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The Once and Future Liberalism

The cover story for the next issue of The American Interest has just been released on the homepage: Walter Mead on “The Once and Future Liberalism.”

Check it out here.

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  • Anthony

    “The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore…. Uniting all the versions of liberalism since 1688 has been a drive to find a creative compromise between the individual’s drive for self expression and freedom and the need for a stable society.”

    WRM, one word: “Recast” (to go boldly…).

  • Paul King

    This essay summed up what I had been feeling, but had been unable to express, for years. The accelerating decay of our institutions is alarming. The mediocre, at best, public schools (I am a retired teacher), empty churches, and increasingly unresponsive and rigid government are dragging us into rapid decline. I don’t know the answer, but I certainly believe patching the old institutions will probably fail.

  • Jim.

    “AT&T discouraged investments in new telecommunications technologies”

    Please square this with the history (the existence, even) of Bell Labs.

    “Don’t we want to teach our children to do something smarter than move in large groups by the clock and the bell, follow directions and always color between the lines?”

    Well, what sort of workers does it take to implement the ISO 900x model that companies aspire to run on these days?

    Big Business will not necessarily *lead* to replace the Blue Model. The “Develop and disseminate Best Practices” model needs followers as much or more than leaders.

    Schools can concentrate on producing ivory-tower Process Managers divorced from day-to-day production lines, but I’m not sure what good that does. Their endless (and stupefyingly dull) documents are largely ignored by the people who do the actual work, who still depend on tribal knowledge and teaching to master their trade.

    Of course, in companies where workers become dependent on their ISO docs like good little followers should, few develop any kind of deep understanding of what they’re actually doing. This soul-destroying situation leads to disaster, as actual competence and understanding becomes less and less common on the floor, as company training moves from a competence-building to a lawsuit-avoiding and ISO-box-checking activity.

    “A rich and rewarding human life neither comes from nor depends on consumption, even lots of consumption; it comes from producing goods and services of value through the integration of technique with a vision of social and personal meaning.”

    Building cathedrals, being part of the horde of servants that maintained a Great House and its grounds, being part of a conquering army, joining the clergy…

    Interesting, how many avenues of personal and corporate meaning are actively discouraged these days by the “culture” that comes out of Hollywood these days. You know, the one that demands conformance to non-conformity, and thus only ends up zooming straight for the lowest common denominator…

    Great stuff here, no time to go through it all now.

  • Jim C

    This is a great piece, and one that every liberal–indeed every American–should read. Realizing that “liberals” are really conservative reactionaries while “conservatives” are the genuine liberals and radicals is crucial to understanding the true dynamic of contemporary American politics. And confronting liberals with the irony of defending the mindless and soul-crushing industrial work of the mid-20th century and the equally mindless material consumption of that period as the ideal to which we must return might be the only way to get the scales to fall from their eyes. Professor Mead has made a major contribution with this article.

    I must take issue, however, with the contention that conservatives want to restore the economy and society of the 1890’s. I don’t think any conservative of sound mind believes this is possible, and I’m confident the overwhelming majority of conservatives wouldn’t see it as desirable, either. Whatever our issues with Progressivism and the New Deal, I don’t think any of us wants to return to an America of child labor and widespread poverty, not to mention deep-seated racism. We admire and subscribe to most of the principles that created the positive aspects of this society–the wealth, the dynamism, the freedom, the upward mobility–but we know there were problems that needed to be addressed, and we do not see the 1890’s as a paragon to which we must return.

    Rather, we seek to apply the principles and sensibilities of Liberalism 3.0 to the modern world. We ask, what would the nation and liberalism look like today if they had not taken the dark turn toward statism represented by the New Deal? How would they have addressed the problems of racism, poverty, insecurity, and inequality without turning to quasi-fascistic big government solutions?

