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. FM: “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).

    You need to get out more. Try going to one.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Why? Is the message a secret, whispered from ear to ear while giving the secret handshake? The Wikipedia entry matches my perception — the protestors what to get more and pay less. Doesn’t everybody? But adults are supposed to know better. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry, edited for clarity and emphasis. Can you spot the contradiction?

    The events are in protest of President Obama’s his stimulus package, which the protesters perceive as examples of wasteful government spending and unnecessary government growth.

    * The protesters also objected to future tax increases, and requested reductions in the business tax rate, abolishment of taxes on capital gains, abolishing the estate tax.
    * They demanded action, such as spending more on energy and transportation infrastructure, a new power grid, a new air-traffic control system, and
    * moving to a balanced budget.

    The name “Tea Party” is a reference to the Boston Tea Party … The letters T, E and A have been used by protesters to form the backronym “Taxed Enough Already.”

  2. Suggest you Google Randy E. Barnett {see Wikipedia} and read some of his thinking about tax authority and a constitutional convention. The Washington establishment and its immense wealth — start with Exxon — are not going to surrender.

    We have to create a demand in the country. In the 60s I supported an Australian ballot, requiring every citizen to vote but giving the option to vote none of the above — which would have won most elections over the past thirty years. Of course it did not get off the ground. Un American don’t you know. This struggle has not even begun. Our free press — the bulwark of democracy – is brain dead, hollowed out by television and now a husk. This President is a master of the gesture, but there is no substance any longer behind these gestures. How many czars has he appointed? This effort will have to be created from diffused dissent. It will not be simple or easy or guaranteed to succeed. The light unto the world could go out and America could become another lumbering Empire,in time gobbling up Canada and Mexico to keep itself going. We are on the road to a multilingual country run by lawyers — empire by any other name. We have to hurry. Time is not on our side.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Nicely put. What is the solution? You have seen my proposals, small though they are.

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  4. I have tried talking with people about it to spread my crazy ideas of freedom. I started after 9/11, like so many people did. It’s closing in on 8 years, and those people I talk to all joyfully, rapturously voted for Obama, and are pleased to throw dirt and mud non-stop at anything they don’t like. When they no longer like my argument, they ignore me, say somethign rude, change the subject, or just say “they don’t agree and are entitled to their opinion”.

    As an example, I pointed out that the global warming nonsense is all based on models that rely on a completely made up bunch of statistical methods that do not remotely work. Their answer was to just not believe me, but not have a reason not to. There is no logic. It is a religion, and they do not see it.

    I have left the mailing list I shared with them because I do like them as people, but I cannot take it anymore. And since I do like them, I don’t want to feel the desire to scream “I told you so” at them repeatly as we fall into ruin. And yes, a number of them are unemployed right now.

    As for talking to other people? I live in silicon valley. If I ever want to work again out here, I have to keep my mouth shut.

  5. Here is a current example in the political arena. First, of course I cannot vouch for the author or content of this article, but leaving aside the theories about the intention to take down the dollar etc., and assuming he is essentially correct in reporting that:
    a) a recent communique established the ‘Financial Stability Board’ and b) the following statement is accurate: ‘“As obligations of membership, member countries and territories commit to pursue the maintenance of financial stability, maintain the openness and transparency of the financial sector, implement international financial standards (including the 12 key International Standards and Codes), and agree to undergo periodic peer reviews, using among other evidence IMF/World Bank public Financial Sector Assessment Program reports.”

    and c) that his summary of the 12 Standards is reasonably accurate
    and d) that his suggestion that concerned citizens (if any are concerned that is!) exert pressure on the US Congress to not ratify this sovereignty-transcending Soviet-style protocol: does anyone here think that Congress won’t approve this even if they do get a certain amount of feedback by phone, email and fax from distant constituents far from the Beltway?

    Although I doubt this arrangement is even legal, Constitutionally speaking, that doesn’t mean it won’t be adopted; indeed, it already sounds like a done deal and perhaps will never even be discussed, legislatively speaking. Highly unlikely to be aired in the national media.

    There seems to be a titanic struggle going on between various factions in the current elites. On the one hand there are the US-Empire-Militarists who depend upon dollar hegemony and include a dominant anti-Russian faction, especially a resurgent, non-communist Russia interestingly enough, and on the other a more Europe-and-UN based move towards globalisation/centralisation, which relies less on US militarism and more on para-nation state legislation, of which the global warming initiative is perhaps the main example and trial balloon whereby global legislation and taxation become the international norm. Meanwhile, us peasants have no idea what’s up – or down!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Always nice to hear from Mars, but this is the last notice. I have lost patience with comments about weird conspiracy theories. Any more and future comments will be moderated to filter out the nonsense.

  6. @ CatoRenasci:

    One of the things the Iraq war has produced is a large group of junior officers, now in their 20’s and early 30’s, who have fought (and watched friends die) to build a democracy where none previously existed. As a group, they have skill, pride, experience, motivation, and immense moral authority. Look for them to have a growing impact on this country’s politics as they grow older, more experienced in life, and more suitable for political leadership.

    They may bring change by winning office in democratic elections, or they may bring change the way Julius Caesar brought change to Rome. Either way, change is coming. This group of people will not stand by to see the country they fought for, wrecked.

