The first step on the road to America’s reform

This site has had many discussions about reforming America.   How to put us back on the path to security, prosperity, and freedom.  Recalling who we are.  The need is admitted by all, but the means — the process of reform — remains unclear.

I have suggested several ways this can run, but none have been convincing.  Not to me.  Not to most folks posting comments.  The most difficult step is the first, and so far none can see how to spark the process.  This posts takes another shot at finding a solution.

  1. The problem
  2. A first step to a solution
  3. The second step to a solution
  4. Afterword, and For more information about these questions

(1)  The Problem

America needs reform, as our citizens become passive consumers of government services.  Become sheep, unable to make the mental and moral effort required to run the Constitutional machinery.

Under a republican form of government the citizenry supposedly accepts the responsibility for managing its own affairs, but over the last quarter of a century the heirs to the American fortune have lost interest in the tiresome business of self-government. Rather than vote or read the Constitution – a document as tedious as the trust agreements that the family lawyers occasionally ask them to sign — the heirs prefer to go to Acapulco or Aspen to practice macrobiotic breathing. They have better things to do with their lives than to be bothered with the details of preserving their freedom. They spend their time making themselves beautiful, holding themselves in perpetual readiness for the incarnations promised by the dealers in cosmetics and religion.

…  By abdicating their authority and responsibility, the sovereign people also relinquish their courage.

— From “The Precarious Eden”, published in Money and Class in America, Lewis Lapham (1988)

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Unfortunately, the class that has led America — and done so well during our first two centuries — appears to have lost interest in the project.  They prefer to skim their profits off the top, and hope the ship of state drifts along in the trade lanes (and stays off the rocks).  Reform must come from us, not them.

Who and what is America? How is it possible to sustain the promise of democracy without the revenue to pay for all the degrees of subsidy and entitlement? If the federal bureaucracy in Washington is incompetent as well as corrupt, is it because the constitutional machinery has broken down, or because the ruling and possessing classes had decided that the practice of democratic government was both a risk and a luxury that they were no longer willing to finance?

… The task of restoring belief in the democratic idea — as opposed to promoting the ritual fictions of sham democracy made of Fourth of July speeches and editorials in USA Today — presupposes the collaboration of an oligarchy that sees some advantage in the enterprise.

— From “Democracy at Bay”, published in The Wish for Kings, Lewis Lapham (1993)

(2)  The first step to a solution

It’s not a new discussion, and has obsessed Europe’s Left for generations.  The form of their discussion is foreign to us, but we can learn much by ripping it free from its original context, much as America’s Founders did with the political theory of their time.

Weber points us toward Nietzsche as the common source for serious thinkers of the twentieth century. He also tells us what the single fundamental issue is: the relation between reason, or science, and the human good. When he speaks of happiness and the last man, he does not mean that the last man is unhappy, but that his happiness is nauseating. An experience of profound contempt is necessary in order to grasp our situation, and our capacity for contempt is vanishing.

Weber’s science presupposes this experience, which we would call subjective. After having encountered it in Nietzsche, he spent the greater part of his scholarly life studying religion in order to understand the non-contemptible, those who esteem or revere and are therefore not self-satisfied, those who have values …

— From The Closing of the American Mind, chapter “Values”, Allan Bloom (1987)

The first step is not knowledge.  Not logic.  But rage, contempt at what we have become.  From that other things can flow, good or bad depending on our character.

“Anger is easy. Anger at the right person, at the right time, for the right reason, is difficult.”
— Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, book IV, chapter 5 (lightly paraphrased)

“Telemachus, now is the time to be angry.”
— Odysseus, when the time came to deal with the Suitors. From the movie The Odessey (1997)

In this case the time is now.  The reason is the preservation of our nation.  The target is ourselves, how we have become less than we were.  Less than we should be.  Less than we can be.

This is the opposite of most proposals offered today, which suggest blaming some combination of the world, the rich, the poor, terrorists, foreigners, or whatever.  Or our leaders, who don’t kiss our boo-boos and cut the cake unfairly.  Everybody is responsible, except us.  Folks proposing such views suggest that we adopt the attitude of alarmed cattle.  Or mice.

(3)  The second step to a solution

The second step:  accepting responsibility for our fate, our lives.  Others might be enemies or obstacles, but we must stand upright to begin walking the road to reform.

(4)  For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Posts about America — are we sheep?

