Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Tradeoffs are for meanies 

The latest St. Paul Legal Ledger contains an op-ed by Phil Krinkie of the Taxpayers League.
The 2007 [Minnesota Legislative] Session can best be described in the scenario of a child peering into a large plate glass window of an enormous candy store. Thechild's mouth waters at the sight of the many tempting treats. The child then darts through the doorway - first to the chocolates, then the lemon drops, hot cinnamons and of course gummy bears, loading up onvirtually every type of candy in the store.
Finally the child heads toward the check out counter to pay for their cache of goodies. As the clerk starts to total up the cost of the child's ambitious desires, the child's eyes start to widen as well as sadden with the ever growing total. When the clerk finally rings up all the desired purchases and presents the child with a total, there's a gulp and a long pause.
The child looks up at the clerk and softly admits that they don't have enough money in their piggy bank to cover their "planned" purchases. The clerk with a stern voice suggests that they return some of the candy to the shelves, picking only a few items. But rather than wanting to make some choices, the child then asks the clerk if perhaps they could cut a deal. The clerk looks back at the child and explains - NO DEAL! Recognizing that it was a lost cause, the child then decides to reduce their desires and puts back a significant portion of their selected candies. After completing their purchase and leaving the store, the child then tells all of his or her friends what a big meany the store clerk is at the candy shop.
Displaying a child-like attitude to the property of others is evident as well in this report on Hillary Clinton's speech at the Manchester (NH) School of Technology in my home town:
The Democratic senator said what the Bush administration touts as an ownership society really is an "on your own" society that has widened the gap between rich and poor.

"I prefer a 'we're all in it together' society," she said. "I believe our government can once again work for all Americans. It can promote the great American tradition of opportunity for all and special privileges for none."

Let's set aside the inconvenient truth that the rising gap occurred during her husband's administration as well as the two surrounding it. What is truly shocking is to say, at a technical skill where students are investing in their own human capital,

We have sent a message to our young people that if you don't go to college ... that you're thought less of in America. We have to stop this.

This isn't even a liberal position. It is a perverse position that somehow you don't get to have greater income after you invest in your own skills. You are not entitled to the rewards of your own hard work in college.

If the point is that we should invest more in alternatives to college, we agree, but pretending that a technical college education and an Ivy education are equivalent or somehow shouldn't be differentially rewarded is just nuts. You cannot "stop this", because "this" is reality.

It is this inability to see tradeoffs, or as Thomas Sowell once called it, "the vision of the anointed", that creates both the MnDFL legislators and Mrs. Clinton. Robert George, reviewing Sowell's book by that title,
"The crucial role of vision," Sowell argues, "is that it enables a vast range of beliefs to be regarded as presumptively true until definitively disproved by unchallengeable evidence." Liberals --or, to use Sowell's disparaging label, "the anointed" -- view the world as "a very tidy place," where "prescient politicians can 'invest' tax dollars in 'the industries of the future,' where criminals can be 'rehabilitated,' irresponsible mothers taught 'parenting skills,' and where all sorts of other social problems can be 'solved."' All this is possible, as liberals see things, because human nature, as a "social construct," is far more malleable than most people imagine. Thus, in the vision of the anointed, "there is obviously a very expansive role for government and for the anointed in prescribing what government should do."

Sowell contrasts the vision of the anointed with "the tragic vision" of conservatives. What is "tragic" about this vision is that it assumes that problems such as crime, poverty, and irresponsibility cannot finally be "solved." Conservatives, recognizing that "there are no solutions, only trade-offs," do not go in for grand schemes to put an end to poverty, for example, or make health care a fundamental right, or pursue what Sowell derisively calls "cosmic justice." It is not that conservatives are happy that some people are poor, or without health insurance, or whatever. Nor, for that matter, are they complacent about it. Rather, they realize that liberal schemes to eradicate these evils a) never work, and b) inevitably impose huge social costs of their own.
Conservatives are meanies because they, like the store clerk, make the reality of tradeoffs real.

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