Chicken House Rules
Published on: December 21, 2011
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  • “Ultimately no laws can protect a republic when the people have lost their virtue. If we can’t throw out these bums and find some better people to replace them, American democracy will slowly turn into something very unattractive.”

    This is where the Roman analogy plays a large role. There is a reason Caesar rose to power. He was a populist who essentially overthrew an aristocratic kleptocracy. Remember, those who assassinated him on the floor of the Senate were aristocrats fearful of what Caesar would do as “Dictator for Life,” but the “people” were so angry by his killing that the conspirators essentially had to flee and lost in a subsequent civil war to the inheritors of Caesar’s mantle (Mark Anthony and his ally, albeit temporary, Octavian- soon to become Augustus).

    History teaches by inexact analogy, but it it teaches nonetheless

  • Mike M.

    There is a large and ever growing disconnect between what Americans tell other people they think and how they actually behave.

    Nearly ninety percent of Americans may profess their dissatisfaction with Congress, and yet you can be sure that somewhere around 90% of all members of Congress who run for reelection next year will win.

    So the real attitude that most Americans truly have today is that their representatives are doing a pretty good job, but everyone else in there is a stinking, rotten, no good bum. It’s just another indicator of how deeply fragmented and polarized our society has become.

  • Anthony

    “The paternalistic and benevolent goverment envisioned by the architects of the blue social model has morphed into a corrupt insider state that can no longer regulate or protect.” Appropriate summation as far as it goes WRM but to my mind somewhat misleading. That is, everything described in your essay has flowered under various models attached to fundamental U.S. governance; it is historically evident that government and politics have cemented nexus between PUBPOLS and financial opportunity in our American realm (bought men sell out again and again at higher prices). Further, as your essay implies goverment officials are surreptitiously enmeshed in a tangle of profitable involvements, it would follow that not just Tea Party and OWS participants should be outraged and posing questions – we all ought to be.

    Registered lobbyists may now be paymasters of our congressmen opposed to electors as duly established paymasters. The question for me is how can the electorate minimize the selection of men/women who look upon government as brokers look upon the Stock Exchange (as an opportunity to feather their nests at public expense). Moreover, reasonable civil security requires that we demand more from both legislators/officials and ourselves – voting public; many of us do not vote our interests intelligently and our politicians recognize the ditheriness of the electorate.

  • Jim.

    There was a very famous (at the time) speech made by a machine politician of a hundred or so years ago on the subject of “honest graft”, which is exactly what this article describes. Let me see if I can dig it up.

  • Some Sock Puppet

    @Mike M.

    Or it may just be that the game is fixed, and it’s the only one in town. Advocate an overthrow and you’re a traitor. Talk about revolution or even your civil rights and the state WILL crush you.

    Too many people care more about the fat-*** Karadashian celebutards than they do about things that directly affect their pocketbook. And the media is happy to keep it that way.

  • Darby

    If the Occupy movement had protested stuff like this they might have had at least a shred of credibility. But since their beloved Democrats stink of corruption in this relationship, they couldn’t go there. The swamp of corruption continues and it is led by the Obama administration. We need to clean the DC sewer out and prevent this self enrichment of our elected officials.

  • Ed In Leesburg

    So, what do you tell us this stuff for? To get us mad? To make us jealous? To make a difference? No, I think not. You write this junk to fragment and polarize. This does NOT HELP. Congress and those who can make a difference read this stuff and smile. Thanks for nothing.

  • The Day will come when a real existential threat arrives. The Ruling Elites will shreak for the All Good Men to come to the aid of the their country. Do not be surprised if the Good Men do not do so.

  • Ed B

    Mike M. One of the Congress Critter’s first responsibilities is to make sure his/her constituents don’t know what (s)he is up to. It’s this bambozzle factor that gets them reelected, not public approval. And that’s the way they want to keep it.

  • Vincent Mohan

    “Fortunately, almost everyone hates Congress these days; the loathing and contempt we have for the status quo may yet inspire a genuine and effective movement of reform.”

    While it is true that most people hate Congress as a whole, most people like their three people (one representative, two senators) in congress. Therefore, I believe that expecting the voting public to get rid of even a fourth of Congress is optimistic in the extreme.