  1. Americans, now a subservient people (listen to the Founders sigh in disappointment), 20 July 2008
  2. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile, 21 July 2008
  3. The American spirit speaks: “Baa, Baa, Baa”, 5 August 2008
  4. We’re Americans, hear us yell: “baa, baa, baa”, 6 August 2008
  5. This crisis will prove that Americans are not sheep (unless we are), 8 January 2009
  6. About security theater, a daily demonstration that Americans are sheep, 25 January 2009
  7. Are we citizens? Or peasants?, 21 May 2009

Posts on the FM site about solutions, ways to reform America:

  1. Diagnosing the Eagle, Chapter III – reclaiming the Constitution, 3 January 2008
  2. Obama might be the shaman that America needs, 17 July 2008
  3. Obama describes the first step to America’s renewal, 8 August 2008
  4. Let’s look at America in the mirror, the first step to reform, 14 August 2008
  5. Fixing America: shall we choose elections, revolt, or passivity?, 16 August 2008
  6. Fixing American: taking responsibility is the first step, 17 August 2008
  7. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
  8. What happens next? Advice for the new President, part one., 17 October 2008
  9. What to do? Advice for the new President, part two., 18 October 2008
  10. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  11. Sources of inspiration for America’s renewal, 23 April 2009

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97 thoughts on “The first step on the road to America’s reform

  1. I would argue that the America’s “leadership class” has been pushed out of public office by professional politicians. No longer can a wealthy, educated, high minded individual, moved by current events take a few years off to “donate” her time in Washington. She must switch careers and become a professional politician as well.

    The only way out of this mess is term limits. With the fox guarding the chicken house, that is unlikely.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: California State officials have been subject to term limits since 1990. Almost 2 deacdes ago. While I do not believe this has made things worse, it does not appear to have helped.

  2. Isn’t the freedom of speech even more vital than ever? Basically those of us who still see America as the best idea for government man ever had have to become like the child telling the Emporer he has no Clothes. Only it is harder than the children’s story, because a lot of the adults in the crowd are naked too.

    Craig Nelson was on Glenn Beck last night and said he was “mad as hell, and not taking it anymore.” His interview was great, I thought, a bright spot in the day.

  3. Well, good. That gets us to step 2 of the well-known Gnomes’ Underpants Business Plan. (Sorry to step down from Weber and Bloom in allusive pedigree, but you said we should think in terms of a new American iteration of Nietschean principle, and South Park is what we’ve got right now.)
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This might be the best of thread! From Wikipedia:

    The Underpants Gnomes’ Business Plan
    Phase 1: Collect Underpants
    Phase 2: ?
    Phase 3: Profit!

  4. I was struck by the phrase “presupposes the collaboration of an oligarchy that sees some advantage in the enterprise.” I think that idea needs development. What can be done to make the idea of rescuing our republic, our self reliance, our Constitution, attractive to oligarchs? The present group is fine with the status quo and anxiously pushing for expansion. From whence come these new oligarchs?

  5. “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury.”
    — Attributed to Professor Alexander Tytler (1747-1813)

    Our form of government is evolutionary, folks…facile little fixes like term limits, campaign finance reform and the like are useless in the face of the ever – expanding magic of getting something for nothing. Draw your own conclusions, if you are strong enough. Ponder the whole concept as laid out by this now – obscure Pommy lawyer from the late 18th Century, if you really want to ruin your day.
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    FM note: The Wikipedia entry reflects the consensus of historians that this is a manufactured quote with its origin in 1943. Still, it is a powerful insight.

  6. So much to ponder. As thinking people we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that the political class can reform itself or the gov’t; the slow but increasing decline on which America now coasts actually serves elected officials quite well. Certainly there are exceptions, but in general politicians can be expected to follow the safe and easier path, which given the current state of political incentives result in the sacrificing national principles for short term personal perks and power. This is just human nature given the incentives – who can miss that even Murtha’s corruption has no political cost? Term limits might help, but without an engaged citizenry over time they will simply cause power to shift toward career gov’t employees or lobbyists. Congress often doesn’t read the laws it passes in the current state.

    There is the beginnings of a populist revolt in the tea party movement. Most of the local organizers seem to have shunned politicians of both parties except persons who’ve individually proven their fiscal bona fides. The sheer magnitude of the added debt this year is enough to enrage a critical mass of citizens, and so like Odysseus now is the time to be angry. From that fiscally angereed mass we have a chance to re-build a broader and active role for citizens in their self-government. IMHO, the tea party movement is the best opportunity since Reagan to reverse the adverse trend Fabius speaks of. If you agree, then take an active role in tea parties near you to make sure the movement becomes a huge success, this summer and beyond. If you don’t agree, I’d love to hear problems with my theory and/or alternatives.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: While the activism of the Tea Parties is good, their protest seems to me part of the problem. As I understand it, these protest taxes to pay for the spending (and esp the latest round of spending), but not the secular deficits that are the core problem. As such they are like folks who enjoy fine dining but refuse to pay the bill.

