Monday, November 23, 2009

Pretty Sure this is Not Satire

Scrooge is skeptical that many would prefer death to the workhouse, and he is unmoved by talk of the workhouse's cheerlessness. He is right to be unmoved, for society's provisions for the poor must be, well, Dickensian. The more pleasant the alternatives to gainful employment, the greater will be the number of people who seek these alternatives, and the fewer there will be who engage in productive labor. If society expects anyone to work, work had better be a lot more attractive than idleness.
-Michael Levin (hat tip to DougJ at Balloon-Juice)
The funny thing is, it almost (almost) sounds reasonable when you read it, horrifying though it is. But then, a lot of libertarianism does, with its cutesy cutting of corners and knowingly limited vision of what society is and should be for. Ebenezer Scrooge is a savvy businessman, and if he has managed to accumulate so much wealth and manage it with only one employee, why, he should be lauded and lionized for his canniness, not hounded in his bed by ghosts who want him to feel bad for the people he's screwed over. For all we know, the man operates the then-equivalent to a modern payday loan operation, lending at usurious rates to those who have no choice but to borrow, whether their circumstances be their own fault or no. Levin even goes so far as to say that Bob Cratchit ought not to have had so many children if he didn't think he could afford them (a very libertarian notion, as libertarians are notoriously anti-child, being not much more than children themselves), and suggests an invented character, Sickly Sid, who also needs an operation, just like Tiny Tim, but who now will not have it, since his father was planning to finance said operation with money that Scrooge is now giving (giving) to Cratchit, out of some misguided sense of charity because he had some bad dreams on Christmas Eve.

That's the thing about libertarians. They're just anarchists who lack the courage of their convictions. They think that humanity clawed its way out of the jungle and built cooperative society and civilization just to recapitulate the state of nature (in the Hobbesian sense). They like the laws guaranteeing their property but don't want to pay the taxes that guarantee the prosecution of those laws. They think it's just fine that society has winners and losers, so long as they are the winners. They think that both parties in any transaction negotiate from an equal position, and that if one party is disadvantaged then it is surely that party's own fault, even when it isn't.

It is, in short, facile bullshit of the worst sort, an after the fact rationalization of the fact that they got their toys and they don't want to share. It makes you wonder what they tell their kids on Christmas morning when there's no presents under the tree.

"I'm sorry, honey, but you didn't earn any Christmas presents this year. I know you think it's mean, but Daddy is teaching you a valuable lesson today. If you want something, you have to go and earn it for yourself. If Daddy let Santa come and give you presents for free, you wouldn't value them as highly as you should, and you might grow up with the expectation that life owed you a living for free. Also, and I hate to have to bring this up during the holidays, but you're late on this month's payment for that playpen you enjoy so much. Remember how Daddy said he would be willing to finance it for you, but you had to pay Daddy back? Daddy gave you very generous terms on that loan, but you're in default now. Your payment is more than thirty days late, so Daddy is going to have to repossess that playpen and try and sell it to recoup his loss. I know you think I'm just a big old meanie, but you'll thank me one day when you're as rich as Daddy because you learned the valuable lessons he's teaching you today. Honey? The kid has soiled herself again. Time to put in some more of that uncompensated labor you seem so fond of."

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