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The Liberal Mind at Work (Warning: It Isn’t Pretty)

From Paul Krugman’s column in today’s Times:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

In others words, you are either a liberal or you’re Ebenezer Scrooge. No middle ground: there are only good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats. If you are opposed to liberal means to provide a social safety net, then you’re opposed to a social safety net, period. Let little old ladies eat cat food, let the uninsured die in the streets, because only New Deal–style programs can stop that from happening.

Is it within the imagination of a Nobel Prize winner in economics that there might be a better way to secure people in their old age than taxing them, investing the money in low-yield government bonds, and having Congress hand out election-year goodies that make the system unsustainable? Can he even conceive of a better way to insure people for medical care than to tax them and turn the funds over to a bureaucracy that has a 45-year track record of spectacular management incompetence that no for-profit company could possibly have survived and whose books are such a mess as to be unauditable? Can the power of self-interest (the engine behind capitalism’s success) never be utilized to help provide the social safety net that most people, left and right, think necessary and proper, at lower cost and with better results?

Apparently not. For the Paul Krugmans of the body politic, made blind by a religious adherence to a creed outworn, no idea that postdates FDR can be tolerated. No fresh thinking allowed, please, we’re liberals.



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