  7. As the state goverments pursue more revenue they are going to run into more problems. Like this. “Millionaires Go Missing. Maryland’s fleeced taxpayers fight back“, Wall Street Journal: “Instead of the state coffers gaining the extra $106 million the politicians predicted, millionaires paid $100 million less in taxes than they did last year — even at higher rates.”

    And the Obama administration keeps appointing individuals who have tax problems and says he wants to raise taxes on the rich! Hypocrits would be a good description. Reform can’t come soon enough!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t understand the point. It’s a recession, and income taxes go down. What else should we expect? The higher rates probably brought in more income than would have been so with lower rates. That’s how it works as tax rates change, until one gets to the extremes (such as the tax cuts from the peak rates in the 1970’s).

  8. Arms Merchant

    Politics is no longer about philosophy of governing. The huge amount of money now controlled by the public sector guarantees that political fights are merely about how to divide up the pie.

    The only way out is to starve the beast. The old fashioned way is to take control of a political party and get your people elected. That’s what Obama did. Libertarians can do it to, but it’s a long and difficult process. The old fashioned way there, too, is to organize–convince people one front door, one precinct, at a time.

  9. The Democrats and Republicans have so restructured the system of elections that it is not possible for citizens to have a chance of being elected to any significant office.

    Only career politicians who have devoted years to cooperating in corruption are allowed on the ballot. The people with the brightest ideas and the best qualifications for leadership are effectively shut away from not only the ballot, but also isolated from the media by the influence of the two dominant corrupt parties.

    America is doomed.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Here we see the wonder of 21st century America — the finest excuses known to mankind. Let’s hope this person at least gets out of the way while the rest of us work to get America working again. BTW ngoldfarb, no matter what the outcome — please don’t complain. That’s not a privledge of bystanders.

  10. Esteban Barahona

    is renaming the country to estados unidos de america;
    the second is changing the capitoil;
    and then, we send all our nuclear arsenal to the sun.

  11. anna nicholas

    If people dont vote , perhaps its beacuse theyve realised ” insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result ”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Perhaps they should spend less time quoting simplistic aphorisms and try harder. Just filling out a ballot is the start of a citizen’s duties, not the end.

  12. Publius,

    I sincerely hope you are right. As for me, I’ve already made my choice. I now live outside the U.S. and am seriously considering never again living there. In my business interests, I make it a point to avoid having any dealings with those who support the left and regularly voice my disapproval to my Congressman and two (rather worthless) Senators.

    I do these things from my own sense of honor, which is also the reason why I always make certain my absentee vote is in. It isn’t so much that I believe there is much hope that my input will stem the tide, it’s because I refuse to abandon my civic responsibility. America is in for a serious crash, and I’m going to be able to say, from a distant shore, “I warned you, chastized you, and did all I legally could to stop it from coming. You should have listened.”

  13. anna nicholas

    And you might be interested in the Levellers , backed by parts of the New Model Army , who tried to make Cromwell’s government democratic. Way ahead of their time , they failed ; which is an interesting thought for picking winners for the future. See this excerpt from a speech given by Tony Benn (then minister for energy in Callaghan’s Labour government) on 15 May 1976 at Burford, Oxfordshire.

  14. You’ve sparked quite an outpouring of comment, FM. Time for me to throw in my 2 cents.

    I strongly agree with your reasoning in points 1-3, but not the timing.

    There are three times when getting angry about a situation can do some good. Let’s use an example of a child attempting to grab a piece of candy from a delicately balanced valuable but fragile bowl to illustrate my point.
    1. When somebody says “lets put the candy in the bowl and put it near the edge of the table.”
    2. When the kid starts getting near the bowl and is obviously not considering the possible negative ramifications of his actions
    3. When the bowl is broken.

    We are now between cases 2 and 3. The kid is scooping up the candy and yelling at them will likely cause a reaction that will break the bowl. I say this with great reluctance but our better course is to wait for nature to take its course. Either the kid will step away from the bowl leaving it intact or they will break it. Joggling their elbow at this moment has no benefit other than to give the kid an excuse if the worst happens.

    Your last point, taking responsibility for ourselves and our government, is an extremely laudable goal and I applaud you for suggesting it because it is the RIGHT thing to do. But it requires that tens of millions of voters start showing considerably more maturity than they’ve ever shown in their lives.

    How do you persuade them to do that? I fear that the only way it can happen is for the bowl in my example to break and for all of us to start picking up the pieces and figuring out what can be repaired and what has to be thrown away.

    A quick story to illustrate my concern before I go:
    Shortly after Katrina a foreign friend emailed everybody he knew in the States a newspaper story about some of the Katrina survivors in Mississippi and Alabama.

    The reporter interviewed people sitting on the beaches near where their homes had been destroyed. He asked them what they intended to do about their current circumstances. The thing that drove my friend to total rage was their answer; they uniformly responded that they were waiting for the US government to come and make things better.

    These people had no food, water, or shelter. The world around them had been altered beyond recognition, and the best plan these people could develop was to wait for the US government. They weren’t scouting for resources. They weren’t thinking about finding or creating shelter for themselves. They weren’t finding potential hazards and marking them so other people could avoid them. They weren’t organizing to make the best of the situation. They were just waiting for somebody to come and take care of them.

