Mike Miles has provided another thought-provoking graphic:
The “message” could hardly be more obvious. But what about its wider applications – that is, its applications to various aspects of social and economic mobility?
Give it a moment’s thought while I finish my breakfast.
We often hear of “social climbers,” usually disparagingly for their efforts to rise in the esteem of others. It calls into mind the image of a ladder with several steps, “good for nothing” at the bottom and “admired worldwide” at the top. What it takes to ascend that ladder is seldom clear. Nevertheless, it is the social climber’s chief aim, to which he devotes great thought and effort.
The economic climber is less often spoken of. There’s a reason for that: he’s everywhere. He’s you and I, Gentle Reader. Few persons don’t seek to be better off economically than they are at present. We spend forty-five or fifty years pursuing economic betterment…and in the main, we succeed.
For capitalism has a ladder of its own. At the bottom is the legend “completely dependent on others;” at the top is “plutocrat who commands the riches of Croesus.” While not many reach that top step – I certainly haven’t – most Americans ascend it part-way: generally, to the step labeled “moderately comfortable if not entirely free of worries for the future.”
As the title of this piece implies, I have the lowest steps in mind today.
If he possesses sufficient intelligence, parental support, and drive, young Smith might manage to “leap” the lowest steps when he first ventures into the working world: straight from education into a middle-class occupation. Smith would be called fortunate, and not unjustly. But Jones who lives across town might lack Smith’s basic assets, and thus must climb capitalism’s ladder step by step from the bottom. His first jobs might be menial, unskilled labor, with the obvious consequences for his standard of living. However, if Jones applies himself with diligence, he might ascend higher. Many Joneses do, often to the status of independent business owners. I know several such persons, and I hold them in high regard.
The Joneses of our nation have a harder time than ever before in history, for the bottom steps on the ladder of capitalism have been cut away, one after another – usually by persons who claim to want to “help” the Joneses.
Consider all the following:
- The shrinking Army;
- The Davis-Bacon Act;
- The Social Security payroll tax;
- Ever-rising minimum-wage laws;
- The huge and ongoing influx of illegal aliens;
- The steady deterioration of primary and secondary education;
- Generous welfare systems and soft rules for qualifying for public support;
- The municipalization of bus transport, garbage collection, and road maintenance;
- The steady tightening of licensure and “environmental impact” rules upon all occupations;
- The inculcation of a “victim mentality” among the disadvantaged, especially American Negroes.
That’s just off the top of my head – and every one of those influences impedes the journey up the ladder of capitalism. They make getting onto the ladder far more difficult for our friend Jones than it would otherwise be. Yet all of them have been pressed upon us under the mantle of “compassion.”
“Compassion for whom?” I hear you ask. It’s a good question. Perhaps we should ask Elizabeth Warren. Or Bernie Sanders. Or both.
Our “disadvantaged class” has not shrunk for several decades. Indeed, the creation of government-run welfare systems has institutionalized the category. Commentators have talked volubly about “structural poverty” without ever entertaining the possibility that supposedly well-meaning government policies might have something to do with it.
In his 1984 book Losing Ground, the great Charles Murray suggested that becoming adequately self-supporting has three and only three preconditions:
- Finish high school;
- Get (and stay) married;
- Get (and stay) employed.
In 1984 that was still demonstrably the case. But things have continued to change, and in most cases for the worse. “Social programs” have multiplied, have become easier to qualify for, and have become steadily more munificent. Dr. Murray warned against this with three laws of social-program perversity:
- The Law of Imperfect Selection: Any objective rule that defines eligibility for a social transfer program will irrationally exclude some persons. [And will irrationally include some others – FWP]
- The Law of Unintended Rewards: Any social transfer program increases the net value of being in the condition that prompted the transfer.
- The Law of Net Harm: The less likely it is that unwanted behavior will change voluntarily, the more likely it is that a program to induce the change will cause net harm.
All of these laws have been borne out by experience. Social engineers’ defiance of them has helped to elevate the bottom rung on the ladder of capitalism, such that it’s becoming unreachable by an increasing number of Joneses. The social engineers have proved uninterested in that.
“But what are they interested in?” You may well ask.
Programs enacted to soften Jones’s inability to get onto the ladder of capitalism always come with rules. Conformance with those rules is enforced by the threat of withdrawing Jones’s support. And as the rules proliferate, they become vaguer and more subjective.
Would it surprise anyone to learn that the administrators of social programs are becoming steadily more intrusive into the lives of their supposed beneficiaries? Would it surprise anyone to learn that those administrators have begun to probe their beneficiaries’ politics and their use of social media? Would it surprise anyone to learn that benefits are often delayed or reduced on those grounds? Would it surprise you, Gentle Reader?
No, I can’t say of my own knowledge that any of that is happening. But it wouldn’t surprise me at all. When a man’s got you by the wallet, you tend to do and not do as he tells you. If he asks you to applaud, you’ll applaud. If he suggests that you riot, you’ll riot. If he provides slogans to go along with either activity, you’ll take care to memorize them…and you’ll take care to be heard using them.
Perhaps in this method for increasing their potential influence over the Joneses’ behavior lies the best explanation for the refusal of the social engineers to admit to having torn off the bottom rungs on capitalism’s ladder.