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Blue Model Blues
Making Work Work in the 21st Century
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  • Andrew Allison

    Couldn’t one argue that the changes alluded to are an inevitable result of government regulation increasing the cost of “stable employment and its attendant benefits and job protections” to the point that they are unaffordable?

  • Beauceron

    The country is screwed. We imported 60 million mostly low-skilled workers over the last few decades. While it served its intended purpose of (nearly) handing the Democrats their permanent majority and slaking wealthy Republican donor’s thirst for cheap labor, it has wrecked unions and livable wages, not to mention what little sense of national unity we might have mustered. With computer automation of most of those jobs just over the horizon, most of those people are not going to have much work.

    Our elites have screwed us over good and proper this time, and I do not think it can be fixed.

    • Jim__L

      Well, we’re likely to get rid of our elites through the next election cycle or two.

      How the new legislators will handle the situation, I don’t know yet. Depends on what lessons they learn from Trump.

  • qet

    When it comes to the economy, WRM remains stuck in the first Kubler-Ross stage. The issue is not whether new types of work will develop. The issue is one of sheer numbers. I am old enough to remember what it was like in the 1970s when Japan, following 25 years of post-war rebuilding, began seriously competing with US manufacturers. That was before China’s billion and India’s billion, just to name two, came onto the technological/industrial employment scene. There will not be 4 billion Uber drivers nor will 4 billion people be needed to clean the pools of and provide personal services to the global 1%. 4 billion people (I use that number as a rough “workforce” number) released from the drudgery of labor to feed, house and clothe themselves, will not become 4 billion Monets, Dickens’, explorers, writers, thinkers, artists and other creative types. They will not live lives of the mind. At least, not until at least 3 or 4 centuries have elapsed without the world destroying itself in the meantime. So what exactly are they going to do for psychic/spiritual satisfaction? That question, far more than any question of distribution of material goods, lies at the bottom of the “Whither The Economy?” question.

    • Boritz

      “So what exactly are they going to do…?”

      Nietzsche said war.

      • Jacksonian_Libertarian

        This Question has been asked repeatedly for centuries, each time some machine relieves mankind of some more drudge work, the fear of change raises its ugly head once again. Luddites

        Shouldn’t we have learned the wisdom to wait and see by now?

        It’s like those idiots that say we should close the Patent Office because everything has already been invented. Or those leftists that after repeated failures of their social programs, keep saying just give us more money we will do it right this Time. There always seems to be a large segment of the population that can’t learn from their mistakes because they refuse to take responsibility for them, and continue to make them over and over again.

        And its name is Obama.

        • Jim__L

          There is something useful about looking at the unemployment rate, and saying, “You know, it would be handy if creative types didn’t concentrate so hard on disruptive technologies that put people out of work, and looked into technologies that could found whole new industries that could employ people.” Or, we could look for new frontiers to open up.

          It’s one thing to say, “Luddites are wrong”, and another to investigate the mechanisms by which Luddites have been wrong in the past, and putting some effort into making those mechanisms work for us now. A lot of people would benefit.

  • Anthony

    Public Policy, Public Policy, Public Policy: no simplistic answers – all this is part of one of the most important and complicated tasks our society faces.

    The Wall Street Journal to the contrary, reading WRM’s piece I cannot avoid (from public policy standpoint) thinking that his theme applies not so much to TAI’s regular commenters (maybe, even readers) than to young adults venturing into a world of work where unstable jobs and ephemeral careers are the norm. (except for those graduating from elite universities perhaps)

    That is, “because the reality of the rules of the game turning brutally against the young has nothing to do with technology or the immutable realities of the digital economy – and everything to do with who gets to write the rules – making work in the 21st century requires not only institutional and legal framework reordering but also a focus on generational effect of post industrial economy on workforce. For example, “jobs that used to pay decently are being turned into inferior jobs, whether in the manufacturing economy or the service economy. Yes there is an uptick in entrepreneurship, but for every young person who creates a company like Amazon, there are tens of thousands working in its warehouses – lousy contingent work.”

    And the moment is past due; political parties or not.

  • Arkeygeezer

    I submit that the changes described in this essay are the reasons that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have emerged as potent political figures in the coming Presidential election. Sanders represents the socialist/communist response to these changes, while Trump voices the pragmatic capitalist response.

