Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Words and Ideas, and how they do change!

Many years ago people spoke of the biblical injunction 'Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men."  We were advised to take this seriously.   It was noble to seek peace and do good works.
Today those injunctions have been transformed into pejoratives.  Today we are supposed to scorn the 'peacenik' and pity the 'do-gooder'.

'Equality' is another word that has become contemptible.  We are lectured regularly by George Will and others like him that 'equality of opportunity' does not mean 'equality of outcome'.  As if those squeezed between these two contradictory forces didn't know that already;  they know what is missing in this equation is what I call the 'equality of the process'.
The power structure has changed the rules, altered conditions, instituted restrictions, and reduced compensation levels for those  who do not benefit from the advantages of inherited wealth or privileged position.
How have the rules changed?
 For one example, out of many, in the space of a century we have gone from a nation that was built and developed largely by high school dropouts (citing Paul Goodman here) to a nation where a college degree is a minimum requirement for most positions.
What 'altered conditions?'  The destruction of a vast and viable public transportation system in favor of the automobile is one example.   Urban renewal was another bad idea. That program took poor but livable housing,  declared it 'substandard' and therefore illegal and so destroyed it.
The proliferation of regulations at the state and municipal level that restricts activities, whether of the kind which allowed people to make money or save it.
Reduced compensation is found in the statistics that real income has not kept pace with inflation, and in the deliberate weakening of labor unions.
There are dozens of examples that make the 'process of equality' more difficult, from the minor (free calendars, road maps, water, air) to major ones (zoning, compulsory insurances, regressive taxes and fees, safety laws).
The United States is not the same country it was 50, even 40 years ago.  Then there was a rawness, a newness, a freedom that gave people a sense of opportunity.  I believe that sense is weaker now.
Today we are over-organized, over-codified, not to mention over taxed and over-regulated.
So when I read the lectures to the poor from Will or Brooks or Krauthammer or Friedman, I am reminded of President Ronald Reagan who told us about "morning in America."  And then I am reminded of that astute observation by a former senator from Minnesota who said of Reagan that he was a man "who could remember the future and predict the past."

No comments:

Post a Comment