  • Dave

    The Tea Party and the O.W.S. movement are symptoms of a disease, the unholy alliance between big government/Wall St./K St./big business. Both entities are only partially correct as to solutions. OWS wants to give more power to the government(will only amplify the current problems) , the Tea Party wants to go in the exact opposite direction which would lead us back to the days of robber barons. The real issue is having honest and decent politicians who will stand up for the citizens of this country and its constitution, Ron Paul is one of those who will.

  • DK

    Corruption grows in direct proportion to government’s control over private enterprise. The pro-government, pro-regulation types either fail to understand this dynamic, or worse, cynically seek to leverage it to their benefit. Less government begets fewer rent seekers and creates an opportunity to break the favors- for- contributions self perpetuating cycle.

  • jwmatney

    It’s been years since I’ve voted for an incumbant. No change for me in 2012. They can all go to hell!

  • ScottED

    Great description of recent give-and-take btwn Congress and Wall St. This suggests political parties seeking to maintain power and resources are perhaps the greatest threat to good governance.

    You expect OWS or Tea Party (via influence on Republican Presidential primary candidates) to address this nexus. What is the evidence they are asking the right questions? Questioning the Fed and Freddie and Frannie? Calling Barney Frank a traitor? What am I missing?

    To say OWS misses this nexus of gov-Wall St, that power corrupts government, is partly true. Yet its anarchist-inspired, do-it-yourself cities and meetings suggests less simple socialism/bureaucracy solutions and point to the responsibilities and virtues of civic participation.

  • Anthony

    Correction @3: 2nd sentence parenthetical should read …(as an opportunity to feather their nest at public expense – unlike similarly situated stock brokers who do not function under oath while while engaging private profit via free enterprise).

  • Reggie

    There are two Americas now – one of the producers and one of the parasites. The parasites are on both ends of the income distribution – the top one percent and the bottom 20 percent.

    It will end when their bought politicians can no longer borrow money.

  • valwayne

    Obama and the Democrats controlled our Government completely in 2009 and 2010. During those two years they did more damage to our economy and our nation than any President and Congress in the history of the nation. So the American people through Nancy Pelosi out of control of the House effective Jan 2011, less than a year ago. Since than Obama stopped even trying to be President and has gone into 100% cammpaign mode, and with his democratic Senate has blocked all the repair work the House has tried to do. Can anyone imagine this kind of mess in Washington going on and on under Ronald Reagan? Of course, not because Reagan was willing to lead and take responsiblity. Obama sits on the sidelines, takes potshots, and whines and blames. The problem in Washington is that we have NO/ZERO Presidential Leadership! If we want our nation to recover we have to decide. Obama, the Democrats, and terrible decline and despair with their extreme left wing policies. Or do we go with the Republicans and give ourselves a new start to repair the damage, create jobs, and get our economy growing again. Obama’s welfare state, or Repblicans opportunity state? Obama had his chance and screwed it up royally! Its decision time folks?

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “So, what do you tell us this stuff for? To get us mad? To make us jealous? To make a difference? No, I think not. You write this junk to fragment and polarize. This does NOT HELP.”

    That’s right, Mead, you’re NOT being HELPful! La Gente unida jamas leida Via Meadia! The only to combat the status quo is by ignoring it!

    [/sarc]

    An interesting (if longish) relevant link.

  • Geezer117

    Two part solution: First, a constitutional ammendment that all laws binding the people equally apply to members of Congress; that would make insider trading by Congressmen a crime. Second, a law that defines non-public deliberations of Congress as a form of inside information; that would make trading on such information by Congressmen or hedge fund people a crime.

    If a barber can go to jail for trading on something overheard during a haircut, then Congressmen and hedge fund people trading on secret congressional deliberations should join the barber in the cell.

  • RYAN

    CORRECTION: Few Americans hate congress. What they hate are REPUBLICANS! (The current representation on earth of ogres and trolls.) And they are going to vote all REPUBLICANS out of office because their candidates are dumber than tea bags and less useful than blunt scissors.

  • Tony Lentini

    What needs to change is this: Congress needs to be subject to the same laws as the rest of us. Period. We have an elitist government made up of crooks, Democrats and Republicans alike, who have one set of rules for themselves and another for the rest of us. The only way to truly force change is for the 53 percent of us who pay all the income taxes to say “no more.” Fix the tax code. Eliminate political correctness. Balance the budget. Quit lying about Tea Party Patriots and GIVE US OUR COUNTRY BACK!

