The alteration of the past is necessary for two reasons, one of which is subsidiary and, so to speak, precautionary. The subsidiary reason is that the Party member, like the proletarian, tolerates present-day conditions partly because he has no standards of comparison. He must be cut off from the past, just as he must be cut off from foreign countries, because it is necessary for him to believe that he is better off than his ancestors and that the average level of material comfort is constantly rising. – 1984, George Orwell.
The political rhetoric of the free world has taken on a particular tone in the past year or so that has reached some sort of zenith in the 2012 State of the Union Address. The fearless leadership of the mighty Western World have all told us that they feel our pain, they know that money is tight, that Joe Average is doin’ it tough and then in the next breath they have invoked those golden days of the prosperity that our forebears enjoyed, when there were two cars for every garage and everybody had a good job, a color TV and enough to eat every day. If only we can find that elusive spirit, the get it done attitude that built our great nations we could dig our way out of the horrendous financial hole that we have gotten the world into and life will be all hunky dory once again. But is this true? Were those golden days, now obscured by the mist of time and distorted by rose colored glasses, really all Happy Days? Even if they really were (which they weren’t), is it possible to return to such a state of naiveté? Is it even desirable?
In his State of the Union Address, Barack Obama held up the America of the 1950s as a gilt example of how great America can be. He conjured images of optimism, self confidence, a patriotic belief in freedom and called for a return to a fairer past. But this image of America owes more to films like American Graffiti than to any historical records. In fact America in the 1950s had more fear than optimism and having learned so much from the McCarthy era our elected leaders have never let up. Freedom in the golden past was more a case of being free to agree with the government or to be labeled as a communist and face persecution at the hands of the faceless men of government. Would an African-American have viewed the United States of the 1950s as a fair America in which they had an equal hand? What part of the black rights movement did Obama miss the point of? In fact the only group for whom the 1950s could be viewed as being a golden age was the politicians who, for a short time could seemingly do no wrong. But after that they apparently could do no right. That is because they began to do too much.
Government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. – Abraham Lincoln
During the State of the Union Address Obama made a point of declaring his belief in these words of wisdom from one of his most illustrious predecessors in his office. But has he really upheld their intention? These words were indeed spoken by a Republican, as Obama pointed out, but Lincoln wouldn’t have been a front runner in the 2012 GOP race. He was almost as unpopular with his own party as amongst his opponents because he was unwilling to stick his nose in the trough with the rest of them. Honest Abe was elected to his presidency at a time when many others paled at the tribulations that faced the United States and his own party was almost expecting him to fail. Lincoln was vexed by the choice between the tragedy that the division of his precious Union would be and the evils that the fiat money that he printed to save it would inflict. Yet, in the very next breath, Obama told us all of the things that government was doing for the people; all of the publicly funded initiatives that his huge government has set in motion to make life better for us all. We have traded the freedom that Lincoln defended for us all for the modern cult of the greater good.
The greater good has become the paragon of political rhetoric. European currencies were destroyed for the good of the common man, to make the intricacies of European business fairer for all, to level the playing field. The developed economies of the Western world have spent their wealth on leveling the playing field, on trying to bend the world into a fair place for everyone. We have developed huge social welfare economies, paid for with fiat money that is created out of thin air to make sure that nobody has to suffer from poverty and the inflation of the currency has just pushed more people onto the bread lines. We send money to foreign countries to feed their starving poor and only end up propping up military juntas and despotic dictatorships that further exploit the poorest and most vulnerable. Universal health care is a laudable ambition but that doesn’t make it achievable and even trying has shipwrecked the largest and most robust economies that have ever existed, and in the end it has degenerated the quality of care that is available to anyone without money. Obviously more of the same isn’t the solution.
Yet that is exactly what is promised to us. The blueprint for recovery is to borrow more, to tax the people more vigorously and in ever more imaginative ways and to go on increasing government involvement in everything. After decades of trying to control interest rates, commodities prices, and every other part of the supply and demand chain that is the economy, all without any success, we are again asked to believe that more of the same will fix it. The Western world’s foreign policies haven’t made less war or famine or poverty, there hasn’t been a marked decrease in suffering because the UN sticks its nose into the business of every country in the world. Social welfare and the nanny state haven’t reduced the unemployment rate or made it any easier to be poor and poorly educated. Keeping the poor, paying for doctors and investing in banks and automobile manufacturers has emptied the treasury while the infrastructure of Western culture that the government is intended to preserve has crumbled. In order to make the world a fair place for everyone we have given up our freedoms. Our efforts for the common good have almost universally made things worse.
You have heard it said that this is an age of moral crisis. You have said it yourself, half in fear, half in hope that the words had no meaning. You have cried that man’s sins are destroying the world and you have cursed human nature for its unwillingness to practice the virtues you demanded. Since virtue, to you, consists of sacrifice, you have demanded more sacrifices at every successive disaster. In the name of a return to morality, you have sacrificed all those evils which you held as the cause of your plight. You have sacrificed justice to mercy. You have sacrificed independence to unity. You have sacrificed reason to faith. You have sacrificed wealth to need. You have sacrificed self-esteem to self-denial. You have sacrificed happiness to duty. – Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
The promises from our leaders everywhere in the world are just rhetoric. Meaningless. World leaders have no answers, so where will the solution emerge? Will it? In her novel 1957 Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand described a world where the pursuit of the common good had reduced the world to three classes of people, producers, looters and the politicians that did the looting. While Rand’s objectivism is far too black and white to be practical her description of a worldwide economic collapse on the back of a universal social safety net, an expanding government and artificially manipulated commodities markets bears an uncanny resemblance to the current state of the world. Her hero, John Galt, is the solution but in the real world we are stuck with the rhetoricians and the common good.