    As an intellectual exercise, let’s ask how the remainder of the 20th Century would have been different if Calvin Coolidge had been re-elected in 1928 and had addressed the Panic of 1929 and the ensuing depression the same way President Harding addressed the panic and depression of 1920-21–that is, by letting markets bottom out and recover on their own, rather than with huge increases in taxes and tariffs and efforts to prevent wages from falling, as the progressive Hoover did. If the economy had recovered in 1931-32 as it did in 1922-23, there would have been no Great Depression and no New Deal. Which doesn’t mean we’d still have a 1920’s-style economy and society today, but that we would have addressed our problems from that point onward outside the framework of big government and New Deal statism.

    So the question is not how can we turn the clock back to 1890, but how can we apply the principles and sensibilities of 3.0 liberalism (minus the racism) to the problems of today? And what would our society look like today if we had been doing that all along, instead of being diverted down the dark road of statism, which is inherently illiberal?

    I believe answering those questions will lead us to the 5.0 Liberalism Professor Mead seeks.

  • Richard S

    Interesting to conflate English and American liberalism, at least at time points in time.
    Don’t forget low immigration from the 1920s to the 1960s.
    FDR said “necessitous men are not free men” and introduced what he called a “second bill of rights.” His view of the good life was not about working. It was Epicurean–the good life is what one can have after one’s necessities are provided for. It is not about how one provides them. Hence he leads to the entitlement mentality.
    With his focus on natural right, among other things, Lincoln would be more of a fouder-type liberal in this model, no?
    If one rejects the philosophy of history here–history is about phases–what holds liberalism together? Is there an underlying definition of liberty in all these phases? I suspect that Wilson and other Progressives (including FDR who called his Commonwealth Club Address “On Progressive Government”) did not define it the same way as Jefferson and Lincoln. (And I take the Northern line here. Lincoln was a true heir of the founding. The Southerners always deny that, claiming he reformulated Jefferson’s ideas. The neo-confederates say that was a bad thing, since Wilson (a Southern boy) the have said it was a good thing.) In short, I am not sure that Progressivism was, in fact, liberal, but it might be that the founders’ constitution kept them from implementing their full program.

  • Jim C
  • don

    Can’t go back to the 1890s? Oh, I don’t know, isn’t that sort of what the post Roman dark ages was all about after the failure of empire and the barbarian victories? Curious concept, “Iron Triangle”. I first encountered the “Iron Triangle” as a nineteen year old running around the mixed rice paddy and rubber plantation war zone labeled the Iron Triangle in South Vietnam. I don’t recall hanging out with any affluent middle class college graduates, much less the upper class, unless they were the few officers doing their six month tour for medals and leadership points. As I recall, the legions had a problem recruiting enough natural born sword swingers and had to rely on a multicultural assimilation of barbarians within the ranks. I don’t recall the Romans using females and gays in the ranks though, although the Greeks had the latter, but it didn’t work out to well for the Greeks or Romans, did it?

  • Don

    A better theme would be the post rational and post science right wing future of the Republican Party.

  • elisa

    This is a wonderful essay and gives me something I can pass on to friends and family that develops your overarching understanding of the individual instances of blue model decline.

    A book would be even more helpful in spreading the general awareness that a refocusing needs to take place in order that leaps can then be made. As a wise woman once told me ‘you cannot solve a problem until you have an awareness of it.’

    The clear next step is to generate awareness of the true problem, the forest rather than the trees.

    I hope a book is in the works.

    Also, what about the TED conference? You should speak at it (so we can all watch it on youtube).

    It is high time we had some really fresh and exciting re-viewing and re-visioning on government.

    I’d surely like to see Silicon Valley intellectual buy-in to engagement with the problem you set before us, because I do think the next iteration of ordered liberty should resemble social networks.

  • Kenny

    1. “There are a lot of reasons to be nostalgic for the old days (especially for the white males who were, far and away, the biggest beneficiaries of the old system, .. “

    Well, considering it was the white males who built the technology and the economy in the first place, that isn’t too surprising, is it?

    2. “The blue model built big-box schools where the children of factory workers could get the standardized social and intellectual training necessary to enable most of them to graduate into the big-box Ford plant and shop in the big-box store. Maybe that was a huge social advance at one time, but is that something to aspire to or be proud of today?”

