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Are We Living in Wonderland?

Are We Living in Wonderland?

Bradley Doucet

6 Mins
|
April 20, 2010


March 6, 2010--Lewis Carroll’s beloved Alice in Wonderland books have just been given a 3-D facelift by oddball director Tim Burton. In the film, which stars Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, a 19-year-old Alice returns to the magical land of her past adventures, embarking on a quest to end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.

Here in the real world, we might be forgiven for wondering if we, too, hadn’t fallen down the rabbit hole. An economic crisis of near-unprecedented proportions has shaken a system many thought sound, but the reactions of politicians just seem to get curiouser and curiouser by the day. Like Alice in her encounters with the quirky residents of Wonderland, we need to confront the nonsensical beliefs and distortions of language that threaten to further erode our wealth and freedom.

IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS

    Alice:
    There’s no use trying; one
    can’t
    believe impossible things.
    White Queen:
    I daresay you haven’t had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

Many politicians seem, like the White Queen from Through the Looking Glass, to have had a lot of practice believing impossible things. For instance, just about all of them profess to believe that governments can “create jobs,” ignoring the simple fact that a dollar spent by government is a dollar not spent by private actors. Most of them kept right on believing it, too, even after massive “stimulus” spending failed to prevent the American unemployment rate from topping 10 percent in recent months.

Many politicians seem to have had a lot of practice believing impossible things.

One source of politicians’ confusion on this score may stem from the related belief that wealth can simply be created out of thin air. After all, if politicians fund their quixotic job creation schemes with newly-printed dollars, they needn’t raise taxes, right? But unfortunately for them, inflation is in reality just a hidden tax. The devalued dollars left in people’s pockets after monetary inflation will buy fewer actual goods and services.

If governments cannot create jobs in one part of the economy without simultaneously destroying them in another part through taxation or inflation (and causing a lot of misery in the interim), what about protecting existing jobs from foreign competition? International trade takes place for the same reason local trade takes place: because specialization and voluntary exchange are mutually beneficial to all parties. Workers, remember, are also consumers, and limiting trade hurts consumers, who must pay more for their goods and services. Shutting down trade completely would drastically lower everyone’s standard of living; shutting it down selectively can benefit certain producers, but only at the expense of all others. Yet in capitals ’round the world, they keep dreaming these impossible dreams.

THE HUMPTY DUMPTY THEORY OF MEANING

    Humpty:
    When
    I
    use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.
    Alice:
    The question is whether you
    can
    make words mean so many different things.
    Humpty:
    The question is which is to be master—that’s all.

But perhaps our politicians only spout such impossibilities in order to garner favor with voters, who either truly believe them or are in turn cynically self-serving. Indeed, there are many clear examples of politicians neither meaning what they say nor saying what they mean. Perhaps if pressed, though, they would argue, like Humpty Dumpty (sadly missing from Burton’s film), that when they use a word, it means just what they choose it to mean.

Over 40 former lobbyists hold senior positions in the Obama administration.

How else can we reconcile U. S. President Barack Obama’s stated desire to “invest in our people without leaving them a mountain of debt” on the one hand, and the latest federal budget on the other? Released last month, the 2011 budget is called “A New Era of Responsibility,” but it is an exemplar of fiscal irresponsibility. According to economist Gregory Mankiw , the budget’s own projections put the government’s debt at 77 percent of GDP by the year 2020. This is a level unseen since the aftermath of World War II, and more than twice the percentage in 2007. (This is not to excuse Obama’s predecessor, a “conservative” who, at least when it came to spending, was anything but.)

And what about the President’s campaign pledge not to have former lobbyists working in his White House? He congratulated himself on this point in his State of the Union address, saying, “We’ve excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs.” This, however, is a positively Carrollian abuse of the English language. As Timothy P. Carney, author of the recent book Obamanomics, points out, over 40 former lobbyists  hold senior positions in the Obama administration. A White House spokesperson defended the President’s statement, though, writing to Carney in an email that the White House has indeed “turned away lobbyists for many, many positions.” The common sense interpretation that all such applicants had been turned away was simply not what the President meant, you see.

Lest I be accused of picking only on American politicians, let me target one of my own countrymen. Danny Williams, Premier of Newfoundland, was a firm supporter of Canada’s socialized health system— that is, until he got sick . His defense for recently seeking treatment in the United States: “I did not sign away my right to get the best possible health care for myself when I entered politics.”

The whole health care debate is packed with people not saying what they mean. Perhaps the most egregious distortion here is the demand that people with pre-existing conditions not be denied “insurance.” But insurance, by definition, is a way of hedging against risk by spreading it among a group of people. A person who already has a condition before becoming insured can no longer get insurance, because the risk has become a certainty. What they need at this point is not insurance, but charity. Defenders of universal socialized health care would rather ignore such distinctions.

A MAD TEA PARTY

    March Hare:
    Take some more tea.
    Alice:
    I’ve had nothing yet, so I can’t take more.
    Mad Hatter:
    You mean you can’t take
    less
    . It’s very easy to take
    more
    than nothing.

In the battle for reason, liberty, and joy, we actually need to run just to stand still, like Alice and the Red Queen. If we are not vigilant, we lose ground. But many people, especially in the United States, are raising their voices in protest against the nonsense and manipulations that prop up the push for ever-expanding government. Appropriately enough, the latest manifestation of resistance against fiscal irresponsibility and an expansion of socialized medicine calls itself the Tea Party movement.

The March Hare, Dormouse, and Hatter that Alice meets at her tea party are all quite mad. But although the American Tea Party may have a few kooks in it for jokesters like Jon Stewart to ridicule—and which movement doesn’t?—these people are not crazy. They are mad, however; in fact, they’re mad as hell about the state of their Union.

Granted, the size of the American government—like that in most countries—has been growing almost unchecked for many decades now, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans have been in charge. But this latest crisis, along with the last two governments’ bungled responses to it, have galvanized a significant number of people. Where will the Tea Partyers go from here? As the Cheshire Cat tells Alice when she asks for directions, that depends a good deal on where they want to get to. But whether it’s with the Tea Party or some other group, those of us who fight for smaller, more rational government have no intention of disappearing anytime soon.