The Object of Power

Dr. Malcolm Cross

As more and more Democrats embrace “Free College,” “Medicare for All,” and the “Green New Deal,” conservatives and libertarians wonder how this can be.  Don’t people remember the ravages of socialism?  

Some limited applications of socialism—local government ownership of utilities, or water production, for example—may be harmless and beneficial.  But government takeovers of whole industries?  At best, the public is condemned to scarcities of consumer goods, if central planners cannot estimate what needs to be made and in what quantities to satisfy consumer demand.  And if the goods are made by government-owned monopolies, they can be shoddy to the point of uselessness as well. But socialism can produce greater evils as well—government-induced poverty in Venezuela, slave labor camps and genocide in China and the late and unlamented Soviet Union.  

But the undeniable and historically documented evils of socialism seem to hold no fear for today’s advocates in the Democratic Party, including its Chairman, several of its leading presidential candidates, and some of its rising stars.  What gives?

Some may be too ignorant to know what they’re talking about.  It’s possible they’re confusing socialism, or “democratic socialism,” with the sort of social democracy prevalent in the Scandinavian nations.  The former means government ownership of the means of production, while the latter means simply higher taxes in exchange for more government benefits.

And it must be acknowledged that these policies need not necessarily require government ownership of the means of producing the promised services.  The Green New Deal calls for the retrofitting of all buildings with energy-saving features, the rejection of fossil fuels for renewable forms of energy, and the replacement of internal combustion engines with electric motors for cars, trucks, and other vehicles.  All of these could be accomplished with privately owned companies.  But the government would nonetheless have to impose stiff regulations and supply generous subsidies to have these policies implemented.  At the very least, these programs would require far higher taxes, far more spending, and far greater power for governments at all levels.

And maybe that’s the point.  Maybe those who seek power to advocate these policies are seeking power in part to have power for its own sake.  

In 1984, George Orwell’s novel about resistance to a totalitarian regime, the totalitarian interrogator explains to a dissident as he tortures him that “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake.  We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.  Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness:  only power, pure power…We know that on one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.  Power is not a means, it is an end…The object of power is power.”

This is not to suggest that advocates for the Green New Deal and other policies are motivated purely by power for its own sake.  Yet one must wonder why else they advocate policies which, whether they work or not, will supply those who will be charged with their implementation with so much power, and whether those who implement them will give up their power and allow policy changes or even outright abolition should these policies fail to achieve their intended goals.

And one must also wonder about signature Republican issues and policies as well.  For seven years the Republicans bashed Obamacare, claiming they had something better in store.  Yet when they won both the Congress and the Presidency in 2016, they produced—nothing.  Did they really care about repealing and replacing Obamacare at all?  Or were they simply bashing Obamacare to win more power?

And what about Republican-sponsored tax cuts?  But the cuts never generate what the Republicans promise—more dynamic economic growth which will produce sufficient revenue to pay for themselves.  Meanwhile, Republican tax cuts, and bipartisan spending increases, simply grow the deficit, and condemn us to higher taxes in the future to at least keep paying interest on the debt.  But promising tax cuts is a proven way to win and retain power.

So what can we do as citizens?  We still have the freedom to support those politicians who advocate more spending and/or lower taxes.  But we also still have the freedom to raise questions about  those who make unrealistic promises—we’ll save on health care with Medicare for All; we’ll raise more money with lower taxes—by asking what they will do if/when their policies fail to do as promised.  Will they give up?  Will they relinquish power to those who want to try different policies?  Do they care about policy outcomes at all?  Or is the object of power power?

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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