Thursday, April 30, 2009

The AEI Wants Me to Be Happy

In a recent speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Charles Murray explained how the social safety net in Europe robs people of the chance to lead a meaningful life:
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality--it drains some of the life from them. It's inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it's so much fun to respond to our neighbors' needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won't get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met--family and community really do have the action--then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.

All I can say is that I sure am glad that I have Charles Murray and the American Enterprise Institute around to make sure that I have enough trouble in my life to keep it meaningful. Heaven forbid that I not have the deep sense of purpose that comes with worrying about losing my health insurance or watching my retirement go down the drain or struggling to figure out how I am going to get my kids through college. How empty my life would be without those concerns.

Just to make everyone's life even more full, maybe we could bring back some troubles that we were foolish enough to eradicate. Maybe we could bring back polio, small pox, and whooping cough so we could all enjoy the satisfaction of nursing a sick child back to health. Of course, losing a couple of children to disease makes a parent just appreciate the ones that are left that much more.

Human history has been a series of obstacles overcome starting with the first caveman who made a tool or started a fire. With each and every innovation, the next guy down the line had one less obstacle that he had to overcome and his life was a little easier. Although I tend to think that the supply of obstacles is inexhaustable, I suppose there may come a point at which the lack of obstacles makes it difficult for the next guy to live a meaningful life. Nevertheless, I remain skeptical of pompous blowhards from conservative thinktanks who have the unmitigated call to tell others what troubles they need to overcome in order for their lives to have meaning.

1 comment:

  1. Of course, for most of Murray's audience, the word "community" would be replaced by the word "estate."