  • Ed

    Mead is a straight up [nasty thing].

  • Stan Lippmann

    Walter,
    Most of the people who would publicly state that hedge funds should exist I would email and predict their fates in the Star Chamber of the new show, “Reality TV Grand Jury”, live from Nuremberg, Pennsylvania. The folks at home get to ask any question they want, and then the American People collectively decide their fate. But you are at least not totally brain dead like most in the fourth estate, so I would put you in the Tariq Aziz category.

  • djt

    OWS had it mostly right, the TP wrong. OWS could have easily narrowed their demands to something that had large public support:
    1. Amendment clarifying corporations are not people
    2. Remove money from politics
    3. Prohibit congress crittes and staff from lobbying congress for 10 years after their term is over.

    How do I vote against the interests of Goldman Sachs?

  • S

    The proletariat eventually rebelled in the USSR. While some on the Left might aspire to a new version, led by themselves, of course, the rest of us should remember that the 99% had little or nothing in the way of material goods and no freedom at all. The 1%, strangely enough, had summer homes, limousines, special stores for food, clothing, and goodies, and so on and so forth. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • ErisGuy

    The last two times a government was this corrupt, its leaders were decapitated on the guillotine or shot in the basement at Yekaterinburg.

  • Jacksonian Libertarian

    The problem is excesive government power to regulate what should be private business transactions. If we take the power away the corruption money will stop flowing. In fact Capitalism and the Free Enterprise system work best, and grow the fastest when the government monopoly is prevented from interfering. Does anyone believe that Frank-Dodd will make things better?

  • John Barker

    Don’t think it can’t happen here. Assassinations were common the late 19th and early 20th century in the United States but were usually regarded as the work of anarchistic foreigners or misguided youth. Now contempt for government and privileged elites is deep and widespread. The system seems to something like the old “nomenklatura” of the late Soviet Union. See you on the barricades.

  • Kris

    Our host certainly seems to have hit the mother-lode with this post. Could one of your minions tell us to what site we owe the oh-so-erudite new commenters?

  • Corlyss

    Can’t think why the Indians would be chortling about the screw-ups in Washington. It’s likely to delay their guilt reparations, their subsidies, and their free health care, not to mention their food stamps and their booze allotment.

  • Jim.

    Here we go. The speechmaker:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Plunkitt

    “George Washington Plunkitt (1842–1924) was a long-time State Senator from the U.S. state of New York, representing the Fifteenth Senate District, who was especially powerful in New York City. He was part of what is known as New York’s Tammany Hall machine.”

    The speech:

    http://www.panarchy.org/plunkitt/graft.1905.html

    “EVERYBODY is talkin’ these days about Tammany men growin’ rich on graft, but nobody thinks of drawin’ the distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft. There’s all the difference in the world between the two. Yes, many of our men have grown rich in politics. I have myself. I’ve made a big fortune out of the game, and I’m gettin’ richer every day, but I’ve not gone in for dishonest graft – blackmailin’ gamblers, saloonkeepers, disorderly people, etc. – and neither has any of the men who have made big fortunes in politics.
    There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.” ”

    So are we living in a world of constant (even accelerating!) CHANGE, Professor Mead?

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Jim: Human nature doesn’t change, or at least not as much as some think. But as for the rest of it, yes. And the explosive mix between unchanging human nature and a rapidly changing social and technological environment is producing some rather interesting explosions.

  • osprey

    djt (no. 23) has it right.
    1. Get “hot” money out of politics means:
    CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM. NOW.
    2. If corporations are people, then they can
    be held accountable for the crimes they
    are committing.
    3. SUSTAINABILITY as a principle must be
    embodied in our constitutional fabric.
    “We the People” are now “labor units”
    whose livelihood is at the mercy of CEO’s
    lay off thousands and then pocket their
    salaries while outsourcing those jobs to
    countries where sweatshop/slave labor
    produces more and more stuff designed to
    wear out even more quickly. Quality, not
    quantity a better life for all.

    What WRM fails to point out: “legal” tips are bribes being given the House and Senate to look the other way while we are left to survive in a system that is underwritten by
    what are essentially rubber checks.

