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Is eventual failure of the American system inevitable?
Posted by: Billy Hollis on Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I was struck by something McQ said in this post earlier today. I started to write a long comment, and then decided to promote it to a post.

His comment was about the monotonic increase in government size and power. It never seems to go down. It goes up, pauses for a while, and then goes up some more:
Yet the rejection phase never seems to lead to smaller or less intrusive government. At best it seems it is simply a moratorium on expansion until the next growth cycle comes along.

Therein lies the rub of getting involved in modern American politics. If the best you can do is hold the line for a while, and the eventual expansion of government until it kills the goose that lays the golden egg is inevitable, why sacrifice one's life in such an ultimately fruitless endeavor?

I have long resisted that conclusion, though in cynical moments I half-to-three-quarters believe it. My best answer for a long time has been that a delay is useful because we'll see Europe go down the path to government-grown-beyond-its-bounds twenty to thirty years ahead of us, and maybe that will wake up enough people here to see some real desire to cut government back before it's too late.

But as the years go on, that answer seems lame. Britain's NHS and Canada's Medicare are monumental failures at delivering quality healthcare, yet we have a huge constituency pushing for the US to go the same route. Some lessons apparently never get learned until brutal reality teaches them in person.

The modern American left seems determined to ride society to self-destruction because of some inner faith they have about how they can create a communitarian paradise if they're just given the chance. But any political philosophy that accepts and respects 9/11 truthers, International ANSWER types, anti-semites, Che-admiring zealots, and total pacifists is delusional, and thus fatally flawed. Especially when one of their guiding principles is "no enemies on the left".

In fact, we've seen the results when the left is given power over even a small slice of society, in the form of typical American academia. The result? Hate speech codes, mandatory "re-education" sessions, sanctions for "thought crimes", and intolerance of any political diversity. That such attitudes are seeping out of academia into society at large in Europe is additional evidence about what we can expect from leftist dominance. The left has made their stand. It's against freedom.

I might understand the attraction of such a system if it produced some kind of success. But it doesn't, at least not other than in the very short term.

All known communitarian-based societies have economically collapsed after a period measured in decades, not centuries. In some, such as the Soviet Union, the result was descent into a society based mostly on organized crime. In others, such as China, the result was a garden variety dictatorship (no matter what label they choose to put on it). In others, as in Cuba and North Korea, the result is poverty and misery on a scale that must be strenuously hidden by the regime. If you doubt that, just wait until the regimes there eventually collapse, and we find out what really was going on in these socialist paradises.

In the welfare-state version, it takes longer for the damage to be done, and the possibility exists to have temporary reversals. Thatcher-era Britain is an example, and Sweden might go that route. But Thatcher's Britain was only a temporary respite which only rolled back the most egregious manifestations of socialism. The cultural vacuum imposed by vacuous leftist delusions guts a society's ability to repair itself permanently, and Britain is on the road to decline once more.

I'd hate to think that America would willingly give away it's foundation on self-reliance and freedom to imitate the world's biggest failures, all in some misguided quest for ultimate security and equality of outcomes. But I see the signs, and they are certainly pointing in that direction.
 
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Well we’re doomed, after a brief skim of your posting that seemed to be the gist, unless you believe in cycles and fashions. Right now government is in the role of the Church, it is the trusted purveyor of goods. In time that may change, as new philosphies and ideas come to the public’s attention. So no, we’re not doomed, unless you decide that you’re just going for the ride down the slide....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
I’m interested in how you would measure a smaller and less-intrusive government: federal employees/1000 civilians? or percent of GNP devoted to government salaries, perhaps?

I seem to recall a story that Hitler was jealous of the control FDR held over the U.S. economy. If true, we probably do have a smaller and less intrusive government today.

I don’t disagree that it seems more people are looking for a government solution to their problems, but at the same time, it seems to me that Americans have more civil and social liberty today than they ever have had.

