“If you seek our monument, look in the hole”

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Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at gmail.com.

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243 Responses

  1. You say we are presently suffering from “Americans’ ill-considered experiment in big government.” But you have not a shred of data to back that up. Our present government is as small or smaller than it has ever been; and the rules and regulations governing our economy today are small potatoes compares to those in the past.

    Consider America at what many might call the height of her power – World War II. Then we imposed price controls, domestic rationing, forced labor by way of the draft; we confiscated monetary gold and, basically, engaged in more or less compete central planning. And what did we get for it? Our greatest monument; our greatest generation.

    It is not that today we have too much government; it is that we have too little. Rather than running our economy for the benefit of the many, we run it for the benefit of the few; our civil service organizations and our counterbalancing union powers have shriveled away and left only unrestrained corporatists to steward American power.

    And it is no great surprise that they have squandered it – for there is no profit in glory.Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Benjamin Daniels says:

      for there is no profit in glory.

      Neither is there Justice in it. At least not necessarily. Not if you are looking for grand monuments. Rather, there is justice and profit to be found in the most efficient public transport system, the most free economy, the best seaport in the region/world, the least corrupt. These are the things that a nation ought to take pride in.Report

    • Avatar Ryan Davidson in reply to Benjamin Daniels says:

      Our present government is as small or smaller than it has ever been

      This is so untrue the suggestion is actually kind of hilarious.

      Are you kidding me? Are you seriously suggesting that this instantiation of the federal government is smaller than the federal government of 1800? There are currently fifteen members of the cabinet, plus another seven cabinet-level officers that don’t actually head major agencies. Washington had seven total. Lincoln had eight. Theodore Roosevelt had ten.

      And you’re going to tell me that the government is smaller than it’s ever been. Damn, son.Report

      • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

        Now Ryan, relax…I know, I know!Report

      • Avatar Mike in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

        It may be parceled up with more cabinet members looking over smaller areas, but the number of cabinet members is meaningless to the “size of government.”

        The nitwtit right-wingers shout about “government growth” every time they cause a recession. And their usual measure is “government spending as a percentage of GDP.” Of course, since government employment spending lags (due naturally to the way budgets are constructed), and since government spending on unemployment benefits rises at the same time that GDP falls in a recession due to said unemployment, OF COURSE government is going to “get bigger” by that entirely arbitrary and bullshit “measurement.”

        Look at the number of government programs at work in the country today. Do we have the Works Progress Administration? Nope, LONG GONE. And what do we have to show for eliminating it? A crumbling infrastructure!

        If you measure the “size of government” by the percentage of federal employees, it’s 50% of what it was during the 1960s. It was declining even during the Carter years.

        If you measure the “size of government” by the number of ALL government employees – that’s federal, state, and local down to the high school janitors – then the number has oscillated a bit year-to-year but has remained largely stable since 1968. The trick there is that right-wing buttmunchers in the government have been offloading everything they can to the states, while at the same time retaining federal funding for their own pet fighter jet, ridiculously overcomplicated warship, and foreign adventurism “projects.”

        If you follow it further, St. Ronald Reagan, Patron Saint of the Right-Wing Kook, happens to have INCREASED both of those measurements on his watch – not decreased them. But people like you blindly shout “Reagan shrank the size of government” like you’ve been programmed to, blissfully aware that you are completely disconnected from reality.Report

      • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

        Government was much bigger in the past, in many vital ways. Think slavery, segregation, price controls, conscription, etc. That it has grown alongside a growing population does not mean it is “bigger” in terms of its invasive nature, though the Patriot Act and other recent efforts by the feds to get into our personal lives to “protect” us, and the recent wars, have all done a good job at growing government in the worst sort of way. Ditto re: the bailouts.

        No, government is most certainly smaller now. Taxes are lower, economic regulations are not as insidious, we have more free trade, etc.

        All this talk of American decline is just another go-round on the endless broken record that has enchanted declinists of all ages. Hey, sometimes they’re right! But this time…I suspect not.Report

        • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to E.D. Kain says:

          Erik,

          I wonder if you could clarify your argument, because I’m trying to see if there’s a way to respond to it in a follow up post. You point to certain pernicious government polices of the past, such as “slavery, segregation, price controls, conscription.” I am confused by these examples. The list seems to suggest that, in exchange for giving up certain insidious policies, we can never justly complain about any economic regulations that our leaders might later devise, so long as they do not rise to the same level of insidiousness. (I’m further confused by the inclusion of price controls in this list, as they seem to be more in line with modern liberal economics.)

