How moral nominalism made the welfare state unsustainable
Regarding “The apocalypse of the welfare state,” there is a historical logic here that ties together a number of issues often considered at VFR. The welfare state might have been sustained, provided we could have arranged for more or less continuous growth in either the number of young workers, or their wages, so that their tax remittances would be able to cover the ever-growing entitlements of the welfare clients. But the moral nominalism that began to permeate Western culture after WWI resulted in the acceptance of birth control by the Episcopal Church in the 1930s.
The other mainline Protestant denominations followed. Demand for effective birth control surged, providing pharmaceutical firms the motive to develop and market the Pill. Birth rates plummeted. Then the moral nominalism that had admitted the Pill admitted abortion, too (and eventually homosexuality). Birth rates fell more. Morals loosened. Families formed later and fell apart more often, as people fled commitment to pursue sexual adventures. Birth rates fell still more. Suddenly it became apparent that the population of young workers could be expected to fall in the near future; even if their incomes rose commensurately, they would not be able to fund the retirement income of the Boomers. But we could import lots of workers from countries with surplus population, whose taxes could fund the Boomer retirement and keep the Western economies growing.
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This was why the Western financial and political elite got behind immigration. And, also, this was why multi-culti and tolerance and non-discrimination became so critically important. If you are going to bring in a bunch of penniless Israelites to do the scut work, everything will go more easily for everyone involved if you treat them decently, and respect their traditional culture; and to the extent you carve out cultural room for an alien culture, you must necessarily do so by cutting away some of your own. But if you do make it comfortable for the Israelites to stay as Israelites in Egypt, they won’t want to emigrate in order to preserve their own (wholly legitimate) cultural integrity, they’ll want to stay, and take over. Instead of “let my people go,” you’ll get “we shall overcome.”
But immigration isn’t working. Immigrants cost more than they pay into the system. Plus they depress wages, making capital investment in plant and equipment and R & D that would increase productivity and wages less attractive to capitalists. The result was stagnant or falling real wages for the native population, increasing the pressure for wives to enter the labor force, reducing wages yet further, and increasing the demands upon the welfare machinery of the state. In real terms, men make less now than they did 30 years ago, and they get no respect at all except by being bad boys. Men are now checking out of the main culture, in just the same way that they long ago checked out of the black culture in America. Roissy is how white boys do gang-banging. When you get Roissy from the men, you get inflated knockers from the women. Plastic surgery is how white girls do “ho.”
The gnostic disease is the spiritual connection between artificial knockers and budget deficits.
Modern culture is a veritable hurricane of vicious cycles, all originating in a gnostic pretense: Let’s pretend that there is no inherent nature of things, so that we may mess ad libitum with the family, sex, economics, and culture, with no ill consequences. Hey, Presto! Pass a law! Make it so! But it’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature. There’ll be hell to pay, and hell is damn sure going to collect; God is not mocked. Apres nous, le deluge. Eventually, I suppose, some virtuous trad marooned on a mountaintop will spot a rainbow, and we’ll get another shot.
Paul Nachman writes:
“The welfare state might have been sustained, provided we could have arranged for more or less continuous growth in either the number of young workers, or their wages, so that their tax remittances would be able to cover the ever-growing entitlements of the welfare clients.”
So Kristor thinks exponential growth is sustainable. Whoosh.
Um, gosh, no. If I were a better writer, I guess I wouldn’t have to spell everything out. To my eyes, the statement, “The welfare state might have been sustained, provided we could have arranged for more or less continuous growth in either the number of young workers, or their wages,” is dripping with sarcasm. I mean, the notion that we could arrange for such a thing is absurd prima facie, isn’t it? This is obvious, right?
Consider Moore’s Law, often cited as the basis for optimism about the everlasting compound growth of the tax base. But not so fast. Moore’s Law may (if quantum computing works out) indeed show that there is no inherent limit to economic productivity, and thus to human wealth, because there is no inherent limit to rational knowledge. But that productivity is not self-limiting does not entail that it is not limited at all. No creaturely thing is boundless. The limit to economic productivity is exogenous thereto, and arises from human error of all kinds; this is the lesson of Babel (Babel is why old investment buffalos like me start muttering darkly, as booms get long in the tooth, “Nothing grows to the sky”). In other words, the limit to economic productivity (though not rational knowledge) is death, and forgetting. Thus if we were gods, there would be no difficulty with arranging for an ever-increasing tax base. The gnostics believe that they are gods, hemmed in by the unjust but finally illusory constraints of this world. So they utter forth their laws that the cosmos shall be this, and thus, and that other; they would legislate nature, would themselves usurp the throne of the Logos of the world. Hey Presto! Make it so! Let the conservation laws be no more! Free lunch for everyone! Utopia: right here, right now! Yes, we can!
I don’t see anything in the sentence, “The welfare state might have been sustained, provided we could have arranged for more or less continuous growth in either the number of young workers, or their wages,” which would signal to the average reader that you were being ironic, especially as that sentence seems to be the foundation of the argument that follows. The reader would just have to know that you know that the statement can’t be true, and therefore it’s ironic.
A number of readers seem to be getting stuck on the phrase, “the welfare state might have been sustained,” interpreting it—naturally enough, I now see—to mean that I approve of the welfare state. But the phrase came out the way it did because I was trying to be economical, and not throw too many items into the mix of a comment that already covered an awful lot of ground. Mea culpa! I am guilty of assuming that it would be obvious that, as a traditionalist conservative, I implicitly disapprove of the welfare state, and understand it to be a perverse and vicious contravention of the laws of human nature. If I had said it properly, it would have run something like this: “When the first great expansion of the American welfare state took place under FDR, its apologists argued that it could be sustained provided we continued to see more or less continuous growth in either the number of young workers, or their wages, so that their tax remittances would be able to cover the ever-growing entitlements of the welfare clients. But paradoxically, a development in another aspect of the culture made it impossible for either of those two things to happen: the moral nominalism that began to permeate Western culture after WWI resulted in the acceptance of birth control by the Episcopal Church in the 1930s. This act set accelerated a cultural change which eventually destroyed the demographic and economic assumptions upon which Social Security, and all its progeny, were predicated.”
Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 12, 2010 09:02 PM | Send