Friday, April 29, 2005

The experts will take care of us

Via Betsy's Page, a column by David Gelertner on the fundamental roots of (big-D) Democratic opposition to ideas that are, on the face of them, (small-d) democratic. In case you haven't heard of him, Gelertner is a computer scientist from Yale who writes about the intersection of faith, culture and politics. I often admire his essays.

Gelertner claims that a basic belief of Democratic politicians is that ordinary people are not clever enough to do a decent job looking after themselves. They require a wise and benevolent government to watch over them and make sure that things aren't too hard for them. Thus, Democratic state legislators in Georgia are making a big stink over a bill requiring photo IDs for voting, claiming that it will interfere with voting by minorities and the elderly. But the bill makes it free and dead easy for pretty much anybody to obtain a photo ID. Are they saying that minorities and the elderly are simply not able to manage it? And isn't that pretty insulting, really?

Similarly, Democrats are opposed to school voucher plans, in part because they fear that parents will wind up spending that money to send their kids to private schools that are crummy or wicked. Parents are not smart enough to make good decisions for their own children. And Democrats are fighting tooth-and-nail against President Bush's plan of private Social Security investment accounts, raising the concern that people will invest their retirement money foolishly. In each case, the Democratic position is the one in which ordinary people are not trusted to take responsibility for their own affairs, even in modest ways.

And here is where Gelertner draws blood. He explains this tendancy by saying, "Democrats are professors in disguise. Scratch a Democrat, find a professor." Academics have a world-view that is congenial to socialism and central planning. As he concludes,
Professors see the world in terms of experts and students: "We are smart; you are dumb." That's the Infantile American Principle in a nutshell. Now go play with your toys and don't bother me.
As a card-carrying member of the professoriat, I just have one comment: Ouch.


Blogger jpe said...

It's simple economics: make an activity harder to do, less people will do it. It's not some people are too stupid to be able to get an ID card, it's that they may not care enough to go to the trouble. And when voting levels are so low, do we really want to further discourage voting?

I would think not.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your description of David Galertner left out an important fact about him. He was attacked by the unabomber, losing some fingers on one hand.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Ron Griggs said...

I've no doubt that some Democrats
have stated out loud that they oppose school voucher plans because "they fear that parents will wind up spending that money to send their kids to private schools that are crummy or wicked. Parents are not smart enough to make good decisions for their own children." I wonder how many believe that.

I think the less publicly palatable belief is that (a) public schools are mostly locally funded and (b) Democrats believe that parents who send their kids to private schools will be less likely to support public school funding. In other words, humans are most of the time selfish and unlikely to support the common good (or a good that benefits a lot of other people but not themselves.)

I'm afraid that I also believe that is a fair assessment of most people most of the time. But it would be difficult for any politician--Democrat or Republican--to say that out loud. (Did the term "enlightened self interest" just die away completely?)

5:36 PM  

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