. . . when you come across something like this PBS quiz. They pose you twelve super-generic questions and from that want to tell you how “conservative” or “liberal” you are.
One of the considerations when launching a blog (even before the question, “Who would give a damn anyway?”) has to be the entry-level question of what will I ever think of to write about, on a daily or more frequent basis? The law of ideal gases applies outside the laboratory, after all. We’ve now got — what? — 500-odd television channels, yet you can wear out both thumbs trying to find something on worth watching, unless you short-circuit the process and go to a channel where all they do is run old stuff. If you’re willing to confine yourself to perusing distillations of the very best of 60 years of television and the very best of 80 years of movies then yes, you probably can find something to watch. But if you want something new, something fresh? The same amount of quality has expanded to fill a vastly increased space, with the result that the individual molecules are that much farther apart. And if all those tens of thousands of people in Entertainment, who have years’ experience and billions of dollars of money washing about the industry, cannot reliably come up with something that a person of average-or-better intelligence would pay attention to except under compulsion, what is the likelihood that a lone blogger, somewhere between keeping the office doors open, the pantry reasonably stocked, the clothes washed, homework done, supper cooked, and the dishes washed, will be able to do it? Daunting, I think was the word Jeeves told me it was.
And then along comes PBS and serves up a meatball like this idiot quiz. Seven of the twelve questions relate to what are economic matters. One is asked to agree or disagree, or somewhere in between, with statements like, “Business corporations make too much profit.” Other than the drunk-on-a-barstool nature of the statement itself (one is involuntarily reminded of Grandpa Simpson’s complaint that, “There are too many states these days!”), can anyone spot the fallacy in weighting the answer?
Right: It’s the assumption that completely disagreeing with the statement is a “conservative” position.
Disappointingly predictable is the PBS Marxist assumption that free markets are somehow “conservative.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. You cannot “conserve” anything, anything at all, once you concede freedom to people to house, clothe, and feed themselves by their own efforts, talents, and luck. Freedom has never produced an hereditary nobility, or an NKVD, or party-machine politics, or crony capitalism, or tariff walls, or Berlin Walls, or cartels, or any of the other structures, systems, and habits the effect (and it’s the effect that matters, dear children, not the intent) of which is stasis of human achievement, growth, fulfillment, or prosperity.
The supposition that free markets are inherently monopolistic, inherently retrogressive, inherently oppressive is an idea that traces straight back to Karl Marx, one of the most economically illiterate writers who ever should have had his thumbs lopped before he found his way to the ink well. Marx’s ideas stood in diametric opposition to, and were contemporaneous with, the movements which repealed the Corn Laws and the Navigation Acts in Britain. Both of those latter movements were hailed, and rightly so, by the great masses of Britons as being enormously liberating, enormously empowering, and greatly to their own advantage.
Every socio-politico-economic arrangement in history you can name which has had the effect of entrenching some to the detriment of others has come into existence and endured solely because it enlisted the coercive power of government to maintain itself. Chattel slavery could never have existed without government’s enforcement of it, both by way of things like the fugitive slave laws and by dragooning the locals, slave-owning or not, into slave patrols. For years the ICC permitted railroads to charge higher freight rates out of the South than into it, with the result that products of the South operated at an additional disadvantage relative to their northern competitors. Sugar is as expensive as it is here not because it’s unavoidably expensive to produce, but because the government forbids us to buy foreign-produced sugar, which is much cheaper than what can be grown this far north, as cheaply as it can be produced and got here (in fact, it was the Big Boss of the largest U.S. sugar company who was on the telephone with Bill Clinton while Monica Lewinsky was fellating Clinton in the Oval Office). Railroad cartels arose not because there was something inherently monopolistic about them, but because you can’t build a railroad without the power of eminent domain. If the cartel owns the legislature what do you think the odds of securing that power to a railroad that doesn’t agree to become part of the cartel? The Schechter Poultry case arose because a couple of kosher butchers (hence their name) violated the National Recovery Act’s prohibition that customers . . . wait for it: be allowed to choose their own chicken to be slaughtered for their own damned dinner table. There were also then pending prosecutions for failing to charge the minimum price for a pair of trousers. Wickard v. Filburn affirmed the proposition that government can forbid you to feed your own family from the produce of your own land, if doing so will enable you not to buy from the industries who dominate the legislature. And so forth. The Consumer Financial Protection Board, acting under Dodd-Frank, is set fair to annihilate your community bank’s ability to continue offering home mortgages. The compliance costs will crush them, the liability for non-compliance will destroy them. So if you want to concentrate the home lending market into even fewer hands, too-big-to-fail hands, just wait it bit. And if your community bank can’t make home loans, in 20 years there will be scarcely any left. The Local Banker, who has been a not-always-loved fixture of the American scene for 200-plus years, will go the way of the dinosaurs, and for the same reason. The planet that both inhabited will have been hit by some external disruption that wipes out the environment they live in, at a stroke. The only difference is that no one chose to aim an asteroid at the earth 65 million years ago.
It was the genius of the constitutional framers in 1787 that the document they wrote denied the ability to federal government to shackle the people to entrenched powers. To the extent we have forgot that and permitted the federal government to impinge on our freedoms — whether the ICC in the 1800s, or Roosevelt’s NRA in the 1930s, or today’s CFPB and its 60,000-odd regulations — we have done nothing more than cement in power the haves, and assured the have-nots that they have naught better to hope for than crumbs from the table.
What we have-nots will be left with is the pork barrel. And here is appropriate a bit of history. The expression “pork barrel” to refer to the scramble for bits of money, power, and perks from the government first arose back in the 1800s. Back during the days of gang labor. Back during the days of slave labor. It referred to the actual, physical barrels of salt pork which were typically the slave’s only or at least primary source of animal protein (except for chickens they might have been permitted to keep, or what they could steal from Massa’s smokehouse). It was miserable stuff, mostly fat anyway, and of course eaten with maggots. The meat of it was hard as a rock (it was, in short, the same stuff we fed sailors in the navy). The expression “pork barrel” came into use to describe the scramble for money because approximately the same scene unfolded when a new pork barrel was opened in the slaves’ presence. If you wanted a halfway decent piece to take back to your cabin so that maybe tonight your children would not go to sleep quite as hungry, then by God you saw to it that your hand got in that barrel first.
The pork barrel, in sum, was what you offered your slaves periodically.
PBS and its masters have once again betrayed just how deeply they have drunk from an essentially Marxist well of thought. For them freedom is threatening. For them freedom is oppressive. For them freedom is an active impediment to the achievement of the workers’ and peasants’ paradise on earth.
In fact freedom is corrosive. You cannot be either “conservative” or leftist and permit freedom, because (with apologies to Winston Groom) freedom is in fact like a box of chocolates. You really don’t know what you’re going to get.