    When we have protests of spending on themselves as well as others, then we will see a sea change. Like seniors voting to means-test social security. Farmers against crop supports. Everybody against excess defense spending (i.e., a DoD budget the size of total spending by potential enemies, not total spending of the world).

  7. Cottus, I LOVE that Liberty Quote Library site. Thanks. Here’s a quote I saw there by Frederick Douglass which hopefully will put some fire in all our bellies to take bold action instead of waiting for others to do it for us:

    “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle! Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will. Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either rods or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

  8. “They have better things to do with their lives than to be bothered with the details of preserving their freedom. They spend their time making themselves beautiful, holding themselves in perpetual readiness for the incarnations promised by the dealers in cosmetics and religion.”

    This could describe the Western Roman Empire in the 400s AD – just before the collapse.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Now that’s a disturbing comparison.

  9. Fabius, I know you aren’t a fan of Tom Hayden, but honestly his description of how people start or join political movements seems applicable to what you’re looking for (excerpts from “Movements Against the Machiavellians” by Tom Hayden):

    … the participants are inspired (“in the spirit”) in ways they have not experienced before. In [Tom] Paine’s terms, their great “mass of sense” (the talents which lie beneath the surface of their apathy) is awakened, and they become emboldened to live at risk. …

    … Grievances must exist for a movement to arise, but the inner desire motivating a social movement is for something more than a cup of coffee or wage increase. It is a desire to heal wounds inflicted on intrinsic dignity. The activist cannot take it any more, on the one hand; feels newly empowered, on the other. …

    … Social movements begin and end in memory, the recovered memory of half-forgotten past movements and mythical figures like Moses which motivate and locate the participants in history. The Machiavellians seek either to erase memory with amnesia, or co-opt memory to serve the mainstream. …

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    Fabius Maximus replies: I am just jealous that he married Jane Fonda. This is a great quote!

  10. FM: “Unfortunately, the class that has led America — and done so well during our first two centuries — appears to have lost interest in the project.”

    I disagree. The political class did not lead America for the first two centuries. They skimmed a bit but stayed out of the way. However, the skim grew over time. And they decided to take a more active role. Either one eventually leads to a bad end. What are the odds that the combination will be good?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t know what you mean by “political class.” America has been and continues to be led by its rich. Note the high incidence of dynasties (e.g., Adams, Kennedy, Bush), the role of wealthy donors in political campaigns, and a thousand other ways.

  11. Rome is falling, the senate is corrupt, but at least the right thing is happening: The barbarians are swarming in, and they will refresh the weakened blood of the nation.

  12. The reason why you can’t find satisfactory solutions to your problem is you are aiming at the wrong targets. You see the problem is need for reform. That’s a type of solution, not a problem. We have seen the collapse of individual and social responsibility, public and private morality, a coarsening of society and our political class reach out with both hands to enrich themselves, their families, staffs, friends and now and then, you and me. Those are problems. The solution is reform, but the reforms needed are going to be basic and targeted at the real problems.

    And, from my point of view, worse is the idea that “The first step is not knowledge. Not logic. But rage, contempt at what we have become. From that other things can flow, good or bad depending on our character.” This is Bakunist logic: let’s blow everything up and maybe when the pieces come down we can make it into something of our liking. That, too me, is too chancy — not to mention it looks a lot like what the President is intent on.

    I’m in favor of an orderly, more directed process.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Your inference is not correct. Just because the process starts with anger does not lead to “blowing everything up.” Perhaps among Zen Buddhists serere contemplation leads to effective action, but not in America. We need stronger sources of motivation.

    ” not to mention it looks a lot like what the President is intent on.”

    What is your basis for this statement? For example, both his economic and national security policies continue those of the Bush Administration.

  13. What I cannot for the life of me understand is why the rough men with guns who protect this society, most of whom indeed take responsibility for their actions and their lives (and ours) continue to be willing to put their lives on the line when they see the leftist wrecking crew at work here at home destroying the economic fabric of the country and assaulting the very Constitution they have sworn to uphold and defend.

    This is not as senor tomas writes above, the Western Roman Empire in the 400s AD, rather it is the late Roman Republic in the first century BC. Unfortunately, the emerging leadership which has enrolled the mob on its side are not military geniuses like Caesar and his nephew Octavian, but the epigoni of the epigoni of Marxist theoreticians and dictators, the small men against whom Emerson warned us in Self-Reliance.

  14. re: Gina Marie comment #13

    And, from my point of view, worse is the idea that “The first step is not knowledge. Not logic. But rage, contempt at what we have become. From that other things can flow, good or bad depending on our character.” This is Bakunist logic: let’s blow everything up and maybe when the pieces come down we can make it into something of our liking. That, too me, is too chancy — not to mention it looks a lot like what the President is intent on

    I must say I agree with Fabius Maximus on the first step. Logic, reason, are needed but won’t cut it by themselves. Direction is great, but first you have to have something to direct. What’s lacking is a spirit, a consciousness. Rage, says FM. Or energy. Whatever it is that’s needed, it’s outside the normal system, so from the standpoint of someone within the system, it’ll look irrational.

