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Bad Faith

September 23, 2008

Here’s George Will from his column yesterday:

The political left always aims to expand the permeation of economic life by politics. Today, the efficient means to that end is government control of capital. So, is not McCain’s party now conducting the most leftist administration in American history? The New Deal never acted so precipitously on such a scale. Treasury Secretary Paulson, asked about conservative complaints that his rescue program amounts to socialism, said, essentially: This is not socialism, this is necessary. That non sequitur might be politically necessary, but remember that government control of capital is government control of capitalism.

How in the world is this bailout at all like the New Deal?

The New Deal was a massive government effort to get America out of the Great Depression. It created jobs by spending government money, and those jobs went to build America’s infrastructure. It also started social spending programs to create a safety net. It was a response to massive poverty by giving money to the poor.

The current bailout is a way for America’s richest to get out of the consequences of the risks they took. They are shying away from taking any responsibility for their actions. It’s a reaction to the prospect of losing massive wealth by giving more money to the wealthy.

The unifying factor is that both actions cost a lot of money from the government. For George Will, that makes them indistinguishable, because he seems to only analyze problems from the perspective of whether or not they’ll cost money, whether or not government will be doing something. Not, you know, whether the money will be well-spent or whether what the government is doing is useful.

This, to me, is the heart of why I’m pissed off by this crisis: here are people who for decades have been preaching the value of personal responsibility and keeping the government out of private enterprise, and here they are asking for a huge amount of money. They wouldn’t even be willing to give one-thousandth of that money to a government program that would actually improve people’s lives, but they’re willing to ask for it themselves.

After years of having to hear people on the teevee and read people in print like George Will talk about personal responsibility, and having to respond to it with arguments about how the playing field isn’t level, some people can live on “personal responsibility” and others can’t because of structural barriers to success, etc, we find out that 99% of people making that argument were doing so in bad faith. It was poppycock, and they knew it. They never really believed it.

For George Will, whether something is worthwhile or not depends on whether it expands government power and spending or not. For normal human beings, it depends on whether enough good will come out of the program to justify the money it would cost to create it. And while the American elite have borrowed libertarian language like Will’s for decades, what they really think is that a government action’s value depends on whether it gives them more money or not.

Will people learn from this one?

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