Untimely Observations

Interests, Morality and Selective Snobbery

Noam Scheiber in The New Republic has written an article that sounds like just about every other establishment liberal piece of the last few decades. Smart people with money are fooling dumb whites without money into advocating against their own interests. Instead, the dumb whites should listen to the other smart white people, those whose jobs and power depend on an activist and interventionist state.

Scheiber here is specifically writing about the recent criticism of the Fed.  The smart rich people are represented by the Pauls (Ron and Rand), while the dumb poor people have Sarah Palin.

What exactly does the former Alaskan governor get wrong?

There was, for example, her discussion of quantitative easing as though it were sorcery. “And where, you may ask, are we getting the money to pay for all this? We’re printing it out of thin air,” she complained. True-ish.

“True-ish” is liberal for “true.”

Then there’s my favorite passage of the speech, which displayed Palin’s solicitude for European policymaking sensibilities. “The German finance minister called the Fed’s proposals ‘clueless,’” she said. “When Germany, a country that knows a thing or two about the dangers of inflation, warns us to think again, maybe it’s time for Chairman Bernanke to cease and desist.” But the starchy Germans always worry about inflation, even when it’s not remotely a threat. (In the same way, my Jewish mother always worries that I’m starving, but I don’t take that as a reason to gorge myself.) If, on the other hand, Zimbabwe started lecturing us on out-of-control inflation, that might get my attention.

In other words, it’s irrational to complain until Zimbabwe is criticizing your monetary policy.  Why does anybody even bother trying to keep up with the brilliant Mr. Scheiber?

In this way, Palin is a near-perfect symbol of a certain type of Tea Partier—the people who’ve had enough of the government’s arrogant scheming, even if their worldview falls a bit short of cohering. When The New York Times surveyed Tea Party supporters earlier this year, it conducted follow-up interviews to gauge respondents’ thoughts on Medicare and Social Security. Most resisted cuts to either program. “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it?” a woman named Jodine White told the paper. “I don’t know what to say. … I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.” Like Palin, White’s opposition to government isn’t logical; it’s visceral.

Look, there’s no doubt that many Tea Partiers hold views that are silly and maybe even damaging to themselves in the long run.  But I’m not holding my breath waiting for The Weekly Standard or Wall Street Journal to go and interview the least intelligent members of the Democratic base probing for logical inconsistencies in their statements.  Any movement or ideology that’s going to gain wide support in a democratic society is going to have a lot of followers who are of sub-standard IQ.  Luckily for liberals, making fun of their stupids is hate speech. 

Not only do liberals often accuse lower class whites of failing to understand the issues of the day, but their errors are said to work against their own interests.  Since blacks and Hispanics do actually benefit from redistributionist policies, Scheiber may argue that it doesn’t matter if many of those who vote for his side are stupid because they make the right choices, even if for the wrong reasons.  This seems sensible enough, though one must notice that this is a philosophy which sees amorality as the trait of the ideal citizen.  If you’re old, take your Social Security and Medicare and don’t worry about the debt to future generations because that’s what’s in your interests.  If you don’t have health insurance you should support other people having to buy it for you without any further philosophical or ethical considerations.  Only when poor whites reach this advanced stage of moral development will the Left find them acceptable.

As the Palins are the dupes, the Pauls are the villains.

But more than anything else, the Pauls represent the interest of the affluent and educated. After all, the people most worried about the debasement of the currency are the people who, well, have a lot of currency. On the other hand, the working class, who typically have more in the way of debt than assets, actually benefit from inflation, since it eats away at the value of their mortgages and credit card bills. Likewise, when the Pauls rail against Social Security and Medicare, they’re being perfectly true to their class, since the two programs downwardly redistribute income. It’s part of the reason Ron Paul’s presidential campaign took off on college campuses and online, two places where the affluent and educated congregate. (By contrast, unpublished data from this recent Washington Post poll shows that college grads are much more likely than non-college grads to have an unfavorable view of Palin and to believe she’s unqualified to be president.) One of Ron Paul’s most indispensable online activists was an early Google employee who sold his stock at the peak of the market.

While it’s true that many in the working class with high time preference and moderate to low intelligence and earning power would be hurt by the abolition of say, Social Security and Medicare, I find it hard to believe that those conscientious enough to join a movement worried about what government debt means for future generations will be among those who lack the foresight to save for retirement.  True, inflation eats away at debt, but it also eats away at savings.  There is an aspect of rich/smart vs. poor/stupid to the debates about who benefits from different kinds of monetary policy and the extent of government spending, but these issues also pit the responsible and thrifty against the wasteful and capricious.

And in the end, if one takes Scheiber’s analysis at face value, there's the question of on what grounds the author can object to the wealthy, conscientious and prudent working for their own interests.