t claim to be an expert on health care. But I suspect few of us are. Many of our congressmen never read the bill they signed. Our most strident pundits never touched it. The rest trust the pundits who trust the legislators on their side. Few could really speak with authority about such a complex one-sixth of our economy.

The glory of markets is that we don’t need to be experts. The market takes all the little local information held by billions of widely dispersed individuals and beautifully aggregates and orders it, meeting most of our needs — no expertise required. But when the government takes over a market, a lack of expertise is deadly. We all know markets are sometimes imperfect, but the problem of knowledge means that central governments are much more so.

Albany, where I grew up, was full of self-proclaimed experts and compassionate people. There, a once prosperous economy has withered under the weight of the kindness and corruption of our legislature. Rush hour in Albany moves ever closer to 3:30 p.m., with private employees fleeing and public bureaucracies burgeoning. Unbearable taxes, condemned properties and non-existent 20-somethings are the price we pay for the good intentions and grand plans of our political class.

That has made me cynical whenever I hear grand promises for the good deeds government will do for us. Maybe this bill will keep its promises and really succor the poor. I hope it does. But most bills like it don’t. They more often sucker taxpayers and succor bureaucrats.

More, they put us another step down the road to serfdom. Order, control and responsibility can be exercised by individuals themselves or by government over them. As the government makes itself more responsible for us, we lose freedom, more dear than the economic costs.

The American people are becoming cynical. Witness Obama’s poll numbers, the attempted referendum on stimulus and health care in Massacheusetts and the tea parties. Some Tea Party attendees are wretched people no doubt, though I suspect some fabrication (dubious complaints of bigots are by now the go-to tactic of the politically ambitious — the most aggrieved wins!). Concluding something about the movement from a few members is like inferring something about the essence of the left from Joseph Stalin. Those who think the Tea Parties are remarkable for bigotry show that they are weak minds sheltered inside information bubbles, seeking only news that will affirm prior animosities. That half our news outlets cover Tea Parties only when they can find a few freaks with nasty signs is proof that good journalism is the latest victim of our current civil war.

But the Tea Party is very remarkable. What’s remarkable is what was once a contradiction in terms: libertarian activism. There’s an old joke about conservative protest: “What do we want? Slow gradual change! When do you want it? In the fullness of time!” But there’s more irony to libertarian protest: people devoting time, energy and cash to get the government not to take so much time, energy and cash. Usually when people or business leaders go to Washington, it’s to ask for favors.

But now, American people are braving the stigma of the media and the social elite and are asking something else. They’re asking the political class to stop doing them favors. They’re crying, “Just leave us alone!”

I hope the bill works out and guarantees the oppressed the right to health care, without consuming the rest of our economy, like our president promises. I’m skeptical, but it’s possible. Still, I and more Americans feel certain that America is going the wrong direction, that we’ve taken too many steps down the road to serfdom. Government is just too big, too overbearing, too expensive.

The American people don’t want favors. They want to be left alone, to figure things out for themselves. I say we let them.

Matthew shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.

Comments

  • MC ’10

    Pundits didn’t read the bill. Government is never as efficient as a market. All of Albany’s woes are the direct result of progressive legislation. Most bills “like” the health care law fail to serve the taxpayer. They also destroy freedom. Americans are more cynical about government over time. The media has vastly misrepresented the Tea Party. “The American people don’t want favors.”

    Bold claims for a column which fails to advance, say, a single piece of evidence. Those who agree with such claims will undoubtedly find the article very persuasive, and those who disagree will skim a few paragraphs and trash the paper. Or perhaps post an indignant comment.

    Shaffer, please stop wasting your column inches and our time with this fluff.

  • rofl

    “the most aggrieved wins!”

    I’ve always thought a big laugh
    is a really loud noise
    from the soul saying
    “Ain’t that the truth.” -Quincy Jones

  • Mr. Jones

    I really enjoyed you’re piece Mr. Shaffer until you ended on this note:
    “The American people don’t want favors. They want to be left alone, to figure things out for themselves. I say we let them.”

    I’ve always found it rather presumptuous to “know” what the American people want. I would argue that the American people want all sorts of different things. This would include the Americans that you refer to – the ones who wish to just be left alone – but also include Americans who can’t get back on their feet by themselves. You can point at poll numbers and rising dissident as evidence of your own assertion but the truth remains that there is plenty of evidence of another group of Americans out there who want help from the government. The bottom line: always be careful when trying to generalize about heterogeneous group of people.

    With that being said, as usual Mr. Shaffer you have written a great column.

  • ES12

    The column is really well written. But commenter #1 has a point. Good writing will get people to read your columns, but in order to convince anybody you’ll have to put in the time to research and get the facts.

    So place another tally-mark for the number of comments you got this week. But also take the advice: Research makes the journalist.

  • brilliant

    Brilliant account of why conservatives aren’t as popular or appealing to a “compassionate audience.”

    But the conservatives, as Shaffer alludes, are correct. The health care plan will fail, and conservatives’ opposition to it has nothing to do with lack of compassion. It has to do with foresight.

  • Wait!

    But how could anything that’s not liberal be factual! Who needs evidence, right?

  • IvyCrasher

    Mr.Shaffer, I come to Yaledailynews.com specifically to read your column, and most of the time we don’t agree but the writing is so good that I feel compelled.

    With that said, I must agree with comment #1. The Albany example is rather weak and I see no proof for many of the other assumptions. Good day sir, and I look forward to read more from you.

  • Tanner

    The American people don’t want favors. They want to be left alone, to figure things out for themselves. I say we let them.

    “People want to be left alone” (until they find themselves in trouble).

    “They want to figure things out for themselves” (But never ask directions)

    “I say let them” (But what if {they} don’t want do what {we} want them to do?)

  • Yale 08

    Well done Shaffer.

    “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”- FA Von Hayek.