Alert! Our institutions are hollow because we don’t love them.

Summary: Our institutions look strong, able to carry us through both tough times and internal dissention. But they are just “paper bullets of the mind.” They failed in Weimar. We should pay attention to the signs that they will fail us, too.

Worry about our institutions imploding from internal attack, not external attack.

US capitol under attack

We trust our institutions to carry America over rough patches. Extraordinary Popular Delusions and The Madness of Crowds, power-mad and corrupt presidents (e.g., Nixon), and periods of extraordinary social stress (e.g., wars and depressions). Reading Martin van Creveld’s powerful new book, Hitler in Hell (a memoir), reminds me of a disturbing lesson from history — one familiar to the Founders. A nation’s survival depends on its people because its institutions are little more than illusions — concepts given form in our mind, consensual hallucinations.

The Weimar Republic survived many terrible crises during the 1920s. Germany had fair elections in November 1932, and the regime looked strong. The Nazi Party got 30% of the vote, the Social Democrats got 20%, and the Communist Party got 17%. What happened next is amazing, even 85 years later. It was even more so to the German people as it happened.

  • 30 January 1933 — Hitler sworn in as Chancellor of Germany, forming the “Reich Cabinet of national salvation.” His coalition had a narrow majority in the Reichstag.
  • February 27 — The Reichstag burns down. Like 9/11 and the anthrax envelopes in 2001, it created a fearful public allowing the government to act beyond the usual limits.
  • March 9-11 — The Nazis overthrow the Lander governments. These states were powerful in the Weimar federal structure and independent of the national government.
  • March — The Nazi Sturmabteilung (SA, the “brownshirts”, their paramilitary) destroys the Communist party apparatus, killing its leaders or imprisoning them in the new concentration camps.
  • March 23 — Amidst Nazi violence against its members, the Reichstag passes the Enabling Law making Hitler a de facto tyrant.
  • May 2 — The Nazis destroy Germany’s labor unions (which were among the strongest in the world), arresting their leaders, confiscating their assets, and disbanding them. Their members did nothing. No protests. No strikes.
  • May 10 — The Nazis seize the assets of the Social Democratic Party and arrested its leaders (those who did not flee Germany or serve the Nazis). Its members — and the other parties and the public — did nothing. No protests.

In six months the major institutions of the Weimar Republic were blown away like dust. They were not destroyed so much as brushed aside with little violence or bloodshed. Weimar’s institutions surrendered without a fight to an unpopular minority party (the Nazi’s share of the popular vote dropped 15% in the November 1932 election from the its level in the July election.

I don’t understand how this was even possible, let alone how it happened. Scores of books describe what happened, but do not well answer the more difficult question of “why”.

Bigstock: D-Knob-Confidence-Level-46141444-583x437

Are America’s institutions of today much stronger tha Weimar’s?

Political institutions are just “paper bullets of the mind.” No matter how formidable they are on paper, they have power only if they live in people’s hearts. Surveys show that is no longer true for America. We don’t know what the Constitution says. Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll shows a multi-generational crash in our confidence in the Republic’s institutions.

Our institutions look robust. But Weimar’s institutions looked strong in January 1933. Weimar floundered and sank from a combination of the Great Depression, Weimar’s ruinous response of austerity to the crash, and the Reichstag Fire.

Our situation has, of course, few similarities to Weimar 1934. But the question of institutional strength is eternal, a challenge everywhere and always. How might the social and political institutions of the United States withstand such a high level of stress? Our political parties are already weak, with little credibility among our citizens — and even their members. Trump’s election shows the hollowness of our political system. , as does voter turnout (low vs. most of our peers, far below the levels of the 19thC, very low and falling in Congressional elections). Worst of all, perhaps we are the weak link in our regime.

Let’s hope we are lucky and don’t encounter powerful storms, as did Weimar. But whatever happens, remember we are responsible for America. It is ours to keep or to lose! For suggestions about things you can do to help see this post about ways to reforming America – steps to new politics.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about the Constitution and especially these…

  1. de Tocqueville warns us not to become weak and servile.
  2. A great philosopher and statesman comments on the Bush-Obama tweaks to the Constitution — by Edmond Burke.
  3. George Orwell sends us a note, giving some perspective on our situation.
  4. Thomas Jefferson saw our present peril. We should heed his warning.
  5. Rome speaks to us. Their example can inspire us to avoid their fate.
  6. We’re drifting towards tyranny, again. Jefferson describes our first brush with tyranny.
  7. America isn’t falling like the Roman Empire. It’s falling like Rome’s Republic.
Executive Unbound
Available at Amazon.

