Undercutting people’s trust in the Republic: another step to destroying the Republic

Summary:  Skepticism of authority is an element of wisdom, but with careful encouragement can become malignant distrust of government. It’s a step towards de-legitimizing the Republic, a powerful element of a elites “divide and concquor” strategy — leaving a people with no obvious rallying point.  Here we discuss an example being run on us today.

Sedition: Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.

“Sedition” by Brian Thomason


  1. De-legitimization, the step before sedition
  2. How accurate are the economic statistics published by the US government?
  3. Conclusions
  4. Private sources of US economic data
  5. For more information

“Sedition” artwork is by Brian Thomason.

(1)  De-legitimization, the step before sedition

Their vision of Federal government distinguishes Left and Right in America.  The Left wishes to use Federal power to reshape society. The Right seeks to rollback domestic policy to before the New Deal. (Both parties love increases in the security services) It’s a monumental task, social engineering on a scale seldom attempted and rarely successful.

Now, after decades of well-funded propaganda, the Right nears success. How did they do this? One tactic was to de-legitimize the Federal government itself as an engine of domestic equality and prosperity.  Everything the government does domestically is questioned.  Building infrastructure? Wasteful!  Providing vital services, such as the National Weather Services?  Better privatized! Voting rights enforcement? Leave it to the States (who did so well from 1878 – 1964)!

A second form of attack is assaulting the integrity of government officials.  Crooks and liars all!  This allows the Right to erase the facts in many key aspects of reality and substitute their own myths. It’s a classic from the revolutionary’s handbook: step one is destroying a people’s confidence in their government.  This opens them to new sources of authority — and new leadership.

Let’s examine an example of this being run on us right now.

(2)  How accurate are the economic statistics published by the US government?


The proof for a claim must in some sense be commensurate with the character of the claim. Thus an extraordinary claim requires “extraordinary” (meaning stronger than usual) proof.
— Marcello Truzzi, “Zetetic Ruminations on skepticism and anomalies in science“, Zetetic Scholar, August 1987

It’s become a commonplace to hear conservatives accuse government statisticians of widespread, routine lying.  When asked the basis for this belief — stated as fact — they’re unable to give the slightest evidence.  Many of these people would object vehemently at any such slander against a US general or admiral — despite the many proven lies by US flag officers.

Good advice, both then and now!

In fact, the charge is absurd.

Economic data for a developed nation cannot be faked over a long period.  There are two many kinds of data of fantastic complexity, which must fit together. From too many sources (different agencies, Federal-States-locals, and private sources).  Tinkering would show up, sooner or later (depending on the kind and scale of manipulation).

For example, nominal GDP tracks retail sales, taxes (eg, sales, wages, income), and many other economic series. Real GDP is a  function of inflation and nominal GDP. If the government substantially understates inflation, than either real or nominal GDP quickly will look weird.  Suspiciously so.  If inflation was super-high for many, as some allege, than US real GDP must have dropped to depression-like levels. The US should look like Greece.  It doesn’t.

That’s not to say that the statistics are perfect. Measuring the economy of our large, rapidly changing, increasingly globalized economy would be difficult under the best circumstances.

(a)  The agencies collecting US economic statistics are not like DoD.  No contractor-funded lobbyists to gain funding for essential, non-essential, and fanciful programs. They are grossly underfunded, and do the best they can with what resources we give them. The best way to get better economic data is to lobby your representatives to better fund these agencies.

(b)  Inflation and GDP are high level abstractions. Calculating such things require a host of assumptions; it’s not like counting apples. There is no “right” way to calculate them. Any methods has problems, and will fit some economic situations better or worse than others. For some aspects of the measuring process there are no good solutions.

Being professional, government statisticians provide error estimates to most of the output, and label it as preliminary until they’ve fully matched the numbers (often months or years later — you get what you pay for).

(3)  Conclusions

US economic statistics have improved over time. Our theoretical understanding of econometrics has improved decade by decade, and this is reflected in their methodologies. And the government collects more and higher quality data.For example, the decennial censuses provide the only accurate data on unemployment until the early 1940s (see this for details).