    On average, the public schools in the 50s and 60s performed better then they do today — and they were far, far more cost effective.

    3. “Voters simply will not be taxed to cover the costs of blue government, and in most cases they will vote out of office anyone who suggests otherwise.2”

    You got that right, Brother.

  • ms

    I agree with Jim C. that conservatives don’t want to turn back the clock in the sense of going back to an agrarian society, rather they want to go “back to the future” by returning to smaller (and cheaper) government and humane free market principles. In other words, it’s not that we need to throw out everything from the past, which Mead points out, but we need to figure out what works in today’s world. I submit that some good places to start are:

    1- Make education more congruent with the needs of contemporary society. Let’s bring back apprenticeships, specific certification, vocational training in high schools and the like. We need colleges, but too many people go to college these days and it costs them too much money for degrees that don’t prepare them for a career.

    2- Let’s use technology to make government smaller, more efficient and more responsive to citizen’s needs.

    3- Don’t forget social issues. Many social problems would be solved if people got married before having kids and stayed married after the kids come. Yes, yes, I know social mores are notoriously hard to change but that doesn’t mean we can’t try really, really hard. Churches, schools and government need to be onboard with this project.

    I like WRM’s optimism and his making the point that change has to happen and we might as well get on with it. Write that book now, please!

  • Riki Tiki Tavi

    It’s refreshing to see an eminent scholar forthrightly acknowledge that much of the vaunted American middle class was built on racism. Racism has declined in America, and globally, because of decolonization. So, predictably, middle classes everywhere in the west are feeling squeezed, not so in the emerging economies. The crisis of wage stagnation and rising inequality in America is structural, not cyclical.

    What is an American with meager skills to do? The hope that all Americans can constantly be upskilled through education and training so that the best jobs would remain here is utopian. It is utopian and racist to believe that the majority of Americans are smarter, more motivated, more hardworking than the rest of the world. Furthermore, the rest of the world is not going to concede the high-technology ground to the US. The prattle about global division of labor and gains from trade that economists feed us, while not wholly wrong, is highly misleading. We may imagine a world where all Americans are rocket scientists, but no Chinese, Brazilian, Indian, is ever going to sign on to this plan. They want their own rocket scientists too. Thus the upskilling model is of limited utility. It will leave at least a third to a half of Americans behind. This is not to say that our education system needs no reform. It does, but that will not entirely solve the problem.

    The second problem that the world is facing because of the rapid “rise of the rest,” is that human society is yet again heading for a Malthusian trap. The industrial revolution lulled us into believing that Malthus had been proved wrong, but if global warming is real, then perpetual economic growth becomes unthinkable. Humans have already faced two major Malthusian traps, each led to a revolution. The first to the neolithic revolution, the second to the industrial revolution. Each revolution led to a reduction in our personal autonomy in exchange for more stuff “in the aggregate.” The former produced authority, hierarchy and slavery; the latter transmuted slavery into wage slavery.

    If global warming leads to yet another Malthusian trap, I think America is well placed to lead the next revolution as a way out of this trap. A return to “middle tech” yeomanry perhaps? A system where economic production once again moves back to households and small communities from global supply chains. There are enough technological trends out there that suggest that a return to middle tech yeomanry is not beyond the pale. Middle tech yeomanry could serve as a pretty good basis for Liberalism 5.0. Big government can help by removing legal hurdles to middle tech yeomanry, but ultimately if it occurs, it will occur through individual and local initiatives.

    But honestly, Prof. Mead why leave the job of figuring out what Liberalism 5.0 might look like to poor souls like us?

    Isn’t that why you get paid the big bucks?

  • Jim.

    @ms:

    Social Mores aren’t that impossible to change. Remember, the social mores of 200 years ago (Regency England) were not that different than the mores of today. (They also had access to prophylactic technology, which remains necessary to safely pursue those sorts of social mores.)

    What came next?

    The Victorian Era, and the greatest expansion of the British culture’s power over their environment and their neighbors that the world has ever seen.

