In the current contest between two views of the role of government in American citizens’ lives, it seems useful to talk about two views of Happiness and which of these seems more appropriate and will do us individually more good—and so achieve more for our country. One of the two fundamental versions of happiness [sic] is the Progressive one: personal pleasure, or what makes a man the happiest and most (immediately) comfortable.
This is a view born in the ’70s’ hippy hedonism of “if it feels good, do it;” although it has evolved and its descriptions have grown more circumspect in the intervening 40 years. It has become more a question of “what can government do for me?” Proponents of this view insist that government will take care of them, so they don’t have to worry about the stress of the workaday world—they can simply follow their bliss without responsibility for the outcomes.
This is the view that it’s patriotic to pay (ever) more taxes, not so government can have the funds to do the things we originally created it to do, but so that government can have the funds to take care of us as we grow increasingly dependent on it. This expanding wealth transfer generally is couched in the heart-wrench of assumed human need: we must keep social security going in perpetuity so that we might be taken care of by government (i.e., strangers) in our dotage; people are out of work, so government must pay us for being out of work (apparently in perpetuity—unemployment insurance is payable now for 99 weeks, up from an original 18 weeks or less, and our current President wants to extend that yet further); people belong to self-appointed special groups, and government must give them special treatment, also in perpetuity: “affirmative” action programs, for instance, are never-ending and ever-expanding, and atheists are increasingly looking for offense in religious ceremonies that they choose not simply to ignore.
While we could get away with this in the short term in an earlier time, we’ve seen dependency on government accelerate, and we’ve seen the transfer of our personal responsibility to government via that dependency blow up our economy in the present time. In the current Panic, TARP, the 2009 Stimulus Bill, and Dodd-Frank all were, and are, intended to inure us from our failure by giving all of us recourse to others’ tax money. Failed businesses were not to be allowed to fail; they were absolved of responsibility for their failure and propped up, for all the firm finger-shaking done in their direction by government officials.
This isn’t personal responsibility. This is government assuming responsibility, taking it from us. And at great peril, for as Nebraska Congressman Howard Buffett (the father of today’s Warren) said 55 years ago:
Will this legislation fulfill its promises? If you think so, consider this rarely mentioned fine print clause. If the government is to guarantee you what the consequences of your actions will be in this case, security, then the government must take control of your activities. For with responsibility—even self-arrogated responsibility—must go authority.
This means that if politicians are to supply your security, they must control your work, your spending, and your saving.
On the other hand, a modern Conservative’s view of Happiness is that of John Adams:
All men are born free and independent, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights, among which may be reckoned the right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; that of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property; in fine, that of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness.
One of the early appearances of this is in Adam’s “A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts;” it’s also included in Massachusetts’ 1780 Constitution as Article I of Part the First.
This is Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs making themselves stinking rich (and more power to them and others like them)—and employing others in the bargain—on the strength of their own hard work and skills. This is Joe the Plumber and others like them earning a living—and employing others in the bargain—on the strength of their own hard work and entrepreneurial ambition. This is the mom and pop business that lets parents put their children through college on the strength of the hard work and personal initiative of those moms and pops. This is the worker employed by Gates and Jobs and Joe and mom and pop who, lacking the talent, perhaps, or the interest, to work for himself, nevertheless has the ethic to earn a living in a job that helps him to see to his future and that of his children, rather than looking to Big Government to take care of him.
My parents came out of the Depression more determined than ever to rely on themselves for their welfare and not on their government. Near the home in northern California where my parents lived for part of their retirement, stands a large house—a mansion—that has the busiest, most detailed, gingerbread-laden Victorian architecture and decoration, and the ugliest, I’ve ever seen. All that complexity and detail work, though, was not because the man who built it, a local lumber magnate around the time of the Depression, liked that sort of thing. On the contrary, his lumber business was declining, and the loss of business was threatening his labor force. But he didn’t want to lose them. Optimistic capitalist that he was, he knew the economy would recover, and he wanted to be part of that recovery. For this, he needed a skilled labor force readily available; he didn’t want to lose time to having to find, and likely to train, employees after having laid off the ones he had, with their subsequent scattering to the winds looking for new jobs. Also, these were his labor force, and he felt a measure of responsibility for them. So he built his monstrosity of a house, and he used his lumber enterprise workers to do the construction. He kept them employed through the worst of the downturn, they kept jobs through the downturn, and they were available when his lumber business began to recover.
This was done, not by government, but by an individual. Where true responsibility lies.
This is Happiness.