At the founding of the United States there was a clear and succinct voice that rang out beyond the great documents, beyond the Declaration of Independence. It was a voice of Revolution and yet a voice of warning, too. That voice with single clarity identifies, classifies and instructs on who we are, as a People, and how we view this world. It is a voice forgotten today, and many while noting the author, no longer note the words involved, as they were and are Revolutionary. Perhaps the best passage for our modern times comes from then, if we dare to read it:
Some writers have so confounded society with government,That writers is, of course, Thomas Paine and the quote is from Common Sense (via the Gutenberg Project), bolding is mine, unless otherwise noted.
as to leave little or no distinction between them;
whereas they are not only different, but have different origins.
Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness;
the former promotes our POSITIVELY by uniting our affections,
the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one
encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions.
The first a patron, the last a punisher.
A problem on the Left and the Right is to try and use government to enforce society, and social norms, instead of having government shift to our changing views as a People. Our society is given voice by who we are, what we want and how we approach life as a People. The government is an artifact of that process, made to ensure that our passions do not destroy our society, but not to enforce a view on the world upon that society. The major 'debates' of the last century revolved around the role of government in society, and in each and every case, MORE government intervention was chosen over LESS.
I have written elsewhere about the 10 years that changed the course of America for the worse, within that century. Starting in 1909 the US Federal Government expanded its powers over medications, to begin regulating what individuals could and could not do with their own bodies. Government put that forward via those organizations that supported them, mainly church groups seeing the ills of the Far East opium trade, and sought to end the trade by eliminating the demand. To do that, Nations had to agree to end the importation of such things and outlaw them for their peoples. The Federal Government, before that, could only tell manufacterers to list all ingredients in foods and medications, via the food and drug purity laws. That is how the government *should* act, so that the People have a truthful accounting of what they take in the way of food and medication. In proscribing certain medications to enforce a treaty, the Federal Government changed its role from that of supporting society to that of dictating to the greater society based on a religious outlook of ending the opium trade.
Instead of just taxing the hell out of the imports to try and dissuade Americans from using such things, the Federal Government went a route of authoritarianism against its own People to tell the People what was good for them. That was via the Harrison Act of 1914, to require 'stamps' for the purchase of these medications, and no stamps were ever produced or distributed. If you want the start of the 'Nannystate' then this is, perhaps, the first milestone in that. Would that such markers were so few and far between that they could not even be sighted one to the next. Suddenly a thing that individuals did, which was guiding their own use of medications, had become criminal behavior. Society could no longer be the patron of its own needs, and look after them, and government took up its role to punish those that contradicted that.
Also in 1909 would come Amendment XVI to the US Constitution that would allow the first formulation of taxation of individuals by the Federal Government to happen that would NOT be set by per capita tax, but by income. This would, in addition, remove the need of the Federal Government to go to the States to get income to run the Nation and allow the Federal Government to act in a fiscally independent mode from State based oversight. The 'power of the purse' for funding Federal Government shifted from the People and the States to the Federal Government. Previously the US had existed on tariffs and then asking States to make up the remainder based on an equal apportionment on a per capita basis. The States were left to figure out how the best way to garner that money was. Income tax, sales tax, property tax... the variety of taxes that could be levied varied and each State could figure out the best way to share the National burden for itself. The States, in separate or concert, could also WITHHOLD payments when Federal Government no longer addressed the needs of the States. That is an accountability power that Amendment XVI removed from play. Suddenly local government had lost its ability to hold the Federal system accountable to it, and the evils of local government were replaced by the distant and less accountable and larger evil of Federal Government.
Starting in 1911 would be the move to have the People directly elect Senators, and that would be ratified into the Constitution as Amendment XVII. This shifted a second, State-based, accountability factor from keeping Federal Government limited. While the appointment of Senators had always caused problems from the States, those were problems of localized, State based corruption that allowed the Federal Government to actually criticize the States for not doing their job of appointing Senators. A major question for democracy is: what happens when a major institution in a Republic is no longer strongly backed and yet is vital to the running of the Nation? The answer is NOT to change the place where the decision power rests, but that is what exactly, was done. Again, prior to this the Federal Government actually had to have its tenancies ham-strung by the States in their power to send or NOT to send Senators. If things are not getting done, perhaps it is the Federal Government's fault for not running itself well enough to gain backing by the States? Instead the People chose to move the corruption directly to themselves, so that Senators could now emulate their House colleagues in the ways of pork barrel politics.