          So, no, OSHA and EPA and HUD and the rest of the alphabet soup are not propagating regulations as insidious as slavery. But surely this alone does not mean they might not be causing other very serious problems. And surely it does not alone mean “government is most certainly smaller now.” It’s important to address the problems both of “bad” government policies and of “big” government policies. In that regard, I think we’re talking past each other.

          Given that, do you still contend “government is most certainly smaller now”? Or do you mean something more like “government is most certainly less insidious now”?Report

          • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            The list seems to suggest that, in exchange for giving up certain insidious policies, we can never justly complain about any economic regulations that our leaders might later devise, so long as they do not rise to the same level of insidiousness.

            It might seem that way if you divorced it entirely from the context of your post. Of course, doing that would be a bit silly don’t you think?

            You write of decline. I point out that we have in fact progressed a great deal. The conversation is not about what we can or cannot complain about, but rather whether or not we are in a state of decline. I say we are not, and list my examples. You say we are…I find your examples rather less compelling.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to E.D. Kain says:

              How can we “divorce it from the content” when it’s the central argument of your post?

              “The conversation is not about what we can or cannot complain about, but rather whether or not we are in a state of decline. I say we are not, and list my examples. ”

              So, in other words, what Tim said. “We can’t complain about modern government because slavery.”Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            The list seems to suggest that, in exchange for giving up certain insidious policies, we can never justly complain about any economic regulations that our leaders might later devise, so long as they do not rise to the same level of insidiousness.

            No, all it suggests is that our current policies aren’t as bad as slavery. I would find that an eminently defensible proposition, if it weren’t self-evident to all people of good sense.

            It does not, however, suggest that we have no room for improvement, or no basis for complaint.Report

            • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

              So, what Tim said. “We can’t complain about modern government because 150 years ago something bad happened.”Report

              • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to DensityDuck says:

                No. You have to be willfully ignoring or misreading everything in this conversation to come to that conclusion.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

                How on earth are you getting that from what I wrote?

                Look, there’s a perfectly consistent preference ranking here. From best to worst:

                1. A world with slightly less regulation.
                2. What we have now.
                3. The Old South.

                That’s all I’m saying. I honestly can’t believe it’s that difficult for you to grasp.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                How about when you said “all it suggests is that our current policies aren’t as bad as slavery. I would find that an eminently defensible proposition, if it weren’t self-evident to all people of good sense.”

                And yes, you did walk it back with “of course there’s room for improvement”, but bringing up slavery is either an attempt to belittle any complaint by comparison, or irrelevant.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to DensityDuck says:

                Bringing up slavery is entirely germane when someone asserts that our current government is the worst that it’s ever been.

                If they’re not prepared to say “yes, it’s worse than slavery,” then they need to retract.

                I’m not belittling current problems when I say we’ve come a long way. I’m just saying, if you took me back to the time of slavery, I’d be slitting some throats along with John Brown, and I’m not doing that, or the equivalent, right now.Report

              • Let us stipulate all here gathered prefer the current mess over a return to slavery. Jeez.Report

              • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                Jason, as a leading Libertarian thinker, is there any argument that you could make that describes the efforts (legislation/regulation) of the central gummint that results in the enslavement in one way or another, of ALL Americans who pay federal taxes?Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                So “things used to be a lot worse” is a valid response when it comes to criticisms of government, but when you’re talking about the condition of lower-income people it’s a disgusting insult. Got it.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                So “things used to be a lot worse” is a valid response when it comes to criticisms of government, but when you’re talking about the condition of lower-income people it’s a disgusting insult. Got it.

                No, “things used to be a lot worse” is a valid response when someone says “things have never at any time been any worse.” That’s the claim I object to, because it’s obvious that slavery was worse than what we have now. I’m disgusted only that some people seem to think otherwise, pace TVD, above.

