February 25, 2009

“We’re Americans, we can do anything!”

To craft one of those ?touching moments? in his address last night, President Obama brought out some props.

First, we were presented with a selfless banker, Leonard Abess, who cashed out and then gave all his money away to his employees and even some people he had to lay off. How nice.

Up next, all the way from rural South Carolina, was Ty’Sheoma Bethea, a hardworking minority with a heart of gold. Obama read aloud from this young woman?s letter to Congress: “We are just students trying to become lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself, and one day president, so we can make a change to not just the state of South Carolina, but also the world. We are not quitters.”

They were fightin? back the tears in the Capitol. I, on the other hand, had the sickening feeling that these two heart-warming stories represented everything that is dreadfully wrong with this country. 

First, Mr. Abess. Yes, in giving away his money to his employees, he?s undoubtedly a better guy than all the Wall Streeters who used the bailout money on bonuses, or the Paulson/Bernanke/Kashkari clique that engineered the biggest heist in American history.

Still, this tale of ?the good banker? was a distraction from the real problem with the American economy. We are facing a Great Depression because of debt. Put simply, bankers, often at the government?s behest, made far too many loans of the no-money-down, adjustable-rate varieties (and then quickly ?securitized? them, dumping these ticking time bombs off on Wall Street). In turn, millions of Americans took out loans they knew (or should have known) they could never pay back?and then often doubled down, taking out even more money on the assumption they could soon flip their new McMansion for a profit.

Obama?s address didn?t include much talk of belt-tightening, but instead was filled with promises of debt, debt, and more debt. Our president will make the banks start lending again; he?ll get your kid a subsidized student loan; he?ll help you pay your mortgage; and on and on.

Mr. Abess wasn?t simply one of the nice guys in the financial industry; he stood as a kind of personification of our Daddy Warbucks economy, in which bankers give out free money to all good, hard-working Americans, and who have no expectations of it being paid back. Abess is a bit like the banker from Eddie Murphy?s classic ?White Like Me? skit: ?We don?t have to bother with these formalities ? just take what you want, Mr. White. Pay us back anytime?or don?t. We don?t care.? 


Then there was Ms. Bethea, who I?m sure is a nice young woman. But isn?t there something terribly wrong going on when a girl from a pretty hard-up part of the country is talking about how everyone in her class dreams of becoming ?lawyers, doctors, congressmen like yourself, and one day president.? Notice that no one in Dillon, South Carolina, seems to dream of opening up a restaurant one day or becoming an electrician or carpenter. Is this country really suffering from a lack of politicians and lawyers? Do we really need to dedicate more resources to sending Ms. Bethea to get an advanced degree so she can ?live her dream?? Is there not a major problem with our economy when the professions Bethea dreams about are often the most socialized, government-managed forms of employment?

In Democracy: The God That Failed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe argues that democracy is the worst form of government because, among other things, everyone imagines that he, too, might one day become president?and thus get hold of the reins of power. Moreover, since our politicians are ?democratically elected,” whenever they tax us or regulate our lives, we were, in a sense, ?asking for it.?

On the other hand, when a territory is ruled by an aristocratic family, the people view the state as an ?other,? as a thing outside themselves. Thus if a monarch even thinks of raising taxes, expanding his reach, or debasing the currency, he?ll face a revolt. Democracy perpetuates the Big Lie that ?we are the state.” The ?American Dream? outlined by Ty’Sheoma Bethea is that one day a poor girl from South Carolina might get control of the infinite piggy bank that is the U.S. government and start dishing out the lucre in a democratic fashion. Or in the words of Obama?s Republican opponent, Bobby Jindal, ?We?re Americans, we can do anything!?   

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