    And you’re quite right that it’s risky. Any social change is risky.

  15. I think the premise is slightly mistaken. Government itself began as bandits discovered that it was more profitable to remain in the farming villages they raided. By agreeing to take only a portion of the crop or other produce–instead of killing or enslaving everyone they could grab and making off with all of the goods and produce in inventory at the time of raiding–they settled down to the real business of parasitically taxing their “constituents” and warring with rival bandits who wanted to steal away those same “constituents.”

    Dress it up however you want, with theories of divine right or materialistic determinism or national pride or social democracy, wipe the public-service patina off of any government and you are left with the same warlords who prey upon their own people.

    What has changed in America is not the government, but the growing acceptance of the citizenry of nascent serfdom. Formerly self-reliant citizens beguiled by promises of free services, paid for by taxes on rival factions or “debt” best ignored, enter the cycle of dependency, and shoudl not be surprised when they wake one day to discover that they have sold their inheritance for a few shekels.

  16. Put the Tali-Banksters in jail!

    Economist James Galbraith son of John Galbraith has often been a lone voice in exposing how our money was and is being stolen, but no one is being held accountable, like was done during the 1980’s Savings and Loan disaster. What are the Tali-Banksters doing now. Borrowing from the Fed at Nothing and buying Treasury Notes and collecting interest, risk free.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: They are not in jail because they have not broken any laws. This was done by folks with the political power to change the laws (i.e., allowable leverage by investment banks) and influence the gatekeepers (i.e., the rating agencies, the regulators) to obtain approval for their actions. Wrecking our Constitutional order to obtain vengence is IMO a bad trade. And your children would probably curse you for making it, as they lived with the probably horrific consequences.

  17. A violent revolution against intrusive government, every day, is become more imminent, more necessary and more efficacious. As far as I’m concerned, every Senator and Congressmen who voted for that stimulus bill is a candidate for a bullet through the head.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: It’s a weakness of our system that we must wait until folks like this “anonymous” take action on their violent fantasies to thrown them in jail. They are a threat to the very core of America, against which we must all remain vigilent.

  18. As for solutions, I cannot think of one better than requiring citizens to internalize the cost of the “public services” they are offered. TANSTAAFL. The theory of the modern federal state (in the US and EU) is to create apparent externalities–to beguile citizens into believing that the government is providing a free lunch by taxing rivals or long-distant peoples. The people of, say, New York or Italy receive services paid for by Floridians or Germans, and it should be no surprise that they would want more. Politicians in Italy and New York reap rewards of these free lunches, while the politicians in Germany or Florida diffuse the blame by noting (correctly) that it was the US or EU government–not them–who raised those taxes. With authority (and blame) diffused, politicians are free to engage in old-time patron-client spending – creating clients to them and their institutions by taxing others.

    The way forward is thus simply described but difficult to implement. Start with the individual states – stop accepting bribes from the federal governments, stop spending money on federal programs, stop Medicaid in the US, stop with the education loans, stop with the highway money, stop accepting all federal money, period. Obama and his ilk screamed bloody murder when South Carolina and a few other states hinted that they would reject some of the federal bribes sent their way–that alone is proof that power is built on such bribes.

    Then go one step further-use state power to outlaw state and local agencies from receiving federal money-no Brady Bill money, no education money, nothing. Cut all of the apron strings.

    That done, stop cooperating with the feds. No more local deputization with federal police agencies – no more allowing the FBI to share office space with local police, no more investigation cooperation, no more enforcing federal laws with state and local police. Stop providing federal politicians with state and local police protection when they travel through your state, stop offering them venues at state-owned places.

    In short, isolate the federal government. Force it to do what is strictly allowed by the constitution, rather than what it can achieve through bribes. And without the easy bribery of states, the federal politicians will have a harder time engaging in pork-barrel spending, a harder time winning reelection by spending other peoples’ money.

    That’s just the start – eventually, force every locality to stand on its own feet, break up the big counties and cities to make municipal government smaller (in terms of voter population) and more important (because they would set real policy, rather than just spend the federal and state manna).

    Once the spending and taxing is determined locally, then people will feel the real pain of spending, and will know whom to blame. But like every junkie, breaking the addiction must start with a decision to stop putting needles in arms.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: With such widespread public opposition to the government, we could far more easily just vote reforms. Why bother with the rest of this? Also, this misses the key point of the discussion: there is not widespread opposition to the government, but increasing comfort among Americans with a state of passivity.

