The same old New Elite 0

In an article for the Washington Post, Charles Murray writes about a “new elite”, and what the Tea Party thinks of it.

That a New Elite has emerged over the past 30 years is not really controversial. That its members differ from former elites is not controversial. What sets the tea party apart from other observers of the New Elite is its hostility, rooted in the charge that elites are isolated from mainstream America and ignorant about the lives of ordinary Americans.

He finds “some truth” in the Tea Party view:

There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. …

Taken individually, members of the New Elite are isolated from mainstream America as a result of lifestyle choices that are nobody’s business but their own. But add them all up, and they mean that the New Elite lives in a world that doesn’t intersect with mainstream America in many important ways. When the tea party says the New Elite doesn’t get America, there is some truth in the accusation.

We think there is a lot of truth in it. That this elite is isolated and ignorant as charged, could not be better demonstrated than by the vicious calumnies and petty sneers that its members (see the Murray article for who they are) direct at Sarah Palin (for examples go here): they are characterized by snobbery.

A point on which we wholly disagree with Murray is the very point which he says is not controversial. We do not agree that the elite he writes about is essentially new. He is speaking of an intellectual elite, a grandly educated elite. They marry among themselves so that they bequeath to their progeny not only money but also their superior genes. He gives figures to show that most of its members are planted firmly in the political left, but does not say that their leftism defines them: he names conservatives that belong among them too. The fault he finds with them all is that they are out of touch with ordinary people.

There have always been just such elites, and – with individual exceptions – they have probably always been out of touch with ordinary people. (Did Plato socialize with hoi poloi?) And they have always married among themselves.

What’s particularly dangerous about the present elite is precisely its predominant leftism. And that danger in such a class is not new. The important Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Socialism, which was first published in English in 1936:

The intellectuals, not the populace, are moulding public opinion. It is a lame excuse of the intellectuals that they must yield to the masses. They themselves have generated the socialist ideas and indoctrinated the masses with them. … The intellectual leaders of the peoples have produced and propagated the fallacies which are on the point of destroying liberty and Western civilization .

The intellectuals alone are responsible for the mass slaughters which are the characteristic mark of our [20th] century.

But he also writes that –

They alone can reverse the trend and pave the way for a resurrection of freedom.

Not mythical “material productive forces”, but reason and ideas determine the course of human affairs.

And he concludes with a statement that goes to the heart of our present predicament:

What is needed to stop the trend towards socialism and despotism is common sense and moral courage.

Both of which are plentifully possessed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party.

There’s nothing wrong with an intellectual elite. We could not do without one. What is wrong with the one America’s got is that it is holds wrong opinions. Its members, or most of them, have not learnt the lessons of the 20th century. And that means that intellectuals though they be, they are not intelligent – a distinction which Thomas Sowell makes at the start of his book Intellectuals and Society:

The capacity to grasp and manipulate ideas is enough to define intellect, but not enough to encompass intelligence, which involves combining intellect with judgment and care in selecting relevant explanatory factors and in establishing empirical tests of any theory that emerges.

Socialism was empirically tested for decades in Soviet Russia and Maoist China, and is still being tested in impoverished Cuba and hungry North Korea, and if socialists (or “progressives”, or “redistributionists”, or “community organizers”) cannot draw a lesson from its utter failure to better the lot of mankind, they are  proving themselves not just unintelligent but dimwitted, or intentionally evil, or both.

Burn, socialism, burn 1

Obama says there should be a limit to how much money anyone should make. He and the “progressive” majority in Congress are trying, step by step, to turn America into a European-style socialist state. Only the state, they believe, can be extravagant, taking money from people who’ve earned it and will earn it in the future, and using it to extend and tighten the power of government. Austerity must be imposed on the people. Let them eat less, feel colder, do without cars. Let them have only the medical treatment and the education government will allow them to have. Limit the amount of wealth any individual may acquire. Profit is a dirty word. Tax, tax, and tax again.

It is a recipe for disaster.

Europe is experiencing the disaster. It is seeing its socialist dream go up in flames on the streets of Athens.

What cannot work, won’t work. Socialism, like all Ponzi schemes, can seem to be working for a time, but must fail. In a favorite word of the Left (applying it where the Left would not) Socialism is “unsustainable”.

Capitalism is sustainable. Capitalism is beautiful. A cornucopia. “The incredible bread machine”.  It’s what Adam Smith called “the natural order of liberty”. It could also be called “the system of mutual benefit”.

You want the means to keep yourself alive? Provide something – goods, labor, services, ideas – that others want to buy. You want to live comfortably? Provide more of it. You want to live luxuriously? Provide it better than anyone else does. Both a seller and a buyer you will be. A buyer wants the thing he buys more than he wants the money he pays for it, just as the seller wants the money more than the thing he is parting with.

How can you know what others want? Put what you have to offer on the market and see if it sells. The right price for it is the best price you can get. The free market signals what traders need to know. As the great free-market economists, most notably von Mises, Hayek, and Milton Friedman have explained over and over again, government interference with price controls, minimum wages, rationing, compulsory purchase, bailouts, distort the signals and harm the economy.

Whether idealists and moralists like it or not, human nature is selfish. It has to be. If we were not selfish we would not eat when we’re hungry, warm ourselves when we’re cold, acquire what we need, protect ourselves from enemies. Without selfishness, the human race would not have survived. (It is not only or purely selfish. Individuals can and do choose to act unselfishly too – once they have seen to the needs of their survival.)

The Marxist idea of “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need” ignores human nature. Any attempt by government to put the formula into effect by creating the welfare –  or “entitlement“ – state invariably handicaps, suppresses, and impoverishes the nation.

Capitalism is the reverse of that idea. It is a system that encourages each to contribute according to his self-determined need, to be rewarded according to how ably he does it. From each according to his need and to each according to his ability would be a fair description of how the natural order of liberty works.

To satisfy bare need is a poor political aim. It reflects a pinched, narrow, joyless, life-quelling mentality. “O, reason not the need!” King Lear pleads, “our basest beggars
are in the poorest thing superfluous.” Generally speaking, in practice, the only way to be sure of having enough of anything is to have too much of it. Profit is a very good thing. It is only when people have extra money and extra time that they can invent new things. And those who produce things that improve the lives of multitudes, things that millions of people want to own and use, are doing far more for the general good than the most generous philanthropist could ever possibly do. Bill Gates with his Microsoft (though he seems not to realize it but to hold some silly lefty views) has actually done more for mankind than all the charities that have ever existed put together.

That is why it’s reasonable to propose that there is no sin of greed. There is a sin of envy. Envy is the raw material of socialist idealism. But wealth, Mr Obama, is not a problem. Poverty is a problem. And your socialist policies will cause it on a massive scale. Let us be free to work for our own maximum profit. Let us have abundance. Let us have feasts, fatness, generosity, might, novelty, and splendor.

Jillian Becker   May 11, 2010

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