    The American people have got a LOT to unlearn before they can start taking responsibility for their actions.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You might be correct. But this is operationally useless, a counsel of despair. IMO it is a betrayal of the previous generations of Americans who worked on through the darkest hours of our history.

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  16. I missed this article from the infamous Ellen Brown back in March, but the part which explains the difference in North Dakota’s and Michigan’s economy viz. the burden of debt is helpful to consider.

    One of the simplest and most profound shifts in returning sovereignty to the States and thus to more of the citizenry would be by simply having all States return to running their own banking system, even issuing currency if need be. Dakota’s economy is doing well, unemployment is low. Granted it is a tiny State and maybe other factors are at play. But then again: consider how much the billion dollars a year in debt servicing fees (profits to Wall St, Zurich, London etc.) are crippling Michigan and imagine how much better they (and California etc.) would be without such fees.

    Also doing such a thing would involve changing momentum in the political dynamic that would have multiple as yet unforeseen spin off benefits. I think this is the single most practical change that could be effected right now by many States and once two or three made the move, others would no doubt follow rapidly. And no need for bloody revolutions, Constitutional amendments and all the rest of it. Practical. Doable. Simple.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: WoW, simple. Just do it! Multiple currencies circulating in the US. Pehaps every city could do so. Or every household! I wonder why we moved from such a regime to central national currencies? Could there have possibly been good reasons for this?

  17. People will be receptive to change when they no longer feel safe. That time is coming for more and more people because there is an economic crisis brewing. In an effort to stave off a deflationary depression, the Fed is persuing “quantitative easing”. If/when they succeed in re-starting demand we are liable to see run-away inflation. Meanwhile, there will be more and more mortgage defaaults causing more economic trouble. Meanwhile commercial real estate is tanking futher hurting banks and insurance compnaies. This means unemployment will stay high, people’s wealth will continue to evaporate and so on.

    We also have a looming pension crisis. Many municipal and state governments have promised overly generous pensions and have not put away nearly enough money and have invested too aggressivly and have taken huge losses. Soon it will be apparent these pension obligations will not be met. Meanwhile Medicare adn Social Security obligations will be too big to meet soon…….How will your local police react when they realize the pensions they were promised won’t happen? Will they get some scratch on the street from citizens? In Mexico they call that la mordida-the bite.

    Americans trust geovernment way too much, but that false confidence will soon be shaken. We must persuade our fellow citizens to stop believing politicians care about us and will “take care of us”. I think societal elites will be discredited much as they were in Europe after the catastrophe of WWI. Things will probably change for the worse, but maybe not.

    Stop reading about the constitution – the words haven’t mattered for years. Look at Roe v Wade – (the constitution says nothing about abortion and it was illegal in every state for generations-it was a matter for legislatures) it means what 5 of 9 politically connected lawyers says it does and they don’t respect anything but power….or maybe I should say their “empathy” counts for more than truth or respect for the rule of law. I recommend a website called seekingalpha to follow financial events in these fearfully interesting times.

  18. First thank a soldier. And reflect on how their sacrifice compares with your own committment. Then focus on the 1st Amendment, free speech is under pressure on many fronts. The 1st Amendment is like a political maturity test. Many fail that test. They are basically acting like children.

    The world is in better shape than it has every been, more people are healthier, more free and richer, but the surge of the despots and the global warming fraud and other unrealities have the potential to do major economic damage and kill a lot of people.

    Treasure the truth. Truth takes many forms, but it is not that hard to perceive who speaks truthfully and who is slick and nimble but does not respect the truth.

    Anger maybe, but do not hate. Hate corrodes everything it touches and is easily turned in the wrong direction.

    In all it seems like a time for Christian virtues. Not a bad place to start!

  19. (#56) Erasmus RE: state currencies — “Also doing such a thing would involve changing momentum in the political dynamic that would have multiple as yet unforeseen spin off benefits. I think this is the single most practical change that could be effected right now by many States and once two or three made the move, others would no doubt follow rapidly. And no need for bloody revolutions, Constitutional amendments and all the rest of it. Practical. Doable. Simple.”

    My hat’s off to you. This is a brilliant idea – one we may get a chance to try sooner than you think, if the Chinese and other creditor nations move away from using the dollar as a reserve currency, as they have hinted. If the dollar fails as an international reserve currency, and capital flight begins from the U.S., how might individual solvent/nearly solvent states re-engage with their counterparts? By your using your idea. Bravo!

    Is it my imagination, or does this dovetail nicely with Boyd’s ideas about engaging centers of order (functionality, whatever term you choose) while disengaging or limiting exposure to centers of disorder.

    FYI, Regarding a way forward and your original post, are you aware of Bill Lind’s new book “The Next Conservatism”? Lind and Weyrich discuss at length the power of example. Thier point is that while we cannot return to the America of the past, we can strive to live our lives by the values that made it great. I’d suggest that in addition to a healthy degree of contempt for what have become, each of us must look inside ourselves and do our utmost to lead lives worthy of emulation.

    Great post and discussion!
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    Fabius Maxiumus replies: This is typical of the ideas that circulate as alternatives to hard work of addressing our real problems. A large fraction of the American public has become disengaged (for whatever reason) from our Constitutional machinery. Rather than the hard work of organizing people (e.g., reawakening their desire for self-government and taking responsibility), we dream of easy crackpot solutions which have low odds of implementation.

    As for this crackpot solution — Monetary systems are difficult to run (i.e., easy to screw up). Also, a nation with multiple monetary systems is likely to have severe internal problems. Which is why a single monetary system is a hallmark of a State, a milestone on its path to its smooth functioning. Hence importance of the Euro project to Europe.

  20. “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…”

    Uh…because they get paid to do it? Because it’s a way for some kid from Skunktail, Tennessee to eventually get a college education? As for “protecting this society”, well, they could do it a lot more effectively if they weren’t fighting some tribesmen 10,000 miles away.

  21. FM: “You might be correct. But this is operationally useless, a counsel of despair. IMO it is a betrayal of the previous generations of Americans who worked on through the darkest hours of our history.

    I have to disagree with your response. My definition of betrayal includes basing your actions on incomplete facts and failure to plan for the worst possible (likely?) case.

    Remember Montgomery’s faiure to take the 2nd SS Panzer Corps into account in Operation Market-Garden? It cost his country 15,000 of their finest troops and stalled the Allied drive into Germany until March 1945. Not his brightest moment.

    On the opposite side of the coin, Eisenhower commented that nearly every plan in the Normandy invasion failed (paratroopers were unpredictably scattered, US troops landed on the wrong beaches, unexpected equipment failures, etc.) but the planning succeeded because of every plan had lots of worst-case contingency planning built into it.

    I see no reason to not discuss the worst case scenario in depth for two reasons:
    1. Letting people see how bad the worst case looks like will spur them to try to save the Republic. There’s a lot of sentiment in the blogosphere that the failure of the US government will be a relatively quiet affair that will have little impact on the daily lives of its citizens. NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH!
    It would be the most cataclysmic event this world has experienced since WWII and the resulting chaos would lead to the deaths of millions of people, most of them in the US.

    2. Because it gives us a basis for action if the worst case actually occurs. Are you familiar with the saying that Hope is not a plan?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Planning to fix things is one thing, and including a scenario in which repairs are not successful (i.e., including worst case) is reasonable. But that’s not what I see in your comment:

    “How do you persuade them to do that? I fear that the only way it can happen is for the bowl in my example to break and for all of us to start picking up the pieces and figuring out what can be repaired and what has to be thrown away.”

    As I said, you might be correct. But it looks to me like a counsel of despair.

  22. (#56) Erasmus RE: state currencies. I’m strongly with Fabius on this one.

    Let’s consider the state of North Dakota right now. A small population with lots of energy resources (coal, oil, wind, and hydro). It has the dubious advantage of always having been a backwater that couldn’t get a loan to survive so it has always had to live within its means. Once the coal and oil have been extracted it will probably return to its historic backwater status.

    Michigan, on the other hand, became a manufacturing giant with a large population that bacme terminally dependent on a single industry that became filled with hubris that eventually led to its own collapse.

    Is EITHER of these states a good basis for a currency? How would you value North Dakota dollars versus Michigan dollars? Would they have the same exchange rate 10 years ago? How about 10 years in the future?

    Say you live in Indiana and work in Michigan, should you request your wages in Indiana dollars or Michigan dollars? Should stores in Indiana accept Michigan dollars? If so, what should be the exchange rate?

    This is just a taste of the problems such ideas encounter. The Europeans have mostly swallowed national pride and gone to a single currency because of these and many other problems. There is no reason for us to flagrantly show that we are dumber than the Europeans. I understand that you are looking for good ideas and applaud your efforts. Its just that this isn’t a good idea, it is a really bad car wreck looking for a place to happen.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree, this are a few of the problems.

  23. FM reply to comment #41: “Fabius Maximus replies: Why? Is the message a secret, whispered from ear to ear while giving the secret handshake? The Wikipedia entry matches my perception — the protestors what to get more and pay less. Doesn’t everybody? But adults are supposed to know better. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry, edited for clarity and emphasis. Can you spot the contradiction?

    For a really excellent illustration of this “something for nothing”/”anti-tax” mentality, its powerful grip on the minds of the US populace, and the way that this mentality blocks attempts at systemic reform, take a look at this website which allows internet users to suggest and vote on ideas to be put into government: the (Open Government Dialogue” website, promulgated by the Obama administration and the “National Academy for Public Administration” [I have sorted the results by the Most Popular of all ideas}.

    The #1 idea on the site? “Support a 72-Hour Mandatory Public Review Period on Major Spending Bills”, with 741 votes, 8 days old.

    The #2 idea on the site? “End [the] Imperial Presidency”, with 433 votes, 3 days old.

    I can’t think of a better illustration of the “something-for-nothing” mentality, and the hold it has on Americans. If y’all like, you could register, and vote for “End [the] Imperial Preidentcy”.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Very interesting. Thanks for posting it. Is there an option for “Ask the Blue Fairy to solve our problems”?

  24. FM: Well, leaving aside the separate currency issue (which would depend upon a common standard to work inter-state of course and that is endlessly contentious absent something simple like a gold standard), States issuing their own credit is relatively easy to implement and would have instant and possibly far-reaching effects, and that was my core suggestion. Not beyond the pale at all.

    About the conspiracy business: are you referring to the reporting of the Financial Stability Board or the additional ‘titan’ comments which followed? They are very different points.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: It is all ignorant conspiratorial nonsense. The publications of any international coordinating agencies — food, drugs, crime — could be twisted just as easily.

    Enough of all this, which illustrates the problem with crackpot solutions. They tend to hijack the thread, as people discuss the pros and cons of the Blue Fairy waving her wand or Frodo throwing the great ring into the fire. While the far more difficult and real problems are ignored. No more; further such material will be considered off-topic and deleted.

  25. “America needs reform, as our citizens become passive consumers of government services.”

    Folks, this is a pseudo issue, a smokescreen — you’re all tilting at windmills, even the admirable Erasmus and Jonathan Rubinstein.

    Who are these “passive consumers of government services”? Presumably no one on this thread. Presumably, people not like us — inner city dwellers, immigrants, teeneagers, the unemployed, homeless, uninsured. What are these “services” being showered upon us? Safe roads and bridges, good schools, meaningful employment, environmental protection, job safety, secure retirement and affordable health care? These are precisely NOT being provided by our government. Who IS being showered with largess? The military, military providers, drug companies, insurance giants, big banks. Why direct your anger against phantom dangers? Why not target the real ones?

    We HAVE BEEN passive consumers, not of government services, but of a lifestyle based on debt issued by banks for their own profit. Let’s keep the distinctions clear!

    I don’t know why FM repeats this threadbare complaint from the right. He’s a smart guy, he sees the wrong directions we’ve taken, I believe he sincerely wants to live in a better, safer, saner country. Stoking up our anger against pseudo enemies is not the way to get there!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Passive consumers does not refer to the extent of the services, or their equality of this distribution. It refers to the citizens involvement in the Constitutional machinery. You appear to believe that Americans are fully involved in the operation of their government. That’s an interesting observation, but one I find difficult to reconcile with what I see.

    Also, on what basis do you label this as a “complaint from the right”? It appears equally often in writings of the left. In fact, many leftists are doing something about it by organizing voter registration drives and other programs to encourage community action.

  26. Fabius Maximus replies: {the entry from Wikipedia about the Tea Party protests}

    OH, Wikipedia says so, it must be true!

    In any event, I don’t get “want more, pay less” from that. Instead, I see the beginings of a protest movement, that is, (suprise!) a bit disorganized. Again, try hauling your butt to one, instead of judging through binoculars.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: First, I have found Wikipedia to be quite accurate. Note that this reference links to various sources as sources. Second, I cite something as evidence — you cite nothing. Case closed.

    “instead of judging through binoculars.”

    Live is short. Too short to run around investigating every political movement. That’s why we have newspapers and the Internet.

  27. Multiple currencies is a fantasy that will lead to the liquidation of local politics rather than its flowering.

    At the same time we need to support and sustain local development, networking — from agriculture to education. If I was a parent of young children today I would seek out like-minded families and do modified home=schooling, hire a teacher, get everyone to pitch in their skill sets, support the kids to have a social life outside the family — it’s hard, daunting even, but public education is as much a disaster as so-called elite private schools. (The intelligent need no more than 3 hours a day of classroom.)

    We need tax relief for this effort. This is not a request; it is our right! Personally, I resent paying the airconditioning bill for welfare clients in NYC public housing!! We need more coop activity from food to clothing to education. Dig out the Port Huron statement which was the founding document of SDS — a wonderful statement of democratic aspiration in mid-century America, standing against emergent imperialism. No local currency, but we can have exchange, barter, other mediums of local commerce without dividing the country and opening localities to the pressures of great economic power which will behave like enraged cats and rip localities to shreds.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This is not a vision I find attractive (although we home schooled our children). But only through experimentation will we find successful paths forward.

  28. Jonathan, again take the currency element out of the equation (although script currencies worked well in the US and Germany during low velocity periods during the last Great Depression). I agree it is a sidetrack. The main point was to follow North Dakota’s ongoing extant example with the States issuing their own credit versus the international usury-based central bank network. This is not a conspiracy theory, it is a simple fact, as Seneca points out.

    Since FM complains that this issue has hijacked the thread, let’s go back to the initial conclusion:

    “The first step is not knowledge. Not logic. But rage, contempt at what we have become. 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. …
    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. …”

    Seneca, I don’t find that prescription a smokescreen. Indeed, on many levels I agree with it. However my contribution here has been in the spirit of also offering what I believe is a doable, concrete policy change that would help citizenry to ‘stand upright to begin walking the road to reform.’

    In part this position disagrees with FM’s implied contention that the only thing that ails us is a lazy citizenry. I disagree because I think this over-simplifies fundamental dynamics of human societal structuring – in no matter what so-called ‘system’- namely that all societies have a class system of some sort which has leadership at the top and followership at the bottom. Both parties are active in creating each other, that is true and often overlooked, but our current top, aka ‘elites’ in shorthand, have indeed been going too far in bad directions and also, by definition, hold far more levers of power than those at the bottom. It is always that way. Denying it is also unhelpful.

    I agree with you that one of the main bugaboos is the credit system. It infests everything since commerce is the means by which most – but not all – productive contributions to society are exchanged and therefore also remain bound together. I also feel – strongly – that over-centralisation of key societal dynamics promotes increasingly corrupted elites and that in this context the current credit system has got totally out of hand as the ongoing financial crisis and the extraordinary finance-sector-enabling responses have been the past two years.

    So, with all respect to our host FM, I do not feel the simple and practical suggestion that States consider issuing their own credit (again, forget about the currency side issue) would BOTH undermine the currently over-centralised elite dominated imbalance and thereby ALSO provide the means for more human scale community-based governance (which means standing up, reforming, being more active citizens etc.).

    You may disagree with this FM, and you may decide to banish me from your public forum for saying such things, but at least I hope I have demonstrated with this post why I feel my contributions are not unrelated to your original material nor can they be described as having ‘hijacked’ anything, especially given the number of comments on this thread and how many have not been in response to or about my particular offerings.

    Again as with another recent thread – which in part inspired this one as you stated, and this one has been good, no? – less ‘rage’ on your part would be helpful for you and all of us here. There’s nothing to be afraid of, you know.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: It’s not the subject but the specific crackpt theories,which are IMO a pox on the Internet and disrupt many discussions (as illustrated on this thread). This is not the place for them. If you can provide some expert basis for them, fine. If they are just unsupported fringe nonsense, take them somewhere else. Or start your own site.

    I have been a good sport about this, allowing you to post thousands of words about your crackpot theories despite my repeated requests that you stop. This stuff drives away sensible people. Your future comments will be moderated; only those both topical and within the 250 word limit will be posted.

    “that the only thing that ails us is a lazy citizenry.”

    As usual with you, this matches nothing I’ve said. The US system works very well for the elites running it. If we want it to work equally well for us, then we have to get more involved — the rough justice of life. That does mean that lack of citizen involvement is the “only thing that ails us” or that greater citizen involvement will cure our many social and economic problems.

  29. Apologies that the third from last paragraph above beginning with ‘So..’ became grammatically ‘non-sequiturial’ with mixed negatives and positives!

  30. FM, capitalism does not appear anywhere in the constitution and nobody has ever been able to define it. At best it is an economic system but it is not and never was a governmental system. Most of the time people are talking about Entrepreneurs when they say Capitalism,very big difference.

    Lincoln was able to institute our true Constitutional Money system very well(US Treasury Greenbacks interest free!!!)so don’t be fooled by theories that say money system are complex. Charging interest and fractional banking are complex and that is a problem that could be fixed rather easily.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: As I said above, these fringe debates tend to hijact the more serious issues of the thread.

    Your is the first mention of capitalism in this thread, so I don’t understand your first paragraph. Your second paragraph seems a bit odd.
    * A trivial note — While under the stress of the Civil War Lincoln established the current dollar system, fiat currencies have a long history in America. Such as the pre-revolutionary colonial script and the continential dollar.
    * More significantly, this is IMO the oddest comment on the thread: “don’t be fooled by theories that say money system are complex.” Right; that’s why nations never have problems with monetary systems. Perhaps you are just far smarter than the rest of us.

  31. F.M. Saying citizens “just have to become more involved” is not going to cut it.

    It is easy to say “we need a new political party” — we do — and equally easy to say “the existing ones have the only good names” — they do, and all third party names sound “foreign” even to me. Is the name the barrier? Do not underestimate it.

    Do you have some suggestions for “involvement”? There has been, for example, a natural food, health food movement for almost a century which has been hijacked by operations like Whole Foods and the entire industrial food business which makes endless “natural products”. It has had zero impact on food policy which rests on a corrupt bargain that assures Americans consume vast amounts of milk, cheese, sugar, corn syrup, high fructose crud that is destroying public health and whose elimination would be the single most important reform we could undertake. Why reform healthcare when the government promoting it is the source of the poisons that undermine its own people? If 20 million families planted gardens, studying food production and health related issues along the way we might make a dent in the consensus that keeps the evil of food subsidies in place. I am not going to even mention what we have done to chicken and cattle, shame on us!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This seems to conflate several issues.

    (1) “Saying citizens “just have to become more involved” is not going to cut it.”

    What does “cut it” mean? Citizen involvement is not a magic cure, just a precondition for progress. As I said in the post, it is a first step on the path — not a solution.

    (2) “It is easy to say ‘we need a new political party'”

    Easy to say, but is it correct? Why cannot people seize control of the existing parties? Why would that be more difficult than starting a new party?

    (3) “Do you have some suggestions for “involvement”?”

    As I said repeatedly during the election, get involved. Vote, support candiates with time and money, talk with friends, write. Elections are a powerful tool. They require work, and the comments on this and other threads suggest that many prefer to seek easier solutions. I don’t believe there are any.

    (4) “a natural food, health food movement”

    So most people disagree with you. What does that mean, other than that they disagree with your view? This is a common trope on this thread, that the American people do not agree with XXX — so America is bad, doomed, corrupt, or whatever. I do not find this line of reasoning to be compelling.

  32. anna nicholas

    I think it is amazing that you manage to function at all as a US of A , when I contemplate bothering to vote in the EU elections .
    It may help that your administration doesnt spend a quarter the year in Nome . Presumably , auditors Ok its accounts within at least 10 years . That you dont add 2 new States each year ( hiya , Siberians , Venezualans ,feel free to have some welfare , vote , and do my job for half my wages. ) Etc .

