Lisa Schiffren at the National Review's group blog The Corner says something interesting and true, a rare enough thing at the Corner these days to warrant comment.
In "Canada or Galt's Gulch" she cites a spoof article in Slate devoted to the fate of Obama supporters in the event he loses (an imaginary exodus to Canada) and says:
Of course conservatives don't threaten to leave the U.S. as a rule. However, on more or less the same subject, I haven't heard so much about John Galt since ...well, ever. (And objectivists were thick on the ground in D.C. during the Reagan administration.)
(For the record, they were thick at the pinnacle, too, up to and including President Reagan's Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan.)
Continuing, she explains:
I suppose, with all the projections of the Obama administration and its confiscatory tax rates on people and businesses, subordination of the productive to the dependent, public schools turned into training camps for radicals and legions of speech/thought police — i.e. — the end of liberty as we knew it — it might be time to start thinking about the mechanics of Galt's Gulch.
John Galt, for those not familiar, was the mysterious quasi-protagonist of Ayn Rand's hyper-libertarian/radical individualist tome Atlas Shrugged. Galt's great task was to inspire the self-motivated, self-actuating, self-reliant, self-proclaimed and self-deluded "producers" of Ayn Rand's hallucinated political economy to refuse to produce as a protest of the use of the goods of productive impulse being expropriated for the collective benefit.
I say "hallucinated" because when I read the book decades ago (I read 'em all, We The Living is far and away the best, but Atlas was a great read too except for the worthless 50-page polemic embedded near the end), I had to laugh at Rand's juvenile understanding of how the railroads in this country were built. As if some visionary entrepreneur was responsible. Yeah. Right. I wonder if anyone ever mentioned to Rand the fact that the land upon which the railroads were built was, um, originally public, much of it literally granted free to the railroads out of the common weal?
But I digress.
As I said, Schiffern's claim about hearing so much about Galt lately is in fact, true. If you follow the grass roots conservative movement, as I do, by way of friends and acquaintances, am talk radio, periodicals, blogs and comment threads, you do in fact hear more and more talk of a Galtian "strike." That raises two issues, one of which is serious.
The first goes straight to Schiffren's suggestion about the "mechanics" of Galtian protest. Surely, she jests? No, it appears she isn't joking, and I suspect most of the dispirited conservatives whispering about John Galt aren't joking either. But come the heck on. What does Schiffren think life would be like in Galt's Gulch? That she'll whittle her Corner items into planks of hand-hewn lumber and float them down some stream otherwise used to produce Coors beer to a breathlessly awaiting audience of other Galtian protestors?
Is she going to remain in place on whatever coast she lives on but protest by withdrawing from the dollar economy by way of the barter-, gold- or under-the-table economy? What's she going to do, trade Corner items with Jonah Goldberg, then sell them for gold at some flea market? Or in the parking lot of some Virginia gun show?
The reason why the threats of leaving the country by the Hollywood liberal/left were so easily mockable is that there was a degree of plausibility to the shrieks, unlikely as it may be that they'd have followed through. They are, after all, financially independent and their occupations do not require physical presence in the United States of America (in fact, frequently the opposite). But the threat of withdrawing from the American political economy is simply too ridiculous on its face to effectively mock, especially for right-wing blog posters whose primary occupation is right-wing blogging. What possible transaction is there that acquires, say, FOOD in return for, say, having written "Obama is a socialist" arguments that are not also inextricable from the formal political economy?
But seriously now.
The Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin spent most of the past week excoriating Senator Obama for purported socialism. Although I don't know if she ever actually used the term "Nanny State," CNN attributed that sentiment to her without objection, based on this statement in North Dakota on October 25th:
It leads to government moving into the role of taking care of you, and government and politicians and, kind of moving in as the other half of your family to make decisions for you,” she said. “Now they do this in other countries where the people are not free. Government as part of the family, taking care of us, making decisions for us. I don’t know what to think of having in my family Uncle Barney Frank or others to make decisions for me.
What is so remarkable about that statement is that she made it less than twenty-four hours after making a substantive policy speech regarding policy proposals relating to "Special Needs Children" aka "Mentally Disabled Children," aka "Retarded Children." And what she was calling for in that speech was Socialism. Pure, unadulterated, concentrated Socialism. To anticipate a counterargument, "But Jack, we're talking about retarded kids here. Even if it is technically Socialism, no one is going to begrudge retarded children a claim on the public purse," I'd like to wait a bit on that. Quit interrupting and I'll get to that later.
To continue. Sarah Palin's "Special needs" speech is Socialistic on three grounds, as a practical public program, as an expression of philosophical premises, and as a deep moral First Principle.
As a practical program, I brainstormed with my family this week about the extent to which my brother, of whom I have written previously, absorbed resources from the public sector during his life, career and now his institutionalization. I have a better idea than what I'm about to report, but the question I asked was simply: Over or under a million dollars? Way over? Starting with special education fifty years ago, then job training, sheltered workshop, subsidized private-sector wages, subsidized housing, group home, Supplemental Social Security . . . the list went on. Consider this, which is probably true for almost all Special Needs folk: There was probably not a weekday of my brother's life from entering school at age five and for the fifty years afterward that he did not ride the "short bus" somewhere for something. All that diesel and gasoline adds up. On the one hand, the family provided some care that other families just left to the state, but on the other hand we were pretty rigorous about utilizing whatever programs were out there, so let's say those two tendencies roughly offset. As I said, I won't be too specific, but seems like over a million dollars is reasonable estimate.
Those resources are simply beyond the means of the vast majority of American families. There is NO WAY that an ordinary family can take the approximate lifetime earnings of the parents and devote them entirely to one special needs child with nothing leftover for the other children, mortgages, food, clothing and the other elements of living. For almost all of us, those expenses have to be literally "socialized" because the individual financial expense is just too great.