  • kj_ca

    Jim, the “honest graft” speech would be from Mr.George Washington Plunkitt, made in 1905 at Tammany Hall.

    According to then-Senator Plunkitt, “There’s an honest graft, and I’m an example of how it works. I might sum up the whole thing by sayin’: “I seen my opportunities and I took ’em.””

    Truer words than this have never spoken by a member of the political class.

  • Brian

    ” Power corrupts; building a government strong enough to do what it must without giving up our essential liberties has been the core issue of American politics from the days of the Continental Congress.”

    And here you identify the crux of the matter, and correctly note it has been going as long as history has been recorded, and will continue to the indefinite future. The specific and terrible issue today, however, is not the fact that this issue exists, but the pervasiveness of it at all levels of finance and government. And that can be resolved by addressing the key phrase “to do what it must”.

    Government – high levels of government in particular – simply does much more than it must these days. For example, what is the critical interest of the Republic in debit card fee caps? Why is Congress addressing this, and in so doing, giving politicians and financial analysts the opportunity to make these profits? Surely, if there were no laws about debit card fee caps whatsoever, the existence of the Republic would progress as smoothly, or more so, than it currently does with these laws in place. Honestly, try a thought experiment of a world without debit card fee caps. Do you foresee an existential crisis in this world?

    Likewise with Obamacare. Just get out of the way and let people make their own arrangements. Then the finance people and politicians can’t make money when there is or isn’t a public option included in the law. And note that this isn’t partisan – regardless of whether the public option was or was not included in the law, the insiders would still make money. The only question is whether they are on the short or long side of the Cigna and Aetna trades.

    The only solution is to implement libertarian remedies and strictly adhere to the original intent of the Constitution with specific enumerated powers given to the Federal government and all other powers retained by the states and people. If the Federal government’s power is limited this way, then corruption becomes less pervasive (because there is little profit in it) and less worrisome (because it destroys much less societal value).

    Power corrupts – a truism if there ever was one. The solution suggested by the current adminstration and a substantial portion of the populace (including the OWS protesters and a substantial number of commenters to this Via Meadia blog) is to increase the power wielded by the Federal government entity – to go from “power” to “absolute power”. Even WRM implies this could work if only we could “throw out these bums and find some better people to replace them.”

    Folks – this doesn’t work. It won’t work. It can’t work. Stop trying to pretend this is a problem of some corrupt individuals. You can vote 435 clones of Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, and Desmond Tutu into the House of Reps and you’ll have the same problems. It is a systemic issue, and the *only* solution is to disperse power. Limit the amount of power of any individual or institution. Use checks and balances. Limit terms. Push power down – from Federal to states, states to local, local to individuals. We must do this, and we must do it soon – the corruption is growing like a strangler vine, entwining our limbs and branches, drawing ever tighter, and now threatening the very roots of our Republic. I worry about this every day. I sometimes despair my son will not recognize the remains of what was once a great nation and society. I beg people to wake up, look at the problems that exist, recognize the major changes that need to be implemented to ensure our society survives. Stop blaming the Tea Party or OWS, and instead think about what they are saying, extract the legitimate concerns, and work for solutions. Otherwise, we are all going down in this ship together.

  • BCanuck

    Business as usual in DC!
    To say that the US Federal Govt is a complet [something unpleasant] stew cesspool would be a bit of a over-statement … but not much.
    The US is quick to criticize various corrupt elections and general corrupt government in foreign lands and the criticism is well justified but is the US approaching the ‘people in glass houses shoudn’t through stones’ phase?

  • NM OBJECTIVIST

    A laissez faire approach to government would solve these problems. Government should not regulate health care, or mergers, or wireless services, or credit card fees. Taxation should be much less and stable.

    Too radical? A government that does too much will always be corrupt as the regulated seek to protect themselves.

  • dileo

    The real problem is that there is not a dimes worth of difference between Republicrats and Democans. Until we acknowledge THEY (not one party or the other)are the facilitators of our grief, misery, and impending bankruptcy we have only ourselves to blame for what the future portends for ALL of us.
    We have permitted the creation and perpetuation of a true ‘kakistocracy’.
    Until we take back OUR republic from these corrupt parties and their supporting syncophants in the media and business…we will continue to get what they want us to have and nothing more.

