Altruism: Why The Republicans Will Lose The Budget Cut Battle

by | Apr 8, 2011

Late-breaking: contrary to the spin I fell for, the Paul Ryan budget plan is a fraud. Karl Rove reports that the proposed budget does not cut a single dime. It’s the oldest trick in the book: pass off a slowed increase as a cut. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal would raise spending, preserve and […]

Late-breaking: contrary to the spin I fell for, the Paul Ryan budget plan is a fraud. Karl Rove reports that the proposed budget does not cut a single dime.

It’s the oldest trick in the book: pass off a slowed increase as a cut. Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget proposal would raise spending, preserve and strengthen all the entitlements, and once again genuflect before “the safety net.”

Karl Rove:

Mr. Ryan would have the government spend $40 trillion over the next 10 years, $6.2 trillion less than Mr. Obama’s budget plan of $46 trillion. This an overall reduction in what the government plans to spend, not a cut from what it is spending today. [my emphasis]

It’s also easy to be taken in by statements about Ryan’s budget rolling back spending to 2008 levels. That’s not spending he’s talking about, it’s only one minor category of spending: “discretionary” spending. It’s not the entitlements. Spending, under Ryan’s plan, will go up, up, and up.

Are you thinking: “Maybe it’s a cut in real not dollar terms: maybe the rise in spending will be less than the rise in the price-level”? Well, remember: spending won’t rise more slowly than prices, not for long anyway, because the spending is to be financed by inflation, and that’s what creates the price-rises.

Here’s the only hope for our optimists: if the even worse Obama budget is already priced into current business plans and investment decisions, then passing the Path to Prostration budget would have beneficial results: it would increase economic activity, generate more tax revenue, shrink the deficit, and thus not raise prices.

But, fundamentally, hopes for real change in the next 5 to 10 years were illusory.

The reason for the Republicans’ capitulation (what it is) couldn’t be clearer: altruism. Rove, for instance, wrote the above not to call out a fraud but to defend Ryan’s budget. He aims to reassure us when he writes: “Under Mr. Ryan’s proposal, for example, health-care spending would still rise for both Medicaid . . . and Medicare.” Rove, like everyone else, thinks the “safety net” has to be preserved at all costs.

Do you know who introduced the poisonous term “social safety net”? It was that supposed champion of capitalism, Ronald Reagan. He started using it as early as one month after his inauguration. And a year later, in his State of the Union address he said this:

Contrary to some of the wild charges you may have heard, this administration has not and will not turn its back on America’s elderly or America’s poor. Under the new budget, funding for social insurance programs will be more than double the amount spent only 6 years ago. . . . The entitlement programs that make up our safety net for the truly needy have worthy goals and many deserving recipients. We will protect them.

Nothing has changed. In today’s Wall St. Journal, Roger Pilon, a staunch pro-capitalist who is familiar with Ayn Rand’s writings, informs us that Jesus would oppose the welfare state— because sacrifices should be voluntary, not government enforced. In justification, he quotes that infamous Biblical line: “Render under Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s.” But what is that which belongs to Caesar or to God? Does your life, your time, your creation belong to you, or is it to be split between the Atilla’s and the Witch Doctors?

If even a minute of your life is not yours by right, but morally has to be surrendered to anyone or anything, then it’s all over. There’s no principle to protect you from the snowballing demands of ever more pressure-groups, all justified by the consecration of need, weakness, failure. And that snowballing is exactly the story of the last 130 years. At first a little “redistribution” it was to protect widows and orphans from starvation, now it’s to protect the middle class from paying full price for pills.

Pilon is wrong: there is, ultimately, no distinction between voluntary and forced sacrifices. Those who think there is haven’t grasped the hierarchy of concepts. “Property” is not just physical possession” it is possession by right. And “rights” are a moral concept. “Ownership” is the same: to “own” something is to be the rightful user and disposer of it. But, according altruism, the rightful user and disposer of any good is he who most needs it. What counts is not who worked to create a value but who lacks it.

Thus, altruism confers ownership rights on the needy. Under altruism, if the haves withhold things from the have-nots, that’s physical force—it’s literal theft—and government force in redress is retaliatory force, seizing “stolen” possession to return them to their rightful owners: the needy.

Just as, on an individualist premise, we don’t depend upon robbers to “voluntarily” relinquish their loot, so altruists don’t depend upon the haves to voluntarily surrender their possessions to the needy. The needy are the rightful owners of your possession, according to altruism.. Render unto the slackers and lackers that which is theirs.

The Ryan budget proposal reveals a culture still caught in the death-grip of altruism. A culture trapped between “we owe to them” and “we can no longer afford to give it to them.”

Either one of two things will happen. Either nothing will change until the financial situation gets much worse, with paper money kaput and riots in the streets—or people will begin to take notice that that Ayn Rand person they’re hearing so much about makes a good case in favor of a non-sacrificial morality.

So far, they haven’t even noticed that Atlas Shrugged goes deeper than politics. We aim to change that.<–>

Dr. Binswanger, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, is an professor of philosophy at the Objectivist Academic Center of the Ayn Rand Institute. He is the author of How We Know: Epistemology on an Objectivist Foundation and is the creator of The Ayn Rand Lexicon: Objectivism from A to Z. Dr. Binswanger blogs at HBLetter.com (HBL)--an email list for Objectivists for discussing philosophic and cultural issues. A free trial is available at: HBLetter.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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