The length (generations), breadth, and multiple sources of US economic data should give us confidence in these numbers, even to those skeptical (rightly so, IMO) of our government’s honesty.

One last word for those who casually call the government statistician “liars”.  Go visit the nearest office where they work.  Look them in the eyes and tell them they’re corrupt liars.  Report back your experience in the comments.

“A good government produces citizens distinguished for courage, love of justice, and every other good quality; a bad government makes them cowardly, rapacious, and the slave of every foul desire.”
— Dionysius of Halicarnassus, c. 20 BC

Good advice both then and now.

(4)  Private sources of economic data

A few of the many:

Paul Krugman notes that the US billion price index closely matches the government data.  More precisely it measures the same prices as the goods-only CPI calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

(5)  For more information

Calculating the Unemployment Rate“, The Liscio Report, 23 January 2009 — Accurate surveys began in the 1940s.

Addressing misconceptions about the Consumer Price Index“, John S. Greenlees and Robert B. McClelland, Monthly Labor Review, August 2008 — “A number of longstanding myths regarding the Consumer Price Index and its methods of construction continue to circulate; this article attempts to address some of the misconceptions, with an eye toward increasing public understanding of this key economic indicator” A rebuttal to critics, like ShadowStats.

Other posts about the assault on our government’s legitimacy:

Other propaganda and information operations run against us:

  1. Successful propaganda as a characteristic of 21st century America, 1 February 2010
  2. A note about practical propaganda, 22 March 2010
  3. About the political significance of the conservatives’ health care propaganda, 23 March 2010
  4. The similar delusions of America’s Left and Right show our common culture – and weakness, 26 March 2010
  5. Programs to reshape the American mind, run by the left and right, 2 August 2010
  6. The easy way to rule: leading a weak people by feeding them disinformation, 13 April 2011
  7. Facts are an obstacle to the reform of America, 20 October 2011
  8. Our minds are addled, the result of skillful and expensive propaganda, 28 December 2011
  9. More use of the big lie: shifting the blame for the housing crisis, 29 December 2011



31 thoughts on “Undercutting people’s trust in the Republic: another step to destroying the Republic”

  1. “Providing vital services, such as the National Weather Services? Better privatized!”

    Ah, you reminded me of my absolute favorite senator of all time, the Rt. Hon Rick Santorum, who brought us the National Weather Service Duties Act of 2005:

    “…Though the wording of the bill was generally considered unclear, the general consensus among observers was that its effect would be to eliminate public dissemination of National Weather Service data and forecasts except in case of severe weather alerts…

    Joel Myers, the head of Pennsylvania-based AccuWeather and one of Santorum’s constituents, was also a Santorum campaign contributor. Myers and his brother, the executive vice president, donated over $11,000 to Santorums political campaigns, including $2,000 two days before Santorum introduced the bill.”

    Thanks to Santorum, now we know how cheap it can be to lease a senator.

    Every now and then I hear* some journalist chowderhead complaining about how election campaign chests run up to — *gasp* — hundreds of millions of dollars. Apparently it’s news to these innumerates that this is a multi**trillion** dollar economy, and that the federal alone is enumerated in the trillions as well. The return on investment for connected contributors can be fantastic, at least as good as loading up on Apple stock, and lots easier than, you know, actually **building** something. Leasing politicians is a bargain for anyone with deep pockets.

    * Usually on NPR over the car radio, but I assume the same similar yammerings blight the other networks.

  2. Sorry for a double post, but I forgot to address the main topic of your remarks: One very good measure of a system losing legitimacy has to be the decline in the number of people who bother to vote. So I think turnout will be the only really interesting number to watch in this Novermber’s circus. Once again Obama will be blessed by his opposition, and win almost by default. But I’ll bet real money that Hope’n’Change’s constituency, his “mandate” will encompass no more than a quarter of the adult population, maybe even a mere 20%. Lots of people are both sides are going to sit this farce out.