  19. FM: “The first step on the road to America’s reform. “Unfortunately, the class that has led America — and done so well during our first two centuries — appears to have lost interest in the project. They prefer to skim the profits off the top, and hope the ship drifts along in the trade lane (and stays off the rocks). Reform must come from us, not them.

    … is one of the most singularly true short paragraphs I’ve ever read. Your lashing together these select words in this order explicitly defines what pisses off the majority of us average Americans who don’t have access to the dials levers and switches of Power.

  20. Alcibiades, there is much merit in constraining the federal government so that the national politicans can’t pit one group of Americans against another, either explicitly or through dispersement of benefits. That was a hopeful result behind Gingrich’s devolution of responsibility from the fed to states in the 90’s. But re-invigorating federalism is far from what we can accomplish in the near term. I think it was the Warren court that first concluded that there was a distinct spending power in the Constutution, so whatever Congress could spend money on was within its power even if that thing were not an enumerated power. Whichever court it was, it is now well entrenched that there is only a faint bit of federalism left.

    Fabius it seems wants to expoore just how we can get to the point where we can implement things like you suggest. Thoughts?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: We appear to lack the willpower (or capacity) to run the existing Constitutional machinery. I do not understand how tinkering with that machinery will make any substantial difference. Esp as the Consitutional has evolved (and this process will accellerate) a purely procedural document, providing a playing field on which our ruling elites compete with one another. It role to limit the government is dead. For details see Forecast: Death of the American Constitution (4 July 2006).

  21. I’m not sure that it’s possible to isolate the feds, unless your state finds a way to prevent them from collecting federal income taxes. It’s a very high burden to pay for things twice — once as a federal service and again on your own.

    Some of us already do this, when we send our kids to private school or homeschool. Some of us have already chosen to try to starve *that* beast and not be a part of it. But I’m not sure a state full of people will have the ability to fund the feds while still funding all their own stuff on their own. Especially with some sort of godforsaken VAT, which is apparently on the table. I mean, I’m all for sacrifice, because I think freedom is worth it… but you would have to have a heck of a reliable shadow system to pull it off, I think. And the state would have to protect the citizens and support the shadow system.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: These are fantasy theories, assuming massive public support for extreme actions. As I said, under such conditions the ballot box would work more easily and effectively. But this fantasy is a receipe for elephant soup: first you must catch an elephant.

  22. While a bit of a digression, I believe it’s worth pointing out that the tea parties primarily protest spending and what looks like rapidly increasing socialism or at least corporatism. The MSM and other commenters have succeeded in painting the movement as protests by a privileged class against taxes. Thus, on the main subject of this page and apropos of comment 7., perhaps the movement is worth considering as something to be directed. I’m not sure, though, since the tenor of this website suggests that avoiding government growth and entitlements is not necessarily the goal. Have I misread?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, somewhat. The US has run by a mutated version of Keynesian economics: run big deficits, all the time. Rather then deficits during downturns, offset by surpluses during booms. It’s even worse when including unfunded promises (like government pensions, Social Security and Medicare). The combo will be lethal, eventually. But its not something that can be fixed during a recession, esp one that is by some metrics the worst since the 1930’s.

  23. First – Narcissism
    Second – Decadence
    Third – Entitlement
    Fourth – Socialism
    Fifth – Downfall

  24. I read the Federalist Papers and could agree with Hamilton’s reasons for a minimally effective government. But on rereading Jefferson, I would say he did understand Hamilton, and still wanted a minimal and incompetent government. That is, pre-civil war america.
    * State vs state, the population free to move.
    * At the federal level, a supreme court with few cases to hear, a congress with very little tariff money to spend, an executive with a tiny cabinet.
    * At the state to federal level, senators selected by the state legislatures.
    * At the state level, landowners as the voters. The national guard. Organizations such as FED, SEC, OSHA, EPA, FDA, etc.

    A short bit of reading: “The First Leftist“, Dean Russell, Ludwig von Mises Institute, 29 May 2009

    Additonal thought: The chinese government uneven handling of provinces. Perhaps a deliberate experiment to see what works and what does not. Last: The swiss are mentioned in the Federalist Papers.

  25. First, I think it would be apropos to include Seneca’s post from the other thread which inspired this one.

    Second, there is an important difference between ‘contempt’ and ‘rage’. Contempt is combines disapproval with restraint and suggests the ability to not ‘buy what is being sold’, so to speak. Rage is an altogether different dynamic that suggests no longer being able to contain, i.e. a tendency to explode.

    Logically I find there is a lack of cohesion between the first section which goes into the relative input of either the elites or the citizenry and then the values/happiness section under Solutions which follow.