    Something to think about, whenever people try to convince you that the drugs-and-[anything goes] culture of today is “inevitable”… or “progress”.

  • Corlyss

    As Murray tried to explain in Bell Curve, the US is gradually dividing along lines of the cognitive elites and the lower middle class that threatens to become the permanent underclass if something isn’t done about the family breakdown. Modern liberalism has a lot to do with social mobility and the opitimism it produces. As the middle class situation becomes more dire, mobility and optimism disappear.

    http://www.city-journal.org/2012/bc0125kh.html

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    I. INTRODUCTION

    In the following notes want explore, as a practical ideal, the notion of factories in the countryside run on part-time jobs. By “in the countryside” I mean in areas out beyond the exurban fringe of our existing metropolitan areas. And by “run on part-time jobs” I mean that most of the people working in these factories – those doing routine wage-work — would be employed 18-to-24 hours per week.

    Now whether such factories would be profitable is, of course, an interesting question. In many ways it is the most interesting question, since on the answer everything else must ultimately depend. But for the moment at least what interests me more — and what should interest my readers — are not the factories themselves so much as the new kinds of towns that might develop around them, and the new lifestyle that would become possible for the men and women who reside in those towns.

    The lifestyle itself is easy to imagine. Being employed only part-time outside the home, ordinary working people will have a lot more free time at their disposal than they do nowadays: time which they could use to construct their own houses, cultivate small gardens, cook and eat at home, and care for their own children instead of placing them in daycare to be cared for by strangers. In other words people could start doing a lot more things for themselves and each other – directly and with their own hands – which now they pay others to do for them. You could call it a compromise — or better yet, a trade-off — between the age-old longing for the simple life and the economic imperatives of a modern industrial society.

    But whatever you choose to call it I would like to take a few moments to sketch what I think are some of its natural advantages: ways it would enable ordinary people to make a more efficient use of their limited time and resources to satisfy their needs and desires. These are the “soft paths” to which my title refers.

    ii.
    First and most obvious of course are the advantages to the individual. She (or he) will have much more personal freedom than has traditionally been the case along with an enlargement in the scope and variety of activities that compose a working day. Instead of being bound to the daily routine of a nine-to-five job repeating the same set of actions week in and week out she will find herself spending half her working life as her own person, leading a far more varied and independent existence than is possible today: an existence much closer in spirit to the one in which we evolved as a species, and to which, I presume, we are adapted by nature. *

    I’ve often wondered whether it was to something like this that scripture refers, where it is written:

    “Thou hast left thy first love; remember, therefore, from whence thou art fallen?”

    And is it really just a coincidence that those areas of our modern economy which have most stubbornly resisted the techniques of mass-production or else have yielded to them with inferior results – the building of our homes, the preparation of our food, and the care of our children — are also the areas of activity that offer us the greatest intrinsic rewards: which afford us opportunities to satisfy our instincts for workmanship, to express ourselves with the works of our hands, and to exercise our manifold capacities for reciprocity and affection?

    I do not know the answer to these questions. But I do know that the new way of life I am proposing is one that will make the pursuit of happiness a far more agreeable enterprise than it is for most Americans nowadays, and one with better prospects of success.
    iii.

    Let me turn next to the family, which not only is oldest and most universal of all human institutions but also the one primarily responsible for the transmission of our culture and civilization. What effects would this new lifestyle have on the family?

    To begin again with the obvious it is clear that parents would start spending a lot more time with their children and each other than is possible today, and that they would be doing something besides watching TV while plunked on the couch. Home and hearth would become again what until recently they always have been: scenes of domestic activity where every family member has useful roles to play and real responsibilities to meet. There certainly will be no shortage of quality time in the sense of opportunities for parents to interact with their children: to talk, joke, and play around with the as they share in the daily chores of life, or engage in more serious conversations whenever the occasion seems appropriate. Thus would the human family to be restored not only as a functioning economic institution but in its age-old role of nurture and support.

    iv.