Also in 1911 came Public Law 62-5 which would allow the US Congress to set a size that would be permanent, and no longer 'float' with the size of the population. That would have long term consequences which would remove from the House the need to address the changing size of the Nation and, instead, start to permanently divide the States into districts that would have a long range impact due to the shifting industrial basis of the Nation. The US was shifting from an agrarian system that was still the majority employer in 1911, to one in which manufacturing would be the major employer in the US in 1925. While the districts would be re-drawn to a degree to demonstrate that, those rural areas that had once had representation and would have retained that due to size of population in a proportion-based system, would now lose out in a fixed seat system. By amalgamating populations to craft new districts, distinction in populations on a rural basis was lost, even as cities gained more representatives due to the concentration of population. In a fixed proportion system with growing population, older areas that could retain their population base would retain representation, while in a fixed seat system they would lose that and need to have dissimilar towns and villages amalgamated into a larger district. The effect of that was not the marginalization of rural outlook, as it would be under fixed proportion, but the loss of diverse outlook from rural areas in favor of more homogeneous outlook based on dense, urban populations.
In 1913 the Federal Reserve Banking System would be instated, reversing the post-Civil War need for a Nationalized banking system for war finance and also reversing the veto of President Jackson on such a National Bank. In the system devised the Nation, as a whole, via its Federal Government is liable for its currency: thus financial obligations were now those of the Federal Government. This took the onus off of banks to have such equities go directly to them, but moved that responsibility to an unelected part of the Federal Government in the way of the distributed Federal Reserve Board. While this is a compromise, of sorts, to get some distributed representation into the banking system, it is not one that is directly accountable to the People and, instead, only by those passing appointment in the Senate as government officers. That is how the Federal Government controls currency and interest rates to adjust to financial conditions. In the intervening years from Jackson to Wilson, the main criticism of a Federal Bank was that it would be a majority ownership of overseas monied interests, which was the case with the First and Second Banks. While this system has prevented some 'bank runs' and alleviated 'bank panics', the question of the actual scope of government to do this is one that has not been well addressed. This is a change-over from a distributed, State integrated (or unintegrated as the case may be) system, being replaced by one of centralized control with limited district input. The accountability and tenure of such individuals appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate is not one that has been or is well addressed. While it is, no doubt, a change that adds stability, the cost of that stability remains unaddressed by the concentration of that power to the Federal level and away from the States.
Amendment XVIII in 1919 would be the only part of this suite to be repealed, as the temperance movement and anti-alcohol movement attacked the very grain and fiber of the Nation and its history in alcoholic beverages. What is even more amazing is that the actual use of alcohol was already on the decline from its high point in the 1840's, along with a shift from hard liquor to beers and wines. The generations that built the railroads, built major industrial bases, built the first industrialized cities, built transcontinental railways, and united this Nation was a hard drinking rough bunch that accomplished great feats while, apparently, being sloshed to the gills. Somehow this was painted as a demonic or 'bad' thing, and the attempt to sever the Nation from its societal roots with intoxicating beverages went too far. The short term effect of that, however, was to empower the first of the international organized crime syndicates with the easily made and transported alcohol that had been outlawed. Those crime organizations had already started to grow based on opium, heroin and then cocaine, but the supercharging of those organizations by adding in alcohol made them the very first threat to civilization succumbing to well armed thugs since the age of piracy two centuries and more previous to that.
Each of these instances is an attempt to enforce a 'societal good' or an 'easement to government' that would, each in their own way, remove decisions from individuals and concentrate power into the hands of the corrupt and unelected on a National scale. These changes did not *stop* in that era, and, indeed, some were to come forward that would be even worse than the original problems in their long term corrosion of the society of the nation in favor of the government of the nation. I will look on that in a moment, but take time to look back to Thomas Paine, again, further on in Common Sense, where he proposes a new system for government, which is a striking outline for the House, Senate and Presidency we have today, and go further to look at what he saw as the basis for governance:
But where, says some, is the King of America? I'll tell you.Those words are one that became deeply embedded in America, and remain so to this day as a prime foundation of the Revolution and our own outlook on government and society. The law above all is that which holds us together as a Nation, even as we, as a People, see higher Divine inspiration above Nation, so that Divine Guide is not the guide of the Nation by mortal guise but is our personal guide to make good law for all People in the Nation. As Paine had pointed out earlier:
Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind
like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear
to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly
set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth
placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon,
by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy,
that in America THE LAW IS KING. For as in absolute governments
the King is law, so in free countries the law OUGHT to be King;
and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should
afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony,
be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.