    Meanwhile the establishment in both parties is stuck with the traditional liberal or conservative ideologies that prevailed in the past.

    If you want government of, for, and by the people, you had better listen to the people.

    • Tom

      In what universe is Ted Cruz the establishment candidate?

      • Arkeygeezer

        In the strange universe of the Republican establishment that is backing him to defeat Trump.

        • Tom

          It would, in that case, be much more accurate to call Cruz “the establishment’s nose-hold candidate.”

          • Arkeygeezer

            Conservatism has an established base in the Republican Party and Ted Cruz is the candidate backed by that established conservative base. There is also a moderate established base in the Republican Party that is probably best represented by John Kasich.

            The Democratic party has an established socialist base in Bernie Sanders, and a moderate base supporting Hillary Clinton.

            Each of the bases in both parties have agendas and positions that have hardened over time to the extent that they cannot compromise with each other. Democrats will not compromise on environmental, gay, and entitlement issues. Republicans will not compromise on immigration, guns, and opposition to Obamacare.

            The moderate rank and file of both parties is gravitating towards Donald Trump, who says that everything is subject to negotiation, and who does not take extreme positions on anything.

          • Jim__L

            I’d say that Trump simultaneously takes extreme positions and thinks everything is subject to negotiation. It makes him both interesting and dangerous.

          • Arkeygeezer

            Our Republic was built on the principle of compromise. The one time we lost the ability to compromise, we had a horrendous civil war. Nothing gets done in our government without compromise. If Trump is dangerous because he is willing to compromise, at least we may get something done that benefits the people for a change.

          • Jim__L

            No, I think he’s dangerous because it’s tough to tell whether he actually has any principles at all.

            As far as compromise goes, our current mode of compromise is gridlock. One party wants to go hard left, and the other is 180 degrees opposed to that. As a result of this splitting the difference, nothing changes.

  • FriendlyGoat

    “People who work in this world should not be second-class citizens”. But most of them ARE drowning in that particular bowl of soup. And they will continue to until one particular thing happens. That is that we we stiffly tax the recipients and the destinations of money now going everywhere but to those workers. This is not suggested for the purpose of taking money out of the economy and giving it to government. It’s actually the opposite. You want a tax structure at the high end that is so onerous that wealth would prefer to spend deductible money on employees and customers than “waste” it on the alternative of high taxes on high profits.

    There is no “workable vision for the post-industrial economy” which leaves millions and millions of people in America with insufficient income and time to both work their gig jobs and to simultaneously raise children —-and do it in household psychological environments which are of the type which can produce sensible children. If Mom and Dad cannot provide the basics and are also forced to live without knowing their schedules, you know what is going to happen.

    So, it’s good for TAI to lament that we need “something” in response to the changing economy. Are you EVER going to get honest about the actual goals of the “something”?

    • Jim__L

      Corporate types will find ways to spend money on themselves before they’ll find ways to spend it on employees.

      High-end taxes are not a panacea.

      Taking the focus off “disruptive” innovations and refocusing on innovations that can expand the human economy into places we’ve never been before (hint: a new kind of taxi driver doesn’t count), is going to be the solution here.

      • FriendlyGoat

        If only I knew what your third sentence meant. Examples?

        • Jim__L

          This is roughly how “disruptive” innovations work — ten guys come up with a way to do a job that used to take ten thousand guys to do, and they can do it for a tenth the price. They make a hundred times what the ten thousand guys used to, and the ten thousand guys get unemployed.

          – By the way, this has more to do with unemployment than “high end tax cuts” ever did.

          – Most entrepreneurs these days are obsessed with being one of those ten guys and making x100 money, and don’t care if ten thousand guys can’t support their families.

          – Economists are obsessed about this being a good thing, because it fits into their little equations as “efficiency”, and the equations have no place for observing the human suffering that economic dislocation causes.

          The opposite of a “disruptive” innovation is what I call “expansive” innovation — these are innovations that open up whole new opportunities for more people to make a living. Frontiers have this effect. New sources of raw materials have this effect. Sometimes technologies have this effect — printing presses increased demand for authors, for example. Automobiles resulted in more demand for petroleum, and opened up suburban construction as an employment opportunity.

