EVERYTHING: STILL YOUR FAULT --BROOKS
Today, David Brooks publishes his eight thousandth column blaming everything that's wrong with the world on the depraved appetites of ordinary people. Political leaders are to blame only to the extent that they indulge our depravity:
The people who pioneered democracy in Europe and the United States had a low but pretty accurate view of human nature. They knew that if we get the chance, most of us will try to get something for nothing. They knew that people generally prize short-term goodies over long-term prosperity. So, in centuries past, the democratic pioneers built a series of checks to make sure their nations wouldn’t be ruined by their own frailties.
... Leaders today do not believe their job is to restrain popular will. Their job is to flatter and satisfy it.... Give the customer what he wants. The customer is always right.
Having lost a sense of their own frailty, many voters have come to regard their desires as entitlements. They become incensed when their leaders are not responsive to their needs. Like any normal set of human beings, they command their politicians to give them benefits without asking them to pay.
The consequences of this shift are now obvious. In Europe and America, governments have made promises they can’t afford to fulfill. At the same time, the decision-making machinery is breaking down....
And so European citizens demand "great lifestyles without long work hours." American citizens demand all those horribly indulgent things in the Obama campaign's "Julia" ad. (Small Business Administration loans! How self-pampering!) It's all their fault! Politicians should know what wallowers in sloth humans are and just start cracking the whip!
You know what ordinary people really want? We want not to have the rug pulled out from under us. We're all born into a society we never made; without thinking too much about it, we grow up into that society, and that society, if we live in the First World, tells us that certain expectations are reasonable -- and we get upset not because we can't have every luxury imaginable, but because at times our society tells us we suddenly can't have things it told us we could reasonably expect.
You take an assembly-line job at an auto plant in 1955 because you need a job, and they tell you it comes with a pension and generous retiree health benefits. You stay till you're old, and all the while you arrange your life as if the benefits they promised you will be there -- not because you're slothful and indulgent, but because they were promised. Of course you get upset when they're taken away. In Europe, more is promised, but you can't blame people for taking those promises literally, and being angry when they're broken.
And people are willing to give back if the giveback isn't sudden and wrenching. They're willing to pay more taxes, too. Consider the fact that the least popular president of the past thirty years is the one who never raised taxes. The current Congress has approval ratings lower than those for flesh-eating bacteria, and it never raises taxes. People took tax increases from Clinton, from Poppy Bush, even from Reagan. They'd do it again in the right circumstances (i.e., a truly recovering economy).
You know who wants everything they've ever imagined wanting, and feels persecuted when that doesn't happen? Not ordinary Europeans. Not most Americans. Two groups: U.S. right-wingers and (most important) the extremely rich, particularly those in the financial sector (globally) and the energy sector (in this country). The rest of us will make reasonable adjustments when necessary, and do with less. Those two groups raise holy hell when they're asked to do that. They're the big problem.
(X-posted at Booman Tribune.)