Scouts go broke – another American institution falls

Summary: The Boy Scouts has filed for bankruptcy. It is another American institution gone down the drain. One by one they fall, each with their own story. We cannot stop this larger process until we see it.

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Facing a Wave of Sex-Abuse Claims,
Boy Scouts of America Files for Bankruptcy

Also see the Wikipedia entry for Boy Scouts Sexual Abuse Cases.

Like the Roman Catholic Church and U.S.A. Gymnastics, another American institution has fallen after decades of incompetence at its core mission. Even after the problems became unmistakable, they were unable to make adequate reforms. These are all large institutions, able to tap the finest experts in management and law – but instead they stumbled along cloaked in ignorance until they fell off a cliff.

That is the story of the Boy Scouts. This problem was know from its early days. It grew. By the 1960s it had grown serious, but BSA’s leaders not only did nothing – but also continued to cover for sexual predators in their midst. Its Board of Directors was stocked with America’s blue-chip elites. Their failure is the decay of America in microcosm.

Only in the mid-1980s did they introduce protective measures, slowly rolled out. Only in 2003 did BSA require criminal background checks for new leaders. Only in 2008 were existing leaders required to undergo background checks.

As a Scout leader for over 15 years (starting in 1999), these precautions were taken seriously in some units (fanatically so in mine) and less so in others. Congress insisted that Scouting was a decentralized organization, which made strict training and evaluation of adult leaders difficult to implement. Their national leadership was never high-powered, and proved inadequate to lead Scouting to the necessary changes.

After decades of mistakes, admitting girls was their “Hail Mary” pass. I explained its logic, its likely consequences – and why it probably would fail.

A row of falling dominoes
Photo 16910903 © Seleznyov – Dreamstime.

Our institutions are falling like dominoes.

It is vital that we not look at each of these failing institutions as an isolated instance. This is a problem sweeping across American: institutions failing their core missions – and when that becomes evident, they cannot repair themselves. I described this in A new, dark picture of America’s future.

My father’s death certificate has words that well apply to us today: “failure to thrive following broad organ failure.” America is experiencing something similar: the broad failure of its institutions. No matter how strong our society, cascading institutional failure can destroy it. De Tocqueville describes a similar situation in The Ancien Régime and the Revolution (although, as you will see below, the French Revolution resulted from a narrower set of problems).

Among the first to die was the Department of State, castrated during the mad “Who Lost China” wars of the 1950s. Internal regeneration has repeatedly failed. There has been no externally-driven repairs because no administration has been willing to commit sufficient political capital to fixing it (because the benefits would flow to their successors). So Presidents shifted some of State’s functions to DoD, and built a clunky ineffective workaround to State in the National Security Council. This has destroyed the balance of our foreign relations between diplomacy and force. Trump has worked to wreck the remains of State, while funneling cash into our grossly over-swollen military machinery (details here).

Since then institution after institution has broken: schools, governments, corporations, the military, law enforcement, scientific institutions, etc. The stories of their decay dominate the news. I do not refer to the usual stories of malfeasance and incompetence, omnipresent in history. Heaven should not be our standard of comparison. Functioning is the key.

Our military can’t win wars. Our police wage a mad war on drugs, looting citizens through civil asset forfeiture. Many of our grade schools can’t teach their students the three R’s. Science is gripped by the replication crisis, a rot whose dimensions are far larger than most believe. Professional associations abandon their standards and obligation to protect us. Our major corporations are dying (Boeing is the latest to crash). Heath care and higher education are expensive low-performance messes that we can no longer afford. Congress will do anything except govern. The President is the tweeter-in-chief.

The dominoes have toppled in slow-motion during the past few generations. They continue to fall.

Each institution’s decay acts like a popped rivet in a ship’s hull: It puts more pressure on the surrounding rivets. If the stress continues, a chain reaction begins and the hull disintegrates. Ignore the chatter about trivia on social media and in the news. Listen, and hear the rivets cracking in the structure of our society, like the roar of popcorn on a campfire.

This shows our government’s inability to heal from damage, an early sign of senescence in an organism or organization (infirmity from old age).

The last sentence is the critical one. We need to understand the root cause of this problem. My best guess is this: America has grown old. Eventually, something new will rise from its pyre. Let’s make sure it is better, not worse.

For More Information

Ideas! For some shopping ideas see my recommended books and films at Amazon. Also, see a story about our future: Ultra Violence: Tales from Venus.

For another example: here are some simple reforms that could drastically improve America’s colleges. What are the odds of any of these implemented in the next few years – or decade? I’ll bet on near-zero. Our institutions cannot reform themselves, and we lack mechanisms to force reforms.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about ways to reform America, and especially these…

  1. What comes after the Constitution? Can we see the outline of a “Mark 3” version of the USA?
  2. The Coming of a New American Republic – by James V. DeLong.
  3. A third American regime will arise from the ashes of the present one.
  4. Lewis Lapham explains why America needs a Third Republic.
  5. We’ve worked through all 5 stages of grief for the Republic. Now, on to The New America!
  6. After Independence Day, look to America after the Republic.
  7. This is why we’re weak. Here’s how we can become strong.