                Backed up with facts, it’s a full refutation of the claim, and it doesn’t in any sense mean that we live in utopia right now.Report

              • That’s the exact opposite of what I said, Mr. Kuznicki. I’m very disappointed by yr comment here.Report

              • “Let us stipulate all here gathered prefer the current mess over a return to slavery. Jeez.”

                This seems to verify what Tom is saying. I do think no on but a crazy fringe idiot would prefer slavery. Can we agree on this, and that there are not many of them left?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                What is the Southern Heritage movement if not nostalgia for the days before 1865?Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

                That’s the exact opposite of what I said, Mr. Kuznicki. I’m very disappointed by yr comment here.

                That’s why I said “pace TVD.” Look it up if you don’t know what it means. I’m very disappointed too, Tom, because I thought you knew it.

                Do some people in this debate honestly prefer slavery? You could try asking them, and they might say just what they’ve said in the past: that our current government is the worst of all.

                And that would mean one thing only — yes, yes they prefer slavery.

                I didn’t say it, they did.Report

              • Do some people in this debate honestly prefer slavery? You could try asking them, and they might say just what they’ve said in the past: that our current government is the worst of all.

                And that would mean one thing only — yes, yes they prefer slavery.

                I didn’t say it, they did.

                Who said this, Jason? You’re making a pretty serious charge here, so I think you have a burden of specificity. Who said what when to whom that you claim amounts to “our current government is worst of all” (I do not see anything like that in the original post or the comments), which you say equates to an admission that “they prefer slavery”?Report

              • Yes, I misread “pace,” Jason. Still, it’s a very heavy charge against “some” of those here gathered. I would ask you to substantiate it, but I’m not that kind of fella. You know what you’re doing. And so do I.

                I suppose some sort of case could be assembled against our Crazy Old Uncle Bob, but really, man.

                And such an absolutist statement as “the gov’t is the worst it’s ever been”—if ever uttered anywhere here—would be taken as hyperbole by anyone but someone who wanted to score a point really badly.Report

              • I would ask you to substantiate it, but I’m not that kind of fella.

                I would say that I hope you didn’t bite your tongue off while you had it so far in your cheek, but I’m not that kind of person.Report

              • Yes, you are that kind of person, James, but it’s nice to see you again anyway. Welcome back, from wherever you was at.

                And y’know, I actually didn’t mean for Jason to come up with a cite or quote or direct accusation. a) It doesn’t exist: nobody would be stupid enough to call for a return to slavery even if they thought so and

                b) I’m really not the “cite, please” caller-outer kinda fella, James, really. If I disagree with an assertion of fact, I’ll take the time to look it up meself and find the contrary evidence if it exists.

                I really think calling people out like that is pretty douchebaggy—1) putting their integrity under a cloud by typing a few characters, 2) thereby obliging them to spend a half-hour looking up and linking shit which 3) will be promptly ignored as the caller-outer flits to his next piece of douchebaggery.

                Not speaking of you here, of course, James. Really. Just taking a moment to expound on the nature of these combox things.

                Nice to see you again. When the occasion arises, I have been citing yr friend and/or colleague

                http://www.ijtihad.org/MuqtedarKhan.htm

                an eminently principled and reasonable man.Report

              • Irony nested within irony–truly the matryoshka of irony.Report

          • Tim, if you want to engage the argument in a follow-up, I would strongly suggest talking about what exactly defines the ‘size of government’. We have the naive measures of spending/GDP, govt employees as a share of the workforce, and the simple number of regulations, but I think it’s clear to anyone that these fail to capture the impact that government has on our lives.

            For example, people like me point to places like Singapore as an example of good governance, in part because they administrate a mandatory savings program on behalf of all citizens (for healthcare and retirement). To what extent is this considered ‘size of government?’ These regulations affect every single dollar saved through the program, which also means that the system controls the vast majority of all money spent on healthcare. But the money is, in another sense, completely private.

            So in this example we see that ‘public’ and ‘private’ overlap considerably – it can be touted as an example of ‘government staying out of the way’ while simultaneously demonstrating ‘the power of central organization’. But there’s not exactly a quantitative measure, it’s much more qualitative.

