The Year of the Looter

What a year!  First of all we got to see New Orleans looters calmly pushing shopping carts full of plasma TVs and expensive athletic shoes down the flooded streets of the Big Easy.  Then we saw the rioters of the Paris banlieus calmly torching the cars of their neighbors and friends. And let us not forget the corporate looters, men like media mogul Lord Black, accused looter of Hollinger International, who apparently needed the money to fund the extravagance of his wife, the lovely Barbara Amiel.  The year 2005 was the Year of the Looter. Even ordinary middle—class Americans are getting into the looting, judging by the reports from Florida on the day after Thanksgiving.  Of course they are not really looting, but just fighting each other for the privilege of buying off—brand plasma TVs at rock—bottom prices.

The big problem of the Year of the Looter is not the pillagers of New Orleans and the street rioters of Paris.  Almost everyone agrees that they are thugs.  The big problem is the looting that does not provoke outrage from the chattering and the moralizing classes. What about the special election in California in which the voters approved of the looting of union workers' paychecks by their union leaders so that the leaders could use the money to buy politicians and loot the public treasury on behalf of their members? 

What about the good liberal voters of King County, Washington, who reelected County Executive Ron Sims after the looted gubernatorial election of 2004 in which King County elections officials Counted Every Vote, legal or illegal, until Democrat Christine Gregoire came out the winner?  What about the good citizens of France, who demand to continue looting their social model and The Wretched of the Earth be damned?

Then there is the bankruptcy of Delphi Corporation, looted of its ability to make a profit by its unionized, and now retired workers who secured their pensions out of the future revenue of the company rather than from their own savings.  Now we read that General Motors is going to close 12 manufacturing facilities and lay off 30,000 workers to cut costs.  Why is General Motors eating its seed corn?  So that it can pay the pensions and health benefits promised to its retired workers.  The current workers at Delphi and General Motors will pay with wage cuts and job losses so that Delphi and General Motors can continue their primary business of furnishing pensions and health benefits to retirees.

Pity the opportunistic looters of New Orleans.  They are dealing in chump change compared to the billions in loot that the retired auto workers have commandeered.  Pity the street punks and incendiaries of Paris.  They are pikers compared to the cultured readers of Le Monde with their lifetime jobs and pensions. But don't envy the auto workers.  Their buccaneering days are done now, and their loot will seem like chump change compared to the hoard being amassed by today's robber baron, the government worker. 

Already, state and local government workers earn 40 percent more than workers in the private sector, as Steve Malanga reports in City Journal.  What happens when it comes time to pay the unfunded pensions of all those government workers as guaranteed in their state constitutions?  Don't expect to find many state judges to believe in 'living constitutions' when their pensions are at stake.

It's odd isn't it?  In the bad old days of the patriarchy the looters were young men like the buccaneers who cruised the Caribbean for Spanish gold.  In the future it will be little old retired nurses and teachers demanding their booty from the tax—enslaved American people.

Here's an idea for the future.  How about working to build a world with a little less looting?  Let's have less looting in the streets and less looting in the corporate suite, of course.  But let us also work on the bigger problem, the out—of—control looting in the state legislatures and in the Congress.

There's a practical reason for this.  When people obtain their income from voluntary exchange they end up producing more product than when they behave like the fabled robber barons of the mountain passes.  They work harder and they work smarter.

There's also a moral reason.  When people are organized into special interests fighting to secure special privileges and subsidies from the government then their fellow citizens are enemies, looters competing against looters for the political spoils. But when people turn away from looting then they start to see their fellow citizens as potential customers.  They still want to get their hands on other peoples' money, but they learn to get it by lawful exchange of products and services.  That makes them better people.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs here. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.

What a year!  First of all we got to see New Orleans looters calmly pushing shopping carts full of plasma TVs and expensive athletic shoes down the flooded streets of the Big Easy.  Then we saw the rioters of the Paris banlieus calmly torching the cars of their neighbors and friends. And let us not forget the corporate looters, men like media mogul Lord Black, accused looter of Hollinger International, who apparently needed the money to fund the extravagance of his wife, the lovely Barbara Amiel.  The year 2005 was the Year of the Looter. Even ordinary middle—class Americans are getting into the looting, judging by the reports from Florida on the day after Thanksgiving.  Of course they are not really looting, but just fighting each other for the privilege of buying off—brand plasma TVs at rock—bottom prices.

The big problem of the Year of the Looter is not the pillagers of New Orleans and the street rioters of Paris.  Almost everyone agrees that they are thugs.  The big problem is the looting that does not provoke outrage from the chattering and the moralizing classes. What about the special election in California in which the voters approved of the looting of union workers' paychecks by their union leaders so that the leaders could use the money to buy politicians and loot the public treasury on behalf of their members? 

What about the good liberal voters of King County, Washington, who reelected County Executive Ron Sims after the looted gubernatorial election of 2004 in which King County elections officials Counted Every Vote, legal or illegal, until Democrat Christine Gregoire came out the winner?  What about the good citizens of France, who demand to continue looting their social model and The Wretched of the Earth be damned?

Then there is the bankruptcy of Delphi Corporation, looted of its ability to make a profit by its unionized, and now retired workers who secured their pensions out of the future revenue of the company rather than from their own savings.  Now we read that General Motors is going to close 12 manufacturing facilities and lay off 30,000 workers to cut costs.  Why is General Motors eating its seed corn?  So that it can pay the pensions and health benefits promised to its retired workers.  The current workers at Delphi and General Motors will pay with wage cuts and job losses so that Delphi and General Motors can continue their primary business of furnishing pensions and health benefits to retirees.

Pity the opportunistic looters of New Orleans.  They are dealing in chump change compared to the billions in loot that the retired auto workers have commandeered.  Pity the street punks and incendiaries of Paris.  They are pikers compared to the cultured readers of Le Monde with their lifetime jobs and pensions. But don't envy the auto workers.  Their buccaneering days are done now, and their loot will seem like chump change compared to the hoard being amassed by today's robber baron, the government worker. 

Already, state and local government workers earn 40 percent more than workers in the private sector, as Steve Malanga reports in City Journal.  What happens when it comes time to pay the unfunded pensions of all those government workers as guaranteed in their state constitutions?  Don't expect to find many state judges to believe in 'living constitutions' when their pensions are at stake.

It's odd isn't it?  In the bad old days of the patriarchy the looters were young men like the buccaneers who cruised the Caribbean for Spanish gold.  In the future it will be little old retired nurses and teachers demanding their booty from the tax—enslaved American people.

Here's an idea for the future.  How about working to build a world with a little less looting?  Let's have less looting in the streets and less looting in the corporate suite, of course.  But let us also work on the bigger problem, the out—of—control looting in the state legislatures and in the Congress.

There's a practical reason for this.  When people obtain their income from voluntary exchange they end up producing more product than when they behave like the fabled robber barons of the mountain passes.  They work harder and they work smarter.

There's also a moral reason.  When people are organized into special interests fighting to secure special privileges and subsidies from the government then their fellow citizens are enemies, looters competing against looters for the political spoils. But when people turn away from looting then they start to see their fellow citizens as potential customers.  They still want to get their hands on other peoples' money, but they learn to get it by lawful exchange of products and services.  That makes them better people.

Christopher Chantrill (mailto:chrischantrill@msn.com) blogs here. His Road to the Middle Class is forthcoming.