    1. What does it say about a system’s legitimacy when liberals will be forced to hold their noses and vote for Obama? And conservatives will have to do the same wrt Romney. If I were an American, I suppose there’s some chance I’d vote for the lesser evil. More likely I’d stay home.

      1. The concept of political legitimacy has become quite blurred in America, as citizenship becomes confused with being a consumer of State services. A people who see themselves as consumers, judging the government like a bon vivant does cheese, has become subjects. They’re ready for the harness.

        I strongly recommend reading the entry on legitimacy in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

    2. The concept of political legitimacy has become quite blurred in America, as citizenship becomes confused with being a consumer of State services. A people who see themselves as consumers, judging the government like a bon vivant does cheese, has become subjects. They’re ready for the harness.

      An alternative view is that no state is legitimate and that the arguments by which statists justify their supposed legitimacy are flawed. We can see that they are flawed because, when the individual continues to doubt the legitimacy of the state, the state resorts to coercion.

      The counter-argument goes thus: as an autonomous individual I am capable of governning myself as well (and generally better than) a government. If a government wishes me to support some action for the common good, it is that government’s duty to earn my support by explaining why its proposed actions are wise and necessary. If it makes its case adequately well, I do not have to submit to the government’s coercion; I choose instead to become a partner in that particular action of the state, of my own will and with appropriate enthusiasm. By definition, coercion is not necessary in that situation – I am convinced, I am part of the team. It is my (and my team-mates’) conviction in the goodness and wisdom the action the government has proposed that confers the “legitimacy” the government craves. In that sense, the government’s course of action is truly democratic because whether it is done or not depends entirely upon the uncoerced will of the people.

      That is, of course, an ideal situation. A counter-argument is that it would be exceedingly difficult for a government to request leadership and legitimacy on a case-by-case basis: the government needs blanket authorization. Not to hammer that straw man too brutally, it’s pretty obvious that legitimacy cannot be obtained through a blank warrant; the government might attempt to do something that the people did not actually approve. (This problem has come up repeatedly in arguments I’ve made here regarding “representative” democracy, and why representation will never result in a legitimate government, let alone a democracy). Let’s dial the camera back a bit and consider that it’s impossible for a non-democratic government to be “legitimate” except for in two situations:
      1) The people grant a temporary warrant to a tyrant, for the duration of an emergency. The ancient Greeks would do this and results were mixed; often the solution turned out to be worse than the problem.
      2) The people elect an aristocracy, and have some mechanism for de-electing aristoi. This is somewhat in line with Plato’s ideal republic. I’d argue that it is unworkable without profound changes to human nature.

      So we are left with “legitimacy” that comes from the barrel of a gun. “You may not ‘a believe-a in da republic, but-a da republic, she-a believes in-a you.”

      Again, we would caution against victim-blaming. It is not that I am arguing sedition; it is that the state has not sufficiently conviced me of its legitimacy. It is not I that erode government authority, it is the venal clowns in Congress. The state cannot start from the assumption that it is due authority (aren’t we done with the “divine right of kings, yet?”) the state must convince the people that their loyalty is justified. The social contract is not something you can inherit simply by being born within imaginary lines on a map; it is offered and accepted if it is legitimate. Legitimacy, of course, is contradicted by coercion: the second the government raises its hand to the people to force their compliance, it has violated the social contract.

      The arguments I’ve sketched out above are better presented in Paul Wolff’s In Defense of Anarchism

  3. Terrific Link, FM. Having been a Philo Major, I could (barely) wade through it.

    “Drawing on discourse ethics, Habermas (1990, 1996) argues that people’s participation in the justificatory processes of deliberative democracy is necessary for rational-legal legitimacy”

    And your juxtaposition of Citizen and consumer of State services sure seems to be Today. Oh how we have been lulled asleep. “The Harness”…..quite appropo.


