Home/Daniel Larison/Self-Reliance


Rod and I were exchanging messages with a colleague earlier today with the recent remarks by Limbaugh over self-reliance as the starting point.  At the conclusion of my message, I wrote:

Self-reliance is an excellent thing to instill and to follow, and that is and should be the ultimate answer, but almost everything about the current regime works against self-reliance and creates disincentives for practicing self-reliance.

By that I mean that we have a dependency problem that has been fostered to a significant degree by what some people like to call “economic dynamism” or “creative destruction.”  Knocking out the old mechanisms of social support, scattering communities with the draw of “better opportunities” elsewhere (and thereby helping to kill whichever small towns weren’t already ravaged by the highway system) and encouraging consumption and the mandate of “growht” with cheap credit all work to make Americans less economically independent and make sure that they have few, if any, private institutions they can fall back on that are capable of bearing the load.  Having creatively destroyed support networks that were fulfilling the functions that must be assumed more and more by the state, the “greatest force for change” is the greatest force for facilitating the growth of intrusive government to clean up the wreckage of all that destructive creativity.  Further, having become so dependent on either government or employer (or both), Americans are at the mercy of policy decisions over which they routinely have little influence, except at election time when the people who have fashioned the system that puts them in the present predicament of dependency promise them…more government assistance!  This reminds me of Caleb Stegall’s op-ed from 2006:

One of the primary conditions of freedom is a widespread distribution of capital, both economic and cultural. This accounts for conservatives’ long-standing skepticism and mistrust of centralized and concentrated enclaves of money and power with their tendencies toward societal management at every level. The oppressive effect of the management elites is essentially the same whether those elites sit in the board room, the judicial chamber, the legislative halls or the Oval Office.   

Or as I said during the debates over Wal-Mart and similar corporations back in 2006:

I don’t know if it is “counterfeit Americanism” to find troubling or objectionable the considerable dependence of the well-being of a town on the unaccountable decisions of one corporation that has no stake and no real attachment to the place, but I would suggest that there is nothing terribly consistent with the listed American “core values” in this development.  We do well to be wary of the road to state serfdom and advocate going in the other direction, but we make a great error if we think that road to corporate serfdom does not lead in the same direction and does not eventually meet up with the other road.  The masters of both use fear of the other to aggrandise their power.  The state tells you, “I will protect you from exploitation, give me power (and money)!”  And so you do.  Then the corporation says, “I provide you services and represent your freedom from government interference, so give me money (and power)!”  And so you do.  At no point are you concerned that the corporation generally supports what the state is doing and vice versa, or that some of the money you give to each one goes towards empowering and influencing the other.  

Fundamentally, all of this comes back to the question of whether dependent people can be the governors of those upon whom they depend, and the answer is no.  Without that, there can be no real self-government, and as Caleb said no real freedom.  To the extent that he has no intent on breaking this chain of dependency, Huckabee is not any kind of populist that Caleb or I would recognise.  He uses the opposition between “Main Street” and “Wall Street” rhetorically, but one has to wonder if he thinks that their interests are really all that divergent, or if he thinks that there has just been some misunderstanding in allocating the benefits.  He acknowledges that something is awry, but he apparently thinks the answer is to elect him so that working Americans will feel better about their President (he will remind them of their co-workers!), as if that will alleviate their real ills.   

This ties into the debate that has been going on over Romney’s “I’ll fight for every job” routine that he is now reprising in South Carolina.  I sympathise with calls to self-reliance generally, but these are being made as much in a vacuum as Romney’s false promises.  How do I know Romney’s promises are false?  It isn’t just that I think he’s untrustworthy (though if his recent display in Michigan hasn’t persuaded you of that, nothing I say here will), but that he is not going to make the auto industry in Michigan competitive with production facilities in other countries simply through deregulation and research subsidies.  For one thing, Washington only has so much control over the cost of doing business in Michigan, and the one area where Washington does have control over relevant policy (i.e., trade) is the area where Romney isn’t going to do anything to shore up domestic manufacturing.  Not only is he not going to do anything, but he has all but vowed to make sure thhat the same process that has been hollowing out Michigan factory towns will keep happening elsewhere–that is what his “Reagan Zone” offers American manufacturing.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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