Belmont Club

A little further yet

Tigerhawk explains what he thinks President Obama should do to encourage the hardest working and most successful Americans to put in that extra effort to get America of its jam: simply let them do their thing, not just economically or morally. Tigerhawk understands that the most productive people create for its own sake, something he says Barack Obama must be aware of, but for political reasons can’t admit. Because if he did, he would enlist them as partners; but since political calculation demands that the successful be depicted as greedy leeches who have to pay their “fair share” that’s how they’ll be portrayed. It’s not the taxes he seems to mind as much as the insult.

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But there’s an unfortunate flip side to this insight. While the creative people Tigerhawk describes are pinned down inventing new devices, finding cures for cancer or running enterprises, a whole class of people with time on their hands pass the hours being busybodies or simply spinning wheels. For example, the Andrew Malcolm at the LA Times describes the antics of Roland Burris II, son of Senator Roland Burris, who was recently appointed to fill Barack Obama’s seat in Illinois by Governor Rod Blagojevich. The young Burris was appointed by Blag to the state agency charged with supervising foreclosures even though he showed no interest in paying his own mortgage nor his taxes either.

The son got the state job Sept. 10, right around the time his father says he contacted Blagojevich to express an interest in the anticipated vacant Senate seat. But there’s another problem. Actually two. Burris II started the foreclosure enforcement job three weeks after his own mortgage company started foreclosure against him. And, the newspaper reports, a couple of weeks before that, the Internal Revenue Service placed a $34,163 tax lien on Burris II’s house for back taxes from 2004 to 2007.

Of course busybodies are existentially dependent on taxes. Without them they’d have to get a real job. Roland Burris II would probably make a better contribution to society — and to himself — by doing anything else but what he’s doing now. He’s almost a textbook example of how to waste his own and other people’s time. The Chicago Sun-Times sums up the entire episode in one phrase: “kid pro quo”, but I think a better image might be The Attack of the Giant Leeches because it captures the passive, yet destructive effect of people who are doing — exactly what? But it’s a demonstration of the power of the busybodies. It is a disturbing example of what too many public officials, activists and public figures do while productive Americans are down in the salt mines. The busybodies occupy their time with mischief: creating harebrained schemes to remake the world, making causes out of some repulsive idea, hobnobbing with movie stars or sometimes just lining their own pockets on the credibility of rubes. They’d admit as much themselves if it weren’t so lucrative that they had to dignify it with the words “reaching out to the community” or even better, “saving the Earth”. But because other people are too busy working to supervise them, they get away with it. They occupy every vacant bully pulpit they can find and start barking at people to give them money when they aren’t shouting instructions at the people on the pavement. Unfortunately things don’t stop there. Sometimes these leeches actually become convinced of their own God-given competence and right to rule.  And that’s when things go bad.

Paradoxically, maybe Barack Obama is right about one thing. Capitalism is too preoccupied with doing things. It leaves governance as an afterthought. It puts the “pursuit of happiness” front and center and goes about its business trusting to the existence of a civil society or the continued maintenance of a social contract. People working one hundred hour weeks have no time to think about Roland Burris II. But the problem is that people like Roland Burris II have lots of time to think about them.  People like Blag probably think of nothing but. And therein lies the rub.  Capitalism has this blind spot. Obama is right about that. While government was small and largely charged with keeping the bandidos at bay and collecting the garbage it was possible to leave governance to take care of itself, except for the time just before and after elections. But with the increasing power of the state and its growing propensity to tax, perhaps it is no longer possible for the productive people in America to simply go about their tasks while leaving Washington to amuse itself. Because sometimes the second-raters of the public sector can be galvanized into action by someone who sees opportunities where no one saw them before.  Then that someone will ask, ‘If we can get this far, why not further?’ Why not indeed?

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