Meanwhile, if Obama keeps his pledge to raise taxes on the top 10 percent of income earners (or even on the top 2 percent), he will give them enormous incentives to alter their behavior, so as to show lower income. Since the top 1 percent of earners pay over 35 percent of all income taxes paid by all Americans, any decline in their income means a steep decline in tax revenues. Obama seems to have no comprehension that raising tax rates at the top dramatically lowers revenue coming in. He will learn the hard way.
His policies on quasi-universal health care will change all the incentives in our current health system — and for the worse. Studies show that a high proportion of demands for health care are the result of personal behaviors — eating or drinking too much, not exercising enough, leading a dissipated life, not taking advantage of preventive care, spending health dollars heedlessly (because they are paid by the State, not the responsible individual).
Many older doctors will leave medical practice rather than become employees of the State, constantly regulated, badgered, and demeaned. The idea of medicine as a proud, independent, inventive profession will be profoundly wounded. In hospitals, paying benefits for patients (even if they practice irresponsible behaviors) will demand ever more dollars, which must necessarily be pulled out of research and invention. Long bureaucratic lists of those needing particular operations will force even the neediest patients to wait long months before they can get care.
Neither Obama nor his party seems to understand how incentives motivate human behavior — not force, not coercion, not mockery, not nursery-school regulation, but real possibilities of good fruits up ahead for free and responsible actions. They do not understand the wellsprings of a virtuous, free, and prosperous society. They are still entangled in the fantasies of the European Left of 150 years ago.
Thus, Obama is now the creature and the prisoner of the American far Left, which has learned nothing from the failures of socialist and statist and anti-capitalist ideas during the past hundred years. Many leftists learn nothing, know nothing, and propel themselves not with practical wisdom, but with outrage and contempt and a desire to punish those who do not agree with them.
My friend himself thought, he finally revealed, that the West has come to an epochal axial point in history. From now on, economic and political progress would grow far less quickly than ever before, and a long-lasting, precipitous decline is about to begin. Overseas, and also at home.
Morally, too, virtue and character and responsibility for oneself would be mocked and discouraged. The State would take over more and more of life. Although licentiousness would be glorified on big screen and small screen (the Democrats favor the Hollywood view of the world, and vice versa), neither self-directed liberty nor self-mastery nor responsibility for the consequences of one’s own behavior would be encouraged. These would be treated as retrograde ideas. All virtue would be attributed to the motherly caring State — and to its political managers. Woe to the “right-wing” dissenters!
Well, maybe I am wrong. But that is how I see things, admittedly through a cloudy glass.
My only two suppositions are (1) that Obama will do exactly what he now says he will do; and (2) that we may dimly discern the consequences likely to flow from his words and actions, based upon what we have seen happen in other decades and other generations.
My most hopeful moments derive from imagining that Obama, as president, will be dissuaded from acting as he now says that he will. In that way, God will once again take care of those who are drunk on statist illusions, and He will once again take care of the United States, despite itself. It is when I take Obama at his word that pessimism floods over my heart.
– Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Novak’s own website is www.michaelnovak.net.