April 24, 2010
Taxes Aren't the ProblemBy Christopher Chantrill
The Tax Day tea parties were a start. Taxes are too high, we all agree. You can see how high at usgovernmentrevenue.com. But taxes aren't the problem. Nor indeed is government spending the problem, although you can take a look at the century of steadily increasing government spending at usgovernmentspending.com. Worried about debt? Here. Deficits? Click here.
Taxes and spending and debts and deficits are just symptoms of the problem. The real problem is the philosophy and culture of our governing class.
We know that the administrative state is necessarily oppressive. Bureaucracy is designed to make people conform to the rules. That's why armies use it. That's why the absolute monarchs used it. That's why the communist and fascist dictators used it.
Never mind about that. And never mind about the people like you and me that the administrative state tries to crunch into nice, conformable Kates. We can take care of ourselves.
Let us worry instead about the harm that the modern administrative state does to the people within its administrative, bureaucratic culture.
I mean the type of person that it encourages, and the moral squalor it spreads.
William Deresiewicz went to West Point in the fall of 2009 to warn the plebe class against the corruption of the bureaucratic culture.
He warned the future officers of the U.S. Army about the manager of the Central Station in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
In Conrad's book and the movie Apocalypse Now, the plot revolves around the Kurtz character and his insanity. It's a favorite liberal meme: the crazed Pentagon general who could blow up the world.
But Deresiewicz is more interested in Kurtz's boss, the bureaucratic company manager.
He's a man of no particular talent, except the ability to make people feel uncomfortable, rather like Deresiewicz's department head at Yale.
According to Deresiewicz, our education system is creating, particularly at the highest-level Ivy League colleges, exactly the kind of bureaucratic personality that Conrad found so distasteful. Deresiewicz worries about the super-intelligent sucker-uppers competing ferociously for the glittering prizes on their climb up the greasy pole of administrative success in the governing establishment of the United States.
You'd think that the military would be at the very center of this spider's web, but you would be wrong. The military, condemned to administrative bureaucracy, home of the word "regiment," understands that an army must somehow transcend bureaucratic routine if it can hope to win a war.
That is why back in 1921, the German General von Seeckt wrote that the German Army needed soldiers who were "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility." That was the lesson learned after World War I. The U.S. Army now pushes responsibility as far down the chain of command as possible. And it allows troublemakers like Gen. Petraeus to challenge the system and lead it to victory. That was the lesson learned after Vietnam.
Back in the days of Vietnam, our liberal friends thought that Francis Ford Coppola had utterly captured the nihilism at the center of the warrior culture with his antiwar movie Apocalypse Now, even though that had already persuaded themselves of the same thing with Dr. Strangelove years before.
Deresiewicz is telling us that the liberals have got it wrong. The problem is not the Col. Kurtzes and the Gen. Turdgisons of the Pentagon.
The problem is that bureaucracies teach people the culture of hierarchy. They turn out nasty manipulators that know just how to apply the tourniquet of administrative rules to cut off the pulsing artery of freedom. The problem is the liberals' own liberal administrative culture.
Our president is, of course, almost completely a creature of this culture, and it is telling that he hugs and bows to thug dictators but treats his partisan opposition in the United States with sneers and scorn.
So the challenge before the Tea Partiers and the American people is not primarily an arithmetic one of doing something about debts and deficits. It goes deeper than that. London's Economist showed a glimmer of understanding when it admitted that the British Labour Party's "statism has failed to crack the country's toughest social problems, such as its pockets of entrenched worklessness and educational inequalities."
Failed to crack? Oh, really. I thought that the whole point of the welfare state was that it would solve the problem of worklessness and educational inequality as nothing else could. Yet the Brits spend every year 5.2 percent of GDP on welfare and 5.8 percent of GDP on education, as reported by ukpublicspending.co.uk. You'd think that with all those billions, they would be seeing light at the end of the tunnel by now.
The problem is not taxes, and it's not the deficit. It's not even the $100-trillion unfunded shortfall in Social Security and Medicare.
The problem is the whole culture of the administrative state and the corrupted people that manage it.