  • Adam

    Actually the people of congress broke the law, There is no provision that protects them, the only two things missing is someone willing to indict them for breaking the law, and a mechanism for actually bringing them to justice. If you are a US Attorney general and you want to be president, start the indictments.

  • When the constitution was written, representative government was the only possible form of democracy given the vast distances that horses had to travel to enable people to get together to resolve issues.

    Nowadays, people can vote on issues via the Internet. For example, I have fingerprint access on my laptop for purposes of authenticity and security.

    A new government system could be set up akin to corporate governance with annual audits by an outside firm and public (akin to shareholder) vote on certain key items such as the annual budget.

    In a nutshell, there is no longer any need for senators and congressman to represent individual voting-age people on key matters affecting their well-being. The populace is often better informed than their representatives on issues of concern.

  • Gregory Chacon

    So what is the end point to this article? It merely states the discontent among the public that has been building for sometime. Secondly, the public is no longer shocked by the scandals, we have been over scandalized.

    The reason why the public cannot change the federal government as it stands now is because the public has become its own worst enemy. The following are core drivers behind this:

    First, the public operates under the false assumption that through your vote, change can be brought about. That’s like sending a virgin to a horror house with $2K in his pocket (may not be that best analogy, but you get the point).

    Second, which is part (b) to the first point, we believe we live in a democracy. How is it then that our only choices are those who have the most money and are the most connected. Doesn’t sound like a democracy to me.

    Finally, and the most critical, the partisanship not among the politicians but among the public has pitted neighbor against neighbor because each one is hell bent on defending his guy/gal. The manifestation of this is represented in the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements.

    The radical reform required to give the government back to the people will not happen through election. It will only happen when there is solidarity among the people. Time to break out the pitchforks.

  • djt

    #33, I would love to make my own arrangements to dump toxic effluent into my local streams. Where do I sign up?

    It’s fun to think about the notion that corruption in congress would be gone if there was less money and power sloshing around there. But if the power isn’t there, where the public can ocassionally see it and vote for people to change it, the power will be entirely private and secret. Better corruption in congress than mercury in the air, poison in the food, endless oil wars, toxic toys, etc. We can’t depend on congress critters to be saints; and we can’t depend on business owners and private individuals to be saints. But we can use public power to prevent the destructive behavior that private individuals can inflict on the public. It just needs some tweaking to eliminate well known, clearly identified problems with their campaign financing and the peoplehood of corporations. There’s no mystery. The only mystery is how to get there from here.

  • Eli Katz

    Walter: You keep arguing that the “blue social model” is responsible for the massive spending by and corruption in Washington. I have serious problems with this argument.

    If a large social welfare system were the primary cause of debt and corruption, then Western democracies with much more generous government programs than the United States would find themselves bankrupt and hijacked by narrow interests.

    This is not the case. Canada and Australia, for example, have generous public programs — including single-payer healthcare systems — that neither threaten the vibrancy of their economies nor the strength of their democracies. Indeed, both countries have survived the global economic downturn almost better than any other advanced democracy; and both countries, according to multiple political corruption measures, have some of the lowest levels of political graft in the world. Transparency International ranks them both in the top ten; by contrast, the group places the United States at 24th, just behind Chile and Qatar.

    So, why do Canada and Australia manage large public programs and government spending more responsibly the United States? A big factor, I believe, is the institutional arrangements of the countries. As parliamentary democracies, both Canada and Australia have very high levels of centralized political power. Their prime ministers and cabinet ministers have tremendous control over legislative agendas, legislative content, and legislative implementation. In Canada right now it is understood that what Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants is what he gets. If you are a Canadian interest group, you do not lobby the opposition or a back bencher in the majority caucus. You don’t appeal to the Senate. These are irrelevant political actors. Unless you have direct ties to the prime minister or the cabinet, you have no shot at influencing policy. Because of this concentration of power, interest groups do not flourish in parliamentary systems like Canada and Australian.

    By contrast, policy power in the United States is very decentralized. There are access points and veto points all through the federal government, encouraging the proliferation of interest groups and lobbyists to develop cozy relations with lawmakers and executive-branch officials. Money and contacts matter in the U.S. because there are so many important players in the system. Get a few senators on your side, for example, and they can start placing secret holds on bills and clog the legislative process in order to prevent movement on a proposal that your group opposes. This kind of strategy is impossible in parliamentary systems. But it is a standard operating procedure in the U.S. No wonder the country has over 25,000 interest groups — more than any other advanced democracy.

