The Dionne Conundrum

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Calling it the "Mississippi Paradox", E.J. Dionne makes a very interesting point regarding the recent Senate primary in the Magnolia State. (The Tea Party candidate has forced a run-off against Thad Cochran, the most senior Republican in the Senate.) Noting the ability of Senator Cochran to steer federal funds to his state, Dionne asks, "Can you hate the federal government but love the money it spends on you?" He then points out how much the state rakes in relative to tax receipts:

[Haley] Barbour and his allies did all they could for their friend, but there was that nagging contradiction at the heart of their argument: Cochran said he was as stoutly conservative and penny-pinching as McDaniel, but also the agent for many good things that come this state's way courtesy of the despised national capital. Mississippi taxpayers get $3.07 back for every $1 they send to Washington, according to Wallet Hub, a personal finance website. The Tax Foundation ranks Mississippi No. 1 among the states in federal aid as a percentage of state revenue.
This issue isn't unique to Mississippi, as Tom Bowden of the Ayn Rand Institute has noted. Entire demographics "benefit" similarly, and calling their entitlements into question makes many Tea Partiers go wobbly.
Meanwhile, however, the tea party's "left brain" harbors the same moral impetus that has justified bigger and bigger government since the Progressive Era. The basic idea is that some people's needs constitute a moral claim on the lives and wealth of others. The list of needs is endless: economic stability, job security, housing, health care, retirement funds. To satisfy those needs, government concocts regulatory and wealth transfer schemes that coercively subject the individual to society. Over the years, each new program -- from the Federal Reserve to Social Security, Medicare, and beyond -- acquires an aura of moral dignity that renders it politically untouchable by later generations. The needs of others permanently displace the freedom of the individual. [links dropped]
Tom Bowden's overall argument, which I agree with, is that the Tea Party must fully embrace the moral ideal of individualism or it will perish. While it might be tempting to accept such loot, it is not, as someone Dionne quotes, truly a way to be "anti-Washington politics ... to make sure that we [get] as much of it here as we [can]", if there is not also an active effort to put an end to the practice of government theft. See Ayn Rand on the question of government grants and scholarships" for a more complete exposition of this point, and from which I quote the following:
The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.
I am not here to castigate the Tea Party, but to warn it. The Democrats are well aware of this contradiction within the Tea Party and are prepared to demagogue it, as Dionne's piece demonstrates:
Indeed. "If Mississippi did what the tea party claims they want ... we would become a Third World country, quickly," said Rickey Cole, the state Democratic chairman. "We depend on the federal government to help us build our highways. We depend on the federal government to fund our hospitals, our health care system. We depend on the federal government to help us educate our students on every level."
This doomsday prediction is highly debatable, for many reasons, but three immediately come to mind. First of all, who knows how much better the economy overall would be without the government taxing and regulating trillions from it a year? I suspect that the loot Mississippi gets in exchange for the rest of the country being dragged down (and itself with it) is a mere pittance by comparison. Second, in terms of implementation, have the Democrats ever heard of sunsetting? Taxation and central planning must be done away with, but in an orderly fashion. The contention that, say, Social Security must be abolished is not equivalent to saying that we should immediately cut everyone off from it. Third, and perhaps most relevant to anyone financially dependent on another: What happens when those who are being looted either decide they've had enough, or are themselves ruined? Ayn Rand had something to say about that, too.

The real question isn't Dionne's, but the following: "Can you love your life and still leave supporting it to others?" I know what we can call Dionne's implied answer. It is revealing that he relies on fear and feelings of weakness to sell it.

-- CAV


Anonymous said...

Hey Gus:

I'm going to castigate the Tea Party. They will continue to lose elections until they come to terms with their own contradictions. This is why I can no longer support this group. It doesn't help that there is an acute anti-intellectualism among many splinter Tea Party groups.

Despite seeing the Ayn Rand themed posters, many still don't understand the underlying philosophy. And I don't mean everyone has to be an Objectivist.

Bookish Babe

Gus Van Horn said...


Any Tea Partier who is anti-intellectual certainly deserves castigation. Ultimately, the fight for freedom is a war of ideas, and anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of how the American Revolution was won has no excuse to pretend otherwise.

Thanks for mentioning that problem.