Biting the hand that feeds them

By W. James Antle III
web posted May 29, 2000

V.I. Lenin famously said that the capitalist would sell the rope that would be used to hang him. While most of his rhetoric consisted of lies, this was merely an exaggeration. Spoiled children of a prosperous America rail against the liberties and institutions which make their material abundance possible.

It is not from the run-down homes of the Appalachians or the depressed neighborhoods of the inner city that the loudest calls for bigger government and more laws emanate. Bill Clinton and Al Gore may in their pretensions of idealism and moral superiority claim their mandate from FDR's "forgotten America," but they seek their votes from soccer moms living in suburban affluence.

Liberalism pretends to speak in the name of the poor and disenfranchised, but a look at the left's membership roster gives the lie to this notion: government bureaucrats, university professors, the media, pop culture celebrities, the arts community, social services professionals and so forth. Hardly the demographics of food stamps recipients.

Irving Kristol's term for these well-heeled purveyors of statism is "the New Class," a class-conscious group that benefits from the government's ability to tax. As the great free-market economist Joseph Schumpter predicted, they are a class that opposes capitalism even as they owe their existence to the prosperity that capitalism creates.

This is the product of the "mixed economy," the welfare states the left has built not only in the United States but throughout Canada, Australia and Western Europe. Private enterprise keeps goods in stock and services available, and generally keeps the economy moving. The fruits of capitalist productivity are then siphoned off by the tax collector and channeled to the New Class, who utilize the coercive powers of the state to impose their values on the peasantry with far more gusto than the largely imaginary demons of the religious right.

What welfare statism promises it ultimately cannot deliver, or at least not for very long without strangling the economy. The schemes either fail entirely or the statist tapeworm begins to kill its capitalist host. But those who receive benefits from the government or attach great importance to the realization of its unrealistic crusades (those who really believe government will win its "war" against this or that social phenomenon) refuse any retrenchment. Thus in France, the realization that a 35-hour work week is economically unsustainable provokes huge street protests, and in the United States we have the Million Mom March demanding that the government legislate an end to gun violence. Only in the West do people take to the streets to demand that the government give them less freedom.

Americans are not quite as bad off as their Western European or even Canadian counterparts quite yet, but we are at risk when those sympathetic to statism educate children from kindergarten through graduate school, give us the news and include the nation's most visible celebrities. Consider Rosie O'Donnell's advocacy of the Million Mom March, a role for which she received far less criticism than Charlton Heston as NRA president. Where is a nation headed when it heeds the counsel of talentless entertainers over its Founding Fathers?

Thomas Sowell has called modern American liberalism "the vision of the anointed," i.e., the ideology of an elite that believes it is in a better position to make decisions for the nation at large than the average citizen can make for himself. This assessment is confirmed in the attacks on Republican tax-cut proposals by the Clintons and their New Class courtiers. Money will likely be wasted, they habitually say, if returned to those who earned it rather than spent by the government on their "priorities." Population control schemes, environmentalism and the Clinton-Gore budget proposals are among the more prominent public policies of those who believe they know better than the individual does for himself.

So Lenin was not quite right about the capitalist selling the rope with which he'll be hanged - with the possible exception of Bill Gates, who is now paying for his earlier contributions to the Democratic Party with the impending breakup of the company he built. Today's capitalist now works to support the hangman's whole livelihood.

W. James Antle III has worked for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. He can be e-mailed at

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