Friday, August 06, 2004

Why I'm Not a Democrat or a Liberal

I've already explained why I'm not a conservative. (I'm a libertarian of conservative mien, yes, but not a through-and-through conservative with rightward, statist leanings.) Now, it's time to say why I'm not a Democrat or a modern liberal:

1. Though I'm far, far, far from being super-rich, I'm comfortable. I didn't get there by luck, I got there by hard work and prudent investing. I didn't get there by inheritance, except the inheritance of a work ethic from parents who might best be described as upper-lower class striving toward lower-middle class. I'm better off than I would be if, when I was an idealistic 20-year old, I had retreated behind John Rawls's veil of ignorance and sold my soul to the welfare-regulatory state.

2. I'm economically literate, and skeptical to boot. I learned a lot of economics as an undergraduate and in my brief career as a graduate student, but it all boils down to two things: Incentives matter and there's no free lunch. The welfare-regulatory state robs people of incentives, distorts incentives, and steals wealth and income, often by stealth. In sum, people are worse off because of the welfare-regulatory state, and most people don't understand that. Yes, yes, yes, there are always the poor and infirm to worry about, but in the absence of the welfare-regulatory state (a) there would be fewer of them and (b) there would be a lot more income and wealth to give to those fewer, via private charity. As for the aged, fewer of them would be poor in the absence of the regulatory-welfare state (see #4, below), and those who might be poor would also benefit from the greater sums available for private charity.

3. I'm not a social engineer. If people want to smoke, for example, let them smoke and don't take advantage of their addiction by continually raising taxes on cigarettes. Smokers know the likely consequences of their addiction, as they did long before surgeons general got into the act. If you don't like to eat or drink where smoking is allowed, go where it isn't; there are enough non-smokers to support establishments where smoking is prohibited (by the owners of the establishments) or carefully confined to well-ventilated smoking areas. Employers can, and should, set their own rules about smoking on company property; if you don't like the rules, work somewhere else. The costly consequences of smoking can and should be borne by smokers and their insurance companies; smoking isn't an infectious disease, so it's not a public-health issue. And that's just a small sample of my take on the nanny world of social engineering, which exudes fear of the free market, condones hysterical environmentalism as a substitute for science, and bows before the altars of affirmative action and public education (a vestige of 19th century social engineering).

4. As a recipient of Social Security, and with Medicare waiting in the wings, I'm an unwilling "beneficiary" of the welfare state. How much more SS income would I have if I could have invested my SS "contributions" myself -- prudently, mind you? About twice as much. With that extra income I could go to doctors who won't take me as a Medicare patient, pay for my pills, and pay the premiums on a health insurance policy with "catastrophic" coverage -- and dine out more often and give my grandchildren better Christmas presents -- instead of forcing the generations behind me to help me make it through my old age.

5. I'm realistic about the state of the world. No amount of multilateralism, largesse, and "understanding" will lessen the threat of terrorism. If we won't defend ourselves, and do it vigorously -- at times, pre-emptively -- who will defend us? Not the politically correct who are afraid to offend those who have taken and will continue to take advantage of our soft-headedness. Thus I am not a deluded neo-isolationist when it comes to war or a wimp when it comes to so-called racial profiling. Neither am I a protectionist when it comes to trade; labor unions and non-competitive corporations can go to hand-in-hand to hell.

6. Finally, I spent 31 years in and around government and another three years trying to run my own business in spite of government. I know how government works -- or, rather, how it doesn't work. There are some things it must do because those things shouldn't be done by private parties: foreign policy, defense, and criminal justice. If government were focused on those missions, taxpayers could afford to pay more of the best and brightest to execute them. And that's another argument against the kind of expansive welfare-regulatory state which is the religion of Democrats and modern liberals