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February 03, 2005



I'm not anti-government in the sense of believing that redistribution is somehow wrong. What I do recognize is that government doesn't do a very good job at solving the problems of the people. Many of those problems would be must less severe if we actually had the kind of engaged citizenry that you seem to be working towards. Heck, I'm working towards it, too. For me it's not a question of doing it better than government, it's a question of living our deepest values, as human beings, caring for human beings (as well as ourselves), making the human being our central value (instead of money, power, politics, etc.).


Thanks, Ted.. at the deepest level, I agree with you that this is centrally a matter of knowing and living our best values as human beings. Unfortunately, since we don't always all agree about those values and how to prioritize them, the level of public policy often drives us to the merely pragmatic arguments. I'm not sure merely saying something works better via private or government means gets deep enough into the core issues. It begs the question of what we mean by "better." And it really at this deep level that conservatives and progressives tend to disagree over such matters as the impact of poverty on personality, the impact of government handouts on personality, the impact of gifts on personality, of both the giver and receiver. "Forced exactions" seem to belie and contradict Phil's interest in genuine "gifts."

Michael J.

"...The failure of centralized Soviet-style economic planning is patent..." Oh come on - PLEASE!

Are there no possibilities between pure conservative starve-the-beast minimalist government, and Soviet-style central planning?!? Are you just trolling for comments?

Perhaps, if we thought about it a bit - instead of rejecting it out of hand with prejorative terms like Soviet-style - there might just be a third way, a way where government is useful, and less wasteful, and focused on providing services that individuals and corporations simply will not.

How would the interstate highway system be built if not by the government? How would the internet come about if not for tax dollars spent on basic research? Were these not useful projects? How might we choose to invest some of our collective funds on projects too big for even Halliburton or Enron, with the attitude and prospect that something GOOD might come of it?

Someone who can see government only as Soviet-style central planning is suffering from a lack of imagination or simply offering vapid rhetorical deception.


Well, Michael, actually the adjective "Soviet -style" was deliberately chosen to reflect Phil's rhetoric of "forced exaction," with it's echoes of extracted confessions and other tools of Soviet-style "government."

Of course there is something between totalitarian government and anarchy. I think a fairly good option is mapped out in the U.S. Constitution. What we are really discussing, though, is how much we continue to agree on just what that document sketches out for us. I, for one, believe that it provides primarily for procedural justice, not a robust distributive justice such as Phil seems to desire.

I have no problem with our seeking to pool our resources and coordinate our efforts to accomplish big, hairy, audacious goals. I simply question whether government in its current bureaucratic forms, and given the tendencies it encourages for people to engage in rent-seeking rather than productive entrepreneurship, should always be a first choice of means for pursuing these goals together.

A lot of time spent on "democratic "participation to get our pet legislation passed so we could be sure our causes get their share of the collective "forced exactions" could be spent more productively in outright community service, I expect. Once we see again what people could actually get accomplished together outside of government, we could come together in more agreement about the ends appropriate to government action.

Michael J.

I agree completely with your last paragraph. The reality is that the government seems interested only in getting out of the way of corporations; and corporations have their own agenda - for instance, "helping less fortunate people" violates fiduciary responsibility unless it somehow earns money for shareholders.

As for "the people" we get the Patriot Act, Clear Skies, and Heaalthy Forests - lies all. The propaganda machine hasn't been this thick in my lifetime, but it is scary and disgusting.


Let's say that the issue, not much discussed in the open, but the glaring issue is the endemic poverty and despair among urban blacks. "The Culture of Failure," it might be called, the far sad end of the Bell Curve. Now, civil rights and governemtal programs were meant to redress those wrongs. The conservatives make the case that the solutions failed, so money can be saved by cutting taxes and programs. Then the poor can help each other and the rich can help the poor if and only if the wish to do so. No obligation, no call of justice, no penality if they give nothing, or give only to cultural institutions that serve the rich.

Now here is the question, not polemical. What can compassionate citizens do, for those most in need? How do we as a pratical matter extend the sympathies of those on your list, in your policy circles, to those most in need? What can be done? Not just to gin up more cash for Heritage, Heartland, Cato, Hudson, but to leverage the brainpower in those bastions on behalf of the poor inner city residents who are so much in need? What concretly is being done? And how can we turn involutary exactions into joyful gifts, not just to elite institutions, but to those to whom Jesus drew our attention, the destitute?

If you and Schambra were to put your minds ot this, and your hands and hearts, there would be no reason for theoretical debates. But the only practical result to which all the talk tends is tax cuts for your funders, the rollback of regulations for your pollter friends, and tough love to those in need.