          Uber and Amazon do NOT have this effect. They are disruptive, not expansive. Uber is simply another way hailing taxis — no one gets anything truly new out of it. Amazon is simply the Sears catalog updated by a couple hundred years.

          Does this express a little more fully what I mean?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, thanks for that. Not to be sarcastic (seriously), I don’t know where we get new frontiers or new sources of raw materials or new technologies sufficient to pick up today’s underemployed, not to mention tomorrow’s under employed. Coding, as we know, works for some people. Jobs in fracking and taking care of wind turbines have worked for some people. But we are projected to lose jobs to automation faster than we bring on those limited types of things.

          • Anthony

            FG, something timely and related to peruse (“Like so many other American scenes, this one is the product of decades of deindustrialization, engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats. This is a place where affluence never returns…because our country’s leaders have blandly accepted a social order that constantly bids down the wages of people like these while building up the rewards for innovators, creatives, and professionals.”)

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks. I, too, would have liked Ralph Nader as president, but alas, it didn’t happen and Bernie Sanders is unlikely too. The Democrats we do elect (if and when we do) are quite flawed and we all have to admit it.

          • Anthony

            No doubt and I referred tomdispatch not for Democrats but for information regarding our public policy structure. As always, you’re welcome FG.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The “Naderites” of old were not wrong that Democrats have a sorry history of being complicit with Republicans (and vice versa) in policies which do not address the problems of the lower middle class or those of depressed areas. You know I always claim to be a political “party animal”, but that’s not without reflection on the frustrating realities of two-party politics. Some Dems are trying to have a revolution with Sanders. I join them in spirit but do not have high hopes for success in that. Some of my conservative counterparts say, “Well, FriendlyGoat, if you’re unhappy, why not try Trump or Cruz or Kasich instead?” I suspect you too know why not.

          • Anthony

            I’m sure you’re familiar with old saying “one airplane two wings (Democratic/Republican); there may be a modicum of legitimacy in saying as you infer. But after a Jacksonian/Libertarian comment, I have given some recent thought to your musings – does one really know function of either Jacksonian and Libertarian principles/ideology beyond labeling? Equally, that reflection led me to think about the actual “strands” of U.S. political philosophy: Conservatism, Liberalism, and (for me) Hamiltonianism: small govt., big govt. and active govt (simplified description FG). Nevertheless, I think your sentiments from Nader along continuum are fairly accurate for that dimension.

          • Jim__L

            I think you’re missing my point about what’s wrong with the Democrats — arrogance. The militant atheism, the eternal regulatory policy wanking, the myopic hyperspecializaion that blinds them to obvious externalities, the feeling that in their social innovations they know better than God — or even acknowledge that if what they’re dealing with isn’t Revealed Truth, at least it’s centuries of trial and error and survival that should be respected.

            I’m not a fan of Big Business either. I’m not a fan of Big anything. Government needs to be big enough to support our military and foreign policy, and swing the anti-Trust bat at Big Business every so often, and leave the rest of it alone.

            Socialism doesn’t work. I got the chance to travel through Germany in the summer of 1990 — and the difference between the East and West was stark. I traveled through Scandinavia before then, and although things were neater and tidier, they were still a bit… spare. Nothing compared to the dynamism and prosperity of America, or even West Germany.

            Cruz isn’t a savior. He doesn’t have to be. We shouldn’t expect him to be. But he’s definitely better than Mussolini, Evita, Trotsky, or banker-boy from Ohio, which seem to be our other choices.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Thanks just the same. I do not believe in Ted as even a leader, much less a “savior”. But nice job of walking back his attitude of trying to be one—–or claiming to represent one. You know it’s “awkward” and so do I.

          • Jim__L

            I think Ted is the most reasonable person currently in the running for US president, from either party.

            Yep, that’s not saying much.

          • FriendlyGoat

            We handicap these people on their personalities and backgrounds in the horse race, but their plans for governance are all that really matter. Sorry, but I cannot think of a single position from Ted that would ring as correct to me. He and I would probably agree, I guess, that Islam is a falsehood, but that’s about it, and even that is a philosophical judgment, not a policy.