  33. FM seems to believe that studying the issues, joining a political organization, getting out the vote, educating your neighbors, sending volunteers to other states (as Howard Dean did in Iowa, unsuccessfully), contributing money to the party of your choice, will eventually push it (or a third, if you really have a long time-frame in mind) in a radically new direction.

    This is an admirable faith, truly in the spirit of the founders, but one which totally ignores the heterogenous and fractured nature of the citizenry today. Many of us are a-political, being properly more concerned about feeding our families. Many of us would really like to return to a simpler age. Most of us have no grasp of the lives of others, and little sympathy where their needs clash with ours. Talk about “passive consumers of government services” will ignite a certain segment of voters against those they perceive as getting a free lunch, but it will do nothing to advance the general discussion of the goals a good society, the means of reaching them in a society of our size, eetc.

    Passion around a partial issue is just what we don’t need at the moment. The real rulers of society will be totally behind it, because it keeps us divided and distrated from what they’re really up to.

  34. Captain Ramen

    senecal, if what you say is true, then change will only come about after the dollar crashes and the cost of food goes way up relative to people’s income. Do we really want to see what kind of person a half starved population elects? Do we need to wait that long?

    If your friends are apolitical, get in their faces (but be polite about it)! Start up conversations with random people! I did this today with the clerk at office depot, in reference to CA’s electronic waste recycling fee – it went up starting this year, and a notice to that effect was posted on the counter. As if the cost of recycling old monitors suddenly went up.

    I looked at it and made an ‘ugh’ noise. She said, ‘it keeps going up and up. We can’t beat it.’ She seemed resigned. I said, ‘yes we can but we have to stand together.’ She then said, ‘that’s the trick. We have to write our congressman.’ Ir replied ‘Yeah, but we also have to run!’ Such talk was completely out of the box for her but it clearly made an impression.

    Your assignment for the week: If, while standing in line, you notice something utterly retarded forced upon us by our elected officials, say something to the person standing next to you. Get out of your comfort zone. Be polite, don’t make it partisan. Be encouraging. This is where we start.

    Just like at a sports stadium.. stand up, do the wave. Maybe no one does it with you the first few times. Eventually it will get going.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: This is exaggerated on several counts.

    (1) The US dollar is not going to zero. Most expert estimates value the dollar as overvalued vs China’s RMB by 1/4 to 1/2; the overvaluation most other currencies is less (the Japanese Yen is a special case).

    (2) The US imports most of its own food (by value we’re a net exporter, slightly) and aprox 2/3’s of its energy (thats from memory, including oil, coal, and natural gas).

    (3) Most countries want their currencies to fall in value, as it makes their exports more competitive. As slow decline in the US dollar will make out exports competitive on world markets and make our foreign debts (almost all in US dollars) lower in real terms.

    (4) Economic impacts are largely a matter of the rate of change, more than the absolute change. A dollar crash would be destabilizing not only for the US, but for the rest of the world as well (esp those importing goods to us). Which is why the major Central Banks will probably word together to prevent it. Success is not guaranteed, of course.

  35. Coincident with reading this entry, I noticed a local group meeting for citizens who wanted to learn how to become part of the decision making process in their towns or townships. It was run by a small, bi-partisan, statewide nonprofit that is committed to helping people learn the best and most productive ways of getting involved with the legislative process at the local level. After this introduction, I’ve decided to continue on with the balance of their educational programs.

    This is a first step for me, and after reading so many posts here, FM, it seems like it is the least I can do for my country, but maybe the best I can do for myself right now. It seems extremely clear to me that personal action at least trumps anger, frustration and fear.

    By the way, FM, I might have gotten to this point eventually, but it is because of you and your writing that I got here today. Well done, Mr. Paine.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for the update. To help one person makes it all worthwhile.

  36. FM, I trust you read the references you sited as in the one on scrip backed by nothing but legal authority and taxation it was the soundest currency we have ever had during a 50 year period. The Continental which was backed by GOLD was the one that failed. The only problem was counterfeiting which Lincoln took care of with the creation of the Secret Service there first and primary mission is to protect the US currency which now includes the electronic form also. Lincoln issued US Dollars not Federal Reserve notes none interest bearing! The point of all this is, in order to take back our country we should start with taking back our money, See the website below by a brave representative who tried to do this in 1999. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio is presently working on another version of this bill, if we helped support him we would be on our way back to prosperity.

    I don’t think I am smarter than everyone else, but as an x-cop I recognize the whole truth often requries a lot of research.

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    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t understand what you are saying, esp about taking back our money. However, you raise one important point — in a sense all paper currencies are fiat currencies.

    “Continental which was backed by GOLD was the one that failed.”

    The Continential Dollar nominally entitled the bearer to an equivalent amount of Spanish Milled Dollars but were never redeemed in silver and lost 99% of their value by 1790 despite the American victory. (Wikipedia) For a full description see “The Continental Dollar: What Happened to it after 1779?“, Farley Grubb, NBER, February 2008 (I do not know of a free online copy) — Excerpt:

    “With the Funding Act of 4 August 1790, Congress committed to irrevocably defaulting on the Continental Dollar. After 1790, however, Congress was continually presented with petitions asking it to un-default the Continental Dollar. … In 1798, the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury admitted that Continental Dollars were contracts that had been violated, albeit by necessity. He said, “This unfortunate depreciation, which operated upon all the paper money … issued during the war, necessitated the United States to adopt principles relative to them which cannot apply in cases of ordinary contract …”

  37. Re: comment #29:

    ”Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, I consider myself part of the solution. In person I introduce myself as Paine, Thomas Paine.”