To learn more about the next Republic.

The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic by Eric Posner. He advocates smiling while we slide to tyranny, and console ourselves with illusions. See this from the publisher. …

“Ever since Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. used ‘imperial presidency’ as a book title, the term has become central to the debate about the balance of power in the U.S. government. Since the presidency of George W. Bush, when advocates of executive power such as Dick Cheney gained ascendancy, the argument has blazed hotter than ever. Many argue the Constitution itself is in grave danger. What is to be done?

“The answer, according to legal scholars Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, is nothing. In The Executive Unbound, they provide a bracing challenge to conventional wisdom, arguing that a strong presidency is inevitable in the modern world. Most scholars, they note, object to today’s level of executive power because it varies so dramatically from the vision of the framers. But there is nothing in our system of checks and balances that intrinsically generates order or promotes positive arrangements. In fact, the greater complexity of the modern world produces a concentration of power, particularly in the White House.

“The authors chart the rise of executive authority straight through to the Obama presidency. Political, cultural and social restraints, they argue, have been more effective in preventing dictatorship than any law. The executive-centered state tends to generate political checks that substitute for the legal checks of the Madisonian constitution.”

 

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39 thoughts on “Alert! Our institutions are hollow because we don’t love them.

  1. The Weimers institutions were in existence for little more than 12 years. During its difficult birth it was necessary to use right wing nationalist militias and the army to defeat a communist rebellion. The Nation was trying to recover from a cataclysmic defeat with huge numbers of maimed and dead. The previous ruling class was discredited.
    First they were starved, then humiliated in defeat, the flower of there manhood dead on the battlefield, there remaining savings and income inflated away during the hyper inflation. Democracy was viewed as a dead rubber by about half the electorate, who supported a variety of fascist, authoritarian, and communist alternatives. It was flanked by an Authoritarian Poland/Romania/Hungary, a totalitarian Soviet Union, a Fascist Italy, a divided France, an unraveling Spain.

    The US is in a different situation, its hard to compare the two, because there situations are so dissimilar.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are correct in all of those facts. However the point is also made that human nature and human social behavior is unchanged over the millennia, was well understood by the founding fathers (as it were), and that there were concrete reasons for the fall of every “democracy” in history. the constitution was an attempt to avoid the pitfalls of all prior direct democracies (two foxes and a chicken voting for what to have for dinner).

      however it may prove to be true that despite the attempt to prevent recurrence of history and to discourage the successful emergence of political and other behaviors based on human nature that such recurrence is still more likely than not to force a repeat of history.(sadly). We will see whether the human minds of the creators of the constitution will be able to win out over the human minds of any political population of human beings.

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    2. Merocaine,

      “The US is in a different situation, its hard to compare the two, because there situations are so dissimilar.”

      Yes. My point is not that our situations are similar. Rather, that Weimar reminds us that seemingly strong institutions can fall if rotted out from the inside. The Nazis didn’t fight their way into power — they waltzed into power. The Nazis were not an all-powerful force in 1934 (their most powerful governing institutions were not yet built). Why did they win so easily?

      While Weimar itself was only 16 years old, its component institutions were far older. The Lander (states) were centuries old — older than Germany itself. And they folded like cheap suits. The local security services and police had long and deep traditions; it is not obvious why they so quickly surrendered. Germany’s labor unions were among the strongest and most powerful in the world — and they folded before an obviously hostile Nazi Federal government.

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    3. I see what you mean, as you’ve said many times there has been a collapse in trust in the institutions of state, apart from the military and police. What is interesting is how many commentators, both liberal and conservative have looked to the Generals in the administration to keep Trump under control.
      If democracy was to be destroyed in the US, my guess it would be by a combination of populist democratic movement, and military acting in conjunction. This has happened many times in Turkey for example, where the military is seen as the embodiment of the national soul (until recently, but nothing last for ever in politics).

      Hollywood in recent years has looked to the military as some kind of monk warriors, modern paladins, when politics fail, it is the military, humble, competent, loyal that steps into the breach to save humanity. They have sanctified the grunt.

      When you think of older movies, like Paths to Glory. Then compare that to Saving Private Ryan.
      Transformers or Captain America and compare them to say, A few good men, or Die Hard 2 you can see what I mean. The military used to be seen as a necessary evil, fatally corrupted by its violent role, given to mistaking discipline for virtue. Now they are seen as the ultimate protectors of our freedom.

