Two Snapshots

Monday, December 13, 2010

Articles about two completely different subjects demonstrate the urgent need for cultural change in America. A common thread the two share is something like this: "What should we do differently, in the political sense, than we did before?" Unfortunately, the answer in each case is, "Have the government run things more efficiently," rather than, "Start getting the government's nose out of our daily affairs."

Our first example comes from City Journal, where Nicole Gelinas takes a look at the political climate in New Orleans five years after Katrina.

It turns out that instead of looking for a heroic potentate to work miracles from on high, New Orleanians were making smaller-scale, bottom-up changes that would truly help their city. Beginning in the same election [that saw Ray Nagin reelected], voters reshaped the city council: today, only one of the seven council members is a pre-Katrina holdover. More important is that the members' résumés are subtly different from those of the old days. Fewer have community-organizing or social-services backgrounds; more have had careers in law, real estate, and management. These new members are likelier to view government as a provider of efficient public services than to consider it a weapon for social justice or a dispenser of jobs. They know, too, that city voters are paying attention in a way that they never have before. As new councilwoman Susan Guidry puts it, the biggest change in the electorate is "the level of citizen involvement" in day-to-day issues. [bold added]
This is a concrete improvement over what had been in place, but not the fundamental change that New Orleans would need for substantial or lasting improvement.

This problem is hardly isolated. Here's an elaboration on what some conservatives mean by, "repeal and replace."
End Medicaid's open-ended entitlement and start treating beneficiaries like American citizens rather than wards of the state. Make the competitive advantage of private insurance available to them through vouchers, and leave the open-ended entitlement for disabled individuals and those with serious chronic illnesses. [minor format edits]
In each case, we are seeing people respond to the obvious harm that "big government" causes by "reforming" it or reigning in its "excesses" -- as if it is possible to fix the inherently broken welfare state.

It is as if someone whose circles included lots of murderous acquaintances came to the realization that this wasn't good for him -- and chose to start hanging around with thieves instead. It may be an improvement in terms of buying time, but the nature of the problem -- that all criminal behavior comes from the same basic cause -- means that such a "solution" is far from enough.

The problem isn't big government, but government functioning outside its proper scope. Until more Americans begin to see this, we will see only half-measures as reforms -- half-measures that, at best, would look like the first steps towards proper government we really need. Does anyone remember school vouchers?

-- CAV


Chris said...

so as an objectivist what would be your solution to the section you quoted about medicaid. would you for instance phase out the whole program over say the course of 5 years?

Gus Van Horn said...

That program would, like all other parts of the welfare state, have to be phased out. That said, I am not sure exactly what the timetable would be, and this is something that would doubtless be preceded and accompanied by many other political changes, as well as cultural changes, of course.

Many will paint someone like me as some kind of an ogre just for suggesting that this has to be done, but in fact, those who support the welfare state as it is (as it speeds towards collapse) actually deserves that description.

Capitalism provides other life necessities quite well, and medicine is no different.

Jim May said...

In each case, we are seeing people respond to the obvious harm that "big government" causes by "reforming" it or reigning in its "excesses" -- as if it is possible to fix the inherently broken welfare state.

Yep, that's the good old statist ratchet. When capitalism "fails" the government should replace it... but when the government fails, it's always about "reform", never replacement.

Gus Van Horn said...

What's astounding is that so many conservatives seem implicitly aware of the problem ("ObamaCare will be IMPOSSIBLE to get rid of.") and yet never ask why that is so.

And as long as they are the main "opposition," they will keep making such self-fulfilling prophecies.