Not one third of the inhabitants, even of this province, are of English descent.The Colonies becoming States were already diverse in their populations, distributed amongst many sources and views on religion. That we had firm and steadfast belief in the Divine is not in question: that we each saw the Divine in a rigid way was in question. These States could ill-afford religious disputes here, and so the great Peace of Westphalia to allow each man his own view on the Divine was carried over. America has always had generosity in spirit towards all those who worship or not as they chose, but neither do we force religion nor irreligion on all. We pay homage to our roots in Divine Guidance, but then must get to the practical business of having a common Nation together with those acknowledged roots. We neither slather religion across those who do not wish it, nor do we remove it from those who gain offense to any homage to our forbearers. The Divine Inspiration for the Nation must lead to the hard work of making just law across society, and those that cannot understand that it was that Inspiration that made such things possible and pay no homage to it, break with the Nation as do those that seek to put in-place a singular view of religion for the Nation as a whole. Both are wrong and contrary to the Nation's history and discourse and corrode that common society that upholds the law, itself.
Wherefore I reprobate the phrase of parent or mother country applied
to England only, as being false, selfish, narrow and ungenerous.
This Nation has suffered greatly over its time, but we also have a strength in society that is greater than the government itself. Even when things go horribly wrong, and many fall sick and die, this Nation had the resources without the Federal Government stepping in. Strange as it may seem, the Nation looked to itself for disasters, and saw government as the last and least competent to deal with same. The Spanish Flu outbreak did not cause a sudden need to have 'government mandated health insurance', and yet it killed hundreds of thousands in the US and nearly 25 million people globally in the first 25 weeks after its appearance. Those that tended to the sick were hospitals, church organizations, missions of various sorts, philanthropic organizations. Cities, counties and States responded faster than any 'National response' by the Federal Government could have done, as waiting to get those gears in motion would have killed more and caused more suffering than treating the ill immediately. America did, indeed, look to family, town, church, and charitable hospitals to seek aid and shelter from something that the Federal Government could do very little about either in prevention or direct aid.
After the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, the Federal Government did NOT step in to rebuild the city. State, city and local governments along with industrial and commercial concerns all played their part in removing debris, demolishing buildings, designing building codes and rebuilding the city, which would suffer again and again from that form of natural disaster. Nor did the Federal Government do much about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 or, indeed, a host of disasters both natural and man made, that would befall the Nation time and again. Apparently when a town or city or county or even the Nation is beset by ill or illness, the first place America looks, quited pointedly, is NOT the incompetent Federal Government. But those lessons were forgotten in the one 'ill' that had no source in Government and no remedy by Government. That would be the Great Depression.
I have looked at that era in a previous work, and will bring out some of the salient points of it here, to look at the appropriateness or lack thereof, of government intervention in such things as the economy. The most startling thing to realize is that the actual decline of the Great Depression was during the period of late-1929 to mid-1933, a bit under 4 years. Only one program put in place by President Hoover, would outlast his Presidency, and that was the Reconstruction Finance Corporation that would see its major spending in that period and then taper off drastically from 1933-41 until it was re-purposed for World War II. All of the 'New Deal' programs beyond that would actually come in the recovery upturn of the economy, without exception. None of them would be the actual cause of the turning point in the economy which was due to deep business restructuring and the start of re-utilization of industrial capacity. That did not, however, stop the adding on of new things to the Federal Government that had never been under its purview before.
The Securities Act of 1933 did not pass until the actual inflection point in the economy itself, and the follow-on Securities and Exchange Commission would not come until the recovery had actually progressed upwards from that inflection point. A raft of other works and jobs programs would face high hurdles and many fell due to SCOTUS rulings. That 'start-stop' concept that came about happened, apparently, in spite of industrial recovery and may not have been, in actuality, adding much, if anything to it. While many do argue that the work to make infrastructure, via things like the Tennessee Valley Authority, also in 1933, would add jobs and security to the infrastructure of the Nations' power supply and rural electrification programs, the utility and need of the Federal Government to do that have not been properly addressed. President Franklin Roosevelt, indeed, had a view that the Federal Government *owned* such electrical generation as water regulation as part of its make-up:
"Never shall the federal government part with its sovereignty or with its control of its power resources while I'm president of the United States."The Federal Government, apparently, owns all oversight on all power generation in the United States, as seen by President Roosevelt. This is something of a 'power grab' by the Federal Government in both the power generation and direct accountability aspects to it. And as the TVA crosses many State lines, the Federal Government should have a part in regulation, but its role to actually build, run and maintain it are highly dubious at best. The sovereignty of the power resources of the Nation is for the People to utilize as they will, not for the Federal Government to take to itself. Control of the inter-State commerce part of that is up to Congress to decide, but those things that are entirely intra-State are outside of those powers, until Congress put forward that purely in-State dealings in things that have a National market allow it to use its inter-State commerce powers to regulate it. That was the basis of the Raich decision on 6 DEC 2005. Thusly if President Roosevelt was right, any Congress can put forward that all private means of power generation... say buying solar panels for your home... will have an impact on the National power market and thus should be regulated. Do not be surprised if one's own power production needs a meter on it to pay Federal taxes. That should make some individuals uncomfortable: that any means to address environmental concerns require obedience to Federal taxation for something that is free, like sunlight, being converted to electricity. Apparently sunlight can be put through a meter, and it isn't the power companies that can do it, but the Federal government.