Your concern is interesting, you should try to figure out how to measure changes over time; call it the Relative Intrusiveness Factor.
 
Written By: Rich
URL: http://
Mancur Olson wrote a book in the early 1980s called "The Rise and Decline of Nations," where he makes the argument that special interest groups (he calls them distributional coalitions) increasingly find it in their interests to fight for more for their members, thereby increasing demands on government. Overtime this creates economic stagnation, exacerbates the ’free rider’ problem (which he sees as key to all of this) and leads to decline.

In Europe the move of the left towards the center and actually cutting taxes and programs (e.g., Blair embraced much of Thatcher’s reform, and Schroeder in Germany was despised by the left wing of his party, even though his reform efforts were relatively meager) suggests that there can be a backlash, and that the Left will be the ones most capable — if they are willing — to move from ideology to pragmatism (sort of like ’only Nixon can go to China’ — when the right tries to cut the left goes into all out opposition; but when they’re in power, they have to deal with the problems).

Europe may be a poor case to cite, however, because their culture is essentially more statist and collectivist than American culture, so it’s likely they will go a different path. Ultimately, though, I think Olson’s argument was right, and we’re going to decline due to high debt, unregulated credit markets (this will effect everyone), and our dependence on oil. In that decline will be an opportunity to chart a new path.

I also find things like speech codes and bans on ’hate speech’ to not only be contrary to freedom, but really 100% contrary to academic values, which should embrace free exchange of ideas and a radical notion of free speech. I’ve never worked anywhere with such codes and wonder how widespread they really are. But that kind of thing should be fought against especially by people in academia who need the freedom to think and speak freely.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Well we’re doomed...
I don’t know if we are or not. But it certainly bothers me that there are not many examples of a turnaround from increasing size and power of government without economic collapse or some sort of system-changing revolution.

I thought New Zealand might furnish us an example in the late eighties and early nineties, but they’re back on the common path now. Chile did some interesting restructuring, but not what I’d call an exemplary success.

The most optimistic examples I can find are in eastern Europe, where many countries recovered from Communism reasonably quickly. Of course, they were only under the yoke less than fifty years. And it was the much more disruptive collapse of the Soviet Union that let them change course.

Any other examples I should be thinking of?
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
But it certainly bothers me that there are not many examples of a turnaround from increasing size and power of government without economic collapse or some sort of system-changing revolution.
Well Billy ask yourself this, "If it’s working why would we change?" Now are people dying in the streets of hunger, has civilization collapsed or have things gotten better since FDR’s New Deal-note I am NOT supporting Keynesian Economics just pointing out that since their partial application by FDR things have gotten better economically and socially? If it ain’t broke don’t fix it is the motto and most folks don’t see it as broken, and quite frankly I can see why they don’t.

So you are asking folks to take YOUR word for it that the current system is broken, and needs fixing and that YOUR solution is the one that will work. Good luck with that....

From the 1880’s until the 1960’s Progressives laboured to produce the current worldview and policies. They have some evidence that they were not incorrect, and possibly even correct in their beliefs and policies, so why should you expect any immediate turn-around in people’s policy preferences? Instead expect an 80 year long struggle to inculcate YOUR worldview on the public.

Again, within limits, I accept your worldview, I just see that took a long time to get where we are, that "here" isn’t that bad, and that getting to "there" is going to take just as long as it took to get "here." And lastly, that when we get there, that "there" will have it’s own snakes in the grass and seeds of its own destruction in-built as well. And that somoeone else will be complaining about how the current paradigm seems unchangeable and leading upon the shoals, and who knows that someone might be right. We won’t be there to see it, though.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Your points are quite well taken, Joe. People don’t see things as being bad, and the erosion of freedom and control over their own lives takes place at such a slow pace that most don’t notice it. Plus the good ole private sector is in there producing iPods, microwave ovens, and cheap food that’s effortless to prepare, which expands their freedom in new and interesting ways.

