The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Once In A Lifetime

Posted on | April 19, 2011 | 24 Comments

by Smitty

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack. . .
This essay pinpoints the systemic problems with the Federal government, surveys the current approaches, and offers a concise outline of What I Would Do.
The problem is centralization. Pournelle’s Iron Law has birthed a Ruling Class that delivers speeches, debt, laws by the pallet, transient Socialist programs, and propaganda, while knee-capping liberty in the process. Power is increasingly held in DC, and increasingly gathered, unconstitutionally, within the executive.

And you may find yourself in another part of the world. . .
How did we wake up one morning with the debt and deficit pulling us down into Hades, then? 1913. Woodrow Wilson. Amendments 16 & 17, plus the Federal Reserve Act. They seemed benevolent at the time, maybe. Certainly, there is no way to re-run the 20th Century without them, to see if the U.S. faltered in either World War or the Cold War that ate the other half of the century. Yet, for whatever good they may have done, these acts are at the root of the current crisis.
The combined effect of 16 & 17 was to short-circuit the Federalist chain of command, by knee-capping the States as political entities. The IRS means that DC has eminent domain over every American wallet. The tax code today is what literacy was in ancient Rome: a full time occupation. Precisely what value the tax code adds to the economy is unclear. Faceless pinheads and lobbyists use the tax code to sculpt public behavior and bestow favors, at the expense of liberty. The States stamp out license plates.
The Federal Reserve is has been as bad. The Constitution grants the Federal government the power to raise revenue through taxation. The other way governments can transfer value from citizens to themselves is inflation. The Federal Reserve has essentially annihilated the value of the currency in its century of existence.
Furthermore, it has helped essentially reverse the normal economic order of things. Value, one might naively think, bubbles up from individuals, through the States, to the Federal Government. Now we have the opposite case, where treasure is borrowed from afar through sleights of hand at the Federal Reserve and the Treasury, and pushed down to bail out States and whole swathes of industry.
Look, too at the incumbency rate. Prior to 1913, retention was about 1 in 3 in Congress. Like any compost heap, regular turning is healthy. Once the conditions for developing the Ruling Class were in place, the incumbency rate went to better than 9 in 10, really picking up after Wilson’s acolyte, FDR. If not caught with a live boy or a dead girl, you were sunk, 1968 Oldsmobiles notwithstanding.
And what did our Ruling Class Overlords do with this power, but craft a Progressive State of America. Amendments 9 & 10 in the Bill of Rights were strategically ignored. There was a New Deal. There was a second Bill of Rights* that are seen as ratified by the President (emphasis mine),

Those are both worthy goals for us to achieve. But the way this plan achieves those goals would lead to a fundamentally different America than the one we’ve known throughout most of our history.

Some might say I’m drawing too thick a line from FDR to BHO on that recent budget speech. BHO’s record disagrees.
The result of all this Progressive effort has been to set up the European-style patronage system. DC, like Brussels, is picking and choosing amongst a small set of winners well connected with the Ruling Class. Fortunately, these overlords are Really Smart, and worthy of our trust and admiration. No, they’re not.

And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile. . .
The current approaches to the problem fall into two camps: Obama and Ryan.
The President’s blend of Al Neuman and Al Capone elicits awe:

“What, me worry?” said the One, calmly, with nary a blink.
“What, you worry? I’ll have your face ripped off, I think.”

Or, as Jonah quoted Kang:

The politics of failure have failed. We need to make them work again.

Rep. Ryan’s budget is a start at an adult conversation. On the one hand, its acceptance of Federal entitlement programs is likely a necessary bow to centrism. That acceptance seems like acquiescence to lung cancer, however. Yet, for all I will set about proposing something more. . . strident, I cannot help but recognize that Paul Ryan is a national hero for being the first politician to tap dance on the entitlement land mine and live to comb his enviable hair.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful wife. . .
The blogosphere is full of people characterizing The Problem at various levels of magnification, as I’ve done above. If I’ve held your attention this long and bought any credibility, let me share What I Would Do.
One more paragraph before the details. I’ve attacked centralization as the main problem. We’re so top heavy as to be close to capsizing. Thus, every remedy I have attacks that centralization.