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    4. Merocaine,

      “If democracy was to be destroyed in the US, my guess it would be by a combination of populist democratic movement, and military acting in conjunction.”

      My guess would be more of what we have now — growing power of the 1%. With the security services and the military as minor members of the team. The former keeping order, the latter an outlet to keep the aggressive members of society busy and the public distracted. People seldom mention this scenario, preferring more Hollywood-like futures.

      Populism has seldom been a powerful force in the US. And it has never been a dominant force. The populist – progressive alliance ruled briefly during the New Deal. Now they hate each other (probably to the amusement of the 1%, watching their major foes fight).

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  2. The two situations are not comparable, if for no other reason than Hitler’s seizure of power stands out as a warning. Comparing Weimar Institutions with our own also seems very much of a stretch.
    It remains true, however, that the takeover of Germany by the Nazis is hard to explain.

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    1. Bernie,

      “The two situations are not comparable, if for no other reason than Hitler’s seizure of power stands out as a warning.”

      A warning of what? Also, you believe the “we always learn from history” theory? Good luck with that.

      “Comparing Weimar Institutions with our own also seems very much of a stretch.”

      You don’t appear to get the point of the essay. I don’t say the circumstances are similar. My point is that their seemingly strong institutions can blow down easily if they rot from the inside.

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    2. Editor:
      I do understand the thrust of the article – and you pose a good question in noting the absence of an explanation for the collapse of German democratic institutions. But the absence of an explanation is hardly a logical basis for arguing that our institutions will also collapse. It is a possibility – but what is your evidence for arguing that the probability is materially significant. What evidence do you have that the Supreme Court, for instance, would fail to defend the Constitution? What evidence do you have that the Senate would somehow surrender its powers to the Executive?
      As for “learning from history”, how would you explain the “Resist Trump” coalition? I think that movement is misguided and somewhat hysterical, but isn’t it fueled by an aversion to a populist leader?

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    3. Bernie,

      It would be helpful if you would reply to direct quotes, to avoid the frequent rebuttals to things I don’t say. Like this…

      “But the absence of an explanation is hardly a logical basis for arguing that our institutions will also collapse.”

      I say nothing even remotely like that.

      “but what is your evidence for arguing that the probability is materially significant.”

      Let’s replay the tape (those links go to hard data that should — but oddly doesn’t — terrify you).

      “Political institutions are just “paper bullets of the mind.” No matter how formidable they are on paper, they have power only if they live in people’s hearts. Surveys show that is no longer true for America. We don’t know what the Constitution says. Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll shows a multi-generational crash in our confidence in the Republic’s institutions. …Our political parties are already weak, with little credibility among our citizens — and even their members. Trump’s election shows the hollowness of the system.” {As does falling turnout for elections.

      “What evidence do you have that the Supreme Court, for instance, would fail to defend the Constitution? What evidence do you have that the Senate would somehow surrender its powers to the Executive?”

      Wow. Talk about a reading FAIL! The point of this essay — expressed at some length — is that there were few or no signs of such in 1933 Weimar, and that the health of political institutions should be measured not by the robust appearance of institutions but my measures of the people’s love for and allegiance to the regime.

      “As for “learning from history”, how would you explain the “Resist Trump” coalition?”

      Just like the GOP’s long and successful Resist Obama coalition (although they didn’t give it a snazzy label). Partisan politics. Bush was Hitler. Obama was Hitler. Trump is Hiter.

      It’s Business as Usual in late Republic America, with both sides painting themselves as angels and their foes as Satan. That’s vital to prevent the peons from noticing the high degree of overlap between the two parties. E.g., love for banks, massive domestic surveillance and powerful security services, BIG BIG BIG military with its forever wars, boosting inequality (e.g., the Dem’s neoliberalism), etc.

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    4. Editor:
      You say: “My point is that their seemingly strong institutions can blow down easily if they rot from the inside.” Well true, if there is rot in critical areas. Assuming the argument that you are making equates to “our seemingly strong institutions can blow down easily if they rot from the inside.” Which of our institutions do you see as rotting from the inside anymore than they have been for the last 200 years or so? What is the nature of the “rot”?

