Why America's Broken, Part I

April 15, 2015

In 2007, the progressive left defeated Hillary Clinton in attaining the Democratic nomination for the White House. What followed was nothing short of two terms of textbook government bloat. Obamacare, massive in its reach and deficient in its rollout, seemed to wake Americans up to the negative consequences of government overreach.
Such monolithic policies were not the intention of those who founded this nation. In fact, the Founders operated under a Federalist system designed to eschew the overarching policies of the monarchist system they'd fought to overthrow.
Federalism? Beautiful in its efficiency, efficacy and simplicity. Of course, today's electorate knows as much about Federalism as it does about quantum mechanics. And that, as much as anything, provides evidence as to how our greatest of nations has gotten off track. Has been broken, like an intricate Swiss watch that has been altered.
Due pray the damage isn't fatal.
If your neighbor opened a nudist colony on the property adjoining yours, you would take issue with his decision. Pretend, however, that did similarly on a piece of land 2,000 miles from your home. Still upset? Of course not. What someone chooses to do on private property in a way that doesn't impact you? Of little concern to rationale people.
Within reason, does it matter how people who live hundreds, perhaps thousands of miles away, lead their lives? No. We inhabit an exquisitely spacious nation. Plenty of room for all. As well as their habits and tendencies. Regardless of how quirky.
Yet, those on opposite sides of the political spectrum harbor vastly different opinions here.
The political left prefers to centralize control of societal behaviors. The political right tends to decentralize such control. On questions of morality? Highly charged, very personal matters that rightly fluctuate by individual according to one's religious, social and psychographic upbringing. The question of controlling "moral" behavior, however, integrates questions of societal efficiencies, rights to privacy, liberty, and the freedom of choice.
The Founders recognized that the United States consisted of at least 13 different economies. One in every colony. Today, that would include 50 separate economies. Though probably many more. California alone comprises four to five economic spheres. Each including inhabitants with vastly different views, lifestyles and means of earning a living.
The Founders realized, brilliantly, that unlike the monarchy from which they'd escaped, no effective system of governance to hope to deal with such a vastly differing array of people in one homogeneous manner. Not if it wished to survive.
It stands to reason that effective gun laws in New York City may not be so effective in Billings, Montana. NYC is home to 10 million plus. Most of whom live in close quarters. One can understand how some would argue against the need for automatic weapons in such high density population centers.
Conversely, Billings, Montana, has a population of just over a hundred thousand. The entire state is home to one tenth of New York City's population. All living within in a massive area nearly all of which is rural. Inhabited by hunters and sportsmen. Why shouldn't Montanans be able to bear arms? Hell, if Montanans wish to drive tanks to work, so be it.
If voters within the state and local governments of New York and Montana have differing views on firearms, then their elected officials should pass laws reflective of their regional opinions.
Yet, why on earth would Washington, D.C. pass gun-control legislation similarly affecting those in New York and Montana?
Why indeed. Yet that is wholly indicative of the system governing the United States today. Bureaucrats on the left and right, believing they know better than everyone else, endeavor to centrally control and legislate the lives of all Americans. Even those living thousands of miles away under vastly different circumstances and harboring entirely different views on everything under the sun.
Economist F.A. Hayek, in his seminal essay "The Use of Knowledge in Society," theorized that decentralized economies would outperform centrally managed economies because they leave most decisions to locals with intimate knowledge of their immediate situations. As opposed to centrally located decision makers attempting to aggregate the sum of national knowledge in order to make all-encompassing decisions.
The ultimate decisions, Hayek explained, "must be left to people who are familiar with these circumstances, who know directly of the relevant changes and of the resources immediately available to meet them. We cannot expect that this problem will be solved by first communicating all this knowledge to a central board which, after integrating all knowledge, issues its orders."
Of course, this premise applies to politics as well as economics. Yet, much of American society runs in the opposite fashion. With big, outdated federal agencies influencing, if not controlling, the lives of over 316 million Americans in 50 states. Even as situations and events fluctuate daily depending on a myriad of geographic and demographic considerations.