    Something similar can be predicted for the institution of marriage, which not only is the biological basis of the family but also the foundation of its stability. The bonds of matrimony will certainly grow stronger once the earnings from two part-time jobs together with the contributions of two adult sets of hands are required to support an independent household.

    Contrast this to the typical situation today where we find that both parents are employed full-time outside the home and can thus afford to live by themselves if they are so moved. Small wonder so many marriages now end in divorce! But under the terms of the new household economy I am proposing walking out of a marriage becomes a much less convenient option than it is now — which means that fewer couples are likely to go through the traumas of divorce, with all this implies for the happiness and emotional security of their children, to say nothing of themselves.
    v.

    We should also consider the possibility of a return to a more traditional, three-generation form of the family — not under one roof necessarily, but perhaps under two, at opposite ends of the garden. The advantages are manifold. For one thing grandparents, once they live close by, will be in a position to help look after their grandchildren – during the period they are still infants and toddlers especially — on those occasions that inevitable arise when both parents need to be away from home at the same time. And by the same token, later on in life when the grandparents themselves have grown old and are no longer able to live by themselves, their children and grandchildren will be in a position to help look after them.

    As an alternative to daycare and nursing homes alone this old arrangement deserves our consideration. For not only does it offer a more natural and humane way to deal with these age-old problems of care, but one that is infinitely more affordable as well, at least for most working-class families.
    vi.

    Let us now turn to the issue of retirement. We have all read those stories in the newspaper about how Social Security is going to go broke and may not be there for the next generation. The aging of the baby-boom generation, as we all know by now, means that the ratio of people who are drawing money out of the Social Security system is growing to fall in relation to the number of people who are paying money in, a trend that seems destined to continue. What this portends, the experts keep telling us, is one of three things: either a reduction in Social Security benefits, a rise in the future age of retirement, or an increase in taxes on future workers’ wages. None of these is an attractive alternatives politically speaking, to say the very least.

    But under the arrangement I am proposing this dilemma largely disappears. Once work and leisure are integrated into the fabric of everyday life, people will no longer feel the same need to retire the do todayy. Instead they can gravitate towards easier kinds of work as they grow older and towards an even shorter workweek: 12 hours behind a check-out counter, for example, instead of 18-to-24 hours on the assembly line. And when they eventually do reach a point in life when they are no longer able work at all, they will not have to rely on their monthly Social Security checks alone to meet all their material needs, as we have already seen. This means that their monthly benefits could be lower without compromising the quality of their lives.

    And finally, at the very end of life, when death finally approaches as it inevitably does, instead of being carried off to a nursing home somewhere at enormous public expense the dying person can stay at home, where hospice services can be provided at a fraction of the cost, in which specially trained nurses would come to the house for an hour or two each day to assist the family with the physical and medical care of the patient. How much better to die that way, at home in one’s bed, surrounded by the voices of loved ones, than all alone in a hospital room or in a warehouse of strangers?
    vii.

    Let us turn next to the local neighborhood community, which, after the family, is the second oldest of all human institution, corresponding as it does to the primitive band and to the ancient and medieval village. What new sorts of neighborhoods might become possible, and how might they differ from the ones most of us grew up in?

    One thing is for sure. We are going to see many more adults up and about during the regular course of the day. With half their working lives centered around the home grown-ups are bound to be round on a regular basis, tending their gardens, doing routine choirs around the house, or engaged in some other useful pursuit – whether something as simple as painting a porch swing or mending an appliance, or some- thing as complex as a major home improvement project. But what- ever they might happen to be doing the point is that these new neighborhoods of the future will no longer be the “deserted villages” most of us know, in which adults typically get up in the morning, climb into their automobiles, and drive away to work until the end of the day.

    For the children this will have certain obvious advantages. They will be exposed to the adult world of work to a much greater extent than is possible in today’s society, where most real work is done away from home and out of sight of the children. Being the naturally curious creatures they are, children in the neighborhood will inevitably be drawn into the world of work: at first by looking, then later by asking, and finally by helping — and thus in the natural course of growing up will acquire a certain amount practical knowledge and a number useful skills, things which nowadays completely pass them by.

    Another obvious advantage is that the same adults who are out working in their yards will be well-positioned to keep a collective eye out on the children in the neighborhood as they run and play among the houses, warning them away from danger and keeping them out of mischief, thus providing a useful extension to the family itself. Friendly faces in friendly places, it is easy to predict, will make the neighborhood a safer and more congenial place in which to work or play.
    viii.

    Nor should we overlook the many other possibilities for sharing. With so many adults at home during the day it becomes a simple matter of convenience to go next door to borrow a cup of sugar or to ask for a helping hand from the neighbor down the street. Visiting and casual hospitality are sure to be more common occurrences once one’s friends and neighbors begin to avail themselves of some of their new-found leisure.

    Or consider such a simple thing as a neighborhood post office instead of individual mailboxes in front of each house. Not only would this save the postal service a good deal of time and expense but it would provide a convenient spot where neighbors are likely to run into one another, exchange gossip, and pass along any news that might be of local interest.

    Neighbors might even elect to go in together to purchase a small neighborhood tractor which that they could all share in the spring to turn over their gardens. Or they might organize house-raising parties in the old Mid-Western barn-raising tradition: a useful as well as a very pleasant way to get through some of the earlier and heavier phases of construction. And, of course, there is the possibility of picnics on the 4th of July, a sure way to create a sense of local feeling and neighborhood solidarity.
    ix.

    Let me now say a few words on the subject of neighborhood planning. What would be the best way to arrange the houses in as neighborhood if we intend to take maximum advantage of the new possibilities for sharing?

    Here I think we have something to learn from the Traditional Neighborhood Movement, as it is sometimes referred to, which is already underway in a number of places in the United States. One opportunity, in particular, stands out: a chance to get away from the contemporary practice of arranging our houses along both sides of the street like so many beads on a string. The alternative is to arrange them around a central open space — a village green — which would serve both as a neighborhood park and a playground for kids (see Figure 1).

    Plan for a Hamlet from The Art of Building a Home, 1901. This was the earliest suggestion of grouping various combinations of houses and a break in the building line. It was intended to give a unified impression from the standpoint of a traditional village green, which was supposed to serve the same communal gathering purpose out-of-doors that the two story living room did for the family inside. The thought was to draw people to a place so that favorable and positive things might begin to happen to them.

    As you can see from the figure a second habit we might get out of is that of placing our houses back from the street with large lawns in front. Instead we could arrange our houses close to the street, facing the park, and give them front porches, as was commonly the practice in most towns in America before the age of the automobile. This arrangement would make for easy line-of-sight communication between the house and the park, and between the porch and any pedestrians who might happen to be walking by on the sidewalk that runs in front of each house.

    Of course if the houses are set forward like this it means that the gardens will have to be located behind, in the long back yards that would stretch from the rear of each house, with the grandparents’ quarters being located at the far end of the garden, but accessible by a small alleyway that runs across the back of each lot. The advantage of this arrangement is that it would define a space — bounded by the larger house in front and the smaller one behind — of relative peace and quiet: a place not open to the street, where a person could sit and meditate, or think, or sing the baby to sleep, and not be bothered (see Figure 2).

    “It has been computed by some Political Arithmetician, that if every Man and Woman would work four Hours each Day on something useful, that Labour would produce sufficient to procure all the Necessaries and Comforts of Life, Want and Misery would be banished out of the World, and the rest of the 24 Hours might be Leisure and Pleasure. What occasions then so much Want and Misery?”

    Benjamin Franklin

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    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Luke Lea: Dear Luke,

      After a lot of internal discussion, we decided to go ahead and run your essay in the comment pages, But we also wanted to make a comment. We appreciate the lively debate in the comments section of Via Meadia. Readers often tell us that the discussion on our pages is more thoughtful and engaged than elsewhere in the blogosphere. Yet this is not the place for essays only tangentially related to a post. Freestanding, digressive arguments should be posted on your own blog and you should feel free to link back to them in a comment at Via Meadia. We want to keep our discourse focused.

