Mom and Dad Create the World: Intermission
As I share pieces my family’s story as an avatar of the World War II generation, now is a good time for a frank truth: that my parents and their entire generation got a big assist from government. A visionary President (Roosevelt) instituted reforms driven by the collapse of the American economy (and the world’s) in 1929. While the Great Depression was due largely to excess speculation, lavish lifestyles and margin gambling among the rich elites, the impacts were visited most devastatingly upon the poor and powerless.
The more things change….
Roosevelt’s visionary reforms — social security, the GI bill, protections for collective bargaining, government investment in infrastructure and job creation, income redistribution, business and banking regulation for the common good — did not, as his critics in the Republican Party continued to insist, “destroy” America. Instead, they laid the foundations for the first American generation that found opportunity, access to capital, education, safety, and lifelong economic security in unprecedented measure. This security and stability, coupled with the hard work of 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants working alongside Americans imbued with our longtime cultural values, combined to create the greatest, most durable middle class in history.
(Note to Americans sensitive to our national shame with race: yes, you guessed it: people identified as Negros or mulattoes were systematically deprived of these advantages due to the fierce manipulations in Democrats in Congress of the so-called Southern Caucus that was busy building and sustaining the apartheid “Jim Crow” society.)
What a shame that so many people in the “greatest generation” forgot to include this truth in their personal stories: that they achieved what they did with government help and protection! In our individualistic hero-myth society it is always more comfortable to imagine ourselves as pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, rather than confessing that government-led attempts to create economic security and opportunity may have had any part in our success.
Even my normally keen-sighted dad, in his later years, became captive of Fox “News,” including the government bashing, tax slashing, economy destroying rants about the evils of “liberalism” and “big government.” Yet he and his company glided to success on the guarantee of housing for a booming middle from the VA and FHA, which thereby provided the post war generation the springboard for economic success, as well as the enormous wealth-building available in the construction industry and trades.
The Republican outrage at the untrammeled success of income redistribution and Keynesian economics, soon morphed into a solipsistic “ideology,” a fiction propagated by the likes of Ayn Rand and her cohort, which survive as intellectual remnants — apologists for the rich and powerful to this day (Alan Greenspan was one of many). In spite of their fictions, it is beyond argument that the anti-historical buoyancy of the American middle class was created not exclusively by steely-jawed individuals, but in substantial part by the incredible amount of salt dissolved in the water (to succumb to metaphor for a moment) by FDR government programs — including the government-financed industrial production miracle of World War II itself — all of which interventions taken together apparently created so much buoyancy that everyone emerged from that postwar pool thinking they were just great swimmers!
As we wax nostalgic about Make America Great Again, it may be an unwelcome truth, but it is healthy to remember that the progress of the middle class and our standard of living that took place in the ’50’s and ’60’s was built as much on government intervention and redistribution as it was on the moxie of the American worker and entrepreneur. Sorry, Ayn.
Full disclosure here..My parents without a doubt benefited from some government programs..But my Dad gave 4 years of his life in the service to his country..How many people now are willing to make that kind of sacrifice?
Here is my problem with redistribution of wealth programs..At what point does it pass from being a reasonable effort by the government to insure all citizens with a reasonable quality of life and attempt to level the playing field, to outright extortion? Is it 50 % Is it 90 %.. If the mob comes to my place of business and tells me I need to give them 90 % of my income, or else, you can call the FBI or police and ask for help..When the IRS tells people they need to pay 90 % of the income above a certain level it is social justice.. Is there something wrong with this picture? Indeed I think so.
Moreover, EVERY government program has a percentage of fraud waste and abuse..What that percentage is probably varies from program to program.. But it IS there..Moreover, there may be programs that are funded with my dollars that are unethical or immoral based upon my views or my religious tenets. Yet, my money is being used for those purposes for the greater good, as determined by folks who have a “better understanding of the true needs of the people” than I do..The US government at one point supported, or turned a blind eye towards Jim Crow laws, and before that it endorsed slavery…. Now they are thankfully gone..But what is moral and what is just shifts from decade to decade
On a personal level, I remain active and continue to work into my 70’s because I enjoy it, and enjoy the physical and intellectual rewards it brings me in return.. I am sure that the guitars and other items I buy support the economy and my work also supports the incomes of many people who are employed collaterally because of the work I do .. I would also estimate, that at least 50 % of my income is siphoned off in the form of taxes and fees, hidden and open.. If taxes were increased, at some point I would make the calculation that it simply isnt worth it and would stop.. So instead of getting 50 %, the government would get 0 %, or some figure much lower..Who benefits under that scenario?
Of all the statements that our last President uttered, the one that personally offended me the most was his statement (and I am paraphrasing now) that if I had a business I didnt build it, or couldnt have built it without my Government’s help..Both wholly offensive, and patently untrue..Throughout my life I have never enrolled or received any benefit before Medicare or Social Security (and I have paid far more in since age 18 that I will ever re coup), never taken out any loans.. I didnt need or ask for the governments help to do anything.. Where does Brother BO get off lecturing me? Yet, that is typical of the insufferable mindset of the Liberal Left, both rich and not rich, that infects our pro government segment of the population.. You simply cannot argue with that mindset, you can only work to defeat it at the polls, or you can live “off the grid” and hope the government doesnt come knocking on your door anyway..
The overarching issue is that Government is BOTH the problem and the solution..It is capable of great good, but it is also an evil. In most cases it is a necessary evil because there are some things that only government can do.. Unfortunately, one of them is wage war- but that is another subject for another discussion. So I recognize the need for government on some level.. I just want it as small as possible, to do the least number of jobs possible recognizing that, the power to tax, is the power to destroy
Thanks for your comments. Very intriguing. Don’t have time now to pursue, but perhaps tomorrow. Really GLAD to have a semi-libertarian viewpoint in the conversation. I don’t have the same level of distrust as you, but I think many of your observations about the problems are issues that it incumbent on people who believe in governments capacity to do good to solve, one way or another. To be continued…
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