"But Jack," I can hear you again, "That's what I'm trying to tell you. That level of socialism for that purpose is okay." I told you to quit interrupting. Let me finish.
Next. In philosophical terms, the notion of Socialism has commonly been reduced to the aphorism "From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs." Special education and related programs entail almost a perfect exemplar of that principle because the needs are so great relative to the abilities of the subjects. In many cases, even the term "disability" is too mild. We're talking "inability." Special education and affiliated public sector programs require major investment of resources for minor or sometimes negligible returns. The thing is, there's in truth just about as much education going on in Special Education as there is Olympics going in during the Special Olympics.
Which is not to say that either of those enterprises are not worthwhile. It's just that we value them not by the ordinary metrics of "Education" or "Olympics," but by genuinely subjective humane values. I don't remember for what event my brother won that Gold Medal pictured above (running?) but I doubt his achievement would have registered on a stopwatch. The idea is to create fulfillment and human dignity, not to achieve athletic excellence measured objectively or, in the case of education, to teach them valuable skills to be net producers in society. Even when my brother was in an employer-tax-credit subsidized private sector job, the objective reality was that a stoned fifteen-year-old would have more efficiently emptied the supermarket parking lot of shopping carts.
"But, Jack--" Okay, okay. Enough with the interruptions already. I'll respond now.
Socialism in this instance also vindicates and validates a moral First Principle. In Sarah Palin's case, she has won much praise from her supporters in the Pro-Life movement (even from her harshest critic in public commentary, Andrew Sullivan) for maintaining her moral doctrine that life begins at conception and that abortion is by definition evil--equivalent if not exactly murder--and choosing therefore to bear and raise her son Trig rather than to terminate the pregnancy once doctors told her he was suffering a genetic defect.
Consider. In her speech last Friday, Palin called for "full funding" Of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. According to Sara Mead at the New America Foundation:
IDEA "full funding" is determined by a formula that multiplies the number of children with special needs, by the average per pupil expenditure in the United States, by 40 percent. For fiscal year 2008, fully funding IDEA would cost more than $25 billion dollars--more than double the roughly $11 billion the federal government spent on IDEA Part B grants this year. "Fully funding" IDEA next year would require roughly $15 billion in additional federal education spending ....
This means a couple of different things. First, after campaigning all year against Congressional earmarks, the sum total of which is about $20 billion, in one fell swoop in one little-remarked-upon speech, and with one Vice-Presidential earmark, Palin put back into the Federal budget at least 75% of the "savings" that might be generated in the unlikely event that all Congressional earmarks were eliminated.
Moreover, while at first glance it seems quite gratifying and uplifting to know that Special Needs children might have an "advocate in the White House," as Palin suggested in her nomination-acceptance speech, and it seems as if that is especially so because Palin is herself the mother of a Special Needs child, as you think a little deeper you realize that there is an aspect of self-interest to Palin's proposal. After all, does she not have a child certain to be a nominal beneficiary of the proposed large increase in federal funding?
Yes, a special needs child is more heart-warming than, say, a driver in Boston whose daily commute time is reduced because of Federal Funding of the Big Dig (for about the same $15 billion) but the principle is the same.
But there's an aspect deeper than that. Whether the presence or absence of Federal Special Education funding had any effect of Palin's decision not to terminate her pregnancy is so unlikely that I feel confident setting that probability at zero. If you're anti-abortion as a matter of metaphysical certainty, it's not like an incremental increase in the flow of federal money to local Special Education programs is going have any effect whatsoever on your decision. However, that Federal funding does have an effect on the consequences of that decision because Special Education is socialized. That is, society bears some portion of the financial cost of that decision. This is not, by the way, intended to argue that society should play even the slightest role in making the decision not to terminate. That is an area of intimate family conduct to which the state should have not the slightest claim. It is, however, to argue this: If Senator Obama is a Socialist, then so is Governor Palin. The difference is, his Socialism is the ordinary and banal sort ostensibly intended to support "poor people." Her Socialism supports "Those who hold to the doctrine that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder." Thus, the Special Needs children themselves are not the sole beneficiaries of socialized Special Education funding.
In fact, I would argue that the child is at most a secondary beneficiary, maybe even only the token beneficiary. To see why, I refer you to another little-noted statement by Sarah Palin last Friday. She sat down for an interview with the Chicago Tribune and discussed both her son Trig, afflicted with Down Syndrome, and her nephew Karcher, afflicted with autism. Autism is much more variable in its expression in terms of a person's ability to function and she does not directly say how functional Karcher is but, reading between the lines, it seems like his case is severe. The reporter's description of Palin's emotional response and the concern she attributes to her nephew's parents is heartbreaking:
Palin's eyes well up as she talks about her sister's son, Karcher, who has autism
"My sister and I have talked a lot about this. It makes me cry thinking about it," Palin said. "She asked with tears in her eyes, she says, 'What happens when Kurt and I, though, are elderly, then what happens to Karcher?' "
I know well the concern expressed by Sarah's sister not from a lifetime of experience, but from a lifetime of witness. I know that it is a burden--an unbearable burden in some families, bearable in others, but it is always a burden. Lifting that burden even a small bit is an incalculable benefit. And Socializing that burden is both humane and essential. But let us not fool ourselves, it is not the Special Needs child to whom that benefit accrues. How do they know what their families are worried about decades from now? The greatest, enduring socialistic benefit of Special Education goes not to the child, but to the family around the child. From Grandparents to the youngest sibling. When I think about Piper Palin fifty years from now ....
I wonder what John Galt would say about that?