I guess it’s the mathematician and the historian/tourist in me that’s bothered by this.

I’ve walked the streets of Europe, and you can feel the shopworn nature of their society. Tens of thousands die in a heat wave in France, and their response is to tell the over-crowded mortuaries to find a freezer to store grandma until their month-long vacation is over. I don’t see how such a society can have the resilence to survive the inevitable shocks that reality eventually bestows upon it.

The mathematician in me understands what a monotonic increase means, and how the interest on debt piles up in a non-linear way. I understand in a system how smooth the flow can be up until a critical point at which turbulence sets in.

I could be wrong. This whole ever-growing government thing could be sustainable into the indefinite future in some way I don’t grasp.

But history shows us no examples of that. Now, the American system has always been an historical anomoly. Maybe it will continue to be, and we’ll find a way to keep an open and vibrant culture that is half to two-thirds run by the government. But I don’t see how that can work long term.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
I could be wrong. This whole ever-growing government thing could be sustainable into the indefinite future in some way I don’t grasp.
I don’t argue that it’s sustainable, only that to change course NOW is going to require an effort I don’t see as being successful. Go ahead and try to change the populace’s view, TODAY, about Social Security. It can’t be done, my generation and later can see the need for change but not the current voters.

As an example use Social Security, it emerged after 50 year struggle for state support of the poor, and has mutated into it’s present form. I’m sure it’s journey is now well over 120 years, and that journey isn’t going to end tomorrow. Just as Social Security BECAME what it is today, it will become what it will be in another 100 years, and along the way it will slowly change, or mayhap it will suffer punctuated equilibrium and undergo rapid evolution followed by long periods of stasis. So if you want to change SS you’ll need to expect to spend a whole lot of time and effort in making the change in people’s thinking and then in their policy preferences. You can see it in pensions, the shift from defined beneift to defined contribution, an idea that is even taking root in PUBLIC SECTOR pension discussion!

I’m an optimist, we’re not doomed, UNLESS you say "we’re doomed"...if you view our job as to "manage the long-term decline" (A British Mandarin phrase from the 1970’s) then, we’re doomed, because you only want a comfy spot on the upper deck of the Titanic. If you’re like me, you’ll do what you can to vote and talk for change, I just don’t expect the passengers on the Olympic to have much say on the course of the vessel and its crew and management for quite some time.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Communism looked inevitable until it collapsed.
 
Written By: MarkD
URL: http://
Communism looked inevitable until it collapsed.

It didn’t collapse, it was destablized by the Dark Forces of the CIA! If ONLY the right people had been in charge we’d be approaching the apogee of human existence, even as we speak....*SIGH*
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Communism looked inevitable until it collapsed.
No it didn’t. George Kennan knew early on it couldn’t compete, which is one reason why he opposed a militarized containment. The KGB realized they were collapsing in the mid-seventies (it would have happened sooner without the Petrodollar boom 1979-81 which kept them afloat awhile longer). A lot of people in the West realized the Soviet system couldn’t last.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
The "American System" has already failed or, better said, been abandoned.

As proposed by Alexander Hamilton in his Report on Manufactures and essentially enacted two decades later by Henry Clay et al., the "American System" consisted of high tariffs to protect infant industries, with the intent not so much to look out for capital but rather to look out for labor and the creation of home markets. (Infrastructure development was the third prong of the American System.)

This system was gradually abandoned over the last three or four decades in favor of "free trade" ideology, which comes with such enhancements as open borders and diminished national sovereignty.

The United States became the greatest economic power in the world behind a wall of tariff protection that was either the highest or close to the highest in the world. (At the end of WWII the U.S. was responsible for close to 50% of world GDP.)

That was the American System. What we have now is anybody’s guess, but I’m certain that we could survive it, had American culture not been simultaneously picked apart and turned into a dialog between identity politics, government, public schools, and multinational corporations.

As far as I can tell, what remains is baseball.

