Monday, June 13, 2011

Democracy Evolutions 6 -- Levi Asher Contra Egoism, Part Two

art: Finn Harvor [from "The Business Army"]

Levi Asher's recent post on Paul Ryan -- the Republican who wants to cut spending by drastically reducing social programs -- can arguably also be seen as a continuation of his  series on posts on egoism. For instance, central to this post is the effect that the egoism-embracing thought structures of Ayn Rand has had on a certain brand of neo-conservative theorizing (Ryan is a fan of Rand).

Ryan's brand of fiscal responsibility -- the phrase has become such a cliche that scare quotes are not necessary -- is one that voters in industrialized nations have become well-acquainted with: social programs are too expensive, government is inefficient at performing civic or national tasks like garbage collection or teaching or health care and private enterprise would deliver these services to clients better. In most countries, such Canada and South Korea, this results in fiscal conservatism that pares back the social programs that exist and does not initiate new ones. In a superpower such as the United States, the dynamic is similar at first glance, but quite different precisely because of its superpower-enabling institutions.

The historian Andrew Smith recently wrote a must-read post on the effect the post-World War Two military-industrial complex has had on the American economy. Smith's argument is that the great European powers of the 18th and 19th Centuries sowed the seeds of their own economic decline by overspending on empires, and, by necessity, their military establishments. The United States, on the other hand, a nation that was by the late 19th Century already awesomely powerful economically, did not overspend on its military. That changed with World War Two, when arms spending shot up stratospherically -- and also kick-started the U.S.economy. But the end of the Second World War did not bring a proportionate return to pre-war arms expenditures; the Cold War kept arms spending at an elevated level that represented a higher percentage of GNP than that which had existed previously. The result, Smith argues, is a nation in which social spending is less and rates of infant mortality or life-span are affected in a deleterious manner.

The connection between this argument and Asher's comments on Paul Ryan is, I think, this: military spending is rarely mentioned by the Republican party as a prime target for fiscal cutbacks. It is almost as if Republicans, as a political entity, have some kind of pathological blind-spot; a logically inexplicable (and therefore hysterical) inability to see the obvious. Even for supporters of the invasion of Iraq, it must be painful to read news reports such as this which alleges "loss" [read: corruption] of over six billion dollars in U.S. funds. Yet an outcry against the war does not exist among Republicans who otherwise are passionate about balanced budgets.

Even if one were to agree with the fiscal responsibility argument in its generalities, why the general American right-wing refusal to apply it in a genuinely even-handed fashion? Part of the answer, I think, lies in egoism: empire has become addiction; the psychic sense of power latent in the phrase "superpower" feeds an egoistic brand of ultra-nationalism.

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