Monday, March 2, 2009

Carrying the Load

The Associated Press did an analysis of Obama's speech the other night and uncovered a few whoppers along with a number of lesser prevarications. Among the former is his claim that:

"We have launched a housing plan that will help responsible families facing the threat of foreclosure lower their monthly payments and refinance their mortgages. It's a plan that won't help speculators or that neighbor down the street who bought a house he could never hope to afford, but it will help millions of Americans who are struggling with declining home values."

The AP responds:

If the administration has come up with a way to ensure money only goes to those who got in honest trouble, it hasn't said so.

Defending the program Tuesday at a Senate hearing, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said it's important to save those who made bad calls, for the greater good. He likened it to calling the fire department to put out a blaze caused by someone smoking in bed. "I think the smart way to deal with a situation like that is to put out the fire, save him from his own consequences of his own action but then, going forward, enact penalties and set tougher rules about smoking in bed."

Similarly, the head of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. suggested this month that it's not likely aid will be denied to all homeowners who overstated their income or assets to get a mortgage they couldn't afford. "I think it's just simply impractical to try to do a forensic analysis of each and every one of these delinquent loans," Sheila Bair told National Public Radio.

Translated, this means that those who played by the rules, limited themselves to living within their means, denied themselves the opportunity to "move up" to a nicer home in order to avoid debt, are going to have to pay for the homes of those who didn't do any of these things.

The analogy Mr. Bernanke should have used is this: Your neighbor smokes in bed and his house burns down. The government then comes to you and says you have to pay to rebuild his house since he doesn't have any insurance.

Listening to callers on the various talk-radio shows throughout the day one gets the feeling that there's an awful lot of resentment accumulating among people who play by the rules (PPRs) toward people who don't. The PPRs feel, with some justification, that they're each carrying on their backs a half dozen or so others whose inability to pay their own way is due not to misfortune but to a series of stupid choices that they've made in their lives.

The PPRs, if I'm reading them correctly, are tired of subsidizing those who declined to take advantage of the education paid for by the community and consequently were too poorly educated to get a decent job. They're tired of paying for food, housing, and medical care for those who decided to have children without benefit of a husband (Nadya Suleman is simply the most egregious example). They're tired of paying for the damage done by those who choose to drink or abuse drugs, who commit crimes, who use our public roads, bridges, etc. without paying taxes. They're tired of having to pay for addiction treatment centers, abuse shelters, prisons, alternative education, and hospital care for people who can't pay for it themselves but whose lifestyle choices cause them to require the services these facilities and institutions provide. They're tired of spending trillions of dollars to meliorate the condition of such people only to see very little change in the lives of those who receive their help.

No one should misunderstand. It's not that the PPRs are uncharitable. They are, in fact, the most charitable people in our society. Rather, it's that they believe that they, not government, should decide who will get their help. They want to know that their money isn't going down a rat hole or going to pay the salaries of bureaucrats.

They want to be assured that their charity isn't being squandered as were welfare payments in the eighties and nineties when only 27 cents of every dollar was reaching the person in need, and even then there were no strings attached to the money. There were no demands that recipients give anything back to society or make strides to raise themselves out of their need. The PPRs simply subsidized dysfunctional behavior and when you subsidize something you not only get more of it, you get a lot of resentment on the part of the people who are required to pay for it.

The American people are a longsuffering breed, but their patience and largesse have limits. There's a growing sense that a government which demands that those who have worked hard for what they have give it up for those who haven't is a fundamentally unjust government. Thomas Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence have more resonance with more people today than perhaps at any time in the last sixty years of our history:

[M]ankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

The PPRs can only carry the rest of the population for so long and then, like an overburdened pack horse, they'll simply stop.

Perhaps it's time once again to refamiliarize ourselves with the central theme of one of the most famous novels ever written about just such a grand refusal. Perhaps it's time to relearn some of the lessons of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged.

The Democrats seem determined to pile more free-riders, more baggage, on the backs of the steeds that carry the load and pull the wagon. Eventually those workhorses are either going to refuse to be burdened any further or they're simply going to collapse under the strain. Either way, it's a bleak future toward which this new administration and its congressional and media allies are leading us.

UPDATE: I just came across a link to this article which claims that sales of Atlas Shrugged are booming in the current economic climate. Little wonder.