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    5. Editor:
      Three points.
      First, how come when I make an allusion to a past historical event you dismiss it, but your entire article is based on an allusion to a past historical event?
      Second, while voter turnout in the US is pathetically low, it appears that it is an historical reality. For example, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_turnout_in_the_United_States_presidential_elections#/media/File:U.S._Vote_for_President_as_Population_Share.png I am less certain than you appear to be that American’s do not love their key democratic institutions even if they are ignorant of some of its key elements, i.e., the US Constitution. The Gallup Poll data is more intriguing. If you actually look at the lowest two confidence categories the Supreme Court, the Military, Small Business are the same or better now than in the early 1970s. On the other hand, the Presidency, Congress, Big Business, Big Media, Big Labor, Big Education, Big Medicine have all suffered a loss of confidence.
      Third, it could be argued that among other factors, Weimar collapsed because the middle class and working class had a recent and highly successful model that they loved better than the tumultuous politics of all against all faction-riven democracy, namely Bismark or the myth of Bismark. Unfortunately for them and the rest of us, Hitler was a vicious anti-Semite and racist while Bismarck enabled Jews to be fully integrated into German political, academic and commercial life. Fortunately, I see no longing for an alternative governmental structure except possible for more local control and less central government. Perhaps Harvey will show that both community spirit and large government are needed.

      One final comment. I am perfectly open to the possibility that I misread something you wrote but your condescension hardly encourages participation. Still it is your site and, therefore, your rules of discourse.

      Liked by 1 person

    6. Bernie,

      (1) It would be helpful if you would reply to direct quotes. I would know what you’re talking about. Also, there have been over 3 dozen comments since your previous one. I don’t recall what you said, and it requires work to find your comment.

      (2) “how come when I make an allusion to a past historical event you dismiss it, but your entire article is based on an allusion to a past historical event?”

      What are your talking about? My last reply to you was “Please re-read what I re-posted to you in the past comment.” That is, I gave a longish answer to your question, which you ignored. I didn’t “dismiss” anything.

      (3) “while voter turnout in the US is pathetically low, it appears that it is an historical reality.”

      No. You are looking at voting as a percentage of the total population, which reflects a wide range of factors. Civic participation is measured by turnout as a percent of eligible votes, which is what I cited.

      (4) “Supreme Court, the Military, Small Business are the same or better now than in the early 1970s.”

      Small business is not an institution in any meaningful sense. The Court is the least important of the major political institutions — far less so than Congress and the Executive. That the military and police are by far the most respected institutions of the Republic is in my opinion a disturbing sign. I can’t imagine why you find it comforting.

      (5) “Third, it could be argued that among other factors, Weimar collapsed because…”

      As I said in the post and repeatedly in the comments, this is not a comparison of why Weimar collapsed to our situation. My point is that Weimar’s institutions suddenly and completely collapsed — unexpectedly and without warning. Hence my suggestion that rather than take comfort in the solid appearance of our institutions, we should look at their foundations. And that shows a disturbing picture.

      (6) “but your condescension hardly encourages participation.”

      Personally, I think I’m a saint. I quote what commenters say, give logical replies, and cite evidence. Few commenters bother to do the same. In general, website operators dislike their comment sections — and either heavily moderate them or don’t allow comments (see many many examples here).

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  3. Interestingly Hurricane Harvey appears to be demonstrating that we can have both strong institutions and weak institutions. So far Texas appears to have demonstrated a very effective governmental response to a situation that could/should have overwhelmed them given its magnitude. It will be interesting to see if that holds once people return to their homes and the magnitude of the personal/financial loss becomes apparent. On the other hand the crisis demonstrates a deeper failure of a government that failed to plan effectively to protect the urban environment against a catastrophic event such as Harvey. Its no secret that replacing grasslands with pavement increases runoff, but the Texas anything goes ethos acts in opposition to urban planning to prevent runaway development.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The late Tony Judt had a brilliant lecture on many of the themes you talked about, particularly the shadow Weimar casts on our current outlook:

    “But for whatever reason, we are today living out the dim echo—like light from a fading star—of a debate conducted seventy years ago by men born for the most part in the late nineteenth century. To be sure, the economic terms in which we are encouraged to think are not conventionally associated with these far-off political disagreements. And yet without an understanding of the latter, it is as though we speak a language we do not fully comprehend.”

    Here’s the full text: “What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy?” by Tony Judt in the NY Review of Books, 17 December 2009.

