“A Heart, a Cross, and a Flag” were the things that Peggy Noonan saw “rise from the rubble” of post-September 11 America. By 2005, a very different set of emblems had emerged to animate the American imagination. Let us examine them, shall we:
A Dog: The “It Girl” Paris Hilton began schlepping a rat-like pooch around, and sticking her tongue in its trap at every opportunity. Celebrities and their copycats realized that Paris Hilton had accomplished much more than to match a filthy mind with a filthy mouth. She had launched a fad—an industry. Accessorizing with a Chihuahua has become “hot,” to quote the creature. (By “the creature” we mean Paris’s furry brain trust.)
A Kid: Angelina Jolie upped the ante and made it hip to wear an exotic, adopted ankle biter on the hip. Regular breeders who can’t afford couture kids should conceive their own. At least this artiste—Jolie rejects the “actress” or “entertainer” appellation, and insists she’s an “artist”—puts her money where her monstrous mouth is. This is more than we can say of Bono. (Is Bono short for Bonobo? Let me know.)
A Continent: Bono, a front man for a three-chord band of droners, has made Third-World countries a cool accouterment for chic, compassionate pickpockets. Bono’s method is to use his undeserved celebrity to get Western heads of state to transfer funds not their own into corrupt African coffers. For his philanthropy-by-proxy, this shakedown artist was named Time’s “Person of the Year.” As Paris would say, “That’s hot.”
Lord Peter Bauer, the foremost authority on foreign aid, advised against this pelf. Unlike Bono, Bauer was the recipient of a prestigious award: the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. To plagiarize myself, “Bauer was acutely aware of the importance to civil society of voluntary giving. Foreign aid he saw as ‘outside the area of volition and choice.’” Concerning the ‘morality’ of ‘taxpayer’s money compulsorily collected,’ he wrote:
[C]ontributors not only have no choice but quite generally do not even know they are contributing. It is sometimes urged that in a democracy taxpayers do have a choice, which restores the moral element to foreign aid. This objection is superficial. The taxpayer has to contribute to foreign aid whether he likes it or not and whether he has voted in its favor or against it.
In “Dissent on Development,” Bauer demonstrated analytically and empirically that foreign aid, being a government-to-government transfer, invariably empowers and consolidates bureaucratic fiefdoms, feeding the parasitic political class in the recipient and donor countries at the expense of the productive private sector. As these governments accrete, real GDP growth dwindles. Bauer, however, was never hot, as Paris and Bono would remind us.
“Freakonomics” is all the rage too. MSNBC reported that Jolie teamed up “with leading economist Jeffrey Sachs in an MTV documentary about Kenya’s economy.” Kenya has an economy? You don’t say. In the process of sexing up the subject of centrally planned, failed economies, Jolie has invented something. “That’s hot.”
Before she “volunteers” our hard-earned moolah (if she hasn’t already), Jolie should attempt to read Martin Meredith’s new book, “The State of Africa.” (Warning: Meredith is not hot.) As he sees it, Africa is rotten with endemic corruption and riven by tribal warfare. Other than enough hate to sustain civil wars in perpetuity, its splintered people lack any common purpose.
The continent is the only “one where people have become poorer over the past two decades,” despite billions in foreign aid. It is undeniable that no African nation has achieved a “level of prosperity significantly higher than existed under the previous, colonial regime. And political freedoms often diminished.” Africa reached its zenith, sad to say, under colonialism.
What would 2005 have been without the Hate-America Crowd? Yes, hating America is wildly in vogue among Bush and his devotees. Condi and acolytes, in particular, showcased their contempt for this country’s history by continually comparing the carnage in Iraq to the constitutional cramps of early America. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “There were a few glitches 200 years ago in Philadelphia too.” For its part, Fox News kept coupling George Washington’s name with Saddam’s slimy successors: à la mode, man!
No matter that faction fighting in Iraq is as old as the sand dunes. As James L. Payne has reminded those struck with historical Alzheimer’s, there are cultural barriers to democracy, chief of which is a high-violence society. Iraq is—and has always been—a society in which assassinations, riots and terrorism are viewed by a large segment of the public and its leaders as legitimate tools in a political struggle. Iraq is a high-violence society now. And it was one in the days of Sumer, Saddam, and in the millennia in-between.
Yes, the uncivilized hoots, hollers, and deadly blasts instigated by members of Iraq’s tribal troika capture to a tee the tone of the debates in, what’s that document called? The Fedayeen Papers?
Jalal (Talabani), Muqtada (al-Sadr), and Muhammad (Bahr al-Ulum) are just like James (Madison), John (Jay), and Alexander (Hamilton). Why didn’t it occur to me? Only a fool would fail to trace the philosophical link between the feuding Mohammedans and the followers of John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu.
In 2005, such hate speech was hot.
©2005 Ilana Mercer