    1. Good point. In brief, we conflate two meanings of legitimacy: descriptive and normative.

      The first is that a government’s authority is operationally accepted, for whatever reasons. These can include apathy, a people’s unwillingness to fight and die for freedom, love of the system, appreciation for the results produced by the system, etc.

      The second is a more formal or abstract concept. Do people accept the moral basis for the government’s authority? Divine right of kings, consent of the governed, scriptural authority, etc.

      The Wikipedia entry covers this material adequately, in the confused fashion with which it handles complex material.

    2. Do people accept the moral basis for the government’s authority?

      A skeptical observer would point out that since there have been many (contradicting) arguments, from Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Stalin, and Mao regarding the moral basis of government authority, the only rational thing to do is to withhold judgement. If we remain unconvinced that the government has authority, this is not our fault, it’s the government’s problem for failing to offer a convincing argument.

      In fact, what most governments do is an appeal to authority. They point at Locke’s idea of the “social contract” and say, “there ya go!” – which works because:
      – Some people really don’t care, they just want to be left alone (natural anarchists)
      – Some people agree with the particular interpretation of the social contract
      – Others do not, but prefer to accept the inevitability of coercion when the state is finally confronted with its failure to establish its legitimacy

      Short form: Mao’s “all power comes from the barrel of a gun” is a better (and ultimately more often used) argument than Kant’s. The problem with Kant and Locke, particularly, is that they don’t survive skeptical challenge. They all dance past the is/ought chasm and flutter their hands furiously, and declare themselves successfully across it.

    3. One other problem with many of the various theories of legitimacy is that they fall back on a reciprocal relationship (Locke’s social contract) . Those theories fall when you recognize that the government (as we see in the US, today) will unilaterally rewrite that contract. If you wanted to be a “contractarian” you might say that the US Constitution and the body of US law comprise an agreement between the government and the people. Well, never mind that there are many laws that were put in place before I was alive to agree with them, the government has – in my lifetime – unilaterally repudiated the 4th amendment, and has broken many of its own laws (its contract with itself) including that it now asserts the right to kill me for disagreeing with it.

      Does that strike you as a state that still has a claim on my fealty? Other than that has now stated that it is prepared to kill or torture me for the crime of publicly disagreeing with it?

  4. This post and the fight between left and right remind me of the daily fight to control the thermostat at home. Somewhere between ice cold and sauna is a small optimal range that is good for everyone. Nevertheless, when someone thinks it should be colder or hotter, they feel it necessary to turn the dial as far as it will go. I suspect that those who are willing to go to extremes to change the size and role of government would be terribly disappointed if their absolute extreme position was realized.

  5. Both Left and Right are furnishing more and more authority to the Central Power hoping that in the end they would took control over it to advance their agendas.
    As the result Right replacing Left, then Left replacing Right, but the Office of the Power accumulates the authority.

    Nevermind … follow cheerleaders of Empire and keep voting.

  6. IMO we are confusing the Purpose of the government vs. the functioning of the government. If you violate the Purpose of the government does it matter how you do it? Force,bribes,propaganda,etc.?? This happens because we place some much attention on the mechanics of how our government should function as opposed to concentrating first on the purpose or missions of our government (USA). The Purpose or the Missions of the our Government (USA) were spelled out pretty clearly in the preamble to the constitution (the most overlooked part IMO). Without consistency of purpose, consistency of performance to some legitimate standard is not going to matter…is it??

  7. Voting for the lesser of two evils represents a rapid race to the bottom. Eventually you get a choice between Hannibal Lecter and Vlad the Impaler, and you vote for Vlad because he’s the lesser of two evils. Then, as your wife and children get impaled, the authorities remind you, “But remember — you voted for this policy!”

  8. Marcus Ranum remarks:

    “The people grant a temporary warrant to a tyrant, for the duration of an emergency. The ancient Greeks would do this and results were mixed; often the solution turned out to be worse than the problem.”

    Arguably America did this after 9/11.