    I recognize that there are significant problems in comparing countries that are one-tenth the size of the United States. Obviously, a global superpower of 310 million people faces problems and challenges that a country of 20 million or 30 million doesn’t. That said, I think this comparison between the three countries does help explain why the U.S. has the problems it does. It has a system that encourages lobbying and interest groups and, thus, political corruption. Sure, you can dismantle government programs to reduce spending. And that may work for a short term. But I guarantee that any dismantled program will be quickly replaced with a new program. Narrow interests are always looking for ways to maximize benefits, and lawmakers are always looking for campaign donations.

  • HueyLives

    “If we can’t throw out these bums and find some better people to replace them, American democracy will slowly turn into something very unattractive.”

    It hasn’t already? This process started 35 years ago and is now in full putrid flower.

    OWS has it just about right. The answer is not more discretionary power for the corrupt government insiders. That only makes them and their Wall St. buddies richer at the expense of the 99%. Nor is the answer the laissez-faire sought by the TP and the Libertarians. That just lets the elite run roughshod over everyone else with impunity. The answer is to elect honest pols who will enact hard and simple rules that level the playing field and keep it that way.

    An example would be the Kaufman-Brown amendment of a couple of years ago, which would have limited the size of the banks. Instead we got Dodd-Frank, which just boosted the discretionary power of the regulators, which only guarantees more corruption.

    Kaufman-Brown attracted only 30 votes in the Senate (only 3 of them Republicans, though a few TP types skipped). That indicates we have a very long way to go.

  • Lavaux

    From what I see every day, Americans aren’t on average any more virtuous than the politicians they elect. That’s why I suspect that their primary objection to Congress’ corrupt collusion with Wall Street is that they’re not getting a taste of the graft.

    To illustrate, consider Social Security, which is sacrosanct to most seasoned citizens because they’re getting a taste of the graft, in fact far more than they put in. Current payers are likely to get little or nothing because the program will be insolvent by the time it’s their turn to collect. In view of these facts and to speed up the program’s collapse, current payers enthusiastically support the payroll tax cut, which gives them a little taste of the graft as well. Now everyone in this vile hand-on-the-next-guy’s-wallet Conga line is getting a taste of the graft, its popularity is bound to increase in tandem with the proximity of its demise.

    The mistake we’re all making here is that we believe we’re a virtuous people. We’re not, which is why we’ve elected the federal government we’ve got, and we deserve it. We’ve created a political arena where we compete to rearrange by force the outcomes achieved freely and voluntarily in the economic arena. So long as enough of us indulge our greed by competing in the political arena to get a bigger piece of the pie, then we’ll deserve to lose even more than we gain.

  • In line with #44, let’s look at the virtue issue. As Benjamin Rush said,

    “The only foundation for… a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

    There is much that can be debated about that point. However, there seems to be something for it in an age of increased secularism.

    The bottom line though is virtue. The “politicians” are mirror images of ourselves. We create them and they ultimately cater to us. Sure, there are factions and special interests galore. Yet, are not each of those made up of a certain number of “us” despite the fact that each individual grouping obviously differs in composition?

    We all want our piece of the pie and support those that will feed it to us. We can’t just blame “them,” we really must blame ourselves too.

    Over time we voted for Tocqueville’s “soft despotism.” It has come into existence in a myriad of small and trivial ways that cumulatively add up to what Tocqueville describes below,

    “It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

  • As Benjamin Rush said,

    “The only foundation for… a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

    There is much that can be debated about that point. However, there seems to be something for it in an age of increased secularism.

    The bottom line though is virtue. The ‘politicians’ are mirror images of ourselves. We create them and they ultimately cater to us. Sure, there are factions and special interests galore. Yet, are not each of those made up of a certain number of ‘us’ despite the fact that each individual grouping obviously differs in composition?

    We all want our piece of the pie and support those that will feed it to us. We can’t just blame ‘them,’ we really must blame ourselves too.

