October 25, 2008
Klein on Obama
Nice audio essay from Time's Joe Klein about his interview with Obama.
Obama is mature indeed - and there is hope yet for this nation of ours.
Posted by David at October 25, 2008 07:38 PM
McCain has run a terrible campaign, especially in the last few months.
But as a motivated, driven, high-energy worker, it is pretty much impossible to like Obama.
Instead of applauding my success, he demonizes me for it. Instead of helping me or at least staying neutral, he will put obstacles in my way by slapping me with new taxes for each incremental greater degree of success I achieve.
He will take the Social Security program, which is a terrible retirement program as it is but at least everyone pays - and translate it into another welfare device where lower income people do not pay at all, and their retirement is funded by upper income people. He is "robbing my social security trust fund" to provide another handout to lower income people.
By repeatedly criticizing people who have worked very hard to earn a good income - and stating he'll "spread the wealth" by taking money from productive people and giving it to less productive people - he's made it impossible for me to be on his side.
I'm writing in Ron Paul.
Clearly, Internet conservatives would have nominated Paul instead of McCain.
But the idea that the motivated worker gets screwed by big government is a fallacy. What we should worry about with government is transparency and responsiveness. The idea that government will magically get better if we shrink it is false.
The United States is a big country with a big federal government, and I think we sometimes lose sight of what the world of small government might be like. Modern "motivated workers" are a product and beneficiary of big government. We simply wouldn't exist if we actually turned back the clock to a world without a big central government. I went through school on an NSF scholarship - scratch that - and all my professors were similarly supported - scratch them. My asthma is treated with medicines that have all been tested in expensive double-blind trials - scratch that. My whole industry was created by government research - scratch that. The network of highways that allow me to live in the suburbs was built by the federal government - scratch that.
We do not need to imagine a world without big government - we can just look at Afghanistan or Sudan or Ethiopia. Do motivated workers do well when you shrink government away? Non-government works to the benefit of criminals with guns, opportunists, and previous generations of rich folks. That's a fine world for some people, but that's not a world for me.
Why do we pay taxes? To support a bureaucracy that lets us expect a fair reward for working hard and making good bets. Taxes support a system that lets us do crazy things like this:
- Go to school. By providing K-12 and bankrolling teachers, research, and scholarships, the government sets up an intellectual society that would not exist otherwise. Twelve or twenty years of education is a huge bet for any single person that simply would not make economic sense without peace, stability, and a major intergenerational investment. The educated world we live in would not happen naturally in an unregulated market. We live in an unusual golden age of scholarship made possible by government-supported education. One of my greatest fears about the Republican agenda is that they seem to be intent on disassembling this treasure.
- Buying a house. It is impossible to buy a house unless you have confidence that your neighborhood won't be run into the ground. Government - zoning, schools, and roads - is the way we protect our neighborhoods. I may hate having to deal with the conservation commission when I landscape my yard, but I know my dad was thankful for the conservation commission when his neighbor sent a flood of rainwater runoff into his yard. No private sector insurance can buy the sort of protection that government oversight buys my property.
- Taking a white-collar job. All office jobs depend on towers of societal conventions, agreements, contracts, and laws that allow us to trust people we have never met. Without government backing up the world of paper - whether it's banking, arts, or science - it would not be possible to make a living working in an office, studio, or lab. Without sophisticated government our career options would be mainly farming and the blue-collar trades.
Big government helps us when we take big long-term bets. It provides stability, a set of ground rules, a safety net, and intergenerational fairness. Big, responsible government is why we can go to the supermarket and buy milk for our babies without worrying that it is tainted with melamine.
We should be clear-eyed about what the world would look like without big government. Without stability and infrastructure, no doubt people would "work just as hard" as they do today. But we would not go to school; we would not do white collar work. We would defend our property with guns - or avoid property altogether. And we would all require a swath of acreage to insulate ourselves from our neighbors.
Ron Paul is a smart man, but I put my vote towards making government more responsible. Not towards shrinking it blindly.
David - I believe government was meant to provide things that ordinary citizens could not provide for themselves - utilities, interstate highways and the military come to mind.
I'd also argue that even things like education were of higher quality when communities handled this on their own. We opted out of the public school system and paid for an excellent private school. Even though this school did not have the resources of big government, our kids received a superior education (backed up by their test scores, etc.)
There is no question that with time and money, you can give your children a better education than average.
But what we cannot do on our own is set up a literate society. Think about it: we are surrounded by 300 million people who can read a newspaper and balance a checkbook. Who all know why the sun rises every day, what the Constitution is, and how to use a library.
Living in a nation of 99% literacy, it is hard to imagine a world without public education. But 150 years ago, before the dawn of public education in this country, 20 to 30% of of white American adults could not decipher written text. Although the census never polled them, it was generally assumed that 100% of black slaves were also illiterate.
Am I upset that I pay more than my "fair share" of property taxes to bankroll the education of children of other families? Not really. To tell you the truth, I like living in a society where everybody can read the Internet. I just wish more people understood how it works.
As the complexity of the world rises above the ability for people to understand, we face the danger of that most people take lot of "magic" in our world for granted. The result is a new culture of people who have very little understanding of the everyday world they live in. This leads to both misplaced skepticism and misplaced trust in science, medicine, and government.
The solution to this is not less public education, but radically more education. We live in a Jetson world with an Flintsone public school system. Why are school days are short enough to let kids help harvest crops when they get home? Turning the clock back to 1840 and privatizing school is not the solution.