Friday, September 10, 2010

The Ninny State

The constant invasions of the state into affairs that are purely personal is a matter of critical public debate worldwide in these early years of the millennium.

The Chinese state, historically, gave its citizens few if any defences. At the benign extreme, this led to a rather bland social consensus dictated by state approved Neo-Confucianism; at the other, the murderous horrors of the "Great Leap Forward" and the Cultural Revolution. Even at the highest level of the Chinese Communist Party, there is a recognition that the rights of the individual should be given a lot more voice- indeed there is a substantial minority who would now argue that China should be making moves to full democracy.

In the West where what passes for full democracy is already in place, it is clear that the promise of democracy in terms of personal freedom and fulfilment is not being met. The rights of the individual have often been subordinated to the limited private interests- and corporations can often dictate their will to the supposedly democratic organs of state. We must recognise that what we call democracy is in fact a political system where contending groups seek to balance their interests- sometimes even against the interests of society as a whole.

However the key element in the weakening of the West has been the actions of the State itself. This is especially true in economic affairs. The power of the state over matters of employment, personal economic welfare choices, and certain aspects of social behaviour has grown, is growing faster, and needs to be reduced. As technology allows the state to know more even about their deepest thoughts and preferences, it is clear that a new bargain needs to be struck in the West in order to define more clearly where the powers of the state must be limited.

The past decades have seen the emergence of a society where freedom of action of the individual has been generally reduced in order to improve economic security. The problem is that rescuing the poor from impoverishment through the "welfare state" apparatus has ended up so limiting individual freedom, in the field of entrepreneurship for example, that the overall wealth generating capacity of society has fallen to a level where the welfare state itself can not longer be sustained without impossible levels of debt. In this I am not talking so much about a system of progressive or even redistributive tax, but rather the creation of a clientele of individuals and families that do not work at all. I am also talking about the vast numbers of useless or even counter productive restrictive practices- health and safety being only the most obvious example- that prevent individuals from making their own decisions.

The growth of a restrictive, prohibitionist culture is something I totally abhor. In building we have gone from NIMBY-ism- Not in My Back Yard- to BANANA- Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone. We impose mandatory access to public transport for people of limited mobility at a cost that would allow them to travel at will in their own personal chauffeur driven Rolls Royce- each. We do not consider the cost side of any cost benefit analysis- only that benefits- however minor- should be pursued regardless of cost.

This is essentially decadent. We can not impose our own self indulgence upon the next generations- who most certainly will not be able to maintain the fiction that all things can be afforded. It is not necessarily the case that society need do without many of the positive things that the welfare state may offer, but that these things can no longer be offered by the government. More to the point, maintaining oneself and one's family can not be done at the cost of the rest of society. It is necessary that welfare claimants provide some contribution in return for the benefits that they receive: unemployment is corrosive, and once the discipline of work is lost, it is hard to regain it- as we see on too many sink estates.

We have allowed the ambition of too many individuals to dwindle to their next giro- so it is hardly any wonder that out of boredom and frustration, our barely educated underclass resorts to drink, drugs and violence. By fencing in its citizens - over protecting them- freedom has been diminished to enhance safety.

Those who sell freedom to gain security end up with neither, and that at the economic and social level is what has happened in too many places in the West. The price is an inexorable decline in wealth for the next generations- unless we can wean ourselves off the culture of economic dependency that has been fostered by the misguided good intentions of the current system.

3 comments:

Dilettante said...

I'd like to be more constructive, but I simply agree with everything you said above. Well put.

Janell Rhiannon-Chavez said...

AMEN!Everyone wants what they want--but don't raise taxes, don't cut programs...Entitlement and expectation are viewed the same as necessary goods. Is it any wonder America can't balance a checkbook, Wall Street or state budgets.

Janell Rhiannon-Chavez said...

another thing--democracy is only as good as the individuals involved, so what does that really say about democracy in the west?