  9. “Using house prices instead of rents to measure homeowner cost is known as the asset, or acquisitions, approach.40 Such an approach has some intuitive appeal and is similar to the treatment of any other CPI commodity. Its long-recognized flaw, however, is that owner-occupied housing combines both consumption and investment elements—and does so to a much greater degree than it does other goods and services in the CPI.”

    The issue isn’t so much the CPI itself, then, maybe, but that the Fed has been targeting CPI rates. This is the problem that Monetarism came around to solve — that too much money in the system fed into inflation. But this lousy economy came about because of a different problem. It wasn’t consumer price inflation but rather asset bubbles forming on the investment side that killed the economy. If housing prices don’t belong in the CPI, then maybe the Fed needs some other index to watch, that detects asset bubbles and puts on the brakes when this starts.

    1. There is no one true magic indicator that the government can watch to measure all economic activity. Most actions people blame the Fed for not doing are obvious only in hindsight.

      Some indicators track CPI — which is one of the three mandates Congress has assigned the Fed (the others are maximum employment and moderate long-term interest rates — described here).

      Others might track asset bubbles, which are easily recognized only in retrospect. Imagine the protests if the government’s central planners attempt to manage not only consumer prices (highly controversial) but asset prices. Communism! Managing asset prices is both inherently problematic and political dynamite. The people owning those assets will not appreciate the government working to limit their appreciation — or even reduce their value.

      Also, For every tech bubble there are several true supply/demand imbalances (eg, most commodity cycles), for which price signals are the most effective remedy.

    2. It should ultimately be the banks’ responsibility to spot speculative bubbles, specifically those that are driven by borrowing. These things must end in tears, because the value of the collateral is based on unsustainable lending that cannot continue indefinitely as buyers bid up the price of assets using borrowed money. A rational lender should recognize that the value of collateral is less than the current market value, if, for example, the value of housing exceeds the ability of wage earners to pay. Nobody even worries about this now because the incentives are to book the quick profits and get out quick with a bag of cash — let the next guy worry about the implosion. With the TBTF’s the bankers get the bonuses on the inflation of the bubble, and the public takes the hit when the whole thing collapses.

      Bubbles that don’t involve borrowing aren’t an issue. If investors want to gamble on flooz.com that’s fine and no harm comes from this. This kind of gambling is an essential part of the economy for creating new products. Price rises based on shortages are not harmful to society either.

      As far as communism, the Chinese did really make an effort to pop their housing bubble. I think they’re a little late, and are suffering a recession now for letting this thing get out of hand. We’ll see how this goes. (Honestly I’m not sure myself.)

      1. “It should ultimately be the banks’ responsibility to spot speculative bubbles, specifically those that are driven by borrowin”

        I doubt anyone can argue with that. Unfortunately, bubbles can appear without bank lending (eg, the tech bubble). And bubbles appear to be a inherent function of modern economic systems, appearing during the past two centuries under many different systems of economic regulation. Including gold standards, dashing the innocent but ignorant myths of gold-bugs. I suggest focusing on limiting the damage they cause through tight regulation of banks.

        For a through intro to bubbles I recommend Andrew Odlyzko’s (Prof Mathematics, U of MN) history of 19th century British bubbles: “Charles Mackay’s own extraordinary popular delusions and the Railway Mania“s.

  10. Marcus Ranum notes that “…the government has – in my lifetime – unilaterally repudiated the 4th amendment, and has broken many of its own laws (its contract with itself) including that it now asserts the right to kill me for disagreeing with it. Does that strike you as a state that still has a claim on my fealty? Other than that has now stated that it is prepared to kill or torture me for the crime of publicly disagreeing with it?” Including unilaterally abolishing the right to a jury trial, the right to habeas corpus, the right of the people to peaceably assemble in redress of their grievances, and the right of freedom of speech (especially online).

    Locke’s concept of the social contract does not appear to survive the collapse of a viable middle class AKA “globalized capitalism” and the rise of a digital panopticon universal surveillance state.

