We’re all socialists now, apparently. No, really — it turns out even the most rugged of the free marketeers have been coaxed by the coronavirus to fall into the government safety net.
The national press has been filled with stories this week about how the well-connected, the billionaires, the “white-shoe lobbying firms” and the most anti-government think tanks all got relief money under Congress’ $2 trillion coronavirus rescue act.
The latter includes no-new-taxes activist Grover Norquist, who infamously wants “to drown the government in the bathtub.” Also the libertarian Ayn Rand Institute, and anti-debt crusader Citizens Against Government Waste. All these groups that pillory big government suddenly found common cause in lining up to get a piece of one of the biggest government spending programs of all time.
And I’m actually OK with that. It’s what it was for — to provide a measure of relief to businesses in need, of any and all types. The Seattle Times got a Paycheck Protection Program loan, too — and we definitely didn’t head into 2020 thinking we’d be the recipient of government aid.
But I wonder whether this awkward moment will spark any internal reflection about the lift-yourselves-by-your-bootstraps, no taxes ever mantra that dominates the conservative political world.
Take, say, Washington state’s own free-market think tanks. The Washington Policy Center, a Seattle-based conservative group, got between $350,000 to $1 million from the federal relief program (the loans, which can convert to forgivable grants, were reported in ranges in data released Monday).
Meanwhile, here’s the philosophy the think tank uses to describe itself in its annual reports:
“We don’t receive government money. We don’t ask for it and we wouldn’t take it even if it were offered. WPC relies on the generous support of our donors — people like you who understand that free-markets are superior to a government rigged economy, and liberty is the air that a free people must breathe.”
Except for this one time, I guess. To keep on breathing those liberty vapors required being put on a government ventilator.
Or take the Freedom Foundation, a business-backed outfit out of Olympia. It’s been rallying against government spending and taxes since the early 1990s. Recently it’s been on a jihad against unions. During the pandemic it has called for governors to halt all public-sector union dues payments, on the grounds the union organizations don’t need the money and the workers do.
But unions specifically weren’t eligible for the paycheck protection program, so they were left to fend for themselves. Not so the Freedom Foundation, though — it got between $350,000 to $1 million from the federal relief fund, records show.
“We have a vision of a day when opportunity, responsible self-governance, and free markets flourish in America because its citizens understand and defend the principles from which freedom is derived,” the Freedom Foundation says on its website. “We accept no government support.”
Maybe just this one eensy-weensy time.
The laissez-faire capitalist Ayn Rand Institute, in California, went still further, rationalizing that going on the dole this one time would somehow strike a moral blow against big government.
“It would be a terrible injustice for pro-capitalists to step aside and leave the funds to those indifferent or actively hostile to capitalism,” it explained in a statement, titled “To Take, or Not to Take.”
Look, I’m a capitalist too, but what a crock all that is. As I said up top: It’s fine for any qualified business or association to get the relief money. Yes, even Kanye West, whose Yeezy clothing and footwear line got between $2 million and $5 million. Even the paid anti-government scolds. The program’s point was to disperse the money as rapidly and widely as possible, to keep the economy somewhat functioning during this pandemic. It did that — to more than 16,000 businesses in Washington state alone.
But “To Take, or Not to Take” — that is not the question. The coronavirus has shown, if nothing else, that we all sometimes need a little boost. We have just been treated to a national case study in how we all depend on strong governmental social and health safety nets — and not only when there’s a pandemic.
This is not about taking at all, or shouldn’t be. It’s about giving back — paying for basic good government — and then, sometimes, when you need it, receiving help.
So can we at least dispense now with the breath of liberty canards? The drowning the government in the bathtub nonsense? The whole no-tax bluster?
Because now we know: Even groups that put “freedom” right in their name have apparently concluded they’re A-OK with some big-government, debt-financed, taxpayer-backed collectivism after all.