April 13, 2010 -- America is drifting toward civil war, albeit one that does not yet involve bloody battlefields.
This is not mere rhetoric. It describes a crack in the American community that since Barack Obama’s election as president has widened into a deep fissure and might split the nation apart. The divide is not based on regional, racial, or religious differences, factors that often set neighbors at one another’s throats. Rather, the conflict is between producers, those who work to earn their own way and prosper through their own efforts, and expropriators, those who survive by taking from others with governments as their agents.
What motivated hundreds of thousands of Americans to express their ire at government in Tea Party rallies coast to coast while others demonstrated at town hall meetings that saw members of Congress cowering before their angry constituents? What are the targets of outrage of those taking part in the 2010 Tax Day protests?
The magnitude of the spending is unlike anything Americans have ever seen.
On top of 2008’s $700 billion bank bailout, there was the $800 billion stimulus package with a catalog of stupid and useless projects that could keep late-night comedians in jokes for years and that, by the way, did not stimulate the economy. There was the 2009 federal deficit of $1.4 trillion or 40% of the budget. There was the national debt, which was 50% of the GDP in 2008 and will approach 80% of the GDP in 2012.
And there was Obamacare, the new entitlements that will add at least $1 trillion, maybe $2 trillion—who can tell?—to the nation’s debt, with money borrowed from China to cover the overspending.
But governments have been redistributing wealth and spending wastefully big time since the New Deal. So what’s new today?
To begin with, the magnitude of the spending is unlike anything Americans have seen since a temporary spike during World War II. But today we don’t have a spike but, rather, a trajectory that is only going up. Americans know that such unconscionable irresponsibility will be taken out of their hides in higher taxes, higher inflation, and economic stagnation as governments squeeze more and more out of productive citizens and enterprises. The whole country economically will soon look like Greece or California.
Furthermore, Obamacare was rightly seen by productive Americans as a tipping point. The country really could go socialist. Obama brushes off the label, but it will soon be the case that government will openly and outright control over half of the economy.
In the past, statists justified redistribution programs as necessary to help those Americans who temporarily and perhaps through no fault of their own found themselves in dire economic straits. And too many productive Americans whose hearts throttled their brains actually bought this argument.
But with Obamacare statists simply asserted that everyone has a right to have health care paid for by their neighbors. (They don’t, by the way.) And everyone will be forced into the system and will obey the dictates of government apparatchiks or go to jail. And the corrupt and thuggish means by which Obamacare was passed gave productive Americans a vision of the government fist in store for their faces in the future.
With Obamacare many productive Americans made a psychological switch, seeing those on the other side of the issue not as opponents but as enemies.
What has morally outraged productive Americans—whether plumbers, store clerks, merchants, professionals, or small-business owners—what galls them the most as they pay their taxes is the knowledge that the fruits of their efforts are bailing out those who purchased houses that they couldn’t afford and who made risky investments that didn’t pan out.
They’re outraged that as their jobs are threatened they must pay to prop up the salaries of auto workers who demand more for their services than the sales of the vehicles they make would cover. They’re outraged that their earnings pay the salaries of federal workers who now, for the most part, collect more than for similar work performed by private sector workers. And the feds are hiring thousands more IRS agents to squeeze everything they can out of productive Americans.
Their self-consciousness as producers is emerging. They see themselves as suckers and cash cows to be slaughtered by expropriators. They see themselves as the Atlases holding up a world of moochers and deadbeats. And they’re damned sick of it!
There is an even deeper divide between producers and expropriators. Most productive Americans not only take responsibility for their own lives and well-being, they also value their independence, their freedom to make their own lives as they see fit, not to make themselves subservient to politicians and government bureaucrats. Now they see their independence taken away from them in the name of those who allegedly can only survive as subjects of charity expropriated from them.
The election of a Republican majority in the House and Senate might slow the growth of government, but it will not bridge the growing divide between producers and expropriators.
Some suggest that Americans will simply get used to the Euro-style socialism that Obama and his minions are imposing on them the way they eventually acquiesced in Medicare, Medicaid, and a long list of entitlements, with restrictions on freedom attached. And Europeans got used to it, in spite of adverse consequences like chronically high unemployment, low job creation, and high prices for pretty much everything.
This isn’t likely to happen in America. Too many Americans still have enough love for their own lives and liberty as well as pride in their achievements so that they will not acquiesce in their own servitude. The problem is that too many Americans also have swallowed the moral poison that their neighbors owe them medical care, an education, a job, a high salary—you name it. But this poison requires a self-blinding lest they see just what moral midgets they’ve become. They blank out their brains with emotional screams that, because they can’t run their own lives, they should be allowed to destroy the lives of those who can.
And here is where the specter of a civil war comes in. Look at Greece, a European country where those who live through expropriation outnumber those who produce. That country is bankrupt, but it is the expropriators who take to the streets blindly defending the current system even as it leads all to destruction.
In the United States the producers, with minds wide open, should take to the streets, Tea Parties, town hall meetings, and ballot boxes to protect themselves and head off catastrophe. But they must fight a long-term battle for moral clarity, for the right of all to live by their own productive efforts for their own rational self-interest and against any claim that others have a right to take from them by government force. Only then will Americans live not as enemies poised for battle but, rather, with good will toward one another, dealing with one another as proud producers based on mutual consent.
Edward Hudgins writes on political and social issues. He is the editor of Freedom to Trade: Refuting the New Protectionism, Space: The Free Market Frontier, and two books on postal service privatization. His latest collection is entitled An Objectivist Secular Reader. He is director of advocacy for The Atlas Society.