Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Tony Judt's America

Tony Judt hates this country. Or more specifically, he hates the uniqueness of this country, and he wants to turn the U.S. into a European welfare state based on the socialist model.

And note something too. I have little doubt Judt would leverage his own personal illness to enthusiastically pimp the socialist model to guilt-ridden Americans and leftists equally addled by anti-Americanism. He gave a lecture at NYU on October 19th. He was able to deliver the talk despite the recent onset of a debilitating paralysis stemming from Lou Gehrig's disease. The blogger
Mondoweiss is practically weeping over Judt's lecture, postulating the professor as some benighted soothsayer of our socialist future. Mondoweiss says there was "real grief in seeing a great man so reduced by an illness that he has approached with a stiff upper lip."

Oh, God. Seriously, I hope Judt's not suffering. But boy are his views odious, and clueless to boot. The lecture's published at the New York Review of books. See, "
What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?" It's boilerplate radicalism, offering an updating version of the longstanding problematique on the left, "Why is there no socialism in America?" The discussion drones on typically, extolling the European welfare states and denouncing the "inequality" in America. But about half way down we get to this part:

Consider the 1996 "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act" (a more Orwellian title would be hard to conceive), the Clinton-era legislation that sought to gut welfare provision here in the US. The terms of this act should put us in mind of another act, passed in England nearly two centuries ago: the New Poor Law of 1834. The provisions of the New Poor Law are familiar to us, thanks to Charles Dickens's depiction of its workings in Oliver Twist. When Noah Claypole famously sneers at little Oliver, calling him "Work'us" ("Workhouse"), he is implying, for 1838, precisely what we convey today when we speak disparagingly of "welfare queens."

The New Poor Law was an outrage, forcing the indigent and the unemployed to choose between work at any wage, however low, and the humiliation of the workhouse. Here and in most other forms of nineteenth-century public assistance (still thought of and described as "charity"), the level of aid and support was calibrated so as to be less appealing than the worst available alternative. This system drew on classical economic theories that denied the very possibility of unemployment in an efficient market: if wages fell low enough and there was no attractive alternative to work, everyone would find a job.

For the next 150 years, reformers strove to replace such demeaning practices. In due course, the New Poor Law and its foreign analogues were succeeded by the public provision of assistance as a matter of right. Workless citizens were no longer deemed any the less deserving for that; they were not penalized for their condition nor were implicit aspersions cast upon their good standing as members of society. More than anything else, the welfare states of the mid-twentieth century established the profound impropriety of defining civic status as a function of economic participation.

In the contemporary United States, at a time of growing unemployment, a jobless man or woman is not a full member of the community. In order to receive even the exiguous welfare payments available, they must first have sought and, where applicable, accepted employment at whatever wage is on offer, however low the pay and distasteful the work. Only then are they entitled to the consideration and assistance of their fellow citizens.

Why do so few of us condemn such "reforms"—enacted under a Democratic president? Why are we so unmoved by the stigma attaching to their victims? Far from questioning this reversion to the practices of early industrial capitalism, we have adapted all too well and in consensual silence—in revealing contrast to an earlier generation.
What's infuriating first is Judt's complete disdain for and repudiation of work, that is, actual wage labor. It's practicallly a proposal for an unlimited dole. But more important is the total cluelessness, Judt's complete ignorance to the soulless wasteland that is the life of public assistance. Folks should just recall my earlier discussion of "Precious." That world of welfare, the face of the underclass in the years immediately prior to the passage of the Clinton administration's welfare reform, is what Judt extols.

Judt's paralyzed from the neck down. I pray he's not in pain, but I can't say a good word about his ideology, which would paralyze the country just as bad.


SeeMurphy said...

The life of public assistance is a soulless wasteland (or at least I presume it is... it certainly is one to watch) but so is the life of honest but underpaid labor. I wonder if there isn't a middle ground to be forged between you and Judt? Or do your and his positions have to be all or nothing? Just wondering.

Also, that movie Precious really made an impact on you, huh? ;-)