    Over time we voted for Tocqueville’s ‘soft despotism.’ It has come into existence in a myriad of small and trivial ways that cumulatively add up to what Tocqueville describes below,

    “It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

  • rkka

    “The problem is excesive government power to regulate what should be private business transactions. If we take the power away the corruption money will stop flowing. In fact Capitalism and the Free Enterprise system work best, and grow the fastest when the government monopoly is prevented from interfering.”

    Then please explain to me why the tax-cutting, regulation-slashing Dubya Bush administration couldn’t achieve the number of private-sector jobs it had on Inauguration Day 2001 until the mid-summer 2005, and then only because Greenspan blew a housing bubble that has been blowing up in all our faces since 2007.

    You can’t, JL. And what is more, you will never accept the empirical failure of your ideological preconceptions, precisely because they arise from ideology and not evidence.

  • Jim.

    @43 Eli Katz:

    Interesting you should pick Canada and Australia, two of the most massive yet thinly populated countries on Earth.

    In fact, these countries are prospering now because they have massive deposits of easily accessible raw materials for which there is enormous and growing demand, and relatively fewer citizens to share that wealth amongst.

    In fact, the only way to screw up a situation like this is to impose a massively authoritarian government over it, as Russia does.

    Go back to the drawing board, Katz.

  • Jim.

    @WRM:

    Apologies for the heatedness of the reaction there. I have a very great respect for the way you trace the inevitable changes in some of our institutions, like the university system and the Blue social model.

    As happens too often in Internet debates, (or debates of any kind, really) the fight is against a memory of someone else who has made similar arguments. So let me clarify.

    The “change is the only constant” argument, in my experience, is put forth by Leftist propagandists who are out to destroy what is left of the historically Christian character of this country (a culture that, as you well know, both led to our prosperity and allowed us to weather or avoid the great crises of our past) and replace it with a (curiously permanent, curiously monocultural) Politically Correct, libertine and authoritarian rule by the self-appointed “experts” whose idea of utopia is the dismal 1960’s.

    Worse yet, most of the time (and you’re guilty of this from time to time as well), the banner of “change” is only for the sake of trying to defend attempts to mainstream what used to be called buggery and fornication.

    So, whenever I can, I tend to point out how much things reall haven’t changed. “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, and all.

    WRM, as far as I’m concerned, the best service someone of your intellect, faith, and historical expertise can provide is to discover the essential, unchanging truths of the past (including, but certainly not limited to, the moral teachings of the Bible and the history of the maritime system) and apply those to the developing trends of the present.

    The “change is contant” refrain elevates those ephemeral trends above the unchanging truths, and so has led to the disaster that is the vast majority of the Baby Boom generation’s intellectual “contribution” to the procession of the world’s heritage.

    The stage constantly changes, but the underlying motivations (and thus the moral laws that govern them) of the human actors do not. So please, be more careful with the “constant change” mantra; it is the most dangerous half-truth ever foisted off on unsuspecting students. If we abandoned that mantra entirely, the world would be the wiser for it.

  • cIVL

    Lawrense Lessig, yall. Read him. Use maplight.org, move business away from entities that finance bad policy. A slow paradigm shift is in the making.

  • Brian

    djt, #24 and #42:
    Your reply on 22 Dec 11 is arrant and insipid nonsense. Nowhere in my text did I ever imply that it is acceptable to “dump toxic effluent into my local stream” or in any way to harm or impinge on the rights of others. As you are well aware. I despair over the degeneracy of rhetorical training in the United States.

    But, fine, I’ll engage on your terms. You are a believer in more powerful government and enjoy utilizing straw man arguments? Let’s see … ” I would love to make a government powerful enough to throw 12 million people into death camps. Where do I sign up?” I’ll happily deploy my centralized, militarized, government-organized straw-army against your pitiful, disorganized libertarian straw-rabble any day of the week and twice on Sundays. It is not much of a fair fight. Anyone who has studied history is well aware that the misery and death spread by governmental entities dwarfs that inflicted by individuals by many, many, many orders of magnitude. I refer you to Joseph Stalin’s morbid insight on tragedy vs. statistics. The blood-soaked 20th century reads like a horror novel of governmental oppression and brutality.

    So, what is the scorecard so far? I have poisoned a local stream. You are responsible for the death of 12 million men, women, and children. In the ugly-moral-calculus totals, I think I am ahead. Or behind. Depending on what your objective is.