One program that was never intended to live past the Depression era was enacted in 1935, again well past the point where the economy was recovering. That was the provision to provide of old-age, survivors and disability insurance (OASDI) better known as: Social Security. Here, again, is something that the Republic of the United States had survived without since 1776, and even with the easing of the Depression and the re-employment of individuals, there was little actual need to remove from the hands of individuals their own ability to provide for their future needs. While there were, indeed, many older workers that were suddenly out of work, that was also true of their younger counter-parts. The idea of OASDI was to remove the older workers from the workforce by a forced retirement system to get Social Security benefits. Unfortunately the first pay-out from the system was on 31 JAN 1940 not only well after the Great Depression had passed but also after the 1937 Recession which had marked the end of the Great Depression. Apparently older workers were *still* expected to undergo forced retirement and end their contribution to the workforce once the Nation was expanding economically before WWII. The post 1937 Recession recovery was robust and growing in its need for workers, with industrial expansion on the rise by the industrial sector.
The two premises of the OASDI system are deeply and highly flawed: 1) that the number of jobs in the marketplace is fixed, and, 2) that life expectancy is fixed. In the Depression these two things were forgotten, with the sudden decline of so many individuals having so little income to sustain themselves. Post-Depression, however, both of these proved false almost immediately with economic expansion going beyond pre-1929 levels of employment and life expectancy continuing to rise even during the Great Depression. Both of these had upward trends since 1900, with only the Influenza Epidemic having a number of years of decreased life expectancy. With those two concepts of Social Security sitting fixed, the economic problems that each would cause, cumulatively, now force this Nation to question the wisdom of having the concept of a 'retirement age'. Life expectancy increases, alone, mean a nearly 14% drop in the number of productive years one can expect to be working as part of one's life. Previous to OASDI, an average individual could expect to spend 45% of their lives in the workforce, and that does not include any time spent as children or teens working. Today the average individual can expect 31% of their life to be in the active workforce. That delta is paid for by transfer payments to the young, working class of individuals to the older workers who have retired. As life expectancy increases, although well below the absolute known limits for human old age, more of that time is spent not working and is subsidized by younger workers.
Strange as it may seem to say, most of the time America has existed was spent with people working to effective old age, and only retiring when they either could not work or their own plans for retiring had come about. The removal of letting an individual decide this and letting the Federal Government do so has been an increased dependence of older individuals on Federal payments and removing self-reliance from individuals to plan for their own old-age needs. Even worse is that the Social Security 'Trust Fund' is a revolving door account, in which no money is put into actual 'Trust' via securities and all payments depend on taxation upon workers. That is not 'Insurance' it is a direct income redistribution from struggling younger workers to older individuals who should be both older and wiser in their handling of their lives. Beyond that, the lack of investment due to the 'Trust' taxation means that income that would normally have either been spent or invested by younger individuals for such things as homes or old age security goes to those who are no longer working and should have prepared for this known eventuality in life: it is called 'getting old' and it is across-the-board and a well known phenomena.
It may have had some basis earlier on, when actually being able to invest widely was difficult for low income individuals, but that era passed with the entry of automated mutual funds for investing, and fractional stock ownership in such funds. While a relatively poor worker of the 1930's did not have such opportunities, that is not true of an entry level worker in 2007 and hasn't been true for a couple of decades. Today's workers no longer expect to *get* any payment via Social Security and plan accordingly with their remaining funds. This 'entitlement' was invented for a particular era and need and now has almost become a 'right' and the Federal Government had very little place or standing to do this when it did. In so doing, however, a real problem happened in the 1940's when numbers of individuals were ready to retire and they were needed for wartime production! As no good deed goes unpunished, this program was removing workers from the active workforce just as they were needed to replace younger men going off to war. To encourage those that would normally retire, a number of 'non-wage benefits' were put in place by businesses and one of them was given a tax write-off by the Federal Government: health insurance.
