The Power Motive and the Profit Motive
The most common misconception in America's warped political culture is that modern liberals tend to be altruistic and compassionate, while conservatives are self-centered, greedy old misers.
On the contrary, not only are many modern liberals driven by a personal profit motive via the aegis of government, but they are also fundamentally selfish in a socially irresponsible and economically destructive way.
But how can this be? How can so many people be so wrong about who is actually selfish and unselfish? It has to do with the nature of altruism and greed.
Far from being "altruistic," many left-wingers expect others to sacrifice on their behalves. They don't expect to actually sacrifice themselves (that's for suckers like soldiers and religious martyrs); they want to sacrifice others to their whims, wants, and needs.
Modern liberals have a profit motive just like everyone else, except they want to profit through the power of government - either by removing the pressures of a competitive labor market or by forgoing the notion that people should create value equal to what they receive.
Take the growth in entitlements over the last 50 years. Since 1960, total government expenditures on entitlements in 2010 dollars went up 12 times: from around $200 billion to about $2.2 trillion annually. Government transfers to individuals have outpaced per capita income gains for around 50 years, all but proving that entitlement increases are part of a political strategy designed to lock up voters and are not economically justified.
Student loans are approaching $1 trillion outstanding, even as around half of new college graduates lack a full-time job. Food stamp enrollment is skyrocketing, beyond what can be explained by relatively flat payrolls. Baby-Boomers have some of the highest net worths in the country, but many are looting younger generations for retirement and health bennies.
Why? Because we're all owed something, just by virtue of being citizens.
Few in the political class seem to have the nerve to call nonsense on this unsustainable charade, because that makes one sound "mean," and in a so-called democracy, "mean" is politically toxic. So on and on we go, spending imaginary money and damaging the poor through dollar devaluation, borrowing on the trust of future generations not even born, all the while sucking the vitality out of the greatest economic engine in the world. As Thomas Sowell once put it, "[t]he welfare state is not really about the welfare of the masses. It is about the egos of the elites."
While past American leftists were a kind of soft socialist and believed in exalting "the worker," today's leftists praise the non-worker and defend him just as earnestly. It is bigoted, you see, to expect people to work and take care of themselves. It's not that "the worker" (whoever that may be) is being screwed by exploitative capitalists' it's that "the system" is structurally unjust simply because some people are working and profiting. If there's value being created, there's value owed to someone else, whether that person was involved in creating it or not. Such warped thinking will grind an economy to a halt - including ours.
It was a matter of "fairness" to yesterday's leftist that the business-owner was profiting at the perceived expense of the worker. According to the debunked Marxian theory of surplus value, whatever the business-owner made in profit was a reflection of value exploited from the worker. (Never mind the land, capital, and technology needed to produce goods for people who actually desire them.)
So the organized left set out to correct this fundamental "economic injustice" by empowering government to rectify the perceived wrongs: through minimum wage laws, state-run entitlements for the middle class (like socialized medicine), and unionized partnership with government. What started out as a fight for "the little guy" - i.e., the exploited worker - turned into cynical political racketeering, viz. trading votes for goodies, whether paid for or unpaid for.
What was a crusade against the supposed "profit motive" was transmuted through economically manipulative government into the "power motive." The authority to remedy argued injustice in the economy was readily misused to abuse workers for private-sector and special-interest gain. Doesn't sound like the fairytale version of socialism; quite the contrary.
President Obama once said, "So long as Americans are denied the decent wages, and good benefits, and fair treatment they deserve, the dream for which so many gave so much will remain out of reach; that to live up to our founding promise of equality for all, we have to make sure that opportunity is open to all Americans."
But note the classic sophistry of taking the assumption of "equality" under the law to mean equality of results. In other words, it doesn't matter how much effort you expend or how much value you add to the economy; we all deserve good benefits and "decent" wages (not proportionate wages).
Heck, Fauxcahontas Elizabeth Warren recently suggested a minimum wage of $22 an hour. And it should be added that "opportunity" comes for workers when governments protect property and contracts, not when they rig the game for those in power and their associates.
One of the crucial things that must be done in American political culture is that we must start praising the value-creators and start earnestly shaming the sponges - and not just welfare recipients, but anyone who abuses government for his own personal profit motive. That can mean people in corporations, unions, universities, non-profits, or other special interests (not including the truly disabled, elderly poor, or U.S. veterans).
But more to the point, if one takes something that isn't his using force, that is greedy and selfish. If one creates value and intends to keep the proceeds of it, that is fair, because one owns his own life and determines what he does with it. If one sacrifices others to one's wants and needs, that is not altruism; it is exploitation. If one sacrifices himself for a cause he believes in, at least that person has done with his own life what he saw fit.
Language is a powerful weapon when it comes to politics, and the left has been winning the culture war because it has defined the terms. If we want to roll back the welfare state, we need to erase the left's terms of false compassion and neutralize its PC-imposed guilt, while we establish clearly in our minds the standards of true justice.
Kyle Becker is an assistant editor at the Top 25 conservative website IJReview.com.