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    1. John,

      Thank you for tellus us about this powerful speech! I’ll ask for permission to repost it. Esp note this, pointing one aspect of the Left’s mad love for giant States and open borders:

      “And indeed, it is not by chance that social democracy and welfare states have worked best in small, homogeneous countries, where issues of mistrust and mutual suspicion do not arise so acutely. A willingness to pay for other people’s services and benefits rests upon the understanding that they in turn will do likewise for you and your children: because they are like you and see the world as you do. Conversely, where immigration and visible minorities have altered the demography of a country, we typically find increased suspicion of others and a loss of enthusiasm for the institutions of the welfare state.”

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  5. I’m beginning to think that the real issue is that Americans just want government that works efficiently and effectively. They have come to the conclusion that the polarized political system is getting in the way of they government operating effectively. Of course some of that inefficiency may be purposeful as there are many vested interests that benefit from dysfunctional government. Regardless, the people seem open to trying different approaches in the hopes one of them will be better. I don’t find that to be a particularly good strategy for sampling restaurants and suspect its not a great way to pick governments.

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    1. John,

      “They have come to the conclusion that the polarized political system is getting in the way of they government operating effectively.”

      I am sure your are correct. But of course that view by people is daft. Quite deranged. As I have written so many times, the US government runs quite well. Like all systems, it runs for the interests of its stakeholders. Today that is the 1%. The interests of the American people — apathetic, alienative, passive, whiney — are rightly ignored.

      When we decide to again work the machinery the Founders bequeathed us, we’ll find it works quite well.

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    2. I’ll counter that narrative a bit. The Founding Fathers did not design a democracy. They designed a Republic run by property owners.They included a very effective set of checks and balances to assure that no one runs roughshod over the system, but they never intended the country to be run by plebiscite.

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  6. Dear FM and all,

    Are all of our institutions and beliefs derived from myths we share with our larger community? And by myths, I don’t mean lies, but human constructs that allow us to build things on things that aren’t really there. I *believe* in an inalienable right to life and liberty, but how do I prove it? As long as we all believe, it works, kinda, sorta. We have evidence that people can be good and kind and charitable, but so too can folks be evil and cruel and rapacious. At the risk of being crucified on the cross of political correctness, I’m confident that there were many “good people” in Weimar Germany among the 60 or 70 million odd who were living there and remained so, though maybe under extreme duress and evasion through the war. The veneer peels off quickly under the right conditions. We’re, what, six or seven missed meals away from total chaos? We actually know that pretty well, and what keeps us all from cleaning out the 9mm (and *cough* sig 357 *cough*) and 12 gauge and and 5.56 and 30 06 rounds from the local Walmart instead of reading FM right now is we believe that our rule of law is real, our institutions are real, our markets are real. And they are, but only as long as we collectively believe.

    Where I begin to freak out a little is when you see people, especially those using the name “liberal” in vain, think they need and actually act to destroy free speech to preserve it because a *perceived* demagogue is in power. Think about this for a femptosecond. There is a crocodile in the White House, some wildebeests wear red hats because he actually won’t eat them suitably behatted, but he will wildebeests in hats other than red (imperfect analogy, but work with me here :), and you want to hobble everyone, when actual demagogue with an actual agenda might come into office and take real advantage of those hobbles? The eat them all and let God sort them out type? When the myths crumble, what’s left that has been built upon them?

    Even the threat of nuclear annihilation or the worst case scenarios times whatever for climate change poses much of a threat for human *existence* over many thousands of years — maybe as many as we’ve been here as homo sapiens. Not in the billions and air conditioned comfort, perhaps, but hunter-gatherers eating rats and coyotes. We can game out scenarios to kill all human life, whatever, but it’s not humans living on that gives me much interest, but how long do our more noble founding myths remain alive in the minds of the humans and continue to provide the unprecedented freedom and prosperity that have been built upon them?

    I met a traveller from an antique land,
    Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
    Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
    Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
    And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
    Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
    Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
    The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
    And on the pedestal, these words appear:
    My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
    Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
    Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
    Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

    Ozymandias — Percy Bysshe Shelley

    With best regards,

    Bill

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    1. Bill, your explanation of the importance of the founding myths is quite insightful. My question is why has the power of the myths weakened? While it could be the demographic changes in society, this is not the first time that has happened. Additionally, recent immigrants are often the most fervent believers in these “myths”. It could be the concentration of wealth, but this is not the first time the country has had concentration of wealth. It could be the new communications technologies. Or it could be that the myths no longer fit the needs of the people and need to be updated. I don’t have the answers, but appreciate your raising the question and will look forward to hearing from those with more insight.

