The Mal-Intents

By Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.

Virtually every opponent of big government concedes his opponent’s good intentions. But why? The destructive effects of foreign and domestic intervention are so clear that statists must be motivated, at least in part, by malice. Communists, everyone would concede, were full of envy and hatred for the bourgeoisie. The gulag satisfied this in part. But what about the garden-variety welfare statist?

The U.S. welfare state has spent $3.5 trillion in its various wars on poverty, yet by every measure, the underclass is worse off, and more socially menacing, than ever before. Economics tells us there’s a direct connection. So why does welfare persist?

First, welfare has dramatically expanded the size and the reach of the federal government, and therefore the psychological compensation of state managers, as well as the number of jobs available in the public sector. (Some welfare-state proponents credit the very existence of the black middle class, for example, to these jobs.)

Second, the welfare state has been a massive drain on the middle class. If your first value is envy, and you seek to destroy private property and the middle-class family, you love the welfare state.

Third, the welfare state makes children less dependent on their parents, elderly parents less dependent on their grown children, and each generation less able to pass on its wealth to the next. If you don’t like the independent family and its structure of authority, then this effect is welcome as well.

When Hillary Clinton or Donna Shalala or Janet Reno talk about helping children, they mean controlling them. Thanks to the welfare state, there has been a dramatic shift in children’s legal (and sometimes emotional) allegiance from their parents to the state.

This further devalues children in the minds of potential parents, thus resulting in fewer kids, which is no unintended consequence. After all, when Al Gore condemns human population growth (because it might affect the numbers of gnat catchers and pileated woodpeckers), and Bill Clinton seeks to make government-funded abortions as easily available as fast food (except that you have to pay for a hamburger), a picture emerges. It’s people, especially new people, and families, especially those that are internally loyal, that our rulers in Washington hate.

Another example of statist mal-intent is inflation. The public may not want their money taxed away in this fashion by the central bank, but inflation does have its beneficiaries. It is a major revenue source for the government itself, which also benefits from the depreciation of its debts. Large bankers and government contractors also profit, while union members, welfare recipients, and government employees get automatic cost of living raises. And egalitarians approve of the fact that inflation rewards short-term (underclass) thinking rather than long-term (upper-class) thinking, thereby decreasing the natural hierarchy of the market. And big private debtors like inflation because they can prosper at the expense of property owners.

William Greider, a top Clintonian journalist and political theorist, wrote a book a few years ago called The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, in which he defended the late 1970s inflation on exactly these grounds. Such sentiments are secret teaching among liberals.

The Clintons and their health-care hatchetman, Ira Magaziner, want to impose price controls on the medical industry. Do they know that price controls create shortages? Of course. On the other hand, shortages create demands for further government intervention, and therefore a larger and more powerful public sector.

When the Stanford academic who designed the “managed competition” health-care model spoke on National Public Radio recently, he admitted his system had problems: people won’t be able to choose their own doctors; they will get fewer services; and they will pay more. What then is the virtue? Everyone will get the same benefit package. Bums will be made the equal of the productive in the care they receive.

Environmentalism is openly ill-intended, at least as far as people are concerned. It expressly wants to make us poorer. For example, it wants us to stop driving our cars. That’s why it keeps ratcheting up emission standards despite scientific evidence that the “ozone threat” is bunk, and smaller, lighter cars are more dangerous. It keeps increasing the gasoline tax to force us to drive less. And it taxes us more and more to build collectivist mass transit systems that no one wants to use voluntarily.

Even laws forcing the disabled on employers can have a secret ill-intent. Precious few disabled people will actually be made better off, for what they gain in “access” they will lose in growing public resentment. Of course, unscrupulous lawyers benefit, and so do all the opponents of business autonomy. They get, as one Tennessee bureaucrat recently admitted, a perverse pleasure from seeing small businessmen crawl.

The same goes for other civil rights laws. They all demand that no one discriminate “on grounds of ..” (fill in the blank) or be punished. But who is the arbiter of motivations? The government, of course, and the special interest groups responsible for the legislation. That’s why every civil rights bill has collapsed into a numbers game. It is only through counting the number of approved victim groups in private business or the academy that government can determine if actions are approved or unapproved. That is part of the motivation, along with redistribution, which by definition is ill-intended, like other forms of theft.

Calling our opponents well intentioned grants them the moral high ground, when they are actually gutter-dwellers. What else can you call those who seek to replace private property with government subservience, family allegiance with bureaucratic dictate, the rule of law with administrative fiat, business autonomy with centralized tyranny?

The consequences of government intervention used to be called “unintended.” After witnessing socialism crash and burn in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and seeing the consequences of statism at home – our cities wrecked, our economy mangled, our families weakened, our currency debased – it’s time to wise up.