He knew all about our benevolent and paternal federal government

Martin Luther King Day is a holiday grudgingly observed by some and wonderfully misappropriated by others, honoring as it does a prismatic figure in American history and politics.  Dr. King had many facets, and by holding his icon up to the light in various ways, one may obtain an interesting spectrum of refractions, and then choose whatever blend of hues and tints required to advance the argument of choice.

Today, for example, one of our leading opticians, Professor Paul Krugman, invokes the good doctor in support of his current favorite topic, which is the disgraceful inequity of wealth distribution in America.  The battle for equality in America is no longer racial, argues the professor, which will come as a bit of a shock to many, but rather a struggle between “classes,” with the wealthy on one side and the poor on the other.  This is, the professor implies, a new thing, requiring new and forceful rules and regulations to remedy.

“The great differences among mankind are about means, not ends.”  To dispute Krugman’s solutions, which unsurprisingly involve pretty much the same concepts as all other Krugman solutions – i.e., expanded federal powers and control, abrogation of individual initiative in favor of an all-knowing paternal state and the ineluctable assumption that anyone who has succeeded at anything must have been up to something pretty nasty, or they would have failed like the rest of us – is to dispute the problems the solutions are intended to solve.  This is an old but effective rhetorical trick:

“Please sign my petition to save the planet.”

“How do you propose to do that?”

“We must increase the taxes on charcoal and subsidize the production of solar barbeques.”

“No, I don’t want to sign your petition.”

“Do you want to let people keep poisoning the air?  Are you some kind of…Republican?  Don’t you care about the future?

You get the picture. 

Still, we admire Dr. King more than we can say, for several reasons, chief among them his determination to pursue an indisputably essential and desirable goal despite the opposition of powerful and dangerous forces, not the least of which was his own government.  That Dr. King had faults has been the topic of discussion; idiots everywhere will always attempt to discredit a grand achievement by pointing out flaws:  Churchill drank more than he (or most oxen) should, Jefferson owned slaves and fathered bastards, Columbus exploited the noble savage.  And on and on and on.

But we still object to Professor Krugman’s ill-advised attempt to expropriate Dr. King’s holiday and employ it as the aegis for his continuing Jeremiad, wherein he plunges his chariots, wheels spinning and banners flying, into a non-existent host of straw men who stay awake at night seeking new ways to enslave the proletariat and beggar the righteous.   Which is not to dispute the fact that there are rich people who are evil; we but merely suggest that the possession of wealth is not de facto an indictment of character nor evidence of miserly selfishness – as certain of our pundits and politicians lately openly or indirectly assert.

Professor Krugman’s chief objection in these essays centers on unassailable evidence of inequity – and this inequity surely does exist.  Like my petition-wielding  phantom earlier, he then leaps from this evidence to conclusions that are at best flawed, and at worst deliberate distortions of the most sanctimonious and detestable sort, because they impute a moral superiority to what is actually a self-serving and shameful effort at ennobling the speaker, with no regard for the cost of defaming and damaging the blameless.

Dr. King argued for equal rights.  He did not demand equal results.  Dr. Krugman, on the other hand, in his zeal to free the downtrodden from their bondage, prescribes a cure worse than the disease:  that in order to obtain “equality,” we trade away our liberty.  This is a favored nostrum of the quick-fix, prosperity-for-all dialecticians, and its repeated and demonstrated failures do little to deflect the enthusiasm of its monocular adherents.

The funny thing about wealth distribution is that everyone who has tried it has failed abjectly.  The 80/20 nature of the that in order to obtain “equality,” we trade away our liberty. This is a favored nostrum of the quick-fix, prosperity-for-all dialecticians, and its repeated and demonstrated failures do little to deflect the enthusiasm of its monocular adherents. The funny thing about wealth distribution is that everyone who has tried it has failed abjectly. The 80/20 nature of the Pareto distribution seems almost as unassailable as the speed of light. This does not mean that we should abandon any effort at providing all citizens with essential assets and services, but it does mean that we should examine with a very big microscope indeed any and all plans to effect some rules-based system of distributing wealth – especially since virtually all those who profess their altruism while promoting such programs inevitably turn out to have a very egocentric agenda indeed, as the fathers of communism have ably demonstrated. If anyone would have been dismayed by the notion of a federal government charged with the “redistribution” of wealth, it would have been Dr. King. His efforts were directed at calling bullshit on all the noble-sounding but empty legislation enacted from the end of the civil war until the 1960s, which produced little or no benefit for minorities while smoothly protecting the status quo. Dr. King also knew well the dangers of phrases like “the 1%,” keenly aware how easily the majority could impose its will on the minority. And finally, he was keenly aware how most “programs” for the general welfare were in fact thinly-disguised plucking at the public purse. So today let us celebrate the memory of a man who gave his life while he lived it to the fight for justice for his fellow man, and his life when he died for the simple idea that every human being deserves without qualification or distinction the rights accorded to any other human being – and one of our most cherished rights is the freedom to struggle through this life as best we see fit without a horde of economists demanding we do it their way.” Pareto distribution seems almost as constant as the speed of light.  This does not mean that we should abandon any effort at providing all citizens with essential assets and services, but it does mean that we should examine with a very big microscope indeed any and all plans to effect some rules-based system of distributing wealth – especially since virtually all those who profess their altruism while promoting such programs inevitably turn out to have a very egocentric agenda indeed, as the fathers of communism have ably demonstrated.

If anyone would have been dismayed by the notion of a federal government charged with the “redistribution” of wealth, it would have been Dr. King.  His efforts were directed at calling bullshit on all the noble-sounding but empty legislation enacted from the end of the civil war until the 1960s, which produced little or no benefit for minorities while smoothly protecting the status quo.   Dr. King also knew well the dangers of phrases like “the 1%,” keenly aware how easily the majority could impose its will on the minority.  And finally, he had first-hand experience with how most “programs” for the general welfare were in fact thinly-disguised plucking at the public purse.

So today let us celebrate the memory of a man who gave his life while he lived it to the fight for justice for his fellow man, and his life when he died for the simple idea that every human being deserves without qualification or distinction the rights accorded to any other human being – and one of our most cherished rights is the freedom to struggle through this life as best we see fit without a horde of economists demanding we do it their way.