Useful idiots — Should free market supporters be encouraging the Tea Party?

Ayn Rand denounced social work as "monstrously evil". In a letter to philosopher John Hospers she declared that to "choose social work as a profession is to choose to be a professional parasite."

Ed Kilgore of the Progressive Policy Institute sees a Rand-like hostility bubbling to the surface in America’s Tea Party movement. In the New Republic he argues that progressives and libertarians are now further apart than ever:

Progressives who previously fawned over the libertarians’ Jeffersonian modesty are now exposed to the unattractive aspect of libertarianism that is familiar to readers of Ayn Rand: a Nietzschean disdain for the poor and minorities that tends to dovetail with the atavistic and semi-racist habits of reactionary cultural traditionalists. After all, it is only a few steps from the Tea Party movement’s founding "rant"—in which self-described Randian business commentator Rick Santelli blasted “losers” who couldn’t pay their mortgages—to populist backlash against all transfer payments of any type, complaints about people "voting for a living" instead of "working for a living," and paranoid conspiracy theories about groups like ACORN.

These are exactly the kind of sentiments American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks tries to exploit in a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal. In the wake of the Greek crisis, Brooks contrasts hard working Americans with leisure loving Europeans. Europeans like to say that Europeans work to live while Americans live to work, writes Brooks, and "Many Europeans also expect others to work so they can live."

While protesters in Greece demand handouts, America’s Tea Party movement demands the opposite — an end to government handouts, bailouts and spiraling deficits. Brooks sees this as an encouraging sign. Unless Americans preserve their culture of self-reliance and willingness to take risks, he argues that Greece’s present will become America’s future.

Not everyone in the free market movement thinks it’s a good idea to encourage the tea partiers. Brink Lindsey of the Cato Institute agrees that differences between the American welfare state and welfare states in Europe are rooted in differences in culture. But this isn’t a good thing:

Does America’s smaller welfare state reflect important cultural differences between us and folks on the other side of the Atlantic? Yes, probably, but the main one is hardly worthy of defending. A 2001 paper, "Why Doesn’t the United States Have a European-Style Welfare State?" by economists Alberto Alesina, Edward Glaeser, and Bruce Sacerdote, provides powerful evidence that race is at the center of the story [pdf]. There’s a strong negative relationship between a country’s racial heterogeneity and its levels of social spending, and within the U.S., states with larger black populations spend less on welfare programs. "Americans think of the poor as members of some different group than themselves, while Europeans think of the poor as members of their group," the paper concludes.

As a libertarian Lindsey doesn’t think a European-style welfare state is a good idea. But his arguments against it are economic rather than cultural. According to Lindsey, a combination of population ageing and rising health costs will end up making Europe’s generous retirement benefits and healthcare entitlements unaffordable. Brooks is coming from another direction. According to Lindsey, he:

… counsels against "getting stuck in the old arguments over money." Instead, he wants to defend America’s track record of more modest social spending on cultural grounds. And that is a really bad idea. Our tragic history of race relations may have inhibited spending, but we should be ashamed of that cultural heritage. We certainly shouldn’t embrace it and brag about it. Brooks apparently doesn’t realize what he’s doing; he thinks he’s touting good old Yankee self-reliance. But his argument is offensive even if he’s oblivious to how offensive he’s being.

As Lindsey explains, it’s not programs targeted at the poor and disadvantaged that are threatening to blow out the budget. It’s entitlement programs for the middle-class — retirement benefits and health care. And these are programs most tea partiers support. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll, 62% of the movements supporters agreed that the benefits from government programs such as Social Security and Medicare are worth the costs.

Lindsey makes an important distinction between support for free markets and support for small government. "Governments can effectively stifle enterprise and competition without spending a lot of money," says Lindsey, "while a large public sector and a vibrant private sector can go hand in hand." As a result, there ought to be a consensus about promoting a dynamic private sector and improving the effectiveness and efficiency of anti-poverty programs.

Brooks isn’t interested in consensus or empirical arguments about what works. He wants to start a culture war fueled by an intractable conflict of values. In contrast, Lindsey wants to take a pragmatic approach. As he puts it: "On the one hand, a government safety net is needed to protect Americans from various hazards of life; on the other hand, that safety net shouldn’t bankrupt us … dividing up into warring tribes and demonizing each other aren’t the ways to figure out who’s right."

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Yobbo
11 years ago

ITT: Left Wingers denounce libertarians who want less welfare!

More news at 11

J
J
11 years ago

There’s a strong negative relationship between a country’s racial heterogeneity and its levels of social spending, and within the U.S., states with larger black populations spend less on welfare programs. “Americans think of the poor as members of some different group than themselves, while Europeans think of the poor as members of their group,” the paper concludes.

