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Failing At Milton Friedman's Challenge

Peter Robinson explains

Item: Since my dinner with Milton Friedman, a Republican president and Republicans in Congress--I repeat, Republicans--enacted a prescription drug benefit that represents the biggest expansion of the welfare state since the Great Society. They also indulged in a massive increase in discretionary domestic spending and passed the biggest farm bill in history, a massive transfer of resources to the 2% of the population still engaged in agriculture.

Item: In the campaign that just concluded, the GOP--again, I repeat, the GOP--nominated a man whose proudest legislative achievement was a campaign finance reform, the McCain-Feingold bill, that represented a direct assault on freedom of speech.

Item: During the campaign, the Republican nominee--again, the Republican--told voters that the federal government should "give you a mortgage you can afford" while attacking businesspeople as "greedy."

This reminds me of the story of the woman who came up to Franklin after the Constitutional Convention, and asked him what he had given us. His response: "A Republic, madame. If you can keep it."

It would have worked just as well to say "A free-market economy, if you can keep it." We haven't been able to, partly because we have slowly transitioned from a Republic to a democracy, and one in which the people have figured out that they can use their votes to transfer wealth from the productive to themselves.

I'll have more on this topic next week at PJM.


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Carl Pham wrote:

Well, of course the tendency of republics to self-destruct in a welter of bread and circuses was well-known to the Founders, scholars all, which explains Franklin's comment and the extreme reluctance before the Constitutional Convention to go beyond a federation of independent sovereign states. Everyone felt that only small republics could thrive, in which people generally knew each other, and such factors operated as public shame at being a complete freeloader. But, on the other hand, it was also clear in 1787 that a federation of small republics could too easily be divided, played off one another, and thereby neutered by external influence.

Madison's argument that a large republic could survive was based on the notion that it would (in America) consist to some extent of a huge number of demographic and philosophical "republics" -- people of different cultural origin, different philosophies or lifestyles, et cetera, who would adhere to one another but be suspicious of all the other "republics." This fundamental lack of basic agreement on What Should Be Done would keep the feared tyranny of the democratic majority from emerging.

Was he right? Or did he overestimate how passionate people are about their philosophies? Will people willingly sacrifice the blessings of having Big Mommy in Washington take care of their needs, in order to avoid Big Mommy telling them what to do? Or is it the other way around? Is there indeed a basic agreement among nearly all people that being taken care of is nice, very nice, and it's worth while giving up your liberty to get it?

One interesting argument about the (so far) success of Mr. Madison's goverment is that it has been rejuvenated by the repeated waves of immigration. Simply put, just about the time the country achieves a consensus about What Should Be Done, and starts to transition to a unity government (bah) that sucks up all the wealth and controls everything, another wave of New Americans comes to political maturity and says not so fast. We've got a few other goals in mind, so let us discuss this. And the movement towards monolithic culture and central power dissolves in (healthy) squabbling.

From that point of view, maybe we can put our hope in the waves of immigration we have sustained recently. Yes, all those recent immigrants start out Democratic, wanting the central government to protect and help them. So, too, did the waves of European immigrants in the 1820s and the 1880s.

But time goes on, and the second or third generations start to get successful, and start to resent central control. Perhaps we'll see the second and third generations of our largely Hispanic immigrant wave become classical Americans, individualistic, successful, entrepreneurial, and skeptical of the central power.

I can believe it, living in one of the portal zones. Most recent immigrants here are indeed Democrats, working in service jobs. But more and more you see entrepreneurs, strivers running young businesses, and they're not happy about Rules and Taxes that make it harder for them to succeed.

The Republican Party really, really needs to shed the image of being anti-immigrant, and anti-Hispanic (neither of which, I realize, is objectively true, but appearances rule in politics) -- and find a way to give Hispanic immigrants who believe in individual liberty and opportunity -- and they wouldn't be here if they didn't! They'd have stayed home! -- a way to be proudly Republican.

Or else we need a new party that will do that, that will reproduce the old dream that we don't care what color your skin is, or what language you speak at home, or what God you worship, so long as you believe in liberty for all, and the best opportunity to let each man make of his life what he can.

Bruce Lagasse wrote:

" . . . partly because we have slowly transitioned from a Republic to a democracy, and one in which the people have figured out that they can use their votes to transfer wealth from the productive to themselves."

Isn't that what de Tocqueville predicted?

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This page contains a single entry by Rand Simberg published on November 14, 2008 12:23 PM.

A Vision, Not A Destination was the previous entry in this blog.

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