          • Jim__L

            Trump has a plan for governance beyond “say whatever comes into your head, and if it gets applause, say it again”? Hillary’s personality, which is raw power-hunger and belief that the rules don’t apply to her, doesn’t matter? As for Sanders’ policies, while I like his populism, that’s about the only thing there is to like about him. His policies are demonstrated disasters.

            We’re best off with Cruz.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, that’s your opinion and you’re entitled to it. Massive tax cuts for the already-richest people in the country. Deregulation of business practices. Layoffs of hundreds of thousands to millions of employees in public-sector jobs. Crackpot judges to roll back the rights of individuals and increase the rights of incorporated entities. Health care taken away from millions of people. And most likely more suck-up to the Silicon Valley crowd you don’t like than has ever even been imagined.
            All to make your church people feel like they are winning when they actually would be losing.

          • Jim__L

            You know FG, I’d be a lot more open to these sorts of arguments if your posts relating to religious conscience were not quite so unconscionable. They’re just boilerplate Leftist talking points, as far as I’ve seen. They honestly lead me to question whether you’re arguing in good faith.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I bring this up about Ted Cruz because it appears to me that those attracted to him because of HIS references to religion are the ONLY people attracted to him at all. There is nothing else about him or his policy positions that could be attracting any votes at all.

          • Jim__L

            Some amount of deregulation would be healthy. Regulation itself is what makes business so eager to buy off politicians, so they can write regulations that help themselves, hurt competitors, and kill off small businesses that might start up in their markets.

            As for judges, if your biggest complaint is about money in politics, why in the world don’t you worry about the Clinton machine? Or on the GOP side, haven’t you noticed for the last several election cycles that money really hasn’t made a difference — if you don’t remember Giuliani, at least do you remember Jeb? If I have to give up (ineffective-)money-in-politics ideals to get judges who will protect and honor conscience, I will do that in a heartbeat.

            And looking at the balance sheet of this nation, I don’t see us supporting massive new subsidy entitlements like ACA, I just don’t. We could take the cap off of FICA (which I wouldn’t really oppose), but that would only keep *one* of our *existing* entitlements afloat, *temporarily*, and would mean we couldn’t spend that money elsewhere like paying down the national debt. If we made the capital gains tax more steeply progressive, I wouldn’t mind that either. But again, the money would really only go to cover the expenses we have — or had years go, that we still haven’t paid for — and people like Bernie and Hillary want to pile on program after program, which would defeat the whole purpose!

            Further, I look at the greying, dying European countries out there who have committed government resources to socialized medicine (and all the rest), and I don’t see a single one that will still exist in 50 years’ time. They’ll be Muslim by then. Unless, *starting right now*, they re-adopt traditional values honoring 20something motherhood and heteronormist family life, and reform themselves away from the Blue model so that kids can actually find jobs or better yet start companies of their own, and stop basing energy and industrial policy on *non-predictive* global computer models of fundamentally chaotic phenomena. All the other “first world” countries really are jumping off a bridge. I cannot express emphatically enough how STUPID it is to try to join them. Cruz is not inclined to do so, which is an enormous relief, making his faults seem small in comparison.

            So, there really aren’t any dealbreakers with me as far as Cruz goes. I’ll say again, he is a far more reasonable human being than Trump, Clinton, or Sanders. Am I surprised that he isn’t popular among the current Establishment? Not in the slightest. I think that speaks well of his taste and judgement, rather than the opposite.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Would I be a cave man to notice that this comes off as 1) Regulation of business practices is wrong, 2) All the other “first world” countries are wrong, 3) The Establishment is wrong, 4) Democrats’ candidates are wrong, 5) Climate-modeling scientists are wrong, 6) ACA is wrong, and 7) Islam is stalking Europe because the Europeans don’t honor 20something motherhood and heteronormist family life enough?

            I understand you’re going to be for Ted. You need to understand that I’m not. I hold the exact opposite view.

          • Jim__L

            1) Not always, but practically speaking it trends that way. 2) Yes, self-destructively so. 3) Yes. They’re abysmally equipped to solve, or even notice, today’s problems.. 4) Yes. One should be in prison, and one should have defected to Finland long ago. 5) Yes. It’s a chaotic system, modeling is largely futile and completely misleading. 6) Yes, it’s ineffective and we can’t afford it. 7) It’s not “stalking”, it’s demographic reality, my friend.