    Before reading this and in response to the Seneca comment in the ‘Greatest Swindle’ thread, I was trying (playfully) to work out a quasi-mathematical formula that would balance organisational metrics with overall value system dynamics. Perhaps it can be done (though I doubt it because of too many unquantifiable variables) but it was an interesting exercise. The (highly deficient) formulas I came up with ended up taking similar inputs but changing them slightly for General Citizens and Elites, with the final result being a division of one into the other, thusly:

    CitizenPower = Input*OrganisationalQuotient/NationalPopulation * Goodness Quotient * Transparency Quotient;

    ElitePower = RegulationAccess/ Checks&Balances * CitizenPopulation * Goodness Quotient* Transparency Quotient

    Balance of Power = CP/EP with an ideal result being par at 1.

    Behind the attempt at this formulation is the thought that not only is overall societal virtue important ( a highly virtuous society would throw up benevolent dictatorship, aka Monarchy for example whereas in a highly unvirtuous society that same organisation structure would yield oppressive and cruel Tyranny), but also the checks and balances element, and also how influence is channeled from bottom to top and top to bottom.

    Centralisation is also a key dynamic which is a function of how influence is channeled both officially and unofficially. The more centralised the channels of authority, the more efficient they are on the one hand, but also the far easier they are to pervert on the other. Seneca’s example (viz. the anti Iraq war dynamic) clearly showed how the structure of influence between the governed and those in power disfavors large numbers of US citizens. And as he mentioned, this is just one example.

    The American Republic is a conscious attempt to steer a middle course. It is highly worthy, but given the relatively short amount of time it has been in action in the context of a fully populated (i.e. no longer pioneer) situation, it is far too soon to tell one way or another.

  26. For anyone interested in the Constitution I highly recommend this site: The Founders Constitution

    The basic premise that we (the citizen) is at fault is absolutely correct. We have allowed the elite to divide us into groups by buying us off one bit at a time. We have to start looking at what is best for the nation as a whole because we gain long term benefits. That being said, like companies that are to big fail because they are just too big, the Federal government has the same issue. It is to big to fail but it’s just plain to big and it’s time to start cutting back what it does. But that won’t happen until the people decide that thay can do with less federal government. It will get worse before it gets better.

    Government not big enough yet? “Leap in U.S. debt hits taxpayers with 12% more red ink“, USA Today, 28 May 2009 — Excerpt:

    Leap in U.S. debt hits taxpayers with 12% more red ink. “Taxpayers are on the hook for an extra $55,000 a household to cover rising federal commitments made just in the past year for retirement benefits, the national debt and other government promises, a USA TODAY analysis shows. . . . The latest increase raises federal obligations to a record $546,668 per household in 2008, according to the USA TODAY analysis. That’s quadruple what the average U.S. household owes for all mortgages, car loans, credit cards and other debt combined. . . . Bottom line: The government took on $6.8 trillion in new obligations in 2008, pushing the total owed to a record $63.8 trillion.”

    Duke: Article 1 Section 8 delegates to congress the power to tax and fund the Federal government.

    “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;”

    The definition of “general welfare” has greatly expanded over time.

  27. # 18 voices a violent anger that will surface after the midterm election and grow over time depending how reality plays out until we resolve the political crisis that has finally begun. (Been waiting 40 years for this, happy to still be here.) There will be violence, how much depends on whether real politics emerges or it remains in Washington and its satrap subcapitals.

    #14: historical assessment is closer to our reality altho these analogies are most useful in freshman honors composition classes. The reason for why the rough men still serve sir, is they are patriots. Many of us love America,even though it is currently more the idea than the reality. We need a constitutional convention that strips the Congress and the Federal government of much of its taxing authority. That is the goal, that is the way to begin the creation of a political movement that could reform and save us from the dreadful prospect of Orwell’s vision which comes closer all the time: not just Big Brother, but endless warfare out there, somewhere.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I doubt that your forecast will prove correct. Low levels of violence have been endemic in the US since the Whiskey Rebellow. Fighting between sheep and cattle ranchers, ranchers and homesteaders, union and management, between political factions in NE cities, between the KKK and Blacks. Plus intermitent race riots plus violence by leftist and right-wing extremist groups (assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, etc). I suspect you will wait another 40 years before seeing anything serious happens.

    As for a new Constitutional Convention – a people like ourselves who have demonstrated an unwillingness (or perhaps incapacity) to govern themselves should expect the new Constitution to be a tight collar with a short leash. Probably like the proposed (but defeated) EU constitution. Hundreds of pages of glorious text, meaning little but giving vast powers to their ruling elites.

