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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Christopher Chantrill

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Christopher Chantrill

Last Build Date: Tue, 25 Jul 2006 08:22:38 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

Wal-Mart Wins a Battle, but the War Continues

Tue, 25 Jul 2006 08:22:38 -0600

It is a very human impulse to try to force the world to pay your bills, to stake out the land and declare that what's mine is mine and what's yours is negotiable. It's the most natural thing in the world for a robber baron to build a castle on a mountain pass and prey on all the travelers passing by. Many people think that the only way they can get what they need is to take it.

But our age has vomited up a paradoxical idea opposed to the age-old ethics of the raider and the robber baron. It proposes that the way to get on in the world is to give to the world. Instead of hoarding your wealth and snatching other people's wealth, you build and offer to the world cool products at great prices--or even ordinary products at Everyday Low Prices. You don't go to the government to get special subsidies for your business. You don't agitate to get exemptions from the laws on combinations in restraint of trade because you are a labor union. Instead you just work away at making your product better and better so that people will still want to buy it.

Many people do not get this. In Mexico City the disappointed supporter of defeated presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador wails that AMLO was "the only one with a heart, who cares for the people." In the United States, Democratic politicians believe that the only way for working families to obtain a decent standard of living is to squeeze it out of the rich and the corporations. These people do not believe that the world returns gifts with increase.

To believe that the world is a bounteous place you need faith, sometimes a lot of faith. That is why religious entrepreneurs have been offering for quite a while the idea of a loving God who cares about you. Secular prophets have advanced a slightly different idea: the Invisible Hand that seems to guide the actions of people to "promote the public interest" by pursuing their own ends in the lawful market.

To keep this faith it helps if you have something to give. Many of us fear that we have nothing to give the world, and so, just to be on the safe side, we attach ourselves to some political robber baron who promises to take from the world what we need by force--or, to use the modern euphemism, by government program and beneficial legislation.

Entry-level Wal-Mart employees are not, you would think, people with very much to give. Logically they ought to combine behind a charismatic union leader and force Wal-Mart to give them more. Yet Barbara Ehrenreich, when she worked for Wal-Mart for a month to research her book Nickeled and Dimed, found it hard to persuade her fellow employees to take what they deserved by voting for a labor union.

The fact is that lots people want to work for Wal-Mart. Usually, when Wal-Mart opens a new store it expects to get about 3,000 applications for the three hundred jobs. Sometimes things can get a little out of hand. When Wal-Mart opened a store just outside the city limits of Chicago recently, 25,000 people sent in applications for the 325 jobs that opened up.

The battle over Wal-Mart is a real contest between two world views contesting for ascendency. One view experiences the world as a battle for survival in which you carve out in blood the best deal you can using power and solidarity. The other experiences the world as a cornucopia of plenty. In that world what you get depends on what you give.

If the truth is somewhere in between, where would you draw the line?

'You Must Suggest an Alternative'

Wed, 17 May 2006 10:32:12 -0600

Er, yes, thought Bartholomew, but suggesting an alternative would be a lot of work, and then who would want to read his "particular blueprint?" "You must," retorted the 80-year-old Thatcher. She's right, of course. It's the job of thinkers and scribblers to present ideas to the world. It's the job of politicians to steal the best ideas and change the world. It was Prime Minister Thatcher who is said to have thumped a copy of F.A. Hayek's Constitution of Liberty on the Cabinet table in Whitehall and announced: "This is our bible." It is easy to blame President Bush for failing to push our conservative agenda hard enough. But that's not his job. His job is to defend the nation. Our job is to manure the ground and bring up a bumper crop of prize-winning conservative ideas, year after year, for conservative politicians to feast upon. Here's how you do political change, according to Eric Hoffer in The True Believer. First you convince everyone that the present is intolerable, unjust, and not to be endured; you make the established powers ashamed. Then you offer a compelling vision of the future. Then politicians get elected to implement the glorious vision. But there's a problem for those who want to bring about major change. Despite the outrage of schools that don't teach, emergency management agencies that don't manage, government intelligence agencies that don't collect the dots and don't connect the dots they've collected, things really aren't that bad in America. At least, not for the middle class. There is one thing that's at the stage of intolerable, unjust, and not to be endured in the public's mind today. And that is $3.00 gasoline. It Here we have a situation set up by thirty years of not drilling for oil in the arctic, not drilling for oil on the continental shelf, not building safe nuclear power plants just like the French: all not done at the insistence of liberals. And what do the American people think? They think that oil company price gouging is not be endured. There are shelves of conservative books about energy and the environment. But somehow they have failed to take with the general public. Somehow no conservative has written a book to make liberals ashamed of their energy ideas. Why is that? There are also libraries of books that expose the meanness of the welfare state. Margaret Thatcher had F.A. Hayek to tell her that brilliant government experts couldn't outperform millions of consumers in the marketplace. Since then we've had Charles Murray's Losing Ground double-teamed with George Gilder's Wealth and Poverty demolishing the ideas of the War on Poverty. We've had conservative success on "broken window" policing, stunning conservative success on welfare reform, slow conservative success in school choice, common-sense reforms fought every step of the way by liberals. We've had a revival of interest in civil society, from libertarian David Beito's inspiring history of fraternal associations in From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State to liberal Theda Skocpol's grudging admission in Diminished Democracy that something was lost when national membership associations were replaced by member-free activist groups. But what we have not done is make liberals ashamed. Why not? Liberals have a lot to be ashamed of. In the 1960s liberals demolished the working class when they broke the bright line between the deserving and undeserving poor. And they are not ashamed. Liberals betrayed the civil rights revolution by condoning a culture of black racism in African Americans. And they are not ashamed. Throughout the last generation liberals have stood in the schoolhouse door opposing reform as big city school systems cratered. And they are not ashamed. In 1981 liberals opposed the economic reforms that yielded a twenty year boom. And they are not ashamed. Liberals complain of a government that cannot "connect the dots" on terrorism one day and complain of government programs to "collect the dots" the next, yet they are not ashamed. Some[...]