So, in answer to what Billy Hollis intended as a much less specific question, no, it’s not inevitable, but if and when it comes for certain, it will be entirely an act of suicide.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
A lot of people in the West realized the Soviet system couldn’t last.
Almost none of whom were in the college-set and those who did say it were derided!

Dr Erb wants to re-write herstory so that it beomce OBVIOUS we ALL knew that the Soviet Union was only a temporary thing and Ronald Reagan and the Cold War really had nothing to do with its demise. If this were true it would simply show an activist foreign policy was pointless, somethng Dr Erb advocates. It would also demonstrate, retroactively, that many of Dr Erb’s compatriots were knuckleheads.....
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Boris Erb tries this as a response to the quote in itals:
"Communism looked inevitable until it collapsed."

No it didn’t. George Kennan knew early on it couldn’t compete, which is one reason why he opposed a militarized containment. The KGB realized they were collapsing in the mid-seventies (it would have happened sooner without the Petrodollar boom 1979-81 which kept them afloat awhile longer). A lot of people in the West realized the Soviet system couldn’t last
You have a very selective memory, Boris. Kennan’s theory as to how the Soviets would collapse didn’t involve a "collapsing" stage, simply because the Soviets were collapsing from the outset. The entire thing was a catastrophe. Kennan’s theory about how the system would collapse was that it would happen because Party discipline collapsed. And he believed that because from what he could tell Party discipline was all that was holding the joint together in the first place.

Further, Kennan had no clue about when that would happen and if you had asked him circa 1985, "Do you think that the Soviets will collapse in six years?" He probably would have said "I doubt it very much."

I would love also to see your cite (and by that I don’t mean your famous "most scholars think" cite, but a real cite) for you claim that the KGB realized that the Soviets were collapsing in the mid-70s. Unless of course you heard it from your KGB controller and you can’t name him.

As far as a lot of people in the West realizing that the Soviets couldn’t last, perhaps you would like to cite some of those names, aside from Ronald Reagan’s, of course.

The world of liberal anti-anti-communism, speaking through the late Arthur Schlesinger Jr. circa 1985, chastised Reagan’s aggressive policy toward the Soviets with an article in Foreign Affairs on the theme of "The Soviet Union is here to stay, get used to it."
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Matin, you’re being a little selective there yourself relating the history of tariffs. The worst period in our history came about greatly as a result of springing tariffs on our trading partners. Only when we revisited Smoot-Hawley did exports recover after being cut in half. And we led the world after WWII because we blew up all the other productive nations.

You know, if we did that again, maybe the 21st could still be the American Century...
 
Written By: spongeworthy
URL: http://
Martin, Spongeworthy makes a good point...Would you:
1) Rather be alive in 1948 and be 50% of the Earth’s GDP; or
2) Be alive in 2007 with 27% of the Earth’s GDP?
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Ya know, Billy, I have to tell you that my first response was feeling.. literally feeling... Beck’s eyebrows going up. I can’t imagine he’s not going to comment on this one.

And my second reaction is that much depends on our ability to change direction away from socialism. Unfortunate, that this requires some dependence on academia...a nd I submit they’ve failed us so far. Likely, this is due to their being government run.

So, my third reaction... we’re screwed, unless we can get education out of the realm of government.



 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
...we’re screwed, unless we can get education out of the realm of government.
That would help. But it’s not going to happen in our lifetimes. And it would take a generation to make a difference if and when it did happen.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
I tend to the long view. Look; it took several generations to get us here. It’s not going to be solved overnight.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Look; it took several generations to get us here. It’s not going to be solved overnight.
Ah, but Bit, that’s what I’m wondering. What if the only way to solve it is overnight? That is, what if takes some type of catastrophe to reverse the trend?