Show me I am wrong. Show me how the right is getting its act in gear for the poor. Faith based initiatives? What fundraising? What donor drives? What concrete stuff? And how can we work together to get it going?

What government can do is to take seriously those who are despised. We have a caste system and it is hardening. A government committed to justice would make every effort to redress that while learning from its mistakes.

I do know compassionate people who are conservative Christians and I deeply honor them and their efforts. What more can be done to encourage that? And what can be done to penalize, rather than rationalize, those who choose to be selfish SOBs? Why should the selfish rich be free riders? And expect the rest of us to take up the slack?


this is the long hard work of education and motivation, Phil. I believe we each should be doing our part to increase the motivation for generous voluntary giving in the private sector (through our religious institutions most especially). I am also of the opinion that government exactions are part of the problem for both compassionate conservatives and compassionate liberals. Conservatives get all tied up, as you point out, trying to minimize government's tax and spend policies, pointing well to the largely failed practices of the welfare state in winning the so-called war on poverty. Despite your own admission that the war on poverty hasn't been won after 40 years of welfare state spending, however, progressives, I believe, get hung up on thinking that somehow the wealth of the rich is universally ill-begotten and therefore fair game for redistribution, regardless of whether it's voluntary or whether it's even distributed by means that "work."

I increasingly think the answer to this dilemma is to move away from viewing government itself as either a bete noire or our savior--getting our focus off of public policy and more onto the ways we ourselves are giving and encouraging one another to give.

I don't feel any great envy toward the wealthy and actually pity most of them because they have in their capacity to experience the true riches that can come not from having wealth but from giving, yet so many fail ever to experience this grace.

And here by "wealthy" my definition extends all the way down in America--a fabulously wealthy country by any standards of history--where we average a meager 2-3% annual giving of personal income. The extremely rich are the wrong target in my opinion. But to challenge and teach the vast middle class in America to participate in the joy of giving--now there's a challenge you and I could work on together that would be worth our time and energy, and might even transcend our political differences.

Michael J.

I disagree that most liberals think wealth is ill-begotten - that is an outdated concept sterotypically ascribed to liberals. But then again, we have modern existence proofs like Enron, so you never know.

What matters is BALANCE. Sure, people need incentives to work hard and contribute, but what is "enough?" Why should 1% of the people have 95% of the resources? What happens to the other 99% of the population?

The conservative rhetoric is that "people should work hard, have discipline, and just get a better job." How does that fit with an economic society where we need millions of people to work in menial or low-end fast-food jobs to keep the boat afloat? Why should some people work three jobs and still be under the poverty line?

For me, the question is: What are the roadblocks preventing people from understanding balance within a whole system? Do conservatives not think that everything is tied together in a holistic, unified order? If they do, then actions are not aligned with the rhetoric. If they do not, then where does God fit in?


I just read David Bollier's and John Clippenger's Renaissance of the Commons. They do not dismiss all gain as merely ill-begotten, but they do preserve this sort of straw man they call FMD--Free Market Dogma. So, their remain straw men all around us to which we should set a torch.. I should write up my thoughts no the article in the main blog, but time is short today. I'll get to it.

As for God in the mix.. most conservatives DO have a more wholistic view that stems from seeing the universe as a divinely created order. Some libertarians adopt this view as well, though many are just as comfortable with naturalistic universe as the most committed Darwinist. the thing they share is a commitment to individualism, but this is an individualism that for the most part grows out of a belief in ordered liberty (a concept much maligned by progressives in this space and others in recent months); it is an individualism that embraces human rights as well as human responsibilities. The balance between the two is critical, and political rhetoric does often crystallize one better than the other from time to time. It is also one that suggests that individuals in communities will be better at fulfilling their responsibilities to one another than government bureaus can do this. Few that I work with in the "conservative" community would subscribe to the myth of the atomistic individual immersed in a tooth-and-claw universe triumphing uber alles.

Michael J.

>>>Few that I work with in the "conservative" community would subscribe to the myth of the atomistic individual immersed in a tooth-and-claw universe triumphing uber alles.<<<

Well, that gets _you_ off the hook! Can you put in a good word with, say, James Dobson, or George Bush, or the people who are creating ads like this (the first one; the rest are accurate satire):


They're really giving "conservatives" a bad name.

Phil Cubeta

"As for God in the mix.. most conservatives DO have a more wholistic view that stems from seeing the universe as a divinely created order." Ordered liberty for corporations would help us protect the Garden God entrusted to our care?

Sadly, as you well know, corporations no less than individuals are fallen, covetous and conniving creatures, who require constant correction and discipline if they are to be socialized.

What can be done to rein in say Candidia Industries, when it comes to pollution? Better parenting, more church going, more think thank thinkers hired to coach them, law suits, or more stringent government regulation?

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