  28. FabiusM: Do you think yourself part of the solution? How many who quote the Founders from comfy chairs actually follow their example by fighting for change instead of talking to each other and handing out advice? Can you really believe our revolutionaries were motivated by contempt for what they had become? Contempt is the opposite of rage! Rage itself can make the helpless feel powerful, but it’s useless until it is transformed by the conviction that change is possible and directed toward specific ends with action. The tasks before us, and the prospects of success are not remotely as daunting as those we have faced time and again in the past. What must the Founders think of citizens who whine that invasive public scrutiny is an impediment to service in elective office? What would they think of you — or me?

    If we are a nation doomed without reform, stand up and lead! If you want to know how it’s done, read past the glorious opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence for a change. You’ll find no Nietzschean ruminations or appeals to character there. The real first step in revolution is a list of plain grievances to which anyone can subscribe, whether in whole or part. The fact that we already have a Constitution upon which to make a stand as well is a stunning advantage that few before us could ever claim. We are no Rome. Careless analogies serve us ill. Pessimism is a form of complacency too.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, I consider myself part of the solution. In person I introduce myself as Paine, Thomas Paine.

    (1) “Can you really believe our revolutionaries were motivated by contempt for what they had become?”

    No, I don’t believe that. Why must our motivations be the same as their’s?

    (2) “Rage itself can make the helpless feel powerful, but it’s useless until it is transformed …”

    Can you cite any evidence for this belief> It seems a bit simplistic, IMO.

    (3) “What must the Founders think of citizens who whine that invasive public scrutiny is an impediment to service in elective office? What would they think of {us}?”

    Contempt. When we share that opinion, I believe we will be ready to move. As for your last paragraph, I agree — and these posts about reforming America have said much the same.

  29. FM: “The Problem. America needs reform.

    The actual answer to the problem is now a trend, both in the US and globally. The answer to the problem will not, and is not, being found in ideology, political philosophy, or political theory, Weber, Bloom, Lapham, or even Aristotle or David Hume. The answer to the Problem is in METHODOLOGY not ideology. What is known that “works”.

    For example, instead of 18th, 19th, and 20th Century political-economic theory Europeans, Chinese, Russians, know that a Market Economy “works” or more accurately “works best”. What actually works the EU has reduced to a formula for national admission to the EZ. Socialism doesn’t work, nor pure unregulated free market economies. Today we have 600 years of economic history, and statistics to work with. This is not to say political theory, and political history are not applicable, they are. Its just that they do not provide a complete frame for dealing with practical problems of the 21st Century.

    What ‘works best’, what “systems” work, “systems analysis” has ALREADY won in universities and academia throughout the G-7. What is necessary is to “apply the scientific method to human behavior.” Practical solutions to problems will prevail over ideological solutions. Just use “Common Sense”.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t understand how this provides an analysis of our problems or points to solutions. Who defines what is “common sense”? I doubt there is agreement on this concerning any of the large issues. I very much doubt there are many useful ways to “apply the scientific method to human behavior.” Perhaps in the future, but not yet.

  30. Not sure that’s justified JM Hanes. Seems FM is probing for how best to go forward. Now if all we ever do is talk then you are correct, but if we are to take action then sometimes it’s best to survey the field so our later actions accomplish something worthwhile. In the founding paradigm, I think they contemplated a few things in a tavern before standing up at the old North bridge against the redcoats’ raid of Concord.

  31. For my part, I have worked hard all my life to produce value for my company and my family only the have the rewards of that effort ever more increasingly confuscated to provide benefits for the supporters of one of the two major parties or the other. I have begun the process of disengaging from the economy until such time as the bloated parasite that our government and a large portion of our citizenry has become, has nothing left to feed on, and shinks on it’s own. In the mean time I will be looking for candidates who believe in focusing on personal personal responsibility and personal freedom. I’m looking for fiscal conservatives, preferably Libertarians, whom I will support.

    If on the otherhand a polpular uprising were to grow to limit the confuscation of our freedom and wealth, I would wholeheartedly support it. I just don’t yet see a viable movement to this effect. There are plenty of us who believe in personal responsibility and do for ourselves. There are also a growing number that have not learned there is no free lunch, and have no understanding of how business or the economy work. We are moving ever faster down the road to socialism and the abandonment and subjugation of those who produce. Idealism has yet to fully run up against reality, but it won’t take long.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This sounds like a passenger complaining about the service on a cruise ship. When one of the deck games suits you, perhaps you will join in. OK, but IMO this strips you of any right to complain about the form America takes. It will be shaped, for good or ill, by those of us on the field. Nobody cares what you are, or your ideals. It’s what you do as a citizen — do for America — that counts.

  32. Proposal: a new word ‘confuscation’ meaning:
    1. The combination of confiscation and obfuscation, used primarily in analysis of societal mechanisms, principally involving financial or governance-related exchange.