    Shorter version: “”Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” — George Washington

    1. I like Thomas M’s quoting of George Washington here. To me, this seems to be the crux of the matter. The government operates on the basis of force, not on the basis of abstract theories of legitimacy. It is well and fine to reject the government, but unless you are not only willing but capable of backing those sentiments up with effective action, you don’t matter. The sword wielded in the service of justice will eventually win out against the sword wielded in the service of tyranny; but there must be a strong arm and a sword.

  11. Relax, its all going to work out fine — U.S. has tripled it’s arms sales (YNet News). While so many of the country’s small businesses have still not recovered to 2007-8 revenue levels, the military industrial complex is growing by leaps and bounds.

    Of course our last soldier-President warned us to beware of the MIC, but that seems to have just been the rantings of an old man, eh?

  12. And where does this program of de-legitimzing the US government lead us? For a vision of a future let’s look at Lubbock, Texas.

    Official Stirs Texas City With Talk of Rebellion“, New York Times, 27 August 2012 — Excerpt:

    A few days before, the county’s top elected official, County Judge Tom Head, made an appearance on a local television station to generate support for the tax increase. He said he was expecting civil unrest if President Obama is re-elected, and that the president would send United Nations forces into Lubbock, population 233,740, to stop any uprising.

    “He is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N.,” Mr. Head said on Fox 34 last week. “O.K., what’s going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking worst-case scenario: civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war, maybe. And we’re not talking just a few riots here and demonstrations. We’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.”

    And if the president did send in United Nations troops, Mr. Head continued, “I don’t want ’em in Lubbock County. O.K. So I’m going to stand in front of their armored personnel carriers and say, ‘You’re not coming in here.’ And the sheriff, I’ve already asked him. I said, ‘You gonna back me?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ll back you.’

    “Well, I don’t want a bunch of rookies back there,” Mr. Head said.

    Head is exceptional now, but might be our future. Next stop, facisim. Driver, close the door — passengers, fasten your seatbelts.

  13. FM: “Next stop, facisim.”

    So, in economy we will have a whole bunch of banks and other monopolies acting in collusion with the central government. All aspects of social activities will be regulated by the laws of the central government. Military will be exalted. We will have a transparent personal life and secret government. Central government would be able assassinate any citizen.

    It is the one scary picture. I think you are right; we should all support our present regime.

    FM, are you sure it is our NEXT stop?

  14. Excellent points on the legitimacy of the state, particularly by Marcus Ranum.

    How were political parties made constitutional in selecting officeholders? The parties were anathema to the founding fathers.

    I’m registered Republican. After the GOP’s shutting down any plank proposed by Ron Paul, I have limited choices: don’t vote or write in Ron Paul. I’m really leaning toward the former as the best way of registering my protest.

    1. I think the parties are technically private associations, with no preferential access to the electoral system. Their advantage lies in their superior organization, which is in effect self-perpetuating.

      Some States have altered the system to remove this advantage.

    2. The rights of the parties are enshrined in state/local laws, to benefit both Democrats and Republicans as a way to maintain their privileges. The wording of the various laws makes it very difficult for any competitor to get access to the ballot.

      The Paul’ites attempted to work within the system, and were squelched. The disenfrachisement is likely to be widely felt among voters.

      Another point: Paul received a high level of support from the uniformed military. Are they thus disenfranchised? What are the implications for the current system?

  15. Here we have a clear example of the process described in this post! I doubt that Bolling could state any evidence for his belief about the BLS staff. He just knows, a generalization of the fundamentalist’s world view from religion onto politics. Such are fanatics made and political movements born.


    [caption id="attachment_43116" align="alignright" width="204"] Eric Bolling, Fox News[/caption]

    Dumb tweet of the day: “Fox News’ latest target is the Bureau of Labor Statistics“, Jillian Rayfield, Salon, 7 September 2012:

    Can’t wait to sink my teeth into the August jobs report..pile of garbage cooked up by partisan Bureau of Labor Statistics #Criminal
    — ericbolling (@ericbolling) 7 September 2012

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