As John Stossel goes over in Bad Medecine (21 SEP 2007, NY Sun), insurance is the worst way to pay for medical care invented. Prior to the war-time subsidies via tax-code, Americans looked after their own health care directly. Most individuals went uninsured and some purchased forms of what today would be considered 'catastrophic care' plans, although most would fall under the 'accidental death and dismemberment' concept of insurance. Health insurance, itself, while not unknown was not widely used and the need for individuals to understand their own health limited the utilization of health practitioners and medications to chronic diseases or immediate ailments. It should be noted that even the Influenza Epidemic did not cause a rush to 'health insurance', even with the death toll that came with it. By requiring individuals to pay their own way, health care costs were minimized and, yes, often at the expense of long-term health. This did not prevent overall life expectancy to continue to rise even without 'health insurance'. Today the cost of overhead to the 'health insurance' system is entirely due to the 'insurance' part and not the health part. Actual costs to the individual for actual doctor treatment time and not paying for paperwork has changed very little in America. What has changed is the need to keep and manage health insurance records, fill out forms, undergo third party governance of what is and is not good for one's health and, generally, time and effort spent in trying to keep track of all of this. That overhead has now changed the system itself to a document management system that, as a minor function, also delivers a little health care.
When that tax subsidy did not end 'health insurance', previously a little used benefit for high wage workers, was retained and enrollment in it would swell. This causes a systemic distortion in two areas: 1) perceived cost when little payment is directly made for care causing spiraling cost as overhead increases out of proportion with delivered care due to fraud and over-utilization, and, 2) loss of control over one's own health. Both of these are hard to deal with, as 'let the insurance company handle it' has become the catch phrase, but one that indicates little understanding of the cost in 'letting the insurance company handle it'. Additionally the need to practice 'defensive medicine' and order many more tests than are needed to diagnose a condition, so that any malpractice suits will have little chance of standing adds burden into the system. Fraud not only by physicians but by patients that over utilize the system or who seek to cause an error to their benefit via lawsuit add into the expense of health care via 'insurance'. And as the number of procedures increase, the paperwork for each multiplies what has to be tracked by doctors and the insurance companies. To control over-prescribing of medications or fraudulent prescription of same, insurance companies now wield extra-ordinary power over an individual's health and will put down draconian limits on some medications that may be more expensive (due to their paperwork overhead, especially for 'controlled' substances). The result is that while many older medications may get under utilized, in preference to 'newer' and more expensive ones, individuals who need the benefits of the newer medications may not have access to them as insurance companies mandate more paperwork for justification for those newer medications.
Politicians who try to exploit these 'entitlements' or to try and create new 'entitlements' further distort the health care system towards their own ends, while not offering any improvement in cost, overhead or actual care delivery. By making such a system 'universal' and mandatory, the need for 'control' over the use and utilization increases, the overhead increases disproportionately to the amount of utilization and those that see no benefit in it (mostly the young and healthy) feel as if money is being extorted from them to no good nor useful end. We forget that for 'insurance' to be useful, the majority never get a real pay-out on it at any one time. Life insurance has a single-time payout and is a bet that you will die and the insurance company thinks otherwise. Similarly health insurance is your bet you will be sick in a given time period and the insurance company expecting otherwise. You purchase insurance to cover need and eventualities based on individual perception of those. Mandating same indicates that lack of trust in individuals to judge their own need and provide for it. That is government removing personal responsibility from the individual and putting it in the hands of a bureaucrat.
It is very strange to see such things, and yet, when reading Paine there is an eerie foreboding that one can get out of passages he wrote to describe the state of the Colonies just as the Revolution had begun:
The present state of America is truly alarming to every man who isLegislation without law, a Constitution without a name, independence contending for dependence, the property of no man secured, nothing criminal and no such thing as treason... that is, unfortunately, an apt description of much of America today.
capable of reflexion. Without law, without government, without any
other mode of power than what is founded on, and granted by courtesy.
Held together by an unexampled concurrence of sentiment, which,
is nevertheless subject to change, and which, every secret enemy is
endeavouring to dissolve. Our present condition, is, Legislation
without law; wisdom without a plan; a constitution without a name;
and, what is strangely astonishing, perfect Independance contending
for dependance. The instance is without a precedent; the case never
existed before; and who can tell what may be the event? The property
of no man is secure in the present unbraced system of things. The mind
of the multitude is left at random, and seeing no fixed object before
them, they pursue such as fancy or opinion starts. Nothing is criminal;
there is no such thing as treason; wherefore, every one thinks himself
at liberty to act as he pleases. The Tories dared not have assembled
offensively, had they known that their lives, by that act, were forfeited
to the laws of the state. A line of distinction should be drawn, between,
English soldiers taken in battle, and inhabitants of America taken in arms.
The first are prisoners, but the latter traitors.
The one forfeits his liberty, the other his head.
We have seen this before in America.