Friday, April 24, 2009

The real nationalists

If stereotypes are to be believed the realm of nationalism is largely restricted to those on the political right. In popular culture the typical Republican is prone to wrapping themselves in the flag while loudly proclaiming "Love it or leave it" and "My country, right or wrong." There is at least a grain of truth to this, with your average Republican probably more given to displays of the flag, fondness for the military and overt displays of patriotism than your average Democrat.

I would argue, however, that some of the most fearsome practitioners of nationalism are actually to be found on the left. Democrats, for example, are far more likely to invoke nationalist sentiment to justify protectionist economic policies, citing the need to buy American-made products and protect American jobs. Just this week, meanwhile, it emerged that decisions about the repayment of federal bailout money will be made based on the ill-defined "national economic interest."

This pales, however, to the argument being advanced today by Princeton economics professor Uwe E. Reinhardt in the New York Times Economix blog:
If one views children primarily as the human analogue of their owners’ (i.e., the parents’) pets, then it follows that children’s health care is primarily the parents’ financial responsibility, although one might extend public subsidies to very poor parents to help them care for their children adequately. On this view it is just and proper that, of two households with identical incomes, the one with children will have substantially less discretionary income after necessities than does the childless household.

On the other hand, if one views children as national treasures — and the nation’s economic future — then it makes sense to make the health care of children the financial responsibility of society as a whole, just as is the financing of public elementary and secondary education. Why treat children’s education as a social good, but their health care as a private consumption good?

...We have about 3.3 working-age Americans per elderly American in this country now. According to the Social Security Trustees, that ratio will decline to close to about 2 by the 2030. In light of this trend alone, can anyone doubt that children really are precious? We should give medals to parents who have them, not penalize them financially.
This is legitimately scary stuff. Children are not national treasures. They do not belong to the state. They are not to be looked after by kindly old Uncle Obama. They are the wards of their parents.

At the risk of being found guilty of reductio ad Hitlerum I can't help but be shocked by Reinhardt's last sentence about awarding medals:
One of the earliest laws passed by Hitler once he came to power in 1933, was the Law for the Encouragement of Marriage. This law stated that all newly married couples would get a government loan of 1000 marks which was about 9 months average income. 800,000 newly weds took up this offer. This loan was not to be simply paid back. The birth of one child meant that 25% of the loan did not have to be paid back. Two children meant that 50% of the loan need not be paid back. Four children meant that the entire loan was cleared.

...August 12th had been the birthday of Hitler's mother. On this day each year, the Motherhood Cross was awarded to women who had given birth to the largest number of children. The gold cross went to women who had produced 8 children; silver was for 6 children and bronze was for 4 children.
While rather brazen this shouldn't come as too much of a surprise. After all there are indications that President Obama himself favors forcing children to provide free labor to the state in order to graduate from high school.

This is best explained as a rejection by many on the left of the primacy of the individual, instead preferring the dominance of the state. This is borne out of necessity. If one accepts that government's job is merely to protect life, liberty and property then many government functions become illegitimate. You can't simultaneously run someone's life while granting them self-determination.

The needs of the individual must be subjucated to the needs of the many. The needs of the many are defined by the chosen few. Such is government.

Update: At the risk of harping on this I have discovered that Spain under Francisco Franco also awarded medals for childbirth:

The Nazi one can be found here. Fascists sure seem big on this kind of stuff.

I just have a particularly hard time with this because Professor Reinhardt grew up in Europe and should know better.

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