Deconstructing Elizabeth Warren’s ode to crab antics that has made her an instant celebrity.
Elizabeth Warren has become an instant celebrity among liberals for her rant before what appeared to be a small coffee klatch of supporters captured on YouTube in her bid to replace Scott Brown as the Senator from Massachusetts.
The former Harvard professor, who blazed the trail for President Obama’s new Consumer Credit Financial Protection Bureau (although Republicans in Congress blocked her being appointed the first head), puts forth a spontaneous declaration of liberal and Democratic claims on the American economy. I’m going to print the whole thing because I think it’s worth deconstructing, word-by-word. You don’t have to look any further to see why Obamaism points straight towards Greece.
I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare,” this is whatever.” No. 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.
Got that? OK, let’s take a look at what she’s saying.
My first reaction on reading this is, “Wow, this is the crab bucket syndrome.” It’s well known among police officers, social workers and community organizers (like Barack Obama) that one of the most difficult and tragic phenomena in African-American ghettoes is that when one individual starts succeeding at something, like crabs hanging onto the legs of another crab trying to escape the bucket, everybody will impede his or her progress to the point of making it impossible for them to escape into the outside world. For a while there was a practice in eastern cities known as “kneecapping,” where a young athlete who was showing promise as a basketball player would have his kneecaps broken so that he could not leave his buddies behind. Any student who tries hard to succeed at school is accused of “acting white.”
“We’re the ones who made you what you are!” “You never would have gotten anywhere without us!” “You owe us!” These are the common cries of people who are afraid they will come up short. And of course all this glides easily into, “You’re not going anywhere unless you take us.”
It’s not an isolated phenomenon. It’s common enough in families, particularly the extended families of developing countries. People who study immigration have found that the Senegalese salesmen who sprout on the sidewalks of New York selling umbrellas whenever it rains or the Guatemalans trying to make a living mowing people’s lawns are usually sending half their income back home to their extended families in West Africa or Central America. It’s an admirable act of loyalty but also a real impediment to any individual success, since workers are constantly being drained of their savings.
Developmental economists who studied the Third World in the 1960s and 1970s found this one of the most difficult roadblocks to growing a commercial economy. It is, in fact, the age-old problem of capitalism — whenever an individual succeeds at something, they immediately earn the resentment of their neighbors who believe that if someone is getting rich then other people must be getting poor. Anyone who starts a business is immediately overwhelmed by the claims of friends and relatives — and government officials — demanding their share.
This produced what seemed an extremely puzzling anomaly — that throughout the Third World the entrepreneurial sectors were run largely by foreigners, often immigrants from other Third World countries. The small business sector in Latin America was dominated by Japanese and Chinese immigrants. Cuba had a large complement of Chinese entrepreneurs who, when chased out by the Cuban revolution, moved to New York and opened a string of restaurants advertising “Comidas Cubana y Chinoise.” The commercial sector in East Africa was run largely by Indian immigrants. The most important step in development, the economists argued, would be to get native peoples to accept entrepreneurial success among their own countrymen. This is what Deng Xiaoping was trying to do when he told his fellow Chinese that it didn’t matter what color a cat was as long as it could catch mice.
What Elizabeth Warren is trying to do, then, is bring this Third World mentality to America. “Nobody in this country ever got rich on their own. Nobody!” “You only made it because of the rest of us.” Which is to say, “You owe us, buddy — big time.”
To her way of thinking, things such as roads, law enforcement, and education can only be provided by the government. Without the state, every private business in America would be besieged by mobs trying to rip off their inventory and sell their machinery for scrap. (That “community organizers” such as Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama would probably be leading such mobs will pass notice for now.) Let’s look at the examples Warren offers:
Roads and transportation. The fact that government now owns most of the roads in the country does not mean without government there would be no roads. It simply means that road building and maintenance are mundane and unimaginative tasks that have been turned over to the government because nobody sees any chance of making money at it— or rather that the government would undoubtedly prevent anyone from profiting at it if they tried. Many of America’s first roads were toll roads built by private companies. Ferries, bridges, and commuter railroads were also private. Eventually people began to resent paying these fares and asked the government to take them over “for the good of the people.” Road building has also devolved to the government because, as the landscape becomes more settled, it requires the power of eminent domain to push roads through populated areas. This is a compromise most people accept, although the details of “taking private property without due compensation” are still being worked out in the courts.
Perhaps the best example of this is the New York City subway system. The original subway line — the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) — was built in 1905 on contract by a private corporation and then leased back to it by the city government. The Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT), built shortly after, was entirely private. During the 1920s the Independent (IND) line was built by the city government to prove it could do things just as well as private enterprise. The big problem was the “5-cent fare.” Because the fare had been 5 cents in 1905 when the first line was built, New York City politicians decided it should be 5 cents forever. Whole mayoral campaigns were run around “saving the 5-cent fare.” Finally, just before World War II, the 5-cent fare bankrupted both the IRT and the BMT and the city took over. The fare stands at $2.50 today but must be hugely subsidized in order to pay the wages and pensions of the Transit Workers Union.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
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