Saturday, August 13, 2011

Once-Great Britain

The airwaves are full of commentary on the ongoing riots in Britain.  There are those who say it's thuggery, pure and simple, and those who say it's legitimate protest spurred by the division between haves and have nots.  Me, I'm on board with the thuggery explanation, but you have to ask yourself, how does this happen?  Don't these people care about their neighbors who own the shops and merchandise they are smashing and looting, didn't their parents teach them the difference between right and wrong, don't they have anything better to do?  The answer, I'm afraid, is no.  This is where a century of comprehensive welfare statism gets you.

At various times during the last 100 years the British government, through its policy choices, has indicated to the British people:  don't save for the future, we'll take care of you.  Don't worry about your aging parents, we'll take care of them.  Don't worry about your children's education, we'll take care of it.  Don't worry about your health care, we'll make sure you are well.  Don't worry about protecting yourself and your property, we'll manage that (and in fact, if you attempt to protect yourself and your property, we'll prosecute you).  Don't worry about your future employment, we will nationalize our largest industries and give you a job for life.  Oh, and if you don't feel like working, don't worry about that either, we'll take care of you regardless.  Don't worry about the liberties you've lost, just go along with us and we'll make sure this is a better place for all.

Some might protest that it's ridiculous to maintain that the establishment of old age pensions could in any way have contributed to the lawlessness that has been so vividly displayed over the last several days, and they're right, it's a tenuous connection.  But add together old age pensions and all the other ways that Britain no longer requires, or actively prevents her citizens from being responsible, and the connection is no longer so tenuous.  Here's how it works.  During that first year of program X, there might only be a handful of people who figure out that program X allows them to shirk some responsibility that they could not have done previously.  "I was planning for me aging mum to move in with us, but there's not really room for her, and she's got a pension now.  She can afford to keep her own place."  And then he tells two friends, and then they tell two friends, and then program Y kicks in, and 100 years on you are saddled with listlessness, envy, and disrespect (for themselves, for others, and for the rule of law) that affects millions.  Human beings respond to incentives.  If there is an incentive to behave in a fashion that requires less personal responsibility, which essentially means that the irresponsibility does not invoke a penalty, then some people will start to behave that way.  The changes might be so subtle that no one even notices their occurrence, but take two snapshots 100 years apart, and thrift, propriety, and industriousness have been replaced by waste, vulgarity, and sloth. 

The state cares about society, but it doesn't give a rat's ass about YOU.  We don't need a village, we don't need an all-encompassing safety net to protect us from what is often characterized as a malevolent universe (it's not), we need someone who cares enough about us to tell us no, to smack us with tough love when warranted, to teach us right from wrong, to tell us and to DEMONSTRATE that if we strive and work hard and plan for the future that we can be successful and happy human beings.  Traditionally, parents have fulfilled that role, but the widely varying ages of the British rioters are evidence that the rot is generations deep.

In 1960's America, one of the goals of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society was to combat the systemic injustices that were being committed against black families and allow them to take their place alongside white Americans in the pursuit of happiness.  Instead, the incentives created by the various programs have wreaked societal destruction that a couple of centuries of slavery and discrimination could not accomplish.  Once-Great Britain applied the same model, and it has brought them chaos in their streets.

p.s. Here's how a pro, the eloquent and witty Mark Steyn, expresses some similar ideas.