Most engineers grasp the idea that the best systems are those that lack a single point of failure. That is, the system's structural integrity does not rely upon a single focal point. The national power grid relies upon sources built and run at the local level. Not one centralized power station. Similarly, corporations realize that consumer needs differ by geography. So corporate decisions are often made at the regional level.
Yet, the federal government operates in a wholly different fashion. Establishing large, federal agencies that aggregate policy with little regard for local realities.
Gay marriage? Gun control? Tax policies? Most people I know and respect care little about these policies but for how they're decided in their own communities. Assuming that local polities respect the basic human rights guaranteed to all Americans, and that no organization private or public can violently coerce anyone into behaving in a certain fashion, then I don't have much of an interest in those choices being made in neighboring communities.
So why should Washington D.C. care so much?
Because today's politicians, especially those on the left, believe they know best. For everyone. Regardless of the distance that separates. And so they are focused on centralized, nationwide policy making. Moreover, their ideological beliefs usually brings them to focus on outcomes as opposed to process. In other words, policy makers don't care how a decision is arrived at. So long as the right decision is achieved. Which runs contrary to that which the Founders intended.
The Founding Fathers established a framework within which individuals could operate as they chose. So long as they remain within the letter of the law. Just as free speech does not determine what a man can say, but protects him from prosecution for saying what he believes. The Founders deliberately established a government that provided local communities the capacity to make decisions that suited their localities.
If a distant community votes to establish a legal framework in which they practice socialism? Such is their right. So long as the community understands that in so doing, it accepts all benefits and agrees to suffer any consequences engendered by that course of action.
The Founders were not so interested in forcing outcomes as in providing a framework in which individuals (and their communities) could exist as they choose. Likewise, they had no desire in telling an individual what his opinion should be, but in ensuring a framework through which he could speak his opinions without the fear of persecution. Which underscored why the Founders, and the Federalist system, intended for these types of decisions to be made locally. So leaving individuals with the option of living within those localities that complimented their frames of mind.
Progressivism prefers to consolidate policy decisions within the nation's capital. Then force the general populace, whether it be ten miles or 2,000 miles away, to abide by certain principles. Regardless of local opinion, tradition, or realities.
The federal government was established to provide a precise service platform. Those services included a national defense, a sound legal framework, interstate commerce, and to protect us from each other. After which the federal government could dramatically recede from our lives.
Such all-important objectives as economic growth, scientific innovation and an expanding export base? Not why the state exists. Those tasks are best left to the private sector working in tandem with regional governments and, on occasion, university research faculties.
Unfortunately, non-progressives often become enmeshed in the cogitative traps the left lays like silken spider webs. Unwinnable arguments. Such as, "Well then, tell me, how would you run things?"
Typically, non-progressives experience verbal palpitations upon the attempt to answer such tripe. Because there is no answer to such redundancies. There are a million responses. None of which are completely correct.
Progressives are effective at arguing the least ineffective paths given the flawed premise of the question. While the best response a non-progressive could give to such a question would be as follows.
"Those are local issues that should be decided within local polities nationwide. Just as the Founders intended. And by those who recognize the benefits of mitigating federal power. Fracturing such power in a way that limits its abuses, inefficiencies and inability to effectively contend with issues it was not meant to handle."
Conversely, there exist issues of obvious national consequence. Defense. Immigration. Foreign trade. Constitutional law. Such topics should be vigorously debated at the national level. The rest of it? Leave it to the locals.
The simple answer to all of today's morass of economic and cultural conundrums? Federalism.
Federalism allows Indiana farmers to peacefully co-exist with Berkley's hipsters. Wall Street hot shots can safely abide alongside Oklahoma's cowboys. Such a system was designed to provide for and tolerate diversity and variation at the local, state and federal levels. Nobody need feel threatened by or unhappy with other cultures. Because, at any time and from any place, should you not be happy with local events, the system enables you to choose a locale that better fits your worldview.
