I took this photo the other day in New York. Not on some forgotten sidestreet in the south Bronx, not north of 125th, but right in the middle of Manhattan. I passed him, as others did, and kept walking for a minute or two. Then, remembering this incident, I went back to see if I should call an ambulance. By that time the police had arrived. One of the cops asked someone how long he'd been there. The answer: "From earlier today."
During the past couple of years, I've posted several times (presciently, it turns out) about New York City's growing quality of life problem. At this point it's undeniable: from the explosion in panhandling and homelessness, to the traffic congestion, to a mass transit system that's embarrassingly decrepit and disgusting and bursting at the seams. To be sure, New York has always had "issues" even in the best of times. But the city is also a national bellwether, ever more so as the financial industry supplants manufacturing as this country's raison d'être. So the above scene reminded me of the debate in the second video clip here. Bernie Sanders's point, while obviously simplistic, is valid. No, you don't see people prostrate in the streets and ignored by passers-by in Stockholm, Oslo, or Helsinki (and we don't need to spend any time on why that's the case). But nor do you see it in dozens of other large Western cities, some of which rank higher on this list than any city in the U.S. And I may be wrong, but I bet you don't see it in central Beijing either.
Aside from the larger debate about capitalism and utilitarianism, there's a more immediate political issue. If conservatism aspires to be anything more than a debating society, it needs to stipulate that levees and bridges must be maintained and people cannot lie in the streets in broad daylight in the major cities. When Jonah Goldberg advised New Orleans residents to "grow gills" during the early hours of Katrina, it wasn't just bad burlesque. It represented the ceding of responsibility for government's most basic functions to the Left. To do this permanently, either expressly or via the de facto effect of economic policies, would be a terrible mistake. And, ideologically at least, it's unnecessary. Hayek in The Road to Serfdom:
... there are two kinds of security: the certainty of a given minimum of sustenance for all and the security of a given standard of life, of the relative position which one person or group enjoys compared with others. There is no reason why, in a society which has reached the general level of wealth ours has, the first kind of security should not be guaranteed to all without endangering general freedom; that is: some minimum of food, shelter and clothing, sufficient to preserve health. Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision.
Those of us who spent the past few years calling out the Titular Right didn't do so because we like taking long, warm showers with Democrats. It wasn't hard to see that the Republican claim on conservatism would discredit it and eventually lead to higher taxes, bigger government, and interference in free markets. The flawed economic policies imploded, and we got the latter two. The taxes will come next. This will be the legacy of the current administration and its enablers.
Recent events suggest that capitalism sometimes needs to be saved from itself. Looking at photos like the one above, it's hard not to think the same about conservatism.