Competence vs. Manliness

Mon, 27 Mar 2006 17:43:39 -0600

It is intolerable that after Hurricane Katrina President Bush failed to paper over the normal sluggish response of government bureaucracies at city, state, and federal level with the Clintonesque PR wizardry that we have come to expect from the nation's president. It is monstrous that he failed to curb the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States when it determined that the global best practice port management corporation was qualified to run six of the nation's ports, a reckless act that could easily cause distress to the Teamsters Union. And a mistake by a Bush Administration lawyer means that Zacarias Moussaoui won't be executed, an outcome that shocks the New York Times even though "this page opposes the death penalty." The carelessness with which Republicans perform the sacred rituals of nurture-by-government seem to Democrats like sacrilege, the profanation of holy relics. Well-educated, born to think well of themselves, and full of faith in their mission to correct the rich and raise up the poor with their government programs, they are scandalized by the indifference of the Republican "other" to the bells and smells of the Liberal High Mass. But last week was also the week of Manliness from Professor Harvey Mansfield of Harvard. The reviewers in the New York Times Book Review and in the Washington Post were not amused by his celebration of humans with "confidence in the face of risks." They clearly felt that the world of the Precautionary Principle and non-traditional gender roles had clearly moved on from such primitivism. Rather than making everyone feel confident about "a government that cares about you," President Bush has acted like the leader of the Daddy Party and assumed that everyone would get on with their jobs without getting a regular hug. He also seems to think it is more important to visit the wounded in Walter Reed Army Hospital than to make sure that he can out-demagogue Senator Schumer on protecting our ports from efficient foreigners. Even though the President will not be on the ballot, in November the American people will get to decide again: do they want an adventurous father boldly protecting them from head-chopping Islamists? Or do they want an efficient mother keeping the kitchen clean and competently covering their cuts and bruises with Band-Aids? Probably they want both. But will the Democrats actually deliver on competence? This is a party that does not show the least interest in improving the competence of the many government programs they have promoted and expanded over the years. In fact Democrats oppose all reform of the social programs we support with our tax dollars. They are opposed to reform of the nation's schools by breaking up the government monopoly. They are opposed to the reform of Social Security to transform it into a genuine savings program. They are opposed to reform of health insurance with Health Savings Accounts. And they are holding up further reforms of welfare that build on the stunning success of the welfare reform of 1996. The truth is that Democrats do not care about competence. They only care about their power. They cannot consent to reform of the vast government that they have built up over the years. It is the basis of their power. So they are reduced to talking about competence. Competence is the tactics of the status quo, of making the trains run on time, of making incremental improvements in efficiency. It is important. But manliness, the confidence in taking risks, is the essence of the human adventure. Each human family begins with a calculated risk. The United States was founded on a calculated risk. And we know that President Bush is willing to take the big risk, to play big ball rather than "small ball." His tax cuts were a risk. His Social Security reform is a risk. The Iraq adventure is a risk. Democrats have lost the spirit of adventure that they possessed in another time when President Roosevelt called America to bold persistent experimentation. They[...]