Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Age of Irresponsibility

by Matthew Continetti

The stimulus bill captures the ethos of this new liberalism perfectly. The dramatic expansion of government's share of the economy is geared toward specifically liberal ends. Ends like Head Start, subsidies for college education, Medicaid, alternative energy, and a loosening of welfare requirements. The bill is a partisan Democrat's dream. It's also a huge miscalculation. Increased dependence on the state is not a solution to our lack of personal accountability. It will only encourage more of it.

Obama is no fool. He understands the need to bolster responsibility. He has given several speeches challenging fathers to play a more active role in raising their children. He seems open to good ideas from the private sector, from the nonprofits, from charities and churches. But his heart is with the public sector. He has witnessed elites fail, yet he seeks to put more power in the hands of political elites. Nor is he alone. The lack of alternatives to Obama's liberalism is dispiriting but unsurprising. All the political energy nowadays is on the left. The unanimity of liberal opinion seems to be that, for America to retain its place among nations, we need to look more like Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands.

But the values of such social democracies are the opposite of the American virtues. The opposite of what Obama claims to want to promote. The American ethos is one of self-reliance. This is not the same as autonomous hedonism and greed. A self-reliant individual is responsible for himself and his family. He is accountable for his actions. He has to be. The welfare state, by contrast, promotes dependence. As government expands its sphere of involvement in everyday life, the number of supplicants for government assistance increases. Rather than encouraging the individual to take responsibility for his actions, the new liberals have embarked on policies that will encourage the individual to turn to government instead. The individual might be delivered from the risks of the marketplace. But what about the risks of the public sector?

Government has, time and again, proven itself inadequate to the immense challenges of the day. At times it seems impervious to reform. The Democrats' assumption is that this is because the GOP was in power during much of the last quarter century. It is a partisan fantasy. What's more, the return of big government only invites further populist reaction. Since Obama has so clearly identified the solutions to the crisis with the state, guess who the people will rebuke if the crisis remains unresolved? Not Wall Street. The way we are headed, in a few years, there might not even be a Wall Street for the people to rebuke. Full essay


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