Take a look at the McFadden cartoon posted by laura k at wmtc. The transition from the second panel “don’t be haters, we’re job creators” to the third “increase productivity, not employment” is one of the strongest arguments for dealing with the backlash known as “53%.” Our side should definitely exploit the inevitable tension between the ideology of “get a job” and the ideology of “life doesn’t owe you a job.” The editorial statement that keeps coming back like a bad penny in the 53% signage is the implication that life is supposed to be frustrating. Making one’s way in the world (“getting established” as my mom called it) is apparently supposed to be some kind of Chinese puzzle. Even the hackneyed cliché about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps refers to a gravity-defying stunt, and keeping one’s nose to the grindstone refers to an act of self-mutilation.
In the fifth panel in the cartoon, someone is saying “giving away food only encourages the poor not to starve.” Words to that effect were expressed in complete seriousness and non-irony by the 19th century Social Darwinists. One of the reasons I refuse to jump on the post-left bandwagon is because I sincerely believe that the statist left, even though statist, is on vastly higher moral ground than the statist or libertarian rightist tendencies. When I was a kid, one of the most aggressively parroted talking points of the populist right (particularly those elements with Bircher tendencies) was about all the planks of an earlier Socialist Party platform having been adopted as American economic policy. It’s a propaganda meme that’s still being catapulted. If we take statist socialism to be the abolition of the private sector by political means, then is not its exact opposite, the abolition of the public sector, an equally “extremist” position? And is not the abolition of the civilian public sector implied by the laissez-faire doctrine of “separation of economy and state” almost as extreme? Maybe not quite as extreme as abolition of the whole public sector, but their “night watchman state” is, first and foremost, an armed agent; a practitioner of deadly force, so what it lacks in extremism, it makes up for in statism. At least the principled among the anarcho-capitalists call for total abolition of the state. I call not for separation of economy and state, but a third alternative, which I will find, or die trying. My point for the purpose of this discussion is that there was a time that laissez-faire was considered an extremist doctrine, and that there are reasons why a reasonable person should still consider it to be such. I would also suggest that large portions of the laissez-faire program have already been implemented in the policy sphere, in a world in which any foray by nation states into “mixed economy” (or any failure to depart from previously established mixed economies) can be challenged as a violation of “free trade” treaties. In America, most of the safety net has been rolled back, as has almost all progress won by the political left in the workplace and in labor law. It is true of the political right, as it is of any political tendency, that if you give ’em an inch, they’ll take a mile. It is in that spirit that “center is the new left,” and the tendency called “small government conservatism” has (without any substantial changes in its tenets) gone from being (by reputation) a fringe-right element of Social Darwinism, laissez-faire capitalism and reactionary anticommunism to being the yardstick against which even people about as right of center as Reagan are now (by equally widespread reputation) RINO’s, according to sectors of public opinion who (seemingly mockingly) call themselves “independents” or even “moderates.”