Paris-based writer and entrepreneur Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry warns readers in the latest edition of Commentary magazine that this country is transforming itself in ways that are uncomfortably familiar to the French.
In France, what ultimately defines a man’s worth is that he have some official status, whether it’s conferred by a degree from a prestigious institution, a secure civil-service job, a protected economic rent (an extra sum earned from the use of or access to a resource), or even a taxi medallion. Big government therefore becomes necessary not as an end in itself but because it distributes the rents to its subjects — and gives handouts to those who are left behind, lest they upset the apple cart, as has happened a few times in our history. Additionally, a free market must be limited to the degree that it threatens status. Thus the state becomes, in the 19th-century liberal philosopher Frederic Bastiat’s terrible phrase, a “fiction by which everyone lives at the expense of everyone else.” …
… The United States is heading down a similar path. The list of business and industrial sectors under direct or indirect government control is growing. Where once there was only a military-industrial complex to fear, today such complexes are in abundance. The government is deeply invested in everything, from the automobile industry to the energy sector, to big finance, to health care.
As in France, the primary danger is not the size of government spending as a percentage of GDP, the size of the Federal rulebook, or the level of taxation. The larger, more irreversible threat is that America is slowly becoming a kind of aristocratic society, in which success and status are attained not through merit but by the favor of the sovereign. The federal government’s throwing of more than a half billion dollars into the bankrput-bound solar-panel company Solyndra was not only a financial travesty (and a scientific and technological humiliation). It was also, and remains, a check on America’s historically unique potential for human progress. When the royal court bestows outsized gifts upon only those industries and parties that fit its definition of virtue — in this case, giving huge sums to green-energy insiders — then meritorious achievers of no official status suffer. And as the government’s definition of virtue becomes institutionalized via laws, “czars,” and all manner of executive action, the status system is made permanent and self-reinforcing. Louis XIV would be impressed.
Ah, yes, another commentator has found parallels between France’s autocratic Sun King and a man who believes that, because he is president, he can do whatever he wants.