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Why taxpayers always get milked...

by Greg Swann

What happened was this: there were two dairymen, Farmer Ron and Farmer Bill, and each had some new ideas about how to run their farms.

Farmer Ron had been trying to limit the grazing of his herd and had been getting worse and worse yields. He decided to let the cows graze where and how they would, speculating that those enterprising enough to find the best fodder would, on balance, produce the most milk.

Farmer Bill observed that while some of his cows produced little or no milk - too young, too old, too ill, too contrary - the top twenty percent of his herd produced eighty percent of the milk. He surmised that if he limited the grazing of the top producers, the others would get to the good fodder and produce more.

Now, if this were a true story, we know what would happen. Farmer Ron would make lots of money and Farmer Bill would bleed away toward bankruptcy. Until he changed his ways, which he would do, either on his own or with the help of the auctioneer.

Rush Limbaugh could write a gleeful little book about it.

But: what's wrong with this picture...?

1. America is not a diary farm.

2. You are not a cow.

3. You do not not exist to be milked.

Repeating: you do not exist to be milked. The point warrants emphasis, because your divinely-ordained bovinity is an article of faith in both political parties.

And the metaphor is not entirely specious. Former President Reagan's economic proposals really did amount to Farmer Ron's Theory of Dairy Management. And as a theory of how to get more milk from stolid, docile cows, it really did work. Rush is dead on the money - if you want to get more milk from your cows, do it Ron's way.

Remembering, of course, that you are not a cow and you do not exist to be milked.

President Clinton's rehash of Carter's rehash of Roosevelt's rehash of Marx is not really aimed at increasing the production of the bottom of the herd. Rather, it seeks merely to dry up the top producers. Name your own motive - envy, spite, a desire to be loved by the unlovable, pure perversity. It's difficult to draw a metaphor from the world of business for this type of management philosophy, since no dairy farm could survive by trying to destroy its production.

But, of course, America is not a dairy farm.

Which is convenient for Clinton. Competing businesses invite comparison, day to day and at the end of the year - that bottom line you've heard so much about. Nation states aren't so easy to compare, either one to another or through time - a source of some frustration for Limbaugh and other devotees of Farmer Ron.

But: to the extent that their economic principles are sound, their frustration is their own fault. They're playing the other man's game, and it should surprise no one that they lose consistently.

The name of that game is Utilitarianism.

We live in a culture whose so-called intellectual leaders read newspapers, not books. And the newspapers are written by people who read newspapers, not books. In consequence, we walk around with a great host of ideas in our heads with no idea at all where they came from. Have you said, "The rich get richer and the poor get poorer"? Would you be aghast to discover that you were quoting an important tenet of Karl Marx? How about, "In the long run, we'll all be dead"? John Maynard Keynes, the modern-day father of both currency inflation and deficit spending. Or, "The greatest good for the greatest number"? That was Jeremy Bentham, the mother of Utilitarianism (John Stuart Mill was the father).

Utilitarianism is a moral philosophy that argues that actions are neither good nor evil but merely useful or non-useful. Its evil twin is Pragmatism - the stake upon which former President Bush impaled himself - which, essentially, substitutes the word "practical" for "useful". Both are entirely circular - how can you establish that some action is useful or practical without some prior standard of usefulness or practicality? And both, originally, were reactions against Socialism. It was a necessary consequence, not a bitter irony, that both ended up in the arsenal of Socialism. Despite the cliché, you fight fire with water, not more of the same Socialist fire.

But Mill's and Bentham's original Utilitarianism was the source of the Farmer Ron Theory. And - yes, Rush - it worked. The incredible wealth produced during the Industrial Revolution - and during the Reagan administration - owes directly to the idea that it is "useful" to let people get rich.

Did you catch the important word? It's "let". The implication of that one word is this: you are a cow, and you exist to be milked.

Reagan, Limbaugh and the rest of the Conservative movement have no reason at all to be frustrated at their continual failure to see their philosophy enacted in law. They concede the Socialist argument without contest. The Communist Manifesto is, "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." By their actions, the Conservatives embrace that credo, and all they seek to change is the fodder rations. They fight fire with fire and get burned every time.

Socialism is a perverse but consistent idea of humanity-as-herd. It cannot be fought with perverse but inconsistent ideas of humanity-as-herd - not Reagan's Utilitarianism nor Bush's Pragmatism. The contrary to the view of man as a cow to be milked is Individualism, the moral philosophy that argues that each individual person is sovereign in himself, that he solely owns his body and his mind and the wealth he produces from their use. That a human being is not a cow, and that even attempting to milk him of his property is a crime.

"Property is theft." Pierre Proudhon said that. You'll never hear Bill Clinton say it - out loud. But he says it loud and clear with his "deficit reduction plan" (sung to the tune of Pass the other udder). Hillary all but screams it in her vitriol against "profiteering" doctors. And the entire Liberal movement chants it as a mantra - it's what they mean when they say "privilege" and "fair share" and "windfall". They don't dare scare off the suckers by quoting Proudhon verbatim. But they quote him continuously nevertheless.

You'll know when the Conservatives have acquired the courage to actually oppose the Liberals when they dare to say, out loud, in the full light of day: "Taxation is theft."

In the meantime, here's hoping you find good fodder. I expect you'll need it...

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