Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Rethinking Economics 4: The other reason why the government is always wrong...

In part 1, I discussed the fact that Americans tend to approach questions of public-vs-private sector by asking "which one is right and which one is wrong?"  (Spoiler alert: they generally agree that the private sector is the one that's right.)  (And if you don't believe my claim that 'many people take it as an unquestioned article of faith that "we need to cut the government smaller." Regardless of what the problem is, that's always the solution' -- read this post that came up in my subscriptions reader since then.  Even though it was posted on April 1, I don't think it was meant as a joke.)

In part 2, I argued that that's the wrong question, and that maybe we should think outside that box, and in part 3, I talked about how the American phobia of the public sector is largely due to psychological baggage from the Cold War. But I don't think that's the only cause of the modern American mistrust of government.  My brother John explained an additional reason as follows:

The ideology got cemented in our current political alignment in the US because of racism.  In the post WW2 era, with Brown vs. Board of Education, the courts began to rule that black Americans were actually people.  The government then began to dismantle Jim Crow segregation.  In time, everything that was a public accommodation became non-discriminatory in name at least.

The conservative response was to retreat from public institutions into private institutions that were still legally able to discriminate against black people.  So Chief Justice Rehnquist got his start writing charters that allowed suburbs to bar black people from buying property in the suburb --- hence suburbification, white flight, white flight from public institutions, conservative dismissal of public institutions, conservative creation of private counterfeit institutions, and ultimately conservative distrust of and desire to dismantle public institutions are all derived from reactionary conservative racism.

Since the 1968 2-party realignment, the GOP has been the dominant party because of its embrace of a neo- (softer/PC) racism.  That’s the core of the party to this day.  88% of the people who voted for Romney are white, and they include all of the country’s racists.  Every person who voted for Romney is frankly guilty of voting based on racial and other personal animus (such as moral indignation against empowered women who use birth control) --- even though almost all of them have hidden their true motives from themselves.

I agree with John's analysis.  Another place where this aspect becomes obvious is in the gay marriage debate.  It is astonishing how many Americans sincerely argue that the solution is simply to "get the government out of the marriage business."

I'm not surprised that Americans would come up with this.  The logic is attractive:  (a) The government is inherently incompetent and ruins everything it touches, (b) we have a conflict involving marriage, (c) the government is involved in marriage, ==> therefore, the problem is the government!  Of course!

But it's odd to stick with this idea because if you think about it for a couple of minutes, you see that "getting the government out of marriage" -- in addition to failing to solve the problem at hand -- also creates a host of new problems regarding what to do about all the things (inheritance, medical decisions, immigration, etc.) that were hitherto handled by having a generally-agreed-upon third party (the government) provide official, legal recognition of kinship relations.  But at least it take these problems out of the hands of the government with its pesky "equal protection under the law" (even for people you don't like!)

And, as John pointed out, hostility specifically towards black people plays a huge role in people's attitudes towards the government.  Specifically, Romney couldn't entirely take back his statement about "the 47%" because keeping the undeserving from receiving any government largess was one of his party's main selling points -- a higher priority than actually getting out and getting positive things done.  And, ironically enough, it was a big selling point specifically for the people in the 47% of non-tax-payers (and people living on government entitlements) because what they're often concerned about isn't government largess per se -- they're worried about the wrong people getting it:

"Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?" 
"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."

Why is this such a passionate issue for some people?  I don't know, but maybe you can get an idea from some of the election-night tweets about how Obama and his fellow "niggers" hate to work and just want to live off welfare....

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