The American Baby And The Bathwater
The old adage “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is a caution to reformers who don’t like the way things are. It is good to clean things up, but it is almost always not good to entirely dismantle or try to fundamentally transform something that is generally working pretty well. That has, historically, made things much worse.
America is the baby, and it is undoubtedly dirty. We can all agree that there are things about society and government policies, domestic and foreign, that are not working well, especially for some people. We must ask ourselves, however, compared to what? There is no such thing as Utopia. There are only real places with real people and real problems. It certainly would be nice to live in a perfect world, but perfection is not on the menu. We have to choose from the various states of imperfection that actually exist in reality.
People often cite Europe as the place to emulate because they are such progressive thinkers, or so we are told. According to statistics from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, on a purchasing power parity basis, Europe’s most prosperous nation, Germany, would fall behind thirty four U. S. states in terms of gross domestic product per person. Only six of the fifty European states fare better than Mississippi, the least prosperous American state. GDP, of course, is not everything, but it is something, and it is important. Even poor Americans are not so bad off compared to the rest of the world.
It is apparent to me and to others that there is a lot of good here, in spite of the bad. The average American is in the top one percent of income and wealth compared to the entire world, with a high average standard of living. Historically, there has been a relatively high degree of freedom and a fairly limited government, which is a major reason for much of the good that has developed from the beginning, though that advantage has been eroding over the decades, something for which we should be very concerned.
A significant part of the problem is that there are different views about what constitutes the dirt to be bathed in the first place. For some, any inequality of outcome is unacceptable, and for them, the system must be changed to make it what they consider more equitable. Government’s job for them is to perfect us as individuals, using wealth redistribution and lots of rules, requiring even more government power. To a different group, there is not enough freedom and far too many rules, regulations, and laws. For these people, the system must be changed to get government out of our bedrooms, our churches, our schools, our doctor’s offices, and our businesses. Those views are almost polar opposites. You cannot have both at the same time, and we don’t have anything close to either at this point.
We must choose which direction we want to move. Do we want ever-increasing government that directs our lives, or do we want to limit government power in the economy and in society? From my view, government is politics, and most politicians through the centuries, in all cultures, have proven themselves immoral, self-serving, incompetent at economic manipulation, and focused on increasing power and influence rather than the good of the people. As unwise and self-interested as the average person may be, individuals know and want what is best for themselves and their families far better than any politician does or can, and society is made up of individuals and families. As long as everyone’s basic rights to their lives, liberty, and property are protected, the self-interested increase in the welfare of families is the improvement of society.
Dan McLaughlin is the author of “Compassion and Truth-Why Good Intentions Don’t Equal Good Results.” Follow him at daniel-mclaughlin.com