More recently, a lot of us have become convinced that there is a different but equally striking split in this country, a matter of principles and assumptions rather than conventional economics or politics. It's a little harder to describe, and metaphors like "red states vs. blue states" are too fuzzy for careful discussion. Still, I think practically everyone, regardless of where they're located in the political galaxy, senses this grand canyon by now. And even if we can't agree on exactly how to define it, now and then I read or hear something that seems to embody it perfectly.
Such a revelation came last night as I was driving home with the radio tuned to the National Public Radio station. The program was "Marketplace" (NPR's idea of balance: the program is about business, so that means it's conservative, right?). It was a segment about Wal-Mart. Now, I can't say the following description is precisely accurate, because I wasn't concentrating on it, and at least part of my mind was concerned with preventing a violation of the law of physics which says that my car and another car cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
But the gist of the story was this: Wal-Mart had announced that it would be using its huge power over suppliers to force them to hire more diverse workforces. Got that? We are beyond the point where the government tells private companies that their employees shall consist of x percent of African Americans, y percent of Hispanics, z percent of Pacific Islanders, etc. Now, big companies can require other companies to meet diversity quotas.
NPR acknowledged that a little controversy had been kicked up by Wal-Mart's announcement, but it was not the kind of controversy that some of us might have expected. The mild debate wheeled around whether this was sufficient penance for Wal-Mart's being, well, Wal-Mart. "Let's at least give them credit for doing the right thing," was one sound bite.
It shouldn't have been surprising, but I experienced an almost physical sensation of culture shock. The network, the producer, the reporter, the interviewees — and probably 90 percent of NPR's listeners: none of them saw anything the least bit strange, let alone worrying, about private organizations being forced to select their personnel from among the vast catalog of Certified Victim Groups™. Nor is NPR particularly extreme: the segment could have been on practically any of the national radio or TV networks. It's a mainstream position.
But for many Americans, those whose outlook doesn't get much airtime, it is on the other side of a vast gash separating two fundamental ideas of the role of the state. The orthodoxy has shifted so drastically that the ordinary or moderate position is that the centralized state, and those it can cause to do its bidding, has both a right and a duty to make sure that private citizens live, speak, and even think in approved ways. In the period of cultural Stalinism we find ourselves in, only a minority, traditional conservatives, believes that the government's job is to protect citizens' lives and property, and perform a few other functions that don't readily lend themselves to capitalist competition. Otherwise, in this view, social progress as well as technological progress come about through individuals and voluntarily associated groups using their brains, experience, and creativity. There's no assurance that it will happen, but honest and deep progress can't be imposed by legislative and bureaucratic ordinances either.
The system we have now, which the "Marketplace" team believes is holy writ, is essentially how things worked in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. The government didn't own the businesses, it just directed them. Presumably the big manufacturers passed on the government's edicts to their subcontractors. In the case of the 20th century dictatorships, it was to strengthen the state. In our dictatorship of enforced equality, it's to strengthen the state — that is, to put a steel framework under multi-culturalism, which for today's Ministry of What's Good for You is the very model of national (or post-national) identity.
The biting irony is that the thumb on the scales isn't a necessary evil to check a worse evil. Do you seriously think that any company today refuses to hire anyone of any race, sex, sexual taste, religion, handicap, or country of national origin if that person could do as good or a better job than someone else, thereby smartening up the company's balance sheet? (Sure, for any given opening, there will be qualified people who don't make the cut, but that's as true for non–Certified Victims™ as for the Vestal Virgins of the protected orders.) Never mind: for "progressive" authoritarians, it's always 1960 in Mississippi.
So-called progressives are not only bullies on a power trip, they're also hypocrites. Later in the program, Robert Reich, the Labor Secretary under Clinton, was called on to give the sermon for the day, about big international companies that have factories in what is called the Developing World. He wanted them to insist that local workers, besides being paid a reasonable minimum wage, be allowed to join unions. Why unions? Because, Reich said, they should have the right to free association. I agree, they should. But if they deserve such a right, why don't organizations, labor and business, in these United States of America?
Vigilant Investor has similar thoughts on Robert Reich and the pseudo-free-market system:
No reader should be distracted to believing the U.S.A. is operating as a free market capitalist nation. No. It much more closely resembles, by definition, a blend of mercantilism and fascism, where major corporations and special interests are quasi government fixtures, running legislation in their favor while parasitically living off the masses. I personally prefer the term parasitic capitalism for what Reich pawns off as capitalism, pure and clean. The real solution to this problem, I’m afraid, was long ago dead in the water: stop the out-of-control government growth.