You seem to be implying that there is some gradualist approach that works. I’m not sure I believe that. My point in raising all the historical examples is that I can’t think of an example from history in which any gradualist approach to lessening size and scope of government was effective.
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://

Dr Erb wants to re-write herstory so that it beomce OBVIOUS we ALL knew that the Soviet Union was only a temporary thing
Obviously not everyone figured it out. But in hindsight it’s pretty clear Communism was far weaker than most thought. Some people in the Reagan administration got it, and we heard from Soviet dissidents that the hold of the state on power was precarious.

Reagan’s spending (which was really a continuation of the defense spending increase of Carter) didn’t really do much, though I give Reagan a tremendous amount of credit for realizing Gorbachev was the real thing. His ability to reach agreements with Gorbachev, and stop the defense spending build up (in real terms) allowed Gorbachev to appear to have "tamed Reagan" and thus stay in power and pursue his reform attempt. If Reagan had been an ideologue or if he had been hell bent on ’defeating’ the Soviet Union, things could have been a lot worse. Instead, he chose to work with Gorbachev, and the two of them helped create a peaceful end to the Cold War.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Joe asks:
Martin, Spongeworthy makes a good point...Would you:
1) Rather be alive in 1948 and be 50% of the Earth’s GDP; or
2) Be alive in 2007 with 27% of the Earth’s GDP?
I’d rather have the social and cultural coherence of 1948 minus the racial segregation.

The difference in wealth isn’t as significant.

Spongeworthy comments:
Matin, you’re being a little selective there yourself relating the history of tariffs. The worst period in our history came about greatly as a result of springing tariffs on our trading partners. Only when we revisited Smoot-Hawley did exports recover after being cut in half. And we led the world after WWII because we blew up all the other productive nations.

You know, if we did that again, maybe the 21st could still be the American Century...
I’m bullish on America, always. Even until the end. But not because of what happens elsewhere.

The Federal Reserve’s incredibly stupid monetary deflation was more important than Smoot-Hawley. And we had high protective tariffs after that.

And your point about all the other productive nations being blown up is true, but it’s also true that we had half the GDP of the world after WWII.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Boris Erb nonsensicates:
Reagan’s spending (which was really a continuation of the defense spending increase of Carter) didn’t really do much,
You’ve been corrected on that so many times over ten years that it’s a sign of mental illness that you keep repeating it.
I give Reagan a tremendous amount of credit for realizing Gorbachev was the real thing.
You mean a real Communist who was going to try to step outside of Party discipline because he’d bought into the refining nicities of Western liberalism thinking that the Soviet Union could be helped by them?

Gorbacheve had been reading too much Time magazine, Boris.
If Reagan had been an ideologue or if he had been hell bent on ’defeating’ the Soviet Union, things could have been a lot worse.
As Henry Kissinger, no Reaganite in any sense, pointed out, no president had ever directly and personally confronted the Soviets as Reagan had. John Foster Dulles, as Secretary of State under Eisenhower, had taken a very open hard line, but he wasn’t president.

One thing about you, Boris, you have no capacity for learning.
Instead, he chose to work with Gorbachev, and the two of them helped create a peaceful end to the Cold War.
Yes, it’s impossible for the deluded Leftist to give Reagan credit for actually confronting the Soviet Union. Instead, he must be given credit for gently working with the Communist. How amusing. The Cold War ended conclusively because the Soviet Union came apart. Do you actually believe that that is what the Communist Gorbachev was thinking of when he launched Glasnost and Perestroika? You would have to be an idiot to believe that, but of course your credentials are in order in that respect.

Reagan gave the Soviet Union the push that it needed, and it fell right over, as only he, Reagan, believed it would.
 
Written By: Martin McPhillips
URL: http://mcphillips.blogspot.com/
Martin, Spongeworthy makes a good point...Would you:
1) Rather be alive in 1948 and be 50% of the Earth’s GDP; or
2) Be alive in 2007 with 27% of the Earth’s GDP?
The agricultural and industrial revolutions had their growning pains, but they eventually spawned a far more prosperous periods. The last 2 decades have been technological boon that increased efficiencies dramatically in all industries. Yet, aside from new toys like iPods and TiVOs, standard of living in the US has barely benefits if at all from any boon. I believe you’ve explained why.
 
