Saturday, November 12, 2011

Why Liberal Policies Don't Work

I was born five years after the end of World War II, and was in high school when Lyndon Johnson announced his "Great Society" and "War on Poverty" plans.  Around that time my grandfather retired and started collecting Social Security.  But over the years, it seems that many of these ambitious social programs (and economic programs as well) have fallen far short of the promises made when they began.  War on Poverty?  We lost!  We seem to have just as many poor as we did before Johnson declared war on it; they may be the richest "poor" in the world's history, with more consumer goodies and better lifestyle than the middle class had when I was born, but they are still dependent on government handouts.  Social Security?  The shrinkage in the pool of workers paying the taxes compared to the number of beneficiaries is bringing the world's largest Ponzi scheme to bankruptcy.

But why?  As Charley Brown kept asking during baseball season, "How can we lose when we're so sincere?"  At the root of these liberal failures is a basic misconception that ruins everything they try to do:  liberal policies are based on a view of human nature that is inaccurate and therefore everything they prescribe does not work well in the real world (Remember what I put in my last post--The Real World Always Wins).  Liberal policies of all kinds are based on the idea that people--all people--are basically good, and that if we can just eliminate war, poverty and ignorance all will be very well and we can create a Heaven on Earth.

But are all people basically good?  Is this true--does what they are saying correspond to what we see in the real world, now and throughout history?  I am a lifelong student of history, American, British, European, world, and often less-commonly studied cultures, and I would have to say that this view is not true to the world we live in.  In terms of "goodness" human nature has a rather broad spectrum.  There are a few people who are in fact very good; a larger number who try to be as good as they can.  There are a much larger number who are as good as they think they have to be, and another substantial number who are as bad as they think they can get away with.  And there are some people who simply are Evil, and have no intention of changing.  And I think a strong case can be made that this description fits the Real World we live in better than the liberal view.

The idea that all people are basically good has been around for a long time, but seldom widely held.  Of the American "Founding Fathers" only Thomas Jefferson seemed to express any form of it.  It definitely was not held by the men who wrote the Constitution in 1787 (Jefferson was serving as ambassador to France at the time, and was not part of the effort, and was not sure whether he even liked it); that is why the Constitution included all those "checks and balances."  It was the "Victorian Optimism" of the 1800s that brought it into style, first in England and Europe, but much later in the U.S.--it did not take hold here until well after the Civil War.  It was widely but not universally adopted by the "elites" by the 1920s, but its greatest popularity came in the growth of prosperity after WW2.

But why should this assumption about human nature matter so much?  It matters because if one of your basic assumptions is wrong, every thing you try to do based on that assumption will turn out badly.  It would be like trying to balance your checkbook or fill out your tax return, when you are absolutely convinced that 2+2=6 (and therefore 4+4=12, and so on--everything you add up, all the way through, is tainted and ruined by that basic misconception).

Looking at the history of the last century alone, this wrong view of human nature is why British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain could not deal effectively with Adolph Hitler in 1938, why FDR could not handle Josef Stalin, why Jimmy Carter could not handle Ayatollah Khomeini.  And it is why liberal policies and enactments keep running afoul of "the Law of Unintended Consequences."  No matter what they prescribe, it either does not work as they thought it would, or people find ways to game the system or get around their new rules that they did not foresee.  All too often, the policy they implement makes things worse instead of better, either by failing to cure the problem or causing new problems worse than the original ones.

The final proof that the liberal view of human nature is wrong is that they do not stick to it consistently themselves.  A liberal will act on it, even with enemies of his own country (as Chamberlain tried to do with Hitler).  But let a liberal politician run into one of his own countrymen who dares to disagree with him, and he quickly drops the pretense--these opponents are EVIL!  He treats them with contempt, tries any dirty trick available to overcome the opposition.  He totally drops the "all people are basically good" "schtick" when he meets opposition in his own country, even if he still applies it to the enemies of his country.

In contrast, there is the historic Christian view of man:  that man was created good, but having free will, chose to disobey his Creator and has ever since been flawed.  The all-out version of this teaching is that man is now flawed in all areas:  morally and spiritually, of course, but also physically (the long lives of the earliest patriarchs in Genesis express the idea that man was created to live forever and took a while to decline and die at first--the Babylonians preserved a similar tradition about their ancestors' long lifespans), and intellectually (meaning, nobody is ever as smart as he thinks he is--no matter how many degrees he has) [And yes, this does include me; and sometimes I even remember it...].  This teaching of traditional Christianity is compatible with the spectrum of human nature that does exist in the real world.  It is not compatible with the liberal idea of human nature.  But it does work in the Real World we actually live in, and the liberal view on human nature does not.  And as I said before, no matter how attractive the theory, The Real World Always Wins.