The View From 1776

Today’s Secularity vs. Constitutional Liberties

In his latest book, Professor Ellis Sandoz explores the origins and nature of personal freedoms in the Western world, especially as those freedoms came to be embodied in the Constitution of the United States.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 09/22 at 12:21 AM
  1. Thomas,

    When you say,

    "Think of President Obama’s assertion that “You did not do that yourself,” with the clear meaning that what individuals possess is given to them by collectivized government, things which liberal-progressive-socialistic government is therefore entitled to take from individuals to satisfy government’s vision of social justice."

    you apparently do not appreciate that President Obama was referring to roads and bridges and other massive infrastructure elements which, indeed are the products of the joint effort we call "government." No individual has the capacity to go out and construct a highway from his factory to the stores which will sell his products. And, indeed, in order to finance the construction of the public highways taxation is needed because few people will voluntarily donate to the cause of public highways, even though they enjoy them every day.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  09/22  at  10:17 AM
  2. J. Jay,

    You, apparently, do not appreciate it matters little that Obama was referring to “roads, bridges and other massive infrastructure elements” or to railways, skyscrapers, electric utilities, chemical plants, refineries, water treatment plants, shopping malls, telecommunication systems, internet, amusement parks, &c. The real disconnect was not to things but to the people he was addressing – the American people outside of government. The remark reveals something about Obama (not for the first time), which is that he views Americans as belonging to distinct, often adversarial classes; and sees himself as belonging to a special class of a ‘noble’ or lordly stature. To Obama, the governing ‘class’ matters more than and are ordained to lord it over the productive classes. No doubt he sees himself as a benign overlord defending the ‘poor’ against the ‘injustices of middle-class capitalists’, but an overlord all the same. His is a cynicism masking a conscious, methodical and long-crafted bigotry.

    None of the things you referenced are/were in fact built by government; and Obama was wrong to disparage those who do/did the actual conceiving, planning and constructing of those things (i.e., private businesses and ordinary citizens). In his world view, government provides everything; and he could not be more wrong in this. Yes, government can build some things, but is not (generally speaking) nearly as efficient, energetic or economic in its handling as are profit-minded contractors performing the same functions. Thus government, at most, administers large projects undertaken in the interest and at the behest of the people ‘it serves’.

    Pressure for most public projects originates not from government, but from private citizens and enterprises pursuing what are either shared or limited (special interest) goals. This is not a simple transfer of responsibility and effort from private to public hands, however, as government’s role in the ultimate objects is minimal and short lived. Whereas the bulk of commitment is private, government’s role consists mainly in funding, soliciting bids, writing contracts, and managing overruns (which tasks it performs rather poorly). Those done, the real project is undertaken, developed, run and successfully completed by contractors; all of which constitutes a second transfer back to private hands.

    Instead of this public-private collaboration to effect things which private-enterprise [supposedly] cannot or will not accomplish alone, imagine government doing all the organizing and heavy-lifting using government employees only. The results would, in most cases, be haphazard to disastrous. No doubt this would improve as government evolved better management schemes, but can never approach the efficiency, pragmatism, and incentives of contract labor without seriously compromising its own mission to promote the general (i.e., non-government) welfare. Assuming it did anyway, you’d now have the government in competition with private enterprise to the latter’s demise.

    You, in a previous post, cited the Hoover Dam as exemplar of government providing things private entities cannot do for themselves. Yet, as I then showed (and, apparently, must show again as you still haven’t got it), your assertion differs from reality greatly. Not only can such monumental projects be taken on by private groups, they are all the time, and are completed at far lower cost and with greater efficiency than government can manage. The Hoover dam, other than its size, is no more daunting or complex than most skyscrapers built without public funds or oversight. A modern chemical plant is far more complex and challenging than even the NASA project to build and maintain space shuttles. Moreover, whereas a shuttle had to perform flawlessly only a few days each year, private companies routinely expect their refineries, chemical, and nuclear plants to operate flawlessly 365 days a year for decades. The impetus for that dam came first from private citizens with a shared interest in building the dam, and the work of constructing it (after government gave its blessing) was likewise private. Only the funding and oversight was public. Had government undertaken the building of the dam without contractors, we’d either still be waiting or would have abandoned it as hopeless long ago. Only after private citizens lobbied Congress to fund the dam did government get involved, only then because it was politically ‘safe’ to do so, and only to the extent it committed other people’s money (i.e., taxpayers’) to it. Moreover, there were both winners and losers in that undertaking as raises the ‘special interest’ specter (but that is subject for another discussion). In the scenario of government doing most or all of the heavy lifting can Obama rightly claim “you (we) did not build that…” But, then, how often has that happened (never). And, assuming things were actually done that way, which of us would prefer such results?

    Long before government insinuated itself into the business of canal, bridge and road building, private citizens had already hacked out a rough system of roads and bridges through the wilderness. For example, Jefferson and some friends (despairing of government ever getting involved) successfully undertook to clear an impassible stretch of the lower Rappahannock River (Virginia). They accomplished this using their own labor, slaves and resources. Washington did much the same by enticing investors to build a canal flanking the Potomac River rapids near the capital newly named in his honor. Prior to 1910, millions of private-citizens undertook, on their own and without reference to government in any form, to build new towns and forts; and built a network of bridges, roads, rails, telegraphs, and commercial systems connecting and expanding them throughout the country, all without dint of government. Had they waited for government to build those early roads, canals and bridges, no doubt we’d still be huddled along our eastern shore.

    Some have tried to salvage the president’s remark for him by guessing ‘what he meant to say’. While this is bogus on its face (no way others can know what he intended saying), the president tacitly confirmed their suspicions (Oh, yeah … that’s what I meant … I mean … well yeah) as convenient face saving. Typical of these is one from Fact Check Org (see http://www.factcheck.org/2012/07/you-didnt-build-that-uncut-and-unedited/ ) in which Obama is made to temporize he meant “without some help from government”. While this may be true in a minority of cases (Hoover Dam, biomedical research, moon-landings, &c), the vast majority of things, structures and infrastructures are privately conceived, initiated and executed. Even where the initial impetus is from government, the actual work is supplied by private contractors without whom little to nothing gets done. The remark’s implication was the reverse, that little to nothing gets done except by government. The reality is much of what government does can be done without resort to government, and the reason it is so often done with government involved has more to do with crony-capitalism than to serving the public or even marginally common interests.

    Regardless government or ordinary citizens in their private capacities built this or that item or infrastructure, Obama’s remark was a slap in our collectively private faces. His seemingly bland comment smacks of “let them eat cake” in its sweeping disregard for how things actually get done; not at the urging, organizing and execution of government, but through the urging, ingenuity and persistence of millions of ordinary folk working toward what are more often ‘personally-profitable’ than ‘common’ goals. Such are the ‘accidental benefits’ accruing to society from private usages, however, as greatly outweigh the contributions of government and makes the latter more an afterthought than a main support. This is what Obama fails to appreciate as was evident from his callous remark. Clearly, you fail to realize this same disconnect, and are steeped in the same dismissive attitude regarding your fellow citizens as does our elitist president. Socialist can only see us dependent on them, and never the vibrant capably productive people we are to whom socialism is unnecessary and slavish. Either that or you are so hopeless a partisan as argues against reason rather than yield even so embarrassing and minor a flaw for no other cause than a complaint was lodged.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/03  at  09:04 PM
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