            And if everything has to be ‘felt out’ in this way, we have to establish some common ground so we can discuss reasonably without immediately resorting to ideology and opinions. I’m happy to agree with you, for example, that some of our government programs are burdensome and wasteful – to pick the common scapegoat, the mortgage interest deduction (and if you want to go big, employer-based healthcare subsidies).

            At the same time, others are merely second-best: direct EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is wasteful relative to a cap-and-trade scheme (which was successfully implemented by conservatives as a ‘market program’ to handle sulfur emissions), but it’s better than the situation in which both Congress and the EPA do nothing.

            But you have to agree that some are overwhelmingly beneficial – the sulfur market I mentioned earlier; the provision of public education; utility regulation; the minimum wage. So, in my mind, we want to be specific when measuring both the size and the impact of government, sine it’s not only fruitless to aggregate, it also seems to accept a premise that more government means less of the private sector, or less freedom, or some silly ideological assertion like that, when really it can be a mutually beneficial symbiosis with non-governmental activities.Report

            • Benjamin,

              Thanks for this comment. I think the point, which I think is implicit in what you’ve said here, is that the “size” of something intangible like government is necessarily going to require some definition in terms. Seems to me the answer is basically psychological: what is the perceived/felt presence of government in our lives? This quickly becomes a very circumstantial analysis, e.g., depending on what industry you work in, whether you are a recipient of government entitlements, etc. The argument then proceeds by contending we are becoming subject to increasing levels of economic regulation and other government constraints on wealth production, and that whatever the benefits of such policies, their psychological impact is a problem unto itself. That is, the new psychology that says I have a “right” to earn a living while remaining free from risk of harm or long hours or going without vacations or pensions and the rest does, in some way, change the temperament or “spirit” of the people. Someone else said he would leave the question of whether that change is a good thing to the priests. But we haven’t done that. We’ve implicitly decided that question by striving to give ever more safety and security to the people on the ground that safety and security is more important than leaving people alone in their liberty.

              So it is indeed a question each of us implicitly decides.

              Where was I? This is too long a comment to try to write on my phone.Report

              • But here my argument is that safety and security is liberty-increasing, even though on its surface it means that the state is investing some of your retirement dollars for you, or paying your medical bills for you. It means that you are free from worrying about those things, and so your liberty with the rest of your income is greatly increased, since government has dramatically reduced downside risk, and, therefore, your need to self-insure. Doing this compulsorily is simply most efficient and most fair (since otherwise you get adverse selection).

                Also, I’m investing some time this week watching Metropolis, and the perspective it puts on wage slavery and monument-building is rather interesting. Obviously as a dystopian film it’s meant to represent an extreme case, but from the socialist perspective the whole idea of reliance on wages is liberty-reducing even in the world we have, so. I think you’d appreciate the portrayal, and the societal question it asks as a result.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to Tim Kowal says:

            Here is a perfect example where Team Barry is proscribing regulations for goat herders’ workplaces. Tell me that isn’t big invasive gov’t.

            http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=45722Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Scott says:

              Shockingly, yes, even goat herder’s should be treated well where they work. And the government has the power to make the owners of goat ranches comply.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                Jesse:

                Thanks for the typical liberal response that of course goat herders deserve protection so of course the gov’ts regulation of everything to the nth degree is justified. The question should be why is the gov’t regulating and should it be doing so. Just b/c the gov’t can do regulate doesn’t men it should do so.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Scott says:

                I’m with Jesse on this goat-herding thing. On its face, it looks like just another example of gov’t anti-business nagging nannyism and more grist for the righty mill.

                But employer abuse of foreign workers is no rare thing, nor is it a mild thing. Just this week, it came out that a Hershey Chocolate subcontractor tricked a bunch of exchange students into what was essentially sweatshop work.

                http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/18/us/18immig.html?_r=1

                I mean, WTF? I’m pro-business and all, but the right shouldn’t ever forget that there are very many bad men in business, and genuine human beings are victims of their avarice.

                I don’t feel like poking through the actual background facts of the goatherd thing, whether there was genuine abuse. But the gov’t only mandates that you give them a lantern for their tent, a decent bed, and some practical way of cooking their own meals if they’re not provided.

                This doesn’t seem terribly nannyish or outrageous to me, and these were all legal foreigners at that. And despite anyone’s stand on illegal immigration, assuring such minimum standards for camp life for any human being in the US is something I want our gov’t to monitor.

