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The Pork Ethic - PDF - / Send As Email
The Culture of Spending, by James L. Payne
by Brian Doherty
In Reason, April 1992, p. 53 - Previous Article / Next Article

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hemselves against a taking of property
or a vauntedly public purpose. The un-
ortunate demise of Poletown, then, is not
ittributable to a proliferation of "strident"
ind "simplistic" rights demands; it is
lirectly traceable to the erosion of respect
or traditional property rights.
What we need is not a reformed politi-
:a1 discourse that moves further away
'rom invocations of rights but rather one
hat soberly yet insistently reaffirms the
ximacy of those foundational rights that
were and remain the crux of classical lib-
xalism. Glendon, however, fails to pick
up this obvious cue. Why? I am convinced
it is because her ideological senses have
been dulled by listening too much to a
simplistic public discourse, though de-
cidedly not the discourse of rights.
Rights Talk situates itself within the
"communitarian" strand of social philos-
ophy. Communitarians cudgel liberals
with the accusation that the latter pay
insufficient heed to the need of persons to
forge lasting ties within a context of
small-scale associations that afford them
the values by means of which they can
The Pork Ethic
orient themselves and lead meaningful
lives. Although enjoying considerable
current philosophical vogue (perhaps in
virtue of filling the vacuum on the left
created by the gradual withering away of
academic Marxism), this critique has
never been developed with more than
sloganistic appeal.
Communitarian theory rests on a bogus
opposition between liberal pluralism and
individuals' ability to forge strong bonds
with others. But as the Poletown scenario
suggests, liberal rights to noninterference
complement rather than clash with claims
of community. The value of being left
alone does not apply only to what Glendon
calls the "lone rights-bearer"; it is no less
crucial to those whose sense of self is
sustained through intimate relations with
others. Simplistic rights talk is bad rights
talk, but simplistic community mongering
is no improvement.
Contributing Editor Loren E. Lomasky, a
professor of philosophy at Bowling Green
State University, is the author of Persons,
Rights, and the Moral Community.
The Culture of Spending, by James L. Payne, ICs Press, 225 pages, $24.95
unaway public spending is the one R fact that advocates of limited
government can't wish away with rhe-
toric about turning tides of ideology or
sea changes in cultural values. It is a
bottom line staring them in the face,
blood red.
Fiscal conservatives have a pretty stan-
dard explanation for why we always end
up with growing spending, growing taxes,
and a growing gap between the two, even
though everyone hates deficit spending in
principle. This explanation can be reduced
to a couple of catchphrases: "concentrated
benefits and diffuse costs" and "vote-
maximizing congressmen." Both are off-
shoots of the public-choice school of
economic thinking.
James L. Payne's The Culture of
Spending attempts to modify the former
explanation and debunk the latter. The
shibboleths that Payne assaults have a
certain tidiness and emotional appeal.
They enable us to blame government's
fiscal predicament on classic, evil mo-
tives that are readily grasped and per-
sonified: the greed and power lust of
individual legislators. It's easy to see
members of Congress as cinematic vil-
It's harder to see them as Payne por-
trays them: well-meaning, though slightly
hapless, guys and gals just like us, who
tend to believe what the evidence they see
indicates. And, as Payne painstakingly
shows us, the evidence congressmen see
overwhelmingly tells them one thing:
Government programs are good-all of
them, pretty much all the time.
As an Appropriations Committee
staffer tells Payne, the ratio of prospend-
ing to antispending testimony that the
average congressman hears or sees in
committee hearings, mail, and visits to
his office is "several thousand to one."
Payne escorts the reader through the in-
tellectual odyssey of acongressman in his
first chapter, letting even the most hard-
nosed antispender see that, without the
inoculation of a firm and fully considered
antistate philosophy, the average congress-
man-honest, willing to learn, essentially
of decent and humane character-will turn
into a red ink machine.
Hour after hour, day after day, year
after year, and eventually decade after
decade, congressmen hear practically
nothing but testimony on the necessity -
The evidence
congressmen see tells
them one thing:
Government programs
are good-all of them,
pretty much
all the time. -
and efficacy of every government pro-
gram there is. The evidence is compel-
lingly presented, backed up by hard
numbers and complicated cost-benefit
analysis, and says one thing and one thing
only, over and over again: Spend on this,
spend on this, spend on this. Sure, every-
one knows that "government spending is
out of control"; but this specific program
being voted on right now always has the
weight of evidence in its favor. This ines-
capable aura of prospending persuasion
is what Payne calls "the culture of spend-
ing," and a congressman is immersed in
it from his first day in office to his last.
It matters not that the evidence pre-
sented is often trumped-up or that the
analysis of program efficiency is always
done by people with a vested interest in
continuing the program. No independent
force outside this culture (including the
press) is trying to tell Congress any differ-
ent. Adherents of the culture of spending
always rule the day.
APRIL 1992 reason 53
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