  1. Repeal Amendment 16. Congress works the budget, and assigns it to the States to tax farm. The formula for determining amounts is the chief battle ground, but the formula and the input data are clearly visible to all parties.
    Shortfalls are made up by a sales tax against an offending state of sufficient magnitude to erase that deficit. The message to citizens of Virginia is that, as we enjoy controlling our destiny, we Pay The Man.
    The Federal government does not run deficits without a declared war, and then for wartime funding. Precisely what else is really important enough to justify deficits?
    The Federal budget cannot exceed the actual receipts of the last completed tax year. If the country hurts, so does DC.
  2. Repeal Amendment 17. This, along with the budget rules in the previous bullet, restores the State as a meaningful political body. This is also going to restore some negative feedback, and stabilize the system. Trim the overgrown Federal hedge, if you will. Lower some election costs.
  3. Diminish the Federal Reserve. It’s a failure, as outlined above. Let each State have its own bank. Maybe the Federal Reserve can have an oversight role over State banks. However, vast amounts of power in the hands of the few and unelected MUST STOP.
  4. Revisit the 9th and 10th Amendments. Once the States rise, phoenix-like, from the Progressive ashes, we can unwind the Federal over-reach. State banks can take over the mortgage problems for the houses that are located within them (duh?). The buildings housing Fannie and Freddie can be cut into small pieces and sold as a fund raiser ad reminder of the evil of Federal over-reach. Federal education control can stop. States can take over the loan information for their citizens and figure out what to do. Healthcare and retirement entitlements? Delegated.
    In summary, the chain of command from Federal to State to Citizen is restored. DC makes sure States are not abusing people, and the States ensure DC is restrained. Citizens vote for the other two, and change their own diapers.
  5. Bits and Pieces.
    Randomize all committee appointments in Congress. Break up the power blocks. Arguments about expertise are unconvincing. If the Legislation is unintelligible, simplify. It ain’t concurrent programming.
    Kill Switch. Require 2/3 of State Legislatures to certify Congress as success at the 18 month point, or no one can run for the same seat again. Reduce seniority as an input to graft. To Brussels with professional politicians.

The sum of these ideas is to obviate both term limits and the need for a balanced budget amendment by attacking the systemic drivers for incumbency and overspending. Separation of powers and Federalism, as originally implemented in the Constitution, are really all we need.

And you may ask yourself, ‘Well, how did I get here?’
Smith America won’t be happening soon. It’s too wrenching. These ideas would have to be implemented gradually, or they’d cause too much turbulence before having the opportunity to do any good.
Nevertheless, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers in separating powers is underscored more and more with every passing administration, and also the folly of the Progressive disregard of that wisdom. The Instapundit likes to note Herbert Stein, who said “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
The Ruling Class will attack these ideas as unworkable, because the center of gravity for American politics will return to the States, where it should be. State governments will have to compete for citizens, and the re-distributive capacity of DC will be diminished. Some States, mostly blue ones, are going to do a face plant.
Their citizens, hopefully, will vote out failure and vote in success.
The other shoe in this essay is foreign policy. Smitty America is going to make it very hard for the Executive to run amok as it has for the last couple of decades. Resurgent States are going to have less stomach for funding the military-industrial complex. I make no apologies for this. Arguably, Team America: World Police was a necessary thing to stave off the onslaught of Godless Commies. Yet, to a degree, we’ve become what we despised. Can we be honest with ourselves in a not-going-to-wallow-in-guilt way? Strong borders, yes. Global first responders? Maybe. T.J. Hooker for the world? I’m not necessarily offering the Full Ron Paul, but a sober review of the National Security Strategy is as crucial as the domestic review outlined above. What to do, however, is less clear.

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
One hopes that the current political crisis in the United States will prove a Once in a Lifetime thing.

* FDR’s ideas, as such, are not bad. A State implementing and administering them in a sane way might be worth a move. OK, I doubt such a fantasy can be accomplished, but I’m willing to be proven wrong.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.


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