To My Fellow Citizens:
In recent letters (here and here), I reflected on the views of some of our learned fellow citizens on the left. According to one of them, a professor at a public university, democracy requires that citizens enjoy material security. Without material security, no one has the independence to be a citizen. Without such security, a citizen lacks the self-respect to stand up for his rights. A market economy does not provide material security. It is too unpredictable in its support and leaves citizens at the mercy of a corporate oligarchy. Since material security is necessary for democracy to function, and since the market cannot provide it, government must do so. To provide this security, to which every citizen has a right, the government should redistribute wealth.
In response, I argued that what the leftist professor approves in American life would have been impossible, if his argument were correct. If less well off citizens could not function effectively in a democracy and the corporate oligarchy was all powerful, how did laws favorable to working men get passed and candidates favoring their interests get elected? That such laws have passed and such candidates have succeeded is a sufficient refutation of the professor's views. Material security is not necessary for democracy, because those who passed the laws and elected the candidates did not have this security. But consider this further evidence of how wrong the professor's critique of our democracy is. Although the left rails that unequal wealth corrupts democracy by giving some more power than others, no one who has studied the connection between money and elections has been able to show that money can buy an election. Favored candidates attract more money, but more money does not buy favor.
The professor's claims about what ails our democracy are all wrong. His remedy, redistribution of wealth, is therefore unnecessary. If carried out, it would be paradoxical and dreadful in its consequences. A moment's reflection will assure us that no government, no power on earth, can provide the material security he insists must be considered a right. Any government with the power and ambition to try would become tyrannical. The effort to insure democracy through the power of government would paradoxically extinguish freedom.
Arguments like those the left makes about redistribution and democracy do not occur only in theoretical discussions. They apply directly to political issues. For example, one of the professor's equally learned colleagues, a distinguished academic, a former President of the American Political Science Association, has written recently that redistribution is central to Affordable Care, the health plan passed by the Obama administration. She criticizes her fellow leftists for their tepid support of the President. More needs to be done, she agrees, but then admonishes them that "Affordable Care . . . is a redistributive and regulatory breakthrough" that deserves their support.
More is at stake, however, in the Affordable Care act, she argues, than just health care. "Affordable Care, on top of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, could strengthen the bond between middle class Americans and a national government that supports security for all." The ultimate purpose of these distributive programs, then, is to bind Americans to the national government, to make them dependent on that government.
A virtue of academics is that they will say clearly what politicians will obscure. And so our learned friends on the left have posed the issue before us clearly. For about 100 years, we have sought ways to manage the changes wrought by industrialization. Those on the left have argued that the concentration of power in corporations brought about by industrialization requires a second revolution, a movement away from the principles of the first American Revolution, a movement away from individuals relying on themselves, their families, friends, and communities, to individuals depending on the government. Politicians on the left have tended to shy away from talk of revolution, fearing perhaps to associate themselves with such a radical change. Instead, they and their supporters have focused on specific changes, on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care, for example, not the principle behind such programs, which academic leftists have candidly articulated.
The piecemeal political approach to revolution worked for a long time. The real costs were in the future and did not have to be faced. But now the bills for a system of government dependence are mounting and coming due. More important, as the pieces of the revolution come together, its character is harder to hide. It is increasingly evident that it aims to transfer power from the people to the government, so the government can transfer wealth from those it supposes have too much to those it supposes have too little. The revolution is necessary, the left tells us, to save our independence. But we see ever more clearly that it aims to makes us dependent on the government. We see ever more clearly that in the name of saving democracy it will destroy democracy.
As what is at stake becomes clear, it affects our politics. We currently suffer from political paralysis and bitter political infighting not because of our system or the influence of the media or for any of the other reasons typically offered. We suffer from paralysis because compromising will no longer work. Lurking behind the compromises was a fundamental disagreement. As long as we could afford to, we avoided facing that disagreement. But as our finances grow threadbare and the threat to free government becomes more evident, the disagreement becomes more obvious, a choice less avoidable. The learned left is clear again about this too. "The stakes in 2012 are as high as in any pivotal election in U.S. history (except 1860)" one of them has recently written.
The importance of the election of 2012 is one thing on which we and the left agree. But we hope its outcome will be a turn away from the distributive constitution toward free government.