                The alternative is to trust these workers to the mercies of their employers, some of whom we all must admit are Very. Bad. Guys.

                We on the right gotta wrap our heads around some of this human decency shit. It’s not all bad.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Mr Van Dyke, no offense, but we’re seeing a much mellower side of you these days. Not complaining, but its almost like invasion of the body snatchers. 🙂Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I saw a movie about these two (American!) guys who were shepherds. One of them was killed with a tire iron and nobody cared but the other guy.

                It was a sad movie.Report

            • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Scott says:

              Scott,

              This is a great link. I am a little confused at Jesse’s reflexive support for the described regulations. He appears to point to the underlying normative assumption that people “should” be good to other people. I’m prepared to stipulate for the sake of argument that all regulation at least aims at some such nice-sounding principle. But there’s no suggestion of any limiting principle here. In Jesse’s view, is there any nice-sounding regulation that we shouldn’t try to enact into law?Report

    • Avatar Paul Sleeman in reply to Benjamin Daniels says:

      It’s not about the number of government employees. It’s about the spending. Especially the spending of borrowed money. That is the true problem with the size of our federal government.Report

  2. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    I can see the outlines of the argument that an entreprenurial, risk-taking, reward-earning, no-apologies spirit has been eviscerated here. (Not sure if I believe it, but I can see the outlines of such an argument.) As I understand his argument, it’s the European model of the welfare state that Steyn sees as corrosive to the entrepreneurial spirit that built the US into a thriving economy and a global superpower.

    I’d suggest as a counterpoint that the US is still among the least nanny-statish of any nation, industrialized or no. The US never had a monopoly on capitalism; unbridled capitalism built Hong Kong and Macau, for example, but Hong Kong is part of the PRC now with all that implies. All four BRIC nations are trying hard to follow the European model of welfare statery. So are Mexico, RSA, Australia, South Korea, and Japan.

    None of which is to say that the US is doing things right, of course. But it may be the case that the US is being less wrong than any of its competitors or trading partners.

    Madison feared that democracy would inevitably lead to the mob voting itself unearned benefits, one interpretation of which is the rise of a welfare state. It may be the case that the entire world, as it democratizes, inevitably moves towards the European model decried by Steyn simply as a function of what it is to be democratically self-governing.Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    If you want to see a “mediocrity of spirit” you will. It is a religious argument more then anything else.

    Welfare state , in this kind of argument, has a special jaundiced kind of meaning. It isn’t a safety net for the poorest and more screwed over by events and the collective solution to things people generally can’t do well on their own. In Steyn’s kind of argument if there wasn’t’ TANF everybody would magically have jobs, because that is the way it works in all those countries without TANF style programs and everybody would will themselves to be healthy or just insist insurance companies give them insurance despite having a preexisting condition. Why if a real self-reliant man’s man said I can’t pay 100000 in medical bills they could just settle it with a quick draw duel.

    Those damn rules ( btw what the first two letters of the word rule…RU…like in RUssia…huh ..huh…that can’t be a coincidence) stop brave entrepreneurs from making lead house paints or pumping cancer causing chemicals into the air…damn them.Report

  4. Avatar Ryan Davidson says:

    Stick your fingers in your ears if you want, guys. Downtown Chicago burned basically to the ground in 1871, and it was rebuilt almost entirely in the space of two decades. Only half a dozen buildings went down in 2001, and it took ten years to even really start rebuilding.

    The problem with TANF isn’t that it does too much, or even that it does too little, it’s that we need it at all.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      Downtown Chicago burned basically to the ground in 1871, and it was rebuilt almost entirely in the space of two decades. Only half a dozen buildings went down in 2001, and it took ten years to even really start rebuilding.

      Because we respond more effectively to catastrophes than to annoyances? Because 19th Century buildings were simpler and cheaper to build? Because in the 19th Century, we were willing to accept that death, crippling, and maiming were the natural result of large construction efforts? Because it’s faster to put up a building because you need a building than do reach consensus on an appropriate national memorial? Because no one in Chicago started a national effort to block the building of a horse barn on the grounds that the quadrupeds caused the fire?

      Or because WERE ALL DOOMED?

