Peter Smith

Socialist primitivism

President Obama caused consternation among US conservatives with a class-warfare speech on 13 July in Roanoke, Virginia.

This is a good trick coming from someone already correctly typecast as a tax-the-rich kinda guy. To up the ante, as it were, he had to call upon the wisdom of part Cherokee American, and Massachusetts Democratic Senate candidate, Elizabeth Warren.

Now in the land of free speech it is still possible to air doubts about the Cherokee credentials of people who are distinctly Caucasian in appearance; and in this case to even ridicule and contest her claim to being 1/32nd Cherokee. But I don’t know. I suspect the Cherokee might have had a sharing tribal culture in the distant past which has been passed on to Ms Warren. That is some evidence in her favour. Maybe all those with a socialist turn of mind have some indigenous ancestral remnants guiding them? It’s a theory to explain why primitivism often appears to trump their reason.

Here is Ms Warren in 2011.

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea — God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Here is President Obama.

… look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.

Now I thought Al Gore invented the Internet. But leaving that aside, what is interesting about both speeches is not just their similar content but their populist tone. There is a barely disguised contempt for rich people with the implication that they have got to the top only by riding on other people’s backs. You’re as good as them. Why should they be richer than you and keep it for themselves? It’s an age-old rabble rousing technique; with echoes of the French Revolution, for example.

How do you respond? It is difficult because it is all based on primitive emotion rather than on reason. That’s why it sometimes works.

You can point out that the roads and bridges were built to a disproportionate extent with taxes paid by the rich of the present and the past and by those employed by them. You can point out that public infrastructure would eventually fall into disrepair, and public services dwindle, if the entrepreneurial people and businesses of tomorrow were not first inspired by the possibility of earning great reward.

But what is the use? You can’t reason with those incapable of rational thought. We simply have to trust that the common sense of sufficient numbers of people will see through it all and recognize bunkum when they hear it.

Peter Smith will be the guest of a Quadrant dinner in Sydney on August 15. Details here… 

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