Huh? Australia, New Zealand, Canada?

Was this guy peer reviewed?

observa
observa
11 years ago

‘Should free market supporters be Encouraging the Tea party?’ Probably not anymore than either end of the political spectrum should be supporting the Parasites or Parisites. There may well be some common ground with the middle however. The left are no doubt pissed off that there isn’t enough to go round for their welfarists, while the right would argue whose fault is that with middle class or more succinctly ‘graduazzi’ welfarism? Pink batts is a classic example as are ‘greening’ reshiftables like solar feed-in schemes and the like. Both would be pissed at bailouts of the Morgan Sachs crowd and rightly so but until it’s agreed that trusting omniscient elites or unelected officials with the power of the printing press is human hubris and folly, I don’t see any resolution to their common problem. We’ll just continue to muddle along, vacillating between the two protagonists and their political champions until it’s obvious another backflip or about face is is required.

The Tea Party phenomenon is just that. A swing of the political pendulumn as the other mob get to discover that some are not too big or too little to fail or bail. In that regard we all have a vested interest in understanding that ‘it’s the money supply stoopids’!

observa
observa
11 years ago

…Well that and the constitution of our current marketplace of course.

conrad
conrad
11 years ago

It’s funny that these people think that cutting welfare is the way to the future, yet going broke spending half the government’s budget on the military is obviously so fine it doesn’t rate a mention.

Harry May
Harry May
11 years ago

Of course its a good idea to encourage the tea party movement. This movement is for legality. Where do you stand in opposing this movement Don? Are you for rampant illegality? Or are you for replacing reason with smugness and derision?

Harry May
Harry May
11 years ago

So you claim that the tea party people are idiots Don! Well back up this claim Don. So far it looks like its you who is the idiot. With your incredible implied claim that Obama is not a socialist.

observa
observa
11 years ago

Err not Quite Conrad. What you need to appreciate in that regard are two things. Firstly there may be little to choose between morally ‘bad’ but practical campaigns and morally ‘good’ but impractical ones and secondly, it’s a lot harder to engage in either if the ‘working families’ have to face real guns or butter tradeoffs instead of the typical resort to the printing press to mask such clear tradeoffs for lengthy periods. Judging by utterings at the G20, etc, it would appear such lengthy periods are rapidly drawing to a close.

Ardella Aubel
11 years ago

I too was wrong about the tea party movement until I found a great site that made me understand it better. I met many of friends on the site and must admit I was impressed with the way they think. I assumed they were all insane people then I found out why they are the tea party movement. It was because they care about the United States and the constitution.

Tel
Tel
11 years ago

… a Nietzschean disdain for the poor and minorities that tends to dovetail with the atavistic and semi-racist habits of reactionary cultural traditionalists…

As has been pointed out many times, the smallest minority is an individual so supporting individual rights is the very basis of minority rights. But oh it is easy to confuse a few noisy minorities with minorities in general.

That said, I personally support limitations of government power rather than proclamations of anyone’s “rights”, but that’s for practical implementation reasons rather than any overall principle.

It’s funny that these people think that cutting welfare is the way to the future, yet going broke spending half the government’s budget on the military is obviously so fine it doesn’t rate a mention.

I agree, what’s the point of encouraging people to be principled when there’s a hole in your argument a mile wide? However, maintaining national defense is one thing that governments are good at (if some small group could defeat a major government in battle, then they would have done it by now), and it is the main thing that keeps governments around (it is a protection racket after all). So the argument boils down to how much military spending is genuinely required to keep the country safe. That’s one of those questions easier to answer in hindsight, but my guess is the USA is not getting value for money right now.

Patrick
Patrick
11 years ago

but my guess is the USA is not getting value for money right now.

Dunno. If you mean not getting value due to inefficiency of spending by Congress, sure.

But if you mean not getting value in terms of military security, less sure. There is some merit in having at least one army in the world that comprehensively out-matches China’s. Pourvu que ça dure, in fact!

The Beverage Curve
The Beverage Curve
11 years ago

Yes Tea party activists want to reduce Government BUT not reduce medicare and retirement benefits of the retired.

They want to have large income tax cuts without any associated spending cuts.

When they talk about spending cuts they mouth generalities never specifics.
When they talk about what they won’t cut then there is little else left.

When Bush handed over a $1.2 trillion dollar deficit you couldn’t hear them but the momemt Obama inherited it it was all Obama’s fault.

Nothing about how either the Bush tax cuts or medicare changes increased the deficit. Incredibly they want to get rid of the Obama health care poicy whicgh actualy does reduce the deficit.

They rant about the increase in Government employees but this is almost all due to Inland Security which they are all in favour of.

Ignorant. Most certainly!