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    2. Hi John,

      I think myth is still powerful — it’s essential because without it we have nothing to build on in my weirdo worldview — but I don’t know why our myths of classical liberalism: freedom of thought, expression, association, liberty, exchange, etc., have been so easily subverted. And I very much take your point about recent immigrants sharing a significant portion of these founding myths. I’m often agog at why the Republicans are so unbelievably bad at recruiting essentially conservative (and really, in very good senses, conservative from my perspective) people, but a moment of introspection reveals the answer: the Republican establishment is in no way conservative the way, say, the guy standing in front of the Home Depot on Saturday who would be in church on Sunday if he didn’t have to work off the books is. I don’t get it, and I don’t know, but I do see friction points. If the rule of law becomes too wink-wink, nudge-nudge, its sacredness is forfeit. This applies to *everyone* from white collar criminal Mayflower-descended oligarchs, to the folks for a much more essential requirements who hire illegal and legal immigrants alike to pitch watermelons (it’s *hard* work) and pick tomatoes and pluck chickens and milk cows (women, often in this case, cows give more milk, on average, with women working the parlors, or that’s what a bunch of farmers in North Florida think, very interesting to me, at least), to the people who actually have to do the work, off book, and at depressed rates because the illegality prevents market competition. As late as the early 90s, I was doing work in Okeechobee and saw the cinder block “houses” that the primarily Haitian farm hands slept in. No windows, just open squares. No doors in the doorways. The mosquitoes and horseflies were brutal. And that *was* a better life than what they had before. I have respect for men and women who cut cane, pitch watermelons, milk cows, etc. All I had to do was place sensors and instruments and make measurements. But, if legal status doesn’t really mean anything, well, where does the legal spectrum end? Maybe there is a better set of myths, but as a classic liberal, I *believe* in borders because I believe in liberty, subsidiarity, federalism, and freedom of religion and association all of which need to be protected by the rule of law, however imperfectly it has been implemented in the US. If we can flaunt the law as the 99%, how can we expect the 1% not to do the same? But, what about these people?

      This is a long way of saying I don’t know, and I beg your patience and forgiveness if I have ranted a little too much and schlep around a word to ignorance ratio that is out of reasonable proportion.

      With kindest regards,

      Bill

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  7. Dr. Bill and all, for last 8 years Wal-Mart’s stocks were depleted within a day after a shipment arrived.

    Just sayin.

    Cough Cough. I like your style!

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    1. Hi Longtrail,

      Thank you! And replying to your other comment as well, yes, it’s very interesting the dynamic this supply and demand at Walmart. One side of me was thinking they should just charge a hell of a lot more so that supply and demand come into equilibrium. It’s all very weird. I see it, but I don’t understand it, however much I try.

      With very best regards,

      Bill

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  8. Editor:
    Above you say
    “(3) “while voter turnout in the US is pathetically low, it appears that it is an historical reality.”

    No. You are looking at voting as a percentage of the total population, which reflects a wide range of factors. Civic participation is measured by turnout as a percent of eligible votes, which is what I cited.”

    According to this data the recent pattern shows no sign of a marked decline, though since about 1912, it is certainly markedly lower than the 1850-1900 period.

    http://www.electproject.org/national-1789-present

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    1. Bernie,

      Thanks for catching that. It’s an example of looking at a table with a preconcieved view. I saw the collapse from the high 19th C levels — but not the current plateau. I’ll change that text.

      Note that I’ve read that turnout at congressional elections has been falling for several decades (see this Census analysis). I don’t know how that matches with the presidential election data.

      Jefferson wouldn’t be surprised at this picture. He believed economically independent citizens were essential for a Republic. Hence is belief that farmers, merchants, and craftsman were the foundation of the regime. Those classes were crushed in the late 19Th C. For several reasons, including the long deflation (they tended to be debtors). That matches the voting data, and might explain some of the big drop after 1900.

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    2. Editor:
      The referenced chart includes the mid-term which is surely a proxy for congressional elections. It follows the Presidential turnout to a remarkable degree but is consistently lower.

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    3. Bernie,

      Yes, I noticed that. Considering the large number of local races on the mid-term ballots — people of greater immediacy to voters than our President, plus votes on taxes, bonds, and regulations — it’s always seemed odd to me that the mid-term elections get such low turnout.

