Sunday, March 21, 2010

How “exceptionalism” killed the American experiment

Our founding fathers embarked on a great experiment when they created the United States of America. What if the individual citizens held all the power? What if government were required to be responsive and accountable to its citizens? What if individual rights trumped the interests of the state? What if individuals were free to pursue happiness by their own definition. Of course, with individual freedom comes individual responsibility. Hence we started making exceptions.

Over the decades and centuries we decided that individuals are responsible for themselves, except that we’ll have Social Security, and welfare, and Medicare and Medicaid and unemployment insurance and a host of other safety nets, grants and entitlements. Individuals are free to enjoy their private property except when doing so conflicts with the “general welfare”. For example if society can make better use of your land than you by building a new road, or even a shopping center, you’ll just have to give it up for the greater good. Individuals shall be free to engage in trade, except that they’ll do so in pre-designated zones, and collect the proper taxes and pay various fees, and obtain proper licenses and comply with the appropriate regulations. Citizens have the right to bear arms, except when they don’t. Taxes shall be imposed in a uniform manner, except when the government decides to use tax credits, penalties, incentives and varying rates to influence behavior.

Now we’ve made the ultimate exception by deciding that the government is responsible for ensuring everyone gets health care. In this debate, the cost, whether or not to cover abortion, tax rates, fees and other clauses were really side issues. The underlying issue is power. The government now has legitimate justification to regulate every aspect of your life. If we’re all providing for each others health care, anything that might impact the cost or delivery of health care becomes everyones business. The food you eat, the car you drive, the recreation you engage in all have the potential to do me financial harm in the form of increasing health care costs and so I now have a vested interest in them. It’s now up to the government to ensure that the impact of your activities on me is minimized. Your activities will have to be monitored and regulated. Think this is hyperbole? When the President signs the bill on Tuesday, the IRS will officially be in charge of monitoring whether or not you have the proper health care plan, and doling out penalties if you don't.

We are in the midst of a substantial shift, from a society that put the individual on top, to one in which the individual is irrelevant. Society is no longer a tool for the individual to make use of when and if he or she chooses. It is now a master to be nurtured, fed and obeyed. You are called upon to “serve something higher than yourself”. After all, your self is insignificant. It’s others that matter. Others means everyone except you. We still choose our leaders in democratic elections. But, those leaders are now charged with serving the greater good through the power of the state, not with protecting the rights of any individual. Individuals are expendable.

Many people are very pleased with this evolution. They believe that a collectivist society can work if it’s implemented correctly and gradually. To me, it’s like a kid believing that if they move their finger to the hot stove slowly enough, it wont burn this time. People gravitate towards the socialist ideal because they believe that somehow, they’re personally going to come out ahead. All you have to do to get things from “society” is demonstrate that you’re more needy than others. Predictably socialism has demonstrated a great capacity to increase neediness. I don’t believe that the results at this latest attempt to create a collectivist Utopia will prove to be an exception.

No comments: