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The Politics of Envy

In this wide-ranging sequel to his The Politics of Plunder (Transaction, 1990), Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow draws together essays, columns, and articles to illuminate statism’s rising threat to freedom and religion. A Christian libertarian, Bandow rightly insists that “liberty–the right to exercise choice, free from coercive state regulation–is a necessary precondition for virtue. And virtue is ultimately necessary for the survival of liberty.” Only choices freely made have moral or religious import. Markets work better if people are virtuous and treat each other fairly, and a virtuous population foils statist encroachments on freedom. Christians should eschew statism, even for promoting virtue: “The punishment of most sins should be left to God.”

While many Christians dislike capitalism, Bandow argues that Christians and libertarians are natural allies. He points out that “the Bible does not specifically speak to the proper degree of government intervention in the economy. There is no explicit endorsement of any type of economic system, no equation of capitalism or socialism with the Kingdom of God.” But capitalism is more consistent with Biblical principles. For example, the Bible enjoins charity, but not the forcible redistribution of wealth in the form of socialism or the welfare state. Moreover, Christians and libertarians have grounds for cooperation on many social issues, e.g., many in both groups deem child care a family responsibility, and agree that parents should control education.

Pro-life on religious grounds, Bandow faces the explosive issue of abortion straightforwardly. The rhetoric of “choice,” he rightly argues, is mendacious: “Except in the case of rape, a choice was made. In such cases abortion becomes not an exercise in choice, but an attempt to avoid accepting responsibility for the earlier sexual choice.” And in requiring pro-life taxpayers to finance abortions, “pro-choice” is sliding into “pro-coercion.”

Bandow exposes the New Age neopaganism and the hostility to Christianity, to humanity, and to even such elementary contrivances as (yes!) chairs underlying much of the fashionable environmental movement. Ideology’s triumph over fact and scientific standards has spawned numerous doomsday speculations of environmental disaster, such as predictions of global warming and a new Ice Age, which he handily debunks.

Unlike most enthusiasts for global democracy and capitalism, Bandow, mindful of the horror of Vietnam and the rise of war-fed tyranny in America, loathes America’s increasingly interventionist foreign policy. Interventionism has cost us dearly in lives and liberties, and collective security threatens to embroil America in conflicts that do not threaten her interests. All too true.

Bandow is especially effective in demonstrating statism’s disastrous consequences for its intended beneficiaries. Foreign aid, for instance, has had perverse effects, encouraging inefficiency, psychological dependence on external help, and harmful monetary and fiscal policies in developing countries. The World Bank turns out, under thorough investigation, to have been a grossly incompetent banker, eagerly approving loans for dubious projects, favoring state programs over private companies, and leaving Third World nations saddled with huge debts. Government fuel economy standards force automakers to downsize cars, resulting in thousands of additional automotive fatalities.

Though thankfully dated, Bandow’s accounts of the Clinton Administration’s deficit “reduction” plan (actually entailing massive increases in taxes and spending), BTU (British thermal unit) based energy tax, “national service” and health care schemes are valuable exposés of the Administration’s reflexive statism and mendacity. And his careful study clears the pharmaceutical industry of the Clintons’ demagogic accusations of profiteering. Bandow’s rebukes are bipartisan; the Bush Administration approved huge spending increases, re-regulation, and use of religious taxpayers’ money to fund obscene and blasphemous art.

Besides meticulously marshalling supporting facts, Bandow cuts through statist emotional humbug with refreshing clarity, all the more effective for his calm tone. Of “compassion” and redistribution he notes: “Compassion once meant to suffer with the person in need. Over time people have increasingly come to believe that compassion means writing a check. Now legislators–city, state, and national–think compassion is making other people write a check.“ (Bandow’s emphasis.) But the money is ”not theirs to give.“

With great thoroughness, Bandow shows that the “war on drugs” actually exacerbates drug crime, and is illogical in that more lethal drugs–alcohol and tobacco–are legal. The only alternatives are a truly ruthless war on drugs, which would risk creating a police state, or drug legalization. He favors the latter, and makes a strong and thought-provoking case.

The Politics of Envy has some shortcomings. Despite the title, envy receives very little discussion. The implications of the book’s subtitle “statism as theology”–secular modernity’s quixotic effort to coerce mankind into Heaven on earth–get better treatment in Father Sirico’s foreword than in the text itself. Subject indexing would have been welcome, but indexing is by name only. And for such a valuable presentation of so much factual material, footnotes would be useful as references for scholars and as evidence to support Bandow’s work.

But these are minor blemishes. Bandow has put together a powerful indictment of the statist trend of our time. If it reaches the audience it deserves, it might have a hand in reversing that trend.