Books explaining what happened to American politics

Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? by Thomas Frank.

The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted by Mike Lofgren.

"Listen, Liberal" by Thomas Frank
Available at Amazon.
"The Party is Over" by Mike Lofgren
Available at Amazon.


13 thoughts on “Scouts go broke – another American institution falls”

  1. Larry, I believe that “failure to thrive follow broad organ failure”
    should be “failure to thrive following broad organ failure.”

    This was an outstanding post. Looking forward to more of the same.

  2. Concerned Citizen

    Apparently, all of our institutions are based on money and child rape. I’d say they can’t end soon enough.

    1. Concerned,

      “Apparently, all of our institutions are based on money and child rape.”

      The latter is nuts, too silly for comment. BTW – it was probably more common in the past, and normal in other cultures. See Afghanistan.

      As for the former, I suggest not using Heaven as your comparison. It’s wonderful but you must die to enter.

  3. I have mixed feelings. Obviously scouting filled a need especially for boys with no father in the home.

    But they knew this was happening and had a duty to protect the boys.

    But you make a great point about our institutions are being destroyed. Without them to teach values….

    I listen to my grandfather tell stories about people helping each other during the depression. Today its only for number 1.

  4. Pingback: Scouts go broke – another American institution falls – Fabius Maximus website – American Infrastructure Group, Inc.

  5. Larry,

    Your description here and elsewhere of the broad failure of our institutions made me remember the couple of months I spent reading of the life and times of the Duke-Count of Olivares:,_Count-Duke_of_Olivares

    He was a spanish nobleman born in 1587, and he was very high in the royal government for many years. He was a tireless reformer and a vigorous statesman, but for all his successes and vision for a united spanish government (The peninsula was, in fact, a collection of different monarchies, each coincidentally represented by the same king. They all had different legal codes, currencies, and privileges, which made government a very large headache).

    He fell from power after a series of revolts, failed wars abroad, runaway inflation… it was a whole laundry list of murphy’s laws. For all the good intentions, the plans, the schemes, and the power of the monarchy, The Duke-Count and the kings he served had to eventually admit defeat and accept the independence of the low countries, the privileges of the nobility and church, and the theoretically separate but equal powers of the different Iberian thrones.

    In short, most of their ambitions were futile, and Spain slid from great power to middling power to the sick man of Europe to irrelevancy. Too many vested interests in the status quo, too much done too quickly, too much spent on ruinous wars for little gain… I shall have to see if I can find where I put that book away.

    I don’t bring this up to declare that we are just like them and doomed to defeat, merely to note the similarities in overreach, overweening pride, and vested interests that seek to line their own pockets more than look to the safety of the realm. Of course I hope and pray that we can be different,and I am becoming more active in my little community, but I cannot help but notice the similarities.

    1. American Muse,

      Thank you for this note from the past! Esp interesting as 16th Century Spain had almost all the money in the world – and burned it away, leaving almost nothing to show for it.

      Food for thought about the transitory nature of power misapplied.

  6. [blockquote]The last sentence is the critical one. We need to understand the root cause of this problem. My best guess is this: America has grown old. Eventually, something new will rise from its pyre. Let’s make sure it is better, not worse.[/blockquote]
    Trouble is, its an expression of frustration more than a diagnosis. Its entirely understandable. I share the puzzlement at why it has happened – and the frustration at not being able to see a why clearly and specifically enough.

    The way to a solution may be to break it into steps. To start with, characterize what exactly has happened more specifically than just institutional breakdown.

    The fall of Spain is an interesting parallel. You had the same ambitious overstretch. Spain was also relatively small in population, about 6 million, whereas its rival France must have been over 20 million at the end of the 17c. At a time when population, organized, was wealth.

    I do not know what to say about the scouts. I was in them as a boy, and even then they struck one as being in a sort of timewarp where it was still 1910 in many ways. Perhaps they lost it when the world changed and they did not, and that affected who would volunteer to take it on, and why they did?

      1. The point I’m trying to make is that “America has grown old” may be characterize an impression, how it feels. It is something we will probably all understand and relate to.

        But its not a description specific enough to help any real understanding. Its a metaphor. Countries don’t in any specific sense grow old. People do, they have a limited life expectancy. But America is not particularly old chronologically, it doesn’t show the same signs as countries of similar or older age. You have to go on and say what the signs of age are, and why age has happened, and will be back at the start again.

        Its not a characterization that leads to any insight about the why or about what to be done. We need something much more specific.

        Here is a possible alternative one. Mancur Olson’s very interesting book”The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities.”

        Has an account which might cover some of what we see. The argument is that long periods of peace and stability mean that special interests succeed increasingly in implementing restrictive measures. They are motivated by the fact that it is to their advantage to reduce the general prosperity as long as what they gain improves their own position. Even if it leads to a net loss overall many times greater than their own gains.

        This, in his account, explains why economies that have undergone extreme turbulence often way outperform ones which have enjoyed continued stability.

        Perhaps something similar is operating in the cultural domain in America?

        I am not being critical. I see many of the same things you see, and am at least as puzzled and dismayed by them.

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