      I’ll meet you half-way. If we ever get to where Mark Steyn is taken seriously, we’re pretty fishing doomed.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Ryan Davidson says:

      In the 19th century government worked closely with builders to help fund big building projects. There were fewer regulations, sure, I can believe that. This helped speed projects up. But this in the days of the robber barons and capitalists, a time rife with crony-capitalism. It helps to get projects done when everyone is lining everyone else’s pockets. This is no example of the joys of limited government. What a lovely myth that is.Report

      • Avatar Doc in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        Myth or not, joy or not, limited government is what is called for in the Constitution. Deny that, and you’re a fool. Willfully violate it, and you’re a traitor. Don’t like it? Do you want to have the EPA/OSHA/Depts of Labor and Ed/HHS/SocSec/Medicare/ATF/FDA and all the rest of the grossly unConstitutional Fed bureaucrazies that are dragging us under? Then get an amendment passed authorizing them. If they’re so all-fired important I’m sure you’ll have no difficulty. Otherwise let’s quit violating our own foundational Law!Report

        • Avatar Ben in reply to Doc says:

          You have a remedy yourself.

          Sue them and take it to the Supreme Court. If they’re as unconstitutional as you suggest surely the Court will strike them all down.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ben says:

            If they’re as unconstitutional as you suggest surely the Court will strike them all down.

            Hee.

            Hee hee hee.Report

          • Avatar Doc in reply to Ben says:

            Riiight. That’s the same SCOTUS that claims that the Constitution says that every state is forced to allow any mother to hire some thug to pull her baby halfway out, stab it in the back of the skull to kill it, and pull it the rest of the way out without any meaningful limit. Sorry, I have no confidence in their willingness to acknowledge the plain text meaning of the Constitution. That, after all, is part of the reason why we’re in the hole we’re in: the SCOTUS is not willing to put the Constitutional brakes on Congress and the Executive. This does not end well.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Doc says:

              All you have you to do is win enough Presidencies to nominate 5 originialists to the court. Hey, it’s what us evil liberals had to do and it only took us a few years. Of course, we had a President that was actually popular and could get through Congress as our leader.Report

              • Avatar Doc in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                True, and we’re close. If enough people wake up to the fact that the unConstitutional policies of the last century have brought us to the brink of disaster, who knows, we might squeak through.

                ‘Popular’…ah, yes. There’s an apocryphal saying attributed to Franklin: ‘Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding what’s for dinner. Liberty is two wolves and well-armed lamb…’Report

            • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Doc says:

              the plain text meaning of the Constitution

              Why not just wave a giant banner that says, “I’m an ideologue who’s never studied Constitutional jurisprudence but that’s not going to stop me from talking about it anyway!”Report

              • Avatar Doc in reply to James Hanley says:

                Or you could wave a banner saying “I’m in willful denial about the fact that the Constitution was written for the average man to read and understand, studying Constitutionial jurisprudence is not required, only common sense and a knowledge of ordinary English, and only an idiot or someone in deep denial would think that the Constitution actually forces the states to legalize abortion, or authorizes all the grossly unConstitutional Fed bureaucrazies.”Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Doc says:

                The founding fathers owned slaves.Report

              • Avatar Doc in reply to Jaybird says:

                Oh, no! That’s horrible! Didn’t they know that owning slaves makes cold pricklies?!

                And did you know that Obama (wait for it)…smokes cigarettes! Oh, the horrors!

                sarc/offReport

  5. Avatar stuhlmann says:

    I think there are two factors at work. One is that most of the other nations of the world have recovered from the damages caused by the world wars and and illiberal governing and economic theories of the 20th Century. Basically we got what we wanted, and we saved the world from communism. One result of our success is that other nations are growing in wealth and power, so that we are no longer the most privileged people on earth. Basically we just need to do a little attitude adjustment and stop looking inward. It says something that the sports that Americans love the most are those sports where the world championships take place only between American teams (Canada included). There is a great big world out there, and we need to head out like the Yankee traders of old.