    Apparently, folks are starting to notice!

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

    I don’t see it as being more simplistic than your formulation of contempt — although perhaps that’s just shorthand for ideas you’ve already developed. I might more effectively have said that rage can make the weak feel strong, to little practical effect. I see scant evidence that contempt, which differs more in objects, than in kind, has ever motivated much of anything positive, and despising ourselves doesn’t make for a very compelling rallying cry, IMO. It seems self-evident that rage of many kinds can be channelled into action, where it becomes an indisputably powerful force — for good or ill.

    Anger has long interested me, both in the context of those recovering from addiction or the effects of violent crime, as well as in the broader context of historical change. In the latter case, the Iranian revolution and it’s aftermath could almost be a case study in the many forms of anger and successful anger management, so to speak. I don’t see how to expand on that in 250 words or less, but historically speaking, I’m not seeing contempt for what “we” have become as a factor, but rather contempt for what others have become and which we have decided we will no longer tolerate.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: These things are inherently subjective, hence my statement that “seems simplistic.” Rage, contempt, anger can motivate people. To me that seems a safe statement. On reflection, however, you statement that “rage is useless until it is transformed” is also correct. That is, rage can provide motivation but not direction or wisdom.

    “I’m not seeing contempt for what “we” have become as a factor, but rather contempt for what others have become”

    I disagree. IMO we have become experts at blaming others, so that our lack of personal responsibility threatens our Republic. Taking the hair of the dog that bit us will not help.

  38. Re Duke’s comment #7: “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.

    It would be more accurate to say they’re outraged that government has ordered up a huge meal they didn’t ask for and don’t want to pay for. The “Taxed Enough Already” slogan, derived from the Tea Party symbolism, is more umbrella than sword. Per my original post @#29 (assuming I understand you correctly), you’re seeking a consensus on secular deficits from which action will presumably flow, while they’re already out on the streets with a preliminary collection of grievances which may well form the basis of a focused coalition for change. The fact that the majority of these crowds have never been part of a public protest before suggests to me that the deficits and complacency you see may not be as pervasive as you may believe, and that the explicit admission of secular failings may not be the sine qua non of reform at all. We haven’t seen a bona fide grass roots movement for a long time, and it could be worth checking one out in all its inchoate glory. You may be trying to fix the wrong problems first.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: We can only guess at these things. Your comments also highlight the similarity between Obama and the Tea Parties: high drama, but vagueness about goals and means.

    Which goes to the heart of my scepticism about mass movements. Unless firmly rooted in sound principles, they can easily do more harm than good. One based on renewal of self-responsibility might work. Something so incoherent as the Tea Party movement seems a weak basis for reform.

    Esp one based on opposition to new taxes after the government has run large deficits for 4 decades. They just noticed? How do they expect to pay off the accumulated debt, pay the promised benefits (esp Social Security, Medicare, and federal pensions), and fund the regular government expenditures. The stimulus bill is just a cherry on top of a very large cake of spnding.

  39. FM citing Wikipedia on Tea Parties: “They demanded action, such as spending more on energy and transportation infrastructure, a new power grid, a new air-traffic control system”

    Wikipedia can be very useful, but I don’t trust it on anything controversial — too many interested parties making revisions. In this case, I have never heard anyone even remotely involved with, or in attendance at Tea Parties agitating for any of the above. Not once. It’s noteworthy that the sentence it comes from ends with “[citation needed],” not a reference to any actual source. Someone, somewhere might be carrying that bizarrely incongruous torch, but nobody else is passing it.

    BTW, major props for responding to individual comments. Not very many bloggers do so, and I appreciate your willingness to take the considerable time it demands. Didn’t have enough words left over to say so before!
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Per my first statement, unless they are a secret club you should be able to cite something saying what they do stand for. Given that this is a series of local demonstrations, your experience talking to a few people at your local protest tells us little. Also, you agree (at least implicitly) with Wikipedia on 6 of the 10 items on the Tea Party platform — which is not bad for this kind of diffuse movement.

  40. In re FB @77: “I disagree. IMO we have become experts at blaming others, so that our lack of personal responsibility threatens our Republic.”

    I meant I didn’t see self-inclusive contempt as a factor historically. I agree that blaming others for the state in which we find ourselves is generally just an unhealthy form of avoidance. When you claim to be a victim you cede both your own responsibility and the power to control your destiny to others. Even when you are, in fact, a victim of abuse, the road to recovery almost never begins until you refuse to regard yourself as a victim, or act like one. At the same time, regarding yourself with contempt is not empowering either, but perhaps we’re further apart semantically than we are in substance.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: I agree on all points. The formulation of this is important for marketing it, but otherwise it’s probably more a matter of which metaphor each of us find compelling. I was thinking of our recovery process as being like kicking an addiction. Dissatisfaction with what we are is the starting point. A radical difference fromthe smug self-righteousness I see in analysis on both the left and right that blame the “other” for our problems (this is not a reference to anything on this thread).

    Your first point is esp worth some thought! In many ways our situation is historically unique, probably because republics are so rare — and long-lived republics undergoing reform are even more so.

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