Thursday, May 12, 2005

Because beating on Richard Cohen is too easy

If only someone like the cranky economist would explain why I am supposed to be troubled—as per Bob Herbert’s instructions—by small downward ticks in unemployment figures for age groups who are either required by law to be in school full time or just likely to be in school full time.

Also: Herbert ends his cold-water column on the latest jobs report, which showed unexpected growth in several areas, with an amazingly stupid Louis Brandeis quote, an especially valuable fatuity for its perfectly distillation of the left’s obsession with wealth. Said Brandeis: "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. But we can’t have both."

As if the purpose of democracy were to equally distribute wealth! As if equality weren’t in fact the enemy of all wealth! You want material equality? It’s available and it’s called universal poverty.

As if the equal distribution of wealth makes people more rather than less free, and political systems more rather less democratic. As if! As if! A hundred as if’s! It’s quite rare to read something so grand-sounding and completely reprehensible. Shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, with North Korea still a going concern, and Castro alive, how can an intelligent person say such things?


Anonymous said...

I wouldn't necessarily jump to the conclusion that either Brandeis or Herbert is all that intelligent ...

Anonymous said...

Every time you read Bob Herbert you lose two IQ points. His regular readers are now the equivalent of cabbage.

Jay D. Homnick said...

The truth is that Brandeis' comment was not without merit in a time where the wealthy were a relative handful who prospered from labor so severely underpaid as to be effectively barred from upward mobility. In that environment, an argument could be made that capitalism was just slavery with a fig leaf.

In today's reality, that quotation is an absolute anachronism.

Today we have over a million millionaires in a population of three hundred million. And there is virtually no one barricaded by exclusionary cadres or straitened circumstances from rising to the level of his competence.

Our current version of poverty includes two TVs, an air conditioner and a car - not to mention military and college recruiters camped out on the front lawn. Democracy aplenty here, even for the rarefied tastes of Judge Brandeis.

Bob Herbert, you're a dope.

arrScott said...

To warn against the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few is not to call for enforced material equality. The simple truth is that power and wealth are necessarily linked. Always have been, always will be. History shows us, time and again, that when wealth comes to be too much concentrated in the hands of a minority, either that minority uses despotic means to protect its wealth or the unwealthy majority uses its power of numbers to steal the minority's wealth for itself.

Nor does the relative affluence of unwealthy Americans ameliorate this fact of human nature. Just because a poor working family in America is better off than its counterparts in, say, Honduras, doesn't make that family any happier with its lot. Truth is, my working-class neighbors don't compare their lives with Honduran beggars; they compare their lives to the rich folks at the other end of the Fairfax County Parkway. They're losing ground, and they have been since the Nixon administration.

This is not to say that revolution is immanent, but in the long run, the concentration of great wealth in the hands of a small minority must inevitably produce either tyranny or anarchy - either despotism or confiscation. Jefferson understood this, which is why he wanted to distribute land to poor men to give them a stake in government. The great reforms of the Jacksonian era, the reforms that made America into a democratic country, were based on this insight, as were the great Republican reforms of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt.

To be in favor of, or even unconcerned by, the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of a small minority - especially where that wealth is unearned, as in the case of inheritance - is to be against the continuing republican liberty of the United States. It's just that simple. If you believe otherwise, ask the Romanovs or the Bourbons how their wealth-concentration projects worked out. Assuming, that is, you can find any Romanovs or Bourbons who weren't murdered by terroristic mobs bent on stealing their fortunes.

The solution isn't to create a Maoist equality of poverty. It is to use the tax and regulatory powers of government to favor the diffusion of wealth through earning and to discourage the accumulation and perpetuation of unearned fortunes - just what great Republican presidents like Lincoln and Roosevelt worked so hard to do.