      Best, and thanks again for your interest,

      WRM and Team Via Meadia

  • thibaud

    A rambling, often self-contradictory and (surprisingly) poorly argued piece. Mead asserts that big government – which he tries to conflate with a mythical oligopolistic industry structure – is collapsing, but fails to offer any serious evidence for this beyond a couple of vague references to budget cutbacks in Chicago and Rhode Island. If big government were really collapsing as fast as he says it is, then the GOP would be well advised to relax, sit back, and wait for the rotten structure to collapse.

    In reality, there is next to no support, not even among the Tea Partiers, for meaningful cuts to the huge panoply of middle-class entitlements that accounts for the vast majority of federal spending and nearly all of the projected growth in same. There is zero support for rolling back the biggest government subsidy of all, the deductibility of mortgage interest from personal taxes. There is only modest support for rolling back spending on the core public sector unions – cops, teachers, firemen, nurses – and those unions retain enormous political power in California and many other states. This is hardly a picture of collapse.

    It would help if Mr. Mead were to scale back some of his airy, sweeping assertions and focus more narrowly on the difference between what the great Russian scholar Seweryn Bialer characterized as crises of _survival_ and crises of _effectiveness_. The mass entitlement state in America is undergoing a crisis of effectiveness. It is not going to shrink significantly, let alone disappear. Only when the mortgage interest deduction gets put on the table will we be able to say that the mass entitlement state is nearing its end.

    Erskine and Bowles, like many others, have sketched out sensible solutions to make the current system more effective: raising the retirement age, reforming medicare spending, etc.

    Even more useful would be a much shorter post focused on a very simple and very practical solution to several of the problems Mead identifies: a huge shift away from taxing work (ie income and payroll/hiring taxes) toward taxing consumption, ie, a national value-added tax. Obviously, there would be many losers in this scheme. For starters, it would probably put the final nail in the coffin of the big-box retailers. A VAT and would also put a crimp in the growth rates of purveyors of junk food, sneakers and cheaply-made discretionary crap of all sorts.

    However, many other, mainly higher-end, industries would rush to hire Americans due to the huge drop in payroll taxes. And Americans would find that having LESS, but BETTER-MADE, stuff would be to restore us to the ethos that made our parents’ generation so successful, an ethos of frugality, of hard work, of preserving things and passing them on to others rather than using them up and throwing them out after a few months.

    In short, a VAT would help to restore the yankee ethos and would privilege work and saving over consumption and speculation.

    How about it, Mr. Mead? Will you champion a reformed tax code that rewards work and hiring and saving?

  • Gary Hemminger

    Wow, Wow, Wow. That is what comes to my mind when I read this. Excellent reading. I couldn’t stop reading and want more.

    I can’t help but thinking that the govt monopoly model needs to change. There needs to be competition for government services. The DMV needs a competitor. Not necessarily private enterprise, but competitive govt. enterprise.

  • http://facingzionwards.blogspot.com/ Luke Lea

    Thanks, Walter, and I won’t do it again.

  • Duncan Frissell

    Great piece as always, Walter.

    It seems well argued save on one point. Obviously, the reduction in the need for agricultural labor required some change at the end of the 19th century but I don’t see that it required Progressivism and the Blue Model. One could imagine a different ideological climate in which workers moved to cities and worked in factories without leading to big government. I assume that big government arose from the adoption of socialist ideas (if impure socialism) by enough people to lead to the Fed, the FDA and the Income Tax and the rest of the 16th, 17th, and 18th amendment problems. These together with Progressive Ed, caused a lot of the Blue Model problems we encountered since 1913.

    Since automation automatically raises workers marginal product, the industrial workers would have earned higher wages over time w/o unions. When machines are cheap, workers are dear.

    The ideological influence of immigrants was significant in all this. There is no iron law that requires the adoption of a particular ideology. Then and now we could choose less government and a larger sphere for private action.

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