Written By: jpm100
URL: http://
Ah, but Bit, that’s what I’m wondering. What if the only way to solve it is overnight? That is, what if takes some type of catastrophe to reverse the trend?
Well, that’s what made me think of Beck; Bruce will tell you that Billy has argued almost continually over the last decade or so that a catastrophe of some sort is the only way out of the box.

As I have in the past, in direct conversation with Beck, I’m saying I don’t think catastrophe is required... but I do think a massive turnaround is required... and many years to see it through to reality.

My point in raising all the historical examples is that I can’t think of an example from history in which any gradualist approach to lessening size and scope of government was effective.
While that’s true, I will also suggest to you that the very foundation of our country, and our government...(and yes, I hold them as separate entities) is also unique in history, without any available historical channel marker. On that basis, I think there to be room for hope.



 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
On that basis, I think there to be room for hope.
And to think, just a few days ago you were calling me the incurable optimist!
 
Written By: Billy Hollis
URL: http://
In fact, we’ve seen the results when the left is given power over even a small slice of society, in the form of typical American academia.
Unlike the boardroom (and the halls of government to a lesser, well more delayed degree) those entrenched in academia do not, and in fact, will not, feel the repercussions of their blighted idealogy and wrongheaded policies. Most pine for an America of fantasy based upon selective recollection. Their use of the "what if" construction of alternate universes mostly ignores a most important what if? Namely, what if the people from whom you are wanting to extract the funds to pay for your dreams refuse to go along. What if all those with abliity switch over to those with needs? (that’s silly, we’ll make the corporations to pay!)

In darker moments, I think it would be better if the US implimented a full-fledged socialist system just to break western governments, and this fantasy that leftists refuse to question. But in the darkest moments lingers visions far worse... the slow motion train wreck after the left finally realizes that funding of their ’largesse’ is, has always been, and will only be maintained by extortion, violent as required.

A good portion of the modern left does not detest totalitarianism... they deplore totalitarianism that does not hold dear, or more accurately, does not pay lip service to their utopian fantasies (the autocratic state which they can not control). And to tie in to something Henke said the other day, Islamo-fascism, in and of it self will not destroy America, nor take over the world. But in concert with all the America haters, anti-capitalists, Gaia worshipers, etc., they can do a heck of a lot of damage.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
And to think, just a few days ago you were calling me the incurable optimist!
(Chuckle)

Yeah, but if you’ll recall, I said I liked that about you.
 
Written By: Bithead
URL: http://bitsblog.florack.us
Its simply that capitalism is doing so well it can support more and more state.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
A good deal depends not only on the size of the government but the society it governs.
Consider this datum (for Gotz Aly, Hitler’s Beneficiaries, translated by Jefferson Chase, Metropolitan Books, 2006, p.29)
"To put the level of Nazi state coercion of its citizens in perspective: Communist East Germany would later employ 190,000 official surveillance experts and an equal number of "unofficial collaborators" to watch over a populace of 17 million, while the Gestapo in 1937 had just over 7,000 employees, including bureaucrats and secretarial staff. Together with a far smaller force of security police, they sufficed to keep tabs on more than 60 million people."
So it doesn’t take an enormous government apparatus to kill off freedom—just an efficient one that can rely on popular support.

I think the current Constitutional system is so infected with the mold of statism that nothing short of throwing out it out and replacing it with a brand new one will suffice. If we keep it, no matter how clean we scrub it, the precendents will be there as handy tools for later generations that think freedom is too dangerous. And for that to happen, catastrophe will be necessary. As the Sages of the Talmud said about the coming of the Messiah and the tumultous birthpangs they believed would accompany that event, "May it come soon, but may I not be alive to see it!"
 
Written By: kishnevi
URL: http://

 
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