    The other factor has to do with automation and the vast improvements in productivity. Machines, computers, and increasingly robots are yearly reducing the requirement for human labor. Every year and every improvement in technology puts more jobs and more career fields in danger. How many professionals in the country can look in the mirror and tell themselves honestly that significant portions of their jobs cannot be done by computers and robots, if not today then in the next 10 years. This is not something unique to America. Workers and professionals all over the world are under the same threat. Mark Steyn wrote, “It’s not just about balancing the books, but about balancing the most basic impulses of society. These are structural and, ultimately, moral questions.” He’s right. But what do we do to balance the desire for efficient production and delivery of services through automation with the need for people to be self-reliant citizens? Having a decent job, one that gives you self respect and makes you self-reliant, is vital for the type of society that Steyn wants. Unfortunately decent jobs are increasingly hard to find and to harder to hold.Report

  6. Avatar Cory says:

    Two major points:
    The first is that the ultimate question raised by Steyn’s book, and unaddressed by either party but especially the Democrats, is not where we are today or tomorrow but where we will be in the future five, ten or twenty years hence. Where the next generation will be? The amount of statism, measured by the Government entitlement programs, is only going to expand, an obviously unsustainable increase, in the face of insufficient domestic growth. (I think it is safe to say our World War II generation did not become that way as a result of war time Government measures – it was most certainly that they were willing to endure those things in pursuit of something higher. Cause and effect. No analogy today)
    Second – it has become fashionable to say “we defeated Communism”. Has everyone lost their mind? the largest country in the world is still Communist – and they pose the biggest threat to us economically, and almost certainly soon militarily. As the saying goes, “A few more victories like that and we will be undone.”Report

    • We did defeat the Soviet Union and liberated its satellites. As for communist China, we made them rethink their strategy: Instead of trying to subvert and take over the world, like the USSR tried, they will merely own it.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Cory says:

      Could you, or someone else, explain the great threat China poses? Because I hear people talk about it all the time, but it’s never clear to me what they think China is going to do. The GDP, it is assumed, will outstrip that of the United States (when it’s more than 300% what it is now, incidentally), but why does that spell doom for the US? I thought the main reason we’re not all mercantilists now is that wealth is not finite. So, if the US economy is thriving in ten years, why does it matter if the Chinese economy is really thriving?Report

      • Avatar Mike in reply to Rufus F. says:

        China is not about economic domination.

        China is about cultural domination. The “rude awakening” is when realizing that Chinese policy is designed to “make it chinese” on any incoming product that is allowed to be seen.

        Take a look at this as a great example: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/08/04/i_was_almost_a_chinese_dating_show_star

        It’s not that there is a problem with economic competition really. It’s much stronger that the Chinese do not even pretend to want a level playing field. Any company stupid enough to do business with them finds its designs and intellectual property stolen, and a few years later, they’re being “out-competed” by shameless knock-offs produced on the cheap by Chinese slave labor from Chinese companies that still don’t do the one thing the Chinese haven’t done in a thousand years: R&D.

        http://www.japannewstoday.com/?tag=chinese-steal-japanese-high-speed-train-technology

        http://peakoil.com/forums/viewtopic.php?t=60118&p=1021968

        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704814204575507353221141616.html

        The Chinese “economy” is not really thriving. Parasitism and the last gasp of Maoist communism, however, is alive and well. They’ve just realized that, absent a strong USSR to feed them designs for tanks and Kalasnikovs, they have to “engage” the rest of the world just long enough to steal what they haven’t the brains to create.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Mike says:

          But how is producing knock offs of American products “cultural domination” anywhere but within China? I mean, I live in one of the “none of the above” countries (Canuckistan), and when people worry about cultural domination here, they’re worried that they’re becoming too Americanized, not too Chinese (well, maybe in Toronto). It’s the same throughout the world- American culture is really very attractive to foreign nations and they all worry that it’s going to dominate their own culture. So, how does China stealing American culture, like everyone else does, and claiming it as their own, like everyone else does, amount to Chinese ‘cultural dominance’?Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rufus F. says:

            Didn’t you see “Firefly”?Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Rufus F. says:

            I don’t see much Chinese threat myself. The poor buggers are not in anything remotely like an enviable position. They’re essentially trying to hyperdevelop their country into a first world country and are hoping that neither their populations’ patience or their local environment gives out before they reach the other side. When I think China I think of the poor bugger in the movies frantically running across the rickety bridge with the boards falling out from under his feet moments after he steps on them.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to North says:

              Keep in mind that they engineered themselves a baby boom demographic problem, the other way.