            I understand you’re not for Cruz. It wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest if you were a staunch Bernie supporter — the triumph of economic hope over experience, and all that. I’d be more than a little disappointed if you supported a has-been (or maybe never-was), power-hungry, mediocrity who belongs in prison for being an ignoramus about critically important but inconvenient national-security rules that protect American lives and interests.

            Can we at least agree that Trump’s only good quality is his tendency to notice things the Establishment isn’t equipped to? He’s even said he doesn’t mind the idea of higher top-end taxes…. But for the most part he’s a danger to the Republic.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Every now and then it’s useful to (selectively, of course) quote Ronald Reagan.

            “There you go again.”

            To your last paragraph, yes, Trump has noticed a thing or two. He has noticed that about 1/3 of the people in the country and maybe 2/3 of the people in the media can be enticed and manipulated. As for Donald and taxes, he would sign any high-end cut presented to him by a GOP Congress. But——maybe if he is nominated we won’t have so much of a GOP Congress after the election. That’s worth a hope with him.

            To your next-to-last paragraph, yes, I would prefer Bernie and will fully support Hillary if she is nominated. It’s a party-philosophy thing.

          • Jim__L

            Fair enough, I feel the same way every time you go on about high-end taxes.

            So… why do you think that party-philosophy thing won’t help downballot candidates if Trump is the nominee? If Democrats can hold their nose and vote for a felon they’re not terribly excited about, why wouldn’t the alienated voters Trump is bringing in give congressional candidates a similar bump?

          • FriendlyGoat

            I don’t really know how that will play out. I would hope that Trump on the top of the ticket would alienate enough women to cause them, not the men of America, to determine the outcome of that election and many others down the ballot and against the GOP. Yes, I know there are women who support Trump, so who knows? Maybe 17 Republicans would have started out to the Big Dance and found that the USA really elects Mr. Trump as the “best” Republican. That’s my third choice out of the five remaining candidates. but we all agree it’s not a “good” choice.

          • Jim__L

            I’m curious, why the fascination with women determining an outcome here? Identity politicking for the sake of an identity you don’t even belong to seems deeply weird.

            I mean, sure, you reject the outcome whenever women determine something you don’t want them to determine — which makes sense from a human nature standpoint, but it honestly makes your initial comments even stranger and more inexplicable.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Because I am married to a very smart woman of very high moral quality (almost 45 years), I have great confidence in the judgment of women.
            (Certainly I know “there are girls, and THEN there are girls” as my grandmother used to say, meaning that women are or may be “all over the map” in their wisdom, capabilities, integrity, motivations, etc. Certainly I know from a couple of decades supervising female office workers that women CAN be upset or affected by words or attitudes they perceive and the perception CAN be “off kilter” in some moments.)

            Now, in history, we know that men have decided upon and fought most of the wars, personally done most of the crime, run virtually all of the religions, passed most of the laws anywhere. As you know, all of those spheres of our lives have plenty of “room for improvement”, so I’d like to see aggregated women give power a whirl and see how it goes.

            When you add up beer, sports, gambling, porn, paranoia, competitive nature, the “more power” tendency exemplified by Tim the Tool Man Taylor on (past) TV, and Dilbert stuff, it’s my opinion that more than half the men in our country are susceptible to being “a bubble off”. Likewise I have three small female goats and one small neutered Billy. Even neutered, guess which one is the nutcase of the goat yard?

          • Dale Fayda

            I’ve had similar experiences traveling through what was left of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s. The phrase “parallel universe” keeps coming to mind. It was like finding yourself in a city just barely coming out of a natural disaster or a recent war, with chronic food shortages and indescribable shabbiness, decay and decrepitude in everything and everywhere. Then imagine yourself getting on a train, traveling thousands of miles, but wherever you get off the train, you still find yourself in the same town. Scary…

          • Jim__L

            You know, there are kids old enough to vote today who’ve never heard of Yakov Smirnoff?

            That’s why Bernie Sanders is so popular.

            Although I think they’d understand the joke about Milwaukee.

