Free Markets, Free People
Old America v. New America – Justice vs. Fairness
David Brooks does his usual NYT spin job:
Our moral and economic system is based on individual responsibility. It’s based on the idea that people have to live with the consequences of their decisions. This makes them more careful deciders. This means that society tends toward justice — people get what they deserve as much as possible
That’s the rumor. The reality, as we’ll see, doesn’t conform with the rumor. The why is in a single word: ‘justice’. What Brooks talks about here are the supposed foundations of our civilization and way of life. Individual responsibility and justice. Individuals are responsible for their condition (through their choices) and expected to live with them. Their condition isn’t anyone else’s fault or problem barring force or fraud. A just society understands that and, as is necessary, holds them responsible for their choices. Lessons are only learned when one has to live with the consequences of one’s choices. But what a just society doesn’t do is penalize those which have made the right or proper choices in their lives. It doesn’t require such people to prop up or rescue those who have made poor choices. Such a society would see that as “unjust” and work against the concept of individual choice and individual responsibility.
A just society is where everyone is afforded the same opportunities and held to the same standards of behavior and the law. Success, however, is left up to individual effort and ability. In a just society you are free to do, within reason, whatever you desire to do, but you’re expected to live with the consequences.
With that preface, let’s look at Brooks’ next couple of paragraphs:
Over the last few months, we’ve made a hash of all that. The Bush and Obama administrations have compensated foolishness and irresponsibility. The financial bailouts reward bankers who took insane risks. The auto bailouts subsidize companies and unions that made self-indulgent decisions a few decades ago that drove their industry into the ground.
The stimulus package handed tens of billions of dollars to states that spent profligately during the prosperity years. The Obama housing plan will force people who bought sensible homes to subsidize the mortgages of people who bought houses they could not afford. It will almost certainly force people who were honest on their loan forms to subsidize people who were dishonest on theirs.
While Brooks properly chastises the banks, automakers and state governments, he leaves out one of the most irresponsible of entities which played as large a role as any other contributor to this current financial debacle – the federal government. If ever there was an enabler for all of this, it is Washington DC. Much of what happened can be laid directly at the feet of the Fed. The financial implosion didn’t start on Wall Street but with the insolvency of the quasi-governmental entities Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. Yet they’ve not been in the spotlight of Congressional hearings or had the millions paid their top execs complained about and capped. Where’s the justice in that?
So to get back on topic after that brief aside to assail writers like Brooks for excusing the Federal government from their condemnations (and you’ll see why he did so in a moment), the reason that Brooks seems so angry in this part of his op-ed is he is giving lip service to some foundational American ideals and pretending to be outraged that they’re being violated just before he pulls the rug out from under them. It is obvious to Brooks and anyone with the IQ of a melon that those who are running the show in DC have absolutely no desire for a “just” society based on individual responsibility anymore but he wants to break it to you gently. That’s the old America. The new America is one based in “fairness” and collective responsibility. At this point, Brooks wants you believing he’s an “old America” kind of guy.
So he relates the fact that many in America are still mired in their old fashioned belief in justice and are, consequently, a little ticked about this payoff to the irresponsible among us. People are complaining about it. And after a reasonably good, but disingenuous start, it is here where Brooks pulls the mask off completely:
These injustices are stoking anger across the country, lustily expressed by Rick Santelli on CNBC Thursday morning. “The government is promoting bad behavior!” Santelli cried as Chicago traders cheered him on. “The president … should put up a Web site … to have people vote … to see if they want to subsidize losers’ mortgages!”
Well, in some cases we probably do. That’s because government isn’t fundamentally in the Last Judgment business, making sure everybody serves penance for their sins. In times like these, government is fundamentally in the business of stabilizing the economic system as a whole.
Irresponsibility is not really penalized in New America. New America is driven by the belief that it is our collective responsiblity to those in need, regardless of how they got there or what it entails, to satisfy that need. So when the life vest of your money (via taxes and debt you will be taxed to repay) is offered to someone drowning as a result of their own irresponsible choices, you are expected to accept that as your duty and not complain about it.
You see, per Brooks, government isn’t in the justice business, it’s in the “economic stabilization” business.
Really? Since when?
And since when did the economic stabilization business involve rewarding incompetence and irresponsibility while punishing their opposites? Isn’t such a policy of rewarding incompetence and irresponsibility a huge moral hazard, not to mention self-defeating? Why would someone change their behavior if there is no real punishment for their present behavior? Isn’t government picking “winners” and “losers” even while Brooks claims government isn’t in the “Last Judgment” business?
In fact it is and has been in the “Last Judgment” business for a while. And in the case here, the judgment made by government is that it is only fair to pick up those who’ve fallen short at the expense of those who haven’t. It has made the judgment that their need is far greater than the need of those who have played by the rules and done their part – after all those who have done the right thing are relatively better off than those who haven’t aren’t they? If, as Obama claimed at the Greek Temple, “we are our brother’s keepers” (well except in a real, Obama-family sense), then the “last judgment” was made then and is now merely being implemented.
We are, apparently, no longer a nation which seeks justice and equal opportunity. That’s Old America. New America seeks fairness as its highest goal. And in the New America, that means an equality of outcome where new “rights” are invented which entitle us to our desires, even at the expense of others.
Brooks goes on to apologize and attempts to minimize the horrific damage being done to America as we used to know it. He serves his purpose and spins the utter destruction of Old America and the emergence of New America as something which just had to be done by our new leader and his benevolent band of brothers, all of whom have your best interest at heart.
It’s enough to make you sick.