  33. JR wrote: “We need a constitutional convention that strips the Congress and the Federal government of much of its taxing authority. … The real first step in revolution is a list of plain grievances to which anyone can subscribe, whether in whole or part. The fact that we already have a Constitution upon which to make a stand as well is a stunning advantage that few before us could ever claim.”

    Hear Hear! Although I don’t think he is/was the best messenger for it, Gravel (he of the Pentagon Papers saga) has the right approach and solution for this which uses provisions within the Constitution for pushing, essentially, a ‘restart’ button.

    This is, for practical reasons however, unlikely to transpire. An excellent first step which in my opinion would cause widespread, substantive ripples of beneficial change, is for the States to return to issuing their own currencies in a manner which is unlinked from the credit-issued Federal Reserve/Central Banking system.

  34. Duke and FxConde: the Supreme Court took up the Spending Clause issue in South Dakota vs Dole in the mid-80s (O’Connor, J., writing for the Court) – it was a challenge to the fed’s highway funding/drinking age bundle. Bottom line: the federal government cannot use the spending power to do something that is otherwise unconstitutional, but otherwise the purse can have strings. That is, the feds cannot spend money on things that it cannot otherwise do in an ennumerated powers sense, but it can give money to the states to get them to do something (so long as the end result is not itself unconstitutional).

    The spending clause is easily blunted if states and their subunits only exercise the willpower to reject the federal purse. If that is done, then the feds will be largely restricted to things that are clearly within the Commerce Clause (something that the Lopez and Morrison decisions made narrower in the late 90s, though the Court hasn’t taken up that mantle lately (see, e.g., Raich)).

    The real enemy of federalism are the highways – unlike the railroads, they were constructed with public money, are public entities, and provide the feds a powerful weapon to force the states to do things that the feds want done. If a state gets out of line, the feds merely refuse highway funding, which creates immediate pain for the state (i.e. potholes, lack of expansion) that many states cannot afford to upkeep on their own (think especially of the big sparsely-populated quadrangles in the west, but every state is in trouble one way or the other). Until the states resolve how to maintain the highways on their own (while consciously subsidizing the highways of other states by the federal taxation of their own residents), the feds will keep their hooks in tight.
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    From the Wikipedia entry S. Dakota vs. Dole:

    The Supreme Court decision authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist ruled that Congress had engaged in a valid exercise of its power under the Taxing and Spending Clause, and did not violate the 21st Amendment. Rehnquist said that Congress’s conditional spending is subject to 4 restrictions:

    1. The condition must promote “the general welfare;”
    2. The condition must be unambiguous;
    3. The condition should relate “to the federal interest in particular national projects or programs;” and
    4. Other constitutional provisions may provide an independent bar to the conditional grant of federal funds.

    The first 3 restrictions, Rehnquist noted, are uncontested. This leaves the fourth. The Tenth Amendment bars federal regulation of the States, and it has been suggested that the Twenty-First Amendment might prohibit federal regulation of the drinking age. Nevertheless, the Congressional condition of highway funds is merely a “pressure” on the State to comply, not a “compulsion” to do so, because the State’s failure to meet the condition deprives it of only 5%.

  35. The first step in fixing this problem is in convincing our family, friends, coworkers and others around us that there is a problem in the first place. A typical conversation goes something like this:

    Me: Don’t you understand there is a problem with the country when $2bn of warships are staring down 4 teenage pirates for a week?
    Friend: i see there is no problem. false binary choice.

    How many of us keep our mouths shut around relatives to not rock the boat? How many of us bite our tongues to make sure we don’t get dis-invited to the next party? The forces of conformity and complacency are strong. Yet we must be stronger still. We must be willing to sacrifice our social standing with friends and relatives to get the truth out.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for this powerful comment. No belief system or political movement can grow without people willing to proselytize.

  36. 2 years in office 2 years in jail
    4 years in office 4 years in jail
    6 years in office 6 years in jail
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Ha, Ha.

  37. From Captain Ramen in #37:

    How many of us keep our mouths shut around relatives to not rock the boat? How many of us bite our tongues to make sure we don’t get dis-invited to the next party? The forces of conformity and complacency are strong. Yet we must be stronger still. We must be willing to sacrifice our social standing with friends and relatives to get the truth out.

    No question, Captain, it’s tough to try and influence your freinds and relatives about politics. I’m tried different things, came at the problem from different angles. What seems to sometimes help is open-ended listening. I introduce the topic and let the people start speaking what they think and don’t interrupt them even if they say things that I think are wrong. Gradually, if the person is invested enough, they will start to discover their own axioms, work out their own point of view. When they get to the point that they have that, you can start asking slightly more pointed questions, and see how the person answers them. I try to treat it like a conversation rather than a struggle. Which can be very difficult when you feel passionately about something, as I do. This is one possibility.

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