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Friday, June 03, 2016

Demoralization of the West

Western civilization is not dying. It is being systematically, purposely demoralized.

W hen I was a kid growing up in poverty-stricken rural America, my parents always used to say things like “If the government offers us money we should take it!” We would be fools, they said, not to take advantage of the benefits that are available to us.

Neurosurgeon Ben Carson once gave a speech to some black students, saying that he wanted to reduce dependency on government. A black student stood up saying “We don't want government off our backs. We want government to help us.”

The idea that the purpose of government is to help people is surprisingly widespread, not just among poor people, but among the middle class as well. It is one of society's most pernicious ideas.

Government cannot create wealth. It can only redistribute wealth, but because it is inefficient the amount that gets redistributed is always less than the amount it takes away. Thus, as government gets bigger, ceteris paribus, society as a whole gets poorer.

By ‘helping’ people, government weakens the bonds that hold society together. It divides the population into donors and recipients. The donors resent the freeloaders who are paid not to work, and the recipients resent the donors for not being taxed enough. Both classes resent those who evade being taxed. The greater the number of recipient classes, the more fragmented society becomes.

Many of us suspect that this is the main reason our taxes are so complicated: their complexity conceals the fact that the actual goal of taxation is to make government bigger.

Demand for government services is infinite. If there is no visible cost, recipients will continually escalate their demands.

But there is a cost. People are genetically programmed with a need to feel useful, part of a society, and to derive satisfaction from helping each other. People helping each other is what makes the difference between a culture and a colony of animals. When government takes that away, the natural connections among humans atrophy. We stop being a civilization and our animal nature surfaces.

Historian Joseph Tainter wrote that as revenues declined during the late Roman Empire, the Roman government compensated by continually raising taxes. The taxes became so high that families were forced to sell their children into slavery to pay them.

There are tipping points in the world—not in the environment, but in the human mind. At some point, when the cost of government exceeds the benefits, a non-linear decision-making process happens, and the person may decide that anything is preferable to the government they have.

In ancient Rome this meant leaving the gates unlocked so the barbarians could enter, sack the capital, and slaughter the ruling class. In the Soviet Union, it meant creating poor quality products, pretending to do work, and drinking vodka. The way people express demoralization are all different, but the cause is the same.

We've all seen it. There once was a company called Hechinger's, which sold wood and hardware. I'd walk through the vast, empty store wondering where the paint brushes were. If I could find an employee, and if I could get their attention, they would pretend not to know the answer. They did not care whether I purchased anything or not.

Another place, a famous chicken restaurant, toward the end, got only one of my last six orders correct. Suspiciously it was always something cheaper than what I had ordered, and it was always stale. Once I found all the employees milling about outside instead of working. They had just stopped caring.

Some probably believed the store would always be there to pay them, and they deserved to be paid no matter what. The rest just acted demoralized, as if they knew it was only a matter of time before the leaders drove the company into the ground. There is no future, so why work hard?

Some call it civilizational decay, but our civilization is not dying. It is being systematically demoralized. Whether deliberate or not, it is the inevitable result of big government taking over the functions that the people must do, and what they want to do, for each other. It may or may not be enough to wreck a country, but it's a sure way to make us miserable.

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