As Moynihan said in this chapter’s epigraph, politics can change culture, on which a society’s success depends. But although politics can save culture from itself, it also can damage the culture. It has done so by destigmatizing dependency for the purpose of universalizing it. In this cultural context, there might even be a cultural contradiction in education, which is supposed to equip individuals for lives of confident independence. The more educated a nation becomes, the wealthier it is apt to become, and the wealthier it becomes, the more benefits its government can dispense to the citizenry. The wealthier the citizens become, the more they pay in taxes, and the more benefits they expect from government. So, although prosperity makes people confident and assertive, and gives them the means to be self-sufficient, it is not conducive to small government or to self-sufficiency. So perhaps democratic life undermines the prerequisites of democracy. It produces first a toleration of dependency, then a hunger for it, and finally an insistence that dependency is a fundamental right.

As dependency on government for various entitlements has grown, so has another kind of dependency. A perverse form of entrepreneurship is spawned as economic interests maneuver to become dependent on government-provided opportunities. As people become more deft at doing so, government becomes an engine of unearned inequality. This is especially a peril in successful societies. Mancur Olson warned that the longer a successful society is stable, the more numerous are the successful factions—not the poor, or the unemployed, or the new entrepreneurial risk-takers who are trying to gain a foothold against established competitors—who become deft at gaming the political system for advantages.61 These include domestic protectionism in the form of occupational licensure; or regulations that are more burdensome to newer and smaller entrants into a market than to large, wealthy corporations; or international protection in the form of tariffs and import quotas. More and more factions figure out how to prosper by achieving distributional advantages through politics. And society slowly succumbs to energy-sapping sclerosis. Prevention of this requires a political ethic that stigmatizes rent-seeking, and an engaged judiciary that is not too timid to declare some of these practices to be unconstitutional because they violate enumerated rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, and such unenumerated rights as the right to apply one’s talents to earning a living.


from Will, George F.. The Conservative Sensibility . Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.