If people in Washington want to smoke pot while those in Illinois don't? Fine. Those in New York wish to ban assault rifles while those in Dakota don't? Fine. California wants to raise tax rates while Texas wants them lowered? No problem. Under a Federalist system, Americans could create local policies that perfectly align with the local sentiment. Without having to coerce others to accept the same. While avoiding all of the uncomfortably difficult debates that coincide with a one-size-fits-all approach. Not only does this facilitate the benefits of personal choice by allowing the disenfranchised to seek greener pastures, but it prevents the nation from making huge mistakes while engaging in decisions that were not intended to be engaged at the national level. Many such mistakes having already led us to where we are today.
In his seminal work, Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government Is Smarter, George Mason University scholar Ilya Somin postulates that a combination of general ignorance on current affairs and the vast size of the American government has undermined the very idea of representative government. When a government becomes too large to master, and becomes increasingly distant from the people it purports to serve, the government "undercuts democracy more than it furthers it."
Such poor outcomes were imagined by some of the Constitution's authors. In fact, George Mason worried that the federal government would eventually swallow up the states.
"Is it to be supposed that one National Government will suit so extensive a country, embracing so many climates, and containing inhabitants so very different in manners, habits, and customs? It is ascertained by history, that there never was a Government, over a very extensive country, without destroying the liberties of the people: History also, supported by the opinions of the best writers, show us, that monarchy may suit a large territory, and despotic Governments over so extensive a country; but that popular Governments can only exist in small territories. Is there a single example, on the face of the earth, to support a contrary opinion? Where is there one exception to this general rule? Was there ever an instance of a general National Government extending over so extensive a country, abounding in such a variety of climates, where the people retained their liberty?"
Mason's concerns have not only come to fruition, but have reach a critical level whereby they must be addressed.
Today, when we utilize the term "democracy," we don't refer to a system in which local citizens have control over local agencies and authorities, and then reserve the rest of their decisions for themselves and their families. Instead, we refer to a system in which voters filter every issue, decision and sentiment through the federal government. Whereby voters send most of their tax money not to local capital allocators, but to Washington, D.C. Only then to cast an ballot for the candidate that promises to return their money in the most effective manner possible.
This democratic responsibility has become too much for the average individual to manage. Not because he is dumb. But because the federal government has grown too big and too complicated for anyone to understand. Let alone control. People lead busy lives. They generally focus on a few key issues. Unable to concentrate on the monolithic reams of topics the national elections place before us.
Such debates were not meant to be nationalized. But left to local constituents to handle at the state and community level. Whereby local politicians, sensitive to local issues, could deftly meet the needs of an intimate electorate.
Alexis de Tocqueville, the illustrious anthropologist of American culture, recognized as much. Regarding the townships in New England as incubators and generators of American values. In his Democracy in America, Tocqueville noted that the intimacy and closeness of the people to their government served to curb abuse, establish a link between the public will and the law, and to foster a responsiveness that monolithic, central authorities could never achieve. Finally, Tocqueville believed that such an intimate relationship demonstrated how societies were supposed to work. Involving the citizenry in the day-to-day process of running a community. So teaching them how to be good citizens.
In local communities, mistakes can be quickly corrected. Bad actors can be swiftly removed. And local townspeople can spend their capital and resources precisely where they choose. Those areas deemed most important at a local level.
When Washington makes mistakes? It tucks such errors into its giant chambers and hopes that nobody notices or cares. And sadly, with so many having gotten a portion of their needs from the Leviathan, they often don't.
The further we drift from the Founders' original intentions, the less aware the electorate becomes of how the nation was originally conceived. We bark and moan of the grievous shortcomings inherent to our system. Yet we don't realize that these shortcomings are of our own accord. Never having been there until we allowed them. Nor will they ever stop offending us, like a indiscernible noxious gas leak, until we proactively eradicate them.
The system needs a reboot. It must be flushed out. Decalcified. And reset in a manner more aligned with the original design. But have we the energy for such a task? For it's easier to relax and drift off into a hazy slumber, even as the deadly fumes slowly and indiscernibly billow throughout what was once a proud and magnificent house.
There will come a time when we hardly recognize and appreciate the integrity of its original architecture. Or perhaps we're already there.

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