Oh the times! Oh the customs!
Here’s BlaiseP in a post-worthy comment:
Traditions aren’t dying out… says the man who just bought a new Online calligraphy pen.
Harking back to Sam Smith’s ur-screed, bemoaning the Liberal instinct to concentrate and modernize, from whence the worthy E. D. Kain began his progresso-libertarian riff on Less Gummint and Moral Autonomy, I’d like to venture an opinion, based on astrophysics.
The sun and planets coalesced out of the remnants of a supernova. Over time, the larger bodies accreted ever more objects smaller than themselves. Jupiter continues to hoover up comets and suchlike, making our own orbit around the sun that much safer. Mr. Newton laid it out in his laws of gravity and Dr. Einstein would explain why those laws work: spacetime warps around mass. The boffins of CERN are similarly interested in this problem. Still, nobody understands gravity as we understand electromagnetism.
Economies seem to follow the same rules. Wealth accumulates. The Brazilians have a phrase to describe a million BRL “um coelho”, a rabbit. Put one rabbit next to another, soon you will have more rabbits. Klipspringer sang in Gatsby, (misquoting the original song), “The rich get richer and the poor get children.”
Gatsby quickly shot back “Don’t talk so much, old sport…play!”
Klipspringer was right and Gatsby was avoiding the issue. Girls with 12 years of education will statistically have two children. Girls with less education will have more children. It seems the most potent contraceptive is a schoolbook.
I completely disagree with Sam Smith: if Liberals want centralized government, they understand laws without an efficient bureaucracy to enforce them are no laws at all. All this populist puffery praising local government is grossly misinformed: for well over a decade, from about 85 to 95, I watched as the various states competed for Japanese screwdriver factories, biting each other’s asses, offering insane tax rebates. The Japanese played them off against each other. They’d pour a slab of concrete, put up a big metal shed then fly me in to do the assembly line integration and robotics.
Not one of those factories is still operating. When the tax rebates ran out, those factories moved again, to another state. They even took the big metal sheds with ‘em. Now they’re all in Mexico and Malaysia and Vietnam. Same machines though.
So much for the benefits of local governments: it’s a crock. The American Civil War was the triumph of federalism and the states and counties and parishes and school districts and all the rest of these parochial fiefdoms create as many problems as they solve with their massive duplication of efforts. Which is why Conservatives love ‘em so much and encourage these populist mouth breathers. While hoi polloi squabble over the right to pack a cell phone into a box, the multinational corporations are already planning to eliminate those jobs when the margin drops by a penny.
As Rome edged ever closer to the abyss, its rich men affected the style of Agricola the Farmer, an ancient form we now see in these wretched Country Music artistes. All hat and no horse: not one of them could sterilize a milking machine or worm a hog. Marie Antoinette affected the lifestyle of a shepherdess, her little flock grazing down by Le Petit Trianon, the fanciest abri ever built.
O tempura, o morels.
I think a lot of the pushback to my Little Republics post was very good, very compelling stuff. It probably did come off as way more populist and way more conservative than I meant it to – this is the romantic in my again, romanticizing things. I get carried away. Perhaps I am just Mr. Toad off in another stolen motor car.
Anyways, the worst, most damnably stupid government in this country is at the state level, and the most corrupt is usually local. If I could abolish the states I would. A federal government on the one hand, local governments on the other. To hell with the middle-man. We’d be better off for it I’m sure. Even with the corrupt local officials and the distant Washingtonians.
So why am I a localist? Well, I don’t think the feds can do everything. Oh they can do everything the states can do – and likely they can do it better. But can the federal government run our school system? Could they run it well? I suppose it’s possible, but I worry that the push toward more federal involvement has come at the end of a stick and carrot ride off a cliff. The standardized test regime is a joke, and it’s the path to centralization and standardization that got us to this point. So maybe I’m a single-issue voter on this one. I’m a localist in that I think you do need a human touch in things like education, and I think a federal-sized bureaucracy would devour that human touch.
Anyways, I’m working a lot of this stuff out as I go – blogging for me is an experiment in thinking out loud.
Perhaps it’s all aesthetic. I don’t like large institutions. Big corporations and big government bureaucracies both make me nervous. I take Blaise’s point about the Japanese plants moving in and suckering one state and community after another; but they suckered the federal government first. There’s no perfect solutions here. Or at least I don’t know of any.
I wrote this comment in Rufus’s tradition post:
My localism is not of the neo-agrarian variety. I have no desire to make people accept voluntary impoverishment or to consign them to isolation. What I want to do with localism is:
1) Empower local communities and businesses as well as local governments to have as much say over the direction of their community as possible. So in my hometown what this amounts to is a strong alliance between local business, the local art community, and the local government to create a really vibrant downtown with no chains or big corporations anywhere in sight. All local businesses, local restaurants and bars. First Friday of every month there’s an art walk where you can go see all the local artists’ stuff in bars and studios and there’s free wine and music and such. It’s great. Local cooperation is great.
2) Buy local. We try to buy locally as much as possible but we’re not fanatics about it. We still shop at the big retailers and grocery chains (though we do try to frequent the local grocery stores more). We go to the local farmer’s market.
3) As much political self-determination as possible at the local level. I’d be really happy if we could cut out the states as middle men and just have the federal government and local governments. That’s my kind of subsidiarity. Everything the states can do the feds can do better; everything the locals can do, the feds can’t do.
That’s pretty much it. I don’t want “back to the land” stuff. I do like more promotion of local talent and local art and so forth, and less reliance on Hollywood and Big Music and the rest. But a lot of that’s also taste, I realize. And a lot of it has to do with the fact that I really love my home town.
I think my vision of subsidiarity is actually very compatible with a strong central government; every parish still looks to Rome after all. I just don’t want that force to dehumanize local communities any more than I want a country overrun with strip malls and corporate coffee shops. Maybe it is just aesthetics, but something about sameness and repetition really freaks me out. I think we’re governed in large part by nostalgia regardless, and I don’t think that’s something we can escape.