Back in 1979 I found myself becoming increasingly more conservative and wrote this. Actually, I think we all turn more conservative as we grow older; it’s probably a good thing for a kid to start liberal – not as a young Republican – or there’s no telling what he or she we’ll be after some aging.
Anyway, these are some of my generation’s reasons for moving to the right. The references to Atom Man and the gasoline crisis and consequent gas lines date me and probably predate you but I haven’t changed my mind much.
Not so long ago, it seems like only a million years, I used to consider myself a liberal. I was sure that anyone who attacked welfare was a stingy reactionary at best. My first response to any injustice or inequality was to call for a new law or maybe even a government program. I felt that crime was the result of the criminal’s environment.
But I changed my mind. I think the welfare system is a disorganized mess. My first response to new laws and particularly new government programs is that they are more likely to cause injustice and inequity than to cure them. I feel crime is caused by criminals.
And I find that many of my friends have gone through a similar change in their thinking. Why? I hate to think that we changed because we passed the magic age of thirty and found our first grey hairs.
Partly we were changed by experience. The government programs that we wanted became law. We saw the great society become a pork barrel. We saw the EDA use the wrong people to build the wrong building in the wrong place and justify themselves in the name of administrative inconvenience. We saw the splendid goal of racial equality under the law become the sordid spectacles of bussing and minority quotas.
We learned more about people as we grew older. We saw that dependence breeds dependence. We saw that a helping hand can become an indispensable crutch. We saw that in our zeal to help we were robbing people of their pride.
We learned something about economics. We saw inflation break the spirit of the elderly as it looted the nest eggs they had painfully saved. We saw that the money to help those who wouldn’t work somehow always came from the pockets of those who work very hard and receive very little. And we learned that unemployment is not helped by paying people not to work.
It’s true, we grew more conservative as our hair thinned and our beards got grey; but it is also true that the world changed and the assumptions that our philosophy was based on proved unsound.
We thought, way back in the fifties and sixties, that we lived on a world endowed with limitless resources of goods and energy. Every year we could see more production with less and less human labor. It was very clear that technology would soon let us all retire.
Since human labor would soon be obsolete and we would all be supported by the bounty of infinite resources unlocked by benign science, it made sense to distribute this largesse to all regardless of whether or not their help was needed in production.
But we were wrong. The marvelous genies we counted on to do our work for us proved to be devils in disguise. Our infinite resources have proven to be painfully limited.
The wonder chemicals that kill all the bugs in the fields turn out to kill birds and people too. The promise of abundant cheap energy from nuclear power has turned out to be nightmare of unknowns and misinformation. The waters where we dumped our wastes are coughing them back upon our shores. That automobiles that gave us unprecedented freedom were all lined up one morning begging for enough fuel to get to the next gas station.
Science didn’t deliver the free lunch after all. If our world is going to be a livable place, human energy is required and lots of it. We still have to till the fields and kill the bugs. It can’t all be done by one super aerial spray. We still need to chop wood and mine coal and knit sweaters because atom man can’t deliver. We need to process our wastes, rebuild public transportation, clean up our cities, and make a whole new set of fuel efficient homes and factories. There is more work to do than there are people to do it.
So it doesn’t make any sense to pay people for not working. There is no unearned bounty to distribute. There is plenty of work to do and we need all the help we can get.
That is one reason why we are more conservative than in the age of plenty.