Empowering people or government?

By W. James Antle III
web posted June 5, 2000

Of all the slogans used by the fruitier elements of the left, its various incantations about "the people" are the most amusing. Sixties radicals used to like to chant "power to the people" while wrecking the institutions that made people's lives worth living and calling for the government to be vested with new powers at the expense of individual freedom.

A recent article about Ralph Nader's quixotic presidential bid noted that he had surmounted Texas' formidable obstacles to third parties and qualified his band of Greens for a ballot line as a bona fide party. Pat Buchanan, like Ross Perot four years before him, qualified to appear on the ballot only as an independent, under less stringent regulations. An official from the Texas Green Party is quoted as saying that one of the really nifty things about his party is their focus on "human values, rather than corporate influence." An interesting contrast.

One wonders exactly who works for "corporations" (read: any privately owned enterprise that does not produce natural foods or sell clothing made of hemp), or owns them, or derives their income from evil profits if not humans. Those humans who value feeding their families, clothing their children, maintaining their health and improving their lives, which presumably is most of them, benefit quite a bit from a little free enterprise.

Now, this does not mean that the free market itself determines what is good, right and true or even that what business does never has any negative consequences. What it does mean is that we must wonder here how exactly a political party made of grown-up people who wish to hold public office plans to advance "human values" free of "corporate influence." It is precisely those people Ralph Nader wants to strip of their undue "influence" who providing people with the goods and services they want and are improving the quality of their lives. They are the people who are working, inventing, innovating and creating wealth and jobs in the process. Business does not exist solely to pollute, lay people off and put nasty chemicals in their products to kill of their consumers.

So it is less than clear exactly what the Green Party would have us humans value. Certainly not marriage, as their platform plank endorsing same-sex marriage in reality is merely another step toward the abolition of marriage as an institution with any appreciable meaning. Redefining a human relationship intended to promote the care of children into one that focuses on the satisfaction it provides those participating in it hardly seems a rational step.

Nader's Green Party is neither the only nor the worst manifestation of the left's tendency to cloak ideology in the guise of lifting up "the people." The inescapable fact is that every approach extreme liberals - and to a lesser extent, the milder version - would take to take transfer power from "the privileged few" to the general public as they perceive them would really centralize power in the hands of the political class.

Communism, which essayists Joseph Sobran and Tom Bethell describe as residing in the same "hive" as the rest of the left, did not really give the people ownership of the means of production. It gave the political leaders ownership of the means of production and pretty much everything else. Centrally planned economies look no different than monopolistic capitalism, because the "privileged few" is merely replaced with the political class. A class which did not attain its status through competition or production, moreover, but by force and deception.

Free-market capitalism, in an age where over 100 million Americans own stock, has actually given workers ownership. There is a rising Investor Class that is blurring all the old class lines that rally the left. No longer does one segment of the population own capital while the other works for them. The workers are now owning capital as well, in an economic development some commentators describe as the advent of "worker capitalism." This, unlike "power to the people" rhetoric, offers people real wealth, real freedom, real opportunity and genuine control over their own lives.

The market isn't perfect, but unlike those who denounce its workings it has actually been able to deliver a better standard of living and improved material conditions. Capitalism's enemies have nothing but rhetoric to show for their efforts on behalf of "the people."

No matter how good its intentions, the left's crusading and populist posturing leads to a love embrace of the autonomous state. Despite its justifications on the basis of benevolence and its ethos of welfarism, it is a prescription for government that is not bound by the rule of law and with virtually unlimited power. The autonomous state produced the worst misery of the twentieth century in the form of communism, Nazism and fascism, with a horrific death toll; a fifth of a billion people were killed by their own governments in peacetime.

Those who embrace an all-powerful state as a way to "get things done" on behalf of their favorite causes fail to understand what they are doing. They are creating a monopoly with far more power than those which trouble Ralph Nader so and they do not realize there is no way to avoid the government someday coming under the control of people whose intentions aren't as good as theirs. Much of the centralization of power in 20th-century Germany preceded Hitler and occurred for reasons that did not even anticipate Nazism's genocidal goals.

Those who wish to give the people more power should simply give it to them, rather than attempting to seize it to exercise in public's name and on their behalf.

Antle has worked for the Rhema Group, an Ohio-based political consulting firm. You can e-mail him at Jimantle@aol.com

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