I read an article by Ezra Klein the other day, in the liberal American Prospect magazine (Yes, I do try to read both sides) called, "The Argument Over Inequality, The myth of individual exceptionalism may undermine society on the whole."
The title grabbed my attention, after all, I always believed that individual exceptionalism was a real thing. Since I was a child, I was sure that there were people in my family and in society who were exceptional in one way or another. Not only that, I have often thought that perhaps I was exceptional in one way or another, that I had something special to add to society. Yet Mr. Klein was here to tell me that actually, everything I thought about exceptionalism and personal achievement is wrong, and might actually be BAD for "society on the whole." Surprising.
Klein starts by using CBO numbers dishonestly to establish that our current system of capitalism is unfair:
"2006 is now the most unequal year on record. The number to remember is 5,800 percent. That's how much the incomes of the bottom 20 percent would have increased since 1979 if they had been given the same $863,000 pay increase as the average member of the top 1 percent.
That didn't happen, of course. Instead, the number was 11 percent, or $1,600. That was the raise given to the bottom quintile during the past 30 years. Altogether, it could almost buy you a Macbook Air. Almost."
Never mind that the "poor" is a fluid definition in America, as opposed to most other countries in the history of man where the class you were born into was most likely the class you'd die in. Never mind that people who are poor in America today often move up tommorrow if they work at it, and sometimes those who are rich today, aren't always so rich tommorrow, all thanks to our "unequal" system of capitalism.
Using Bell's invention of the telephone and Darwin's evolution research as examples, Klein goes on to suggests that it's simply not fair for a select few to reap rewards for various inventions. After all, every invention builds on the technology that comes before it, and often times there are "parallel inventions." Someone, sooner or later, would have invented the magic doohicky:
"That is often the dull reality of progress: It follows a comma rather than a paragraph break. A field of research achieves a critical mass of ideas and underlying concepts and the next step becomes clear to a number of experts. A mixture of timing, PR savvy, and aggressive legal representation decides the name that gets etched into the history books. But the credit, properly distributed, should really accrue to the collective knowledge and expertise of society."
Think about that for a second. "The credit, properly distributed, should really accrue to the collective…" But society didn't invent the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell did. And he didn't do it for the collective. He did it for his own selfish reasons and thank god for that. Bell gets the credit, and society gets to use the telephone.
The article gets worse from here, thankfully it's short. Like Mr. Klein's intelligence. The problem is that this "collective" versus "the individual" mindset isn't just Mr. Klein's bright idea. To use one of President Obama's favorite lyrical instruments, this "false choice" of collectivism versus individualism, is the stock in trade of the left. This idea is the root of what Obama was talking about when he was promising hope and change. Hope for all of those folks who don't push themselves to reach a higher level in life, change for those who do.
Call it "The Myth of American Unexceptionalism."
On the foreign policy front, President Obama has operated from a position of equanimity with the rest of the world's nations. In many ways, Obama actually positions the US as a bad actor in the international community – America has to gain forgiveness for it's actions from the rest of the world. Obama doesn't believe in American exceptionalism, unless by exceptionalism you mean exceptionally bad.
The truth could not be farther from reality. America has had it's foibles, we've certainly made mistakes. But on the whole, the international "community" if you could call it that, has a lot more to apologize for than we do. Never mind the miles long list of positives America has contributed to the world, as well as the less quantifiable benefits of our democratic nation's mere presence as a the sole superpower.
The leftist will stop me right here and make the tired claim that the "last eight years" have destroyed America's reputation abroad. But this common refrain cannot survive even a modest study. How exactly is that true and who is doing the judging? France's Sarkozy was friends with Bush, and may have a man crush on Obama. Germany's Merkel has been a long time ally with the US, pre-Obama and now post. The UK's alliance with the US has been unshakeable, and looks to continue that way for years to come, even if we do give their leaders thoughtless gifts. So who hates us really? Russia? Spain? Bitch, pleeeze.
Despite this, President Obama went on his apology tour and made clear that the dastardly actions of the past administration will not be carried forth in Obama's new America. The crowds liked it but in terms of yield, there has been no benefit thus far. On the other hand, Obama's relinquishing our role as the sole superpower and defering to a dysfuntional U.N., the resulting loss of America as a true beacon of hope and an inspiration for freedom and democracy, will have it's costs, both in terms of America's direct interests, as well as the progress of democratic progress throughout the world.
Obama's entire domestic platform is based on an overt sense of establishing unexceptionalism. Bailing out irresponsible borrowers and corporations on the backs of tax payers (most of which are considered "rich" or close to it) is yet another venture into the realm of unexceptionalism. After all, it's those who were responsible with their borrowing, exceptional by today's standards, who have to pay for the mistakes of the unexceptional, the irresponsible.
Obama's definition of fairness doesn't take personal acheivement into account at all, except in reverse. Obama wants to restore "fairness" to the tax code but his changes will mean an already lopsided contribution scheme will only get worse. Obama favors raising capital gains on the wealthy, even if it stymies investment, because (he says) it's fair. It's not fair to the investors, whom already likely pay more in taxes than fully 40 plus-percent of the populace. Nor is it fair to the market itself. So who is really gaining from this fairness? Truth be told, no one, and I guess in that respect you can call it fair. Yet all this fairness does is encourage people to be less exceptional.
But the biggest area in terms of inspiring America to be unexceptional is in President Obama's health care plans. Americans are so equal, so unexceptional in their individual merits, that access to health care should be equal regardless of what they contribute to society.
The left will call me heartless for not caring about the 50 million uninsured, they will say that Obama is only offering health care to those who don't have it and the rest of us can continue to use our existing health care plans. However, by providing a government sponsored alternative, employers have no reason to continue paying into a private sector health care system, and this will ultimately lead to it's demise. This will impact not just the quality of health care across the board but also the level of ingenuity and advancement, given to us by exceptional doctors and researchers, whose individual work has benefited the collective.
The very people Obama has forwarded to run with the government take over of America's health care industry invariably support rationing as the main means to lower costs. (Tom Daschle wrote about rationing health care extensively in his book). Rationing is the ultimate expression of unexceptionalism – we are all so damn terribly equal and unexceptional in our individualism. Mere drones in the bees nest we call America. Even if there was a 1 in 20 chance that a certain procedure might help, it will be stricken from the arsenal to reduce costs, in the name of what's best for the hive. Yet we are not bees.
Perhaps at a high enough altitude, such moves in order to reduce the cost of health care on the collective, in order to make it more available, sounds fair. But to the guy who put in exceptional effort throughout his work life, being denied treatment that might save his life, on the grounds of "comparative effectiveness research" isn't really fair to him or his family.
All of this to solve the problem of health care. But there are other solutions to providing care to the uninsured who need it, and lowering costs, without dismantling one of the great industries in America whose improvements to the collective American quality of life has been nothing short of exceptional (please don't get me started on the United States' WHO ranking, even considering it's high cost).
The lessons learned from communism and socialism directly refute the sorry ideas of the left and Mr. Klein. The great experiment that is America proves that individual and American exceptionalism has benefited the collective way more than any other invention in history, especially those created in the name of fairness. True fairness is freedom. Freedom to be selfish even.
Fact is, individual exceptionalism is responsible for every single great thing that we benefit from in our lives today. Up till now, America has celebrated and encouraged the individual who was exceptional. I'm hoping that this doesn't change or America's exceptionalism will truly become a myth.