    “Oh, but I didn’t mean *that*,” you whine? Well, no, probably not. That is the disadvantage of using strawmen, putting words in other people’s mouths, and impugning motives. So how about we affix our respective strawmen back onto the posts in cornfields where they belong, and actually engage in a discussion?

    Unfortunately, here too your responses are a bit lacking. You seem to have three planks. Let’s look at them:

    1. An amendment clarifying corporations are not people.
    What in the world? I honestly have no idea what you are after here. Corporations are specific legal entities with rights and responsibilities delineated by law. They are artificial persons, and are distinct in numerous ways from natural people. Nowhere has there ever been a law declaring them to be natural people, and any such law would be farcical. I am assuming you are specifically referring to business corporations, although you’ll need to clarify that as well – do non-commercial incorporated entities also fall under your amendment? But focusing on business corporations, what possible good would this amendment declaring corporations *not* to be people do? Are you trying to change some of the specific aspects of incorporation? Trying to eliminate the legal personality, for example? If you do that, of course, corporations will no longer fall under current legal structures – they will no longer be able to be sued, for example, or found in violation of criminal or human rights law, or enter contracts, or pay taxes. I suspect that is not what you are after, but I cannot tell what it is you *are* after. Your amendment, as proposed here, is helplessly vague and, in my opinion, counterproductive to any useful goal.

    2. Remove money from politics
    This is just empty sloganeering. Sounds good, means nothing. Or, more to the point, means something different to everybody. Take an example – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka, “Obamacare”). Passing this legislation was a political act. So, are you recommending all clauses within the Act having to do with raising revenue or authorizing expenditures be removed? That would certainly “remove money from politics.” You and I would find ourselves broadly in agreement if this is what you mean.

    But I suspect it is not. Moving beyond the empty slogan, and reading between the lines, what I think you probably mean is more something along the lines of government passing additional laws to further restrict campaign donations. This is a terrible cause. If your government is passing legislation that affects the lives and livelihoods of numerous people (incorporated into companies or not), then those people will want to have input, and this input involves expenditure of time, resources, money. The more government interferes, the more people will want to provide input and influence the outcome. There are only two ways to restrict this: A) to limit the government’s interference, so that input naturally limits itself, or B) to directly limit the input. I like A, you like B (I think). But notice that if you implement B, the solution will either be ineffective, or if it is effective, it will be because you have artificially, by force, restricted the speech of those who would like to speak. Fortunately, we still have a 1st amendment in the US, but it seems to be more restricted every year. And people like you want to restrict it further – specifically, you want to limit the speech of groups / entities you do not like (“corporations”, or “Wall Street”, or whatever the flavor of the month is). Even more specifically, you want to empower *the government* to limit the speech about *itself*. Not at all far down that road, if we haven’t passed this stop already, you will find totalitarianism. While I admire your chutzpah in advocating so openly such an immoral position, your vision is not a society I want to live in, and I’ll do all I can to defeat it.

    As an aside, note the irony of my situation – I am fighting to allow you to continue to speak – you are fighting to make the government force me to shut up (how far are you willing to go – fines? jail? death? I’m curious; I’d like any warning I can get).

    3. Restrict lobbying rights of those in Congress.
    Here, we may actually be in some agreement. I don’t mind restricting rights of those who want to be politicians, as long as it is a voluntary and transparent agreement. Thus, this would probably have to be an amendment to the Constitution – you are restricting speech rights of certain persons, so this would be an exception to the 1st Amendment. But if you formulate the text properly, and ensure it applies only to those voluntarily taking on political roles after passage of the Amendment (no retroactive application), then I expect I would give it serious consideration & would probably be in favor.

    However, for all that, I do not think this would have any appreciable impact on the operation of the government or lobbying business, and I certainly don’t think it will have the benefits you imagine. It would make lobbying a little more inefficient – people will have to spend more time learning the workings of government from the outside – but this is hardly an insurmountable problem (as an aside, I see a future with ex-Congresspeople setting up lucrative “training seminars”. They don’t lobby Congress – oh no! – but they train those who do. You’d probably try to make these illegal as well… ). As long as government makes decisions with enormous economic impact, people will seek to influence those decisions, and will find ways to do so. Ex-Congresspeople and ex-staff members are a sideshow, at best. The problem is not with individuals, it is with the system.

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