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  9. resilient, or as nasim talib differentiates, “antifragile” institutions is a much better descriptor for the united states than “strong institutions”. the arrangement created by our founders, as amended over the centuries, has survived wars, economic crises, a civil war and crooked and inept leaders. it has demonstrated its antifragility many times. the weimar government collapsed at the first push just a few years after it was established. talib explains in his book why institutions that appear strong may actually be very vulnerable. ” the tree that does not bend before the wind is broken by the wind” (mandarin proverb). weimar was a perfect example of a fragile state.

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    1. Jay,

      Be careful of “just so” stories. That the US has done well doesn’t mean its institutions are strong today. Which is the point of this post — warning not to be complacent about the strength of our institutions because of their past or their surface appearance. Look at their foundations. Which appear to be washing away.

      “the weimar government collapsed at the first push just a few years after it was established.”

      That’s an exercise in the hindsight I am warning about. Weimar lasted for 15 years (not “a few”). Fifteen tumultuous years — including the post WWI social and economic turmoil, hyperinflation, massive pressure from hostile neighbors, and the first five years of the Great Depression. It held elections, maintained order, paid its bills. It looked quite strong in January 1934. Then it folded.

      It’s easy but silly to say it fell therefore it was weak, and we have not yet fallen so we must be strong.

      Like

  10. Editor, Dr. Bill,

    It’s 2AM and I am watching Alien Covenant which is a sequel to Prometheus. I have no idea if you’ve seen them yet.

    The spacecraft from Prometheus arrives on the planet and the robot is standing in the portal, repaired.

    He says, “My name is Ozymandias, King of kings;

    I won’t continue and spoil it.

    When I came back to this post I saw your comment about Florida and Okeechobee. One of the reasons I was always against illegal immigration is the exploitation. Your observations are so thought provoking to an intellectual light weight like me with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science. But I’ve seen the same in FL and AZ.

    The thing is I have high regard and appreciation for them like you. I’m aware of the Bolivarian history to some degree. I agree with your observation about Republicans. That’s why I’m no longer one myself.

    Maybe it’s because I’m also an immigrant.

    Back to the movie…

    Like

    1. Hi Longtrail,

      I’ve largely been on a media fast, thus the late-ish reply.

      LT> I am watching Alien Covenant which is a sequel to Prometheus. I have no idea if you’ve seen them yet.

      I haven’t…

      LT> He says, “My name is Ozymandias, King of kings;

      I’m sure there are other King-of-the-world-but-now-forgotten references in literature, but Shelley provided “Ozzy” for us who haven’t read widely enough to run off a handful at the drop of a hat, LOL. Plenty of how-the-mighty-have-fallen, but at least there you have schadenfreude.

      LT> One of the reasons I was always against illegal immigration is the exploitation.

      Absolutely! Which makes the look-the-other-way approach to non-enforcement, perhaps counterintuitively, is exploitative. It’s important to fix the laws rather than circumvent them, and this is regardless of any particular policy position one may have. I kinda freak out when people say screw the law, let the POTUS just do or not do whatever the hell he likes!

      LT> intellectual light weight like me with an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science.

      Oh, if I’m prejudiced against credentialing, it’s against masochists like me who engage in a self-flagellating pursuit of trivia that has about as much of a chance of advancing the body of science as flinging a handful of those magnet words against a refrigerator and having it spell out why string cheese is (or isn’t) more important than string theory.

      LT> Maybe it’s because I’m also an immigrant.

      My solution to the so-called “immigrant problem” is to “deport” (drop off on some street corner) everyone in the US over the age of 18 every 10 or 20 years or so to some random country with no money in their pocket, and if they can make it back. Fine. If they don’t make it back. Fine. Ha ha, only serious (as a thought experiment). When you go to grad school in the hard sciences, you can use the old “some of my best friends are natural born Americans” with your actual best friend immigrant colleagues.

      With regards,

      Bill

      Like

    2. Bill,

      Thank you for the provocative and well-thought out comment. One note —

      “Maybe it’s because I’m also an immigrant.”

      Remember what FDR said to the Daughters of the American Revolution on 21 April 1938 (they pride themselves on their ancestry going back to the Founding; FDR’s blood was as blue as theirs).

      “Remember, remember always that all Of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”

      On a longer time scale, even the “native” americans are immigrants to the western hemisphere. Nobody has a claim to the land, just to what is built on it — in structures and in spirit.

      Like

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