          • Jim__L

            The Democrats are basically controlled by Silicon Valley types and Ivy-League elites who are perfectly happy with a country in which “innovators, creatives, and professionals” — and the policy wanks that spend their time regulating them — are the only people with any say in how our government is run.

            These are far more ubiquitous and powerful than “big business”, or super-PAC billionaires, and would be even more troublesome if high-end taxes were raised to support an ever-bloating government. As government grows, we lose not only control over how the government is run, we lose control over our daily lives.

            Voting for Big Government Democrats makes this problem worse, far worse.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I just replied to Anthony below and I think I just described you with the phrase “some of my conservative counterparts”. Jump down two posts.

          • Jim__L

            Mr. Frank understands the problem, but is absolutely clueless as to the solution. Comparing hacker spaces to “public libraries”… wow. Like FG, he just doesn’t see the possibilities, does he.

            But that’s OK, because the beauty of the Free Market is that he *doesn’t have to* see the possibilities. Someone else will. (If they aren’t strangled by Big Government, that is.)

            However, there is something useful he can do — he can start to notice the difference between Creative Destruction — which is the “disruptive innovation” I describe above — and what I call “expansive innovation”. When Henry Ford made the automobile affordable, and made automotive technology and suburban construction into engines not only of employment, but of massively increased quality of life for regular people. We could move out of little rabbit hutches in horse-manure-inundated cities — THAT was Expansive Innovation. When the American frontier opened up, that was Expansive too. In case it needs to be said, Marxism wasn’t the answer a hundred years ago, and isn’t the answer now.

            Creative Destruction has its place — when there are acute labor shortages. In the face of “structural unemployment”, it makes no sense. That our elites throw their hands up in despair at “structural unemployment” and hide behind their Ivy League diplomas (which mean they deserve regulatory policy wank sinecures on the public dime, don’t you know) it’s a sign that they have lost touch and America needs new elites.

          • Anthony


          • Jim__L

            I’m glad you’ll at least concede Marxism failed.

            But Eurosocialism isn’t working too well either — see the eternal crises coming from the EU.

            Nice title on that article by the way. If you’d like me to actually read them, please provide a synopsis.

          • Anthony
    • Boritz

      Viability in the workplace is the big decider of how well you do there, now as ever. Whiz kids with a computer science degree get called into the boss’ office and told we don’t know if we’ll need you after this project. The kid replies, I’ll let you know if I’m available after this project.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Coding is the high end of “gigs”. Not everybody does it. I’m not at all worried about the most talented coders.

  • J K Brown

    There’s an opening here to create a new kind of financial services firm that can process payments and manage benefits for contractors and businesses in the gig economy, but this will be difficult to accomplish without changes to state and federal employment law.

    This isn’t a service for businesses, but rather for the self-employed. The contractor will negotiate a contract and the contract payments will go to the financial services firm, which will deduct and remit the 19% payroll taxes, payments into earnings replacement ins for injuries or even perhaps combined unemployment, retirement, health ins, etc. On the other hand, the “contractor” will know the contract payments but then see plain as day the extractions by government. All those parts of employee compensation now hidden inside the business accounting office. The employers half of payroll taxes, worker’s comp, etc. And it is run ups in those costs that have kept “wages” down even as employee compensation has risen.

    This will be the greatest shift since the start of the 20th century. The great illusion created by withholding will now be spelled out for the citizen, the same with other charges government has piled on employers as cost of employing someone, but hidden from the worker.

    This is the greatest threat to the defunct Blue Model. And don’t expect politicians, unions, and labor bureaucrats to surrender peaceably.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “Taxes need to be collected, retirement savings need to be accumulated, and people have to be included in disability, healthcare, and unemployment insurance programs, some of which will need to be redesigned to accommodate job-hopping and gig work.”

    Why complain about backward institutions that aren’t keeping up with the times, and then demand that all those same backward institutions be supported by the new work force, instead of letting the new work force decide what it wants to pay for? I’m against forcing any services on someone against their will. For most of human existence mankind survived quite well without unemployment insurance, healthcare insurance, disability insurance, retirement savings, welfare, etc,. No where in the Constitution is the authority granted to the Government to force these programs on the American Citizen.

  • beermuscles

    excellent three paragraph, forward looking, synopsis! a pleasure to read of these realities crystallized.

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