              That one-child policy means they have two soon to be retirees for every productive incoming worker. That’s bad news.

              They may not have Welfare and Social Security, but somebody is going to have to take care of grandma.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Mike says:

          China is not about economic domination. China is about cultural domination.

          Don’t let it be said I didn’t warn you! But you gotta let go of these fairy tales: it’s always about economic domination.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to Stillwater says:

            Stillwater:

            “Don’t let it be said I didn’t warn you! But you gotta let go of these fairy tales: it’s always about economic domination.”

            Exactly, the Chinese are on a spending spree in Africa right now buying up natural resources with the money are giving them.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Mike says:

          , they have to “engage” the rest of the world just long enough to steal what they haven’t the brains to create.

          Now we’re just being racist. The canard that whereas south and east asians are over-represented in the universities because they know how to memorise stuff, but the white man will come out on top because he is more creative is nothing but racist bull****.Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to Murali says:

            Murali:

            Not racist but the truth. Western firms are being forced to “share” technology in order to set up shop in China and then their Chinese “partners” start producing it and dumping it in the west. What isn’t shared is stolen. Take the latest Chinese advance in high speed trains. They claim it is totally indigenous tech but that is such a lie.Report

            • Avatar Murali in reply to Scott says:

              The question is not whether or not they are violating IP. Sure they are making knock offs left right and centre. I’m pushing back against things like “Chinese are too stupid to invent their own stuff” This is full out racism and not even funny racism (the way jokes about Malays or about Sardarjis or for that matter blondes)Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

                Coupla things here. One, stealing someone else’s ideas and making money off it has a long and illustrious history in America. Two, if the Chinese can make more by ‘acquiring’ it than by developing it, who’s the dummy in the situation?Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Murali says:

                Murali:

                Some might say that if you are stealing tech you haven’t got the brains to invent it. That isn’t racist at all, just a dislike of thieves.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Scott says:

                Reverse engineering stuff is not exactly easy even though it is more efficient than re-inventing the wheel. There wouldnt be any accusations of stupidity if China was legally acquiring said intellectual property because then american inventors would be getting paid. Of course americans are going to feel sore about it and I wouldnt blame them. I’m just saying that blanket accusations of brainlessness draw from certain racist stereotypes and feed into darker impulses than mere resentment about theft.

                We should be careful.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Murali says:

                For the record, Chinese are incredibly smart and resourceful. Also for the record China has an incredibly long history of completely ignoring intellectual property and IP laws. Now a smart resourceful Chinese could spend the better part of a decade developing IP that he KNOWS will be stolen by his compatriots or he could save himself the grief and steal from the yangwaizhu (foreign devil – I can speak Mandarin but don’t know pinyin at all -I learned from the predecessor system). Stealing is not the same as reverse engineering, the industrial espionage of the Chinese is legendary. They will steal and it is barely against the law there. This has been the subject of high level talks between our governments for decades. They talk, they never act.

                It works against them for the reason I just described, they won’t expend the effort to develop their own IP because they know it will get stolen from them (from the individual level to corporate). This acts as a strong damper to innovation and is why many of their best and brightest choose to work here on H1B visas.Report

    • Avatar Ben in reply to Cory says:

      “Watch out! The Statists are coming for private enterprise! They’ll take over all the companies!”

      Years go by

      “Watch out! The Statists with their wage and price controls can effectively control the economy! You’ll never be free if they get their way!”

      Years go by

      “Watch out! The Statists are providing money and medical care to the elderly and the poor! The very soul of our country is at stake!”

      Funny how that works.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Ben says:

        The elderly end to be rich and usually have much in the way of social networks to fall back on. Providing them money detracts from providing for the poor.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Murali says:

          Poor elderly?Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Stillwater says:

            The poor elderly are poor and therefore can be taken care of by a means tested welfare system aimed at the poor. There is no (or less) need to worry about the middle class elderly and the rich elderly. I’m not saying that none of the elderly should get anything ever. I’m just saying that such things should be incidental to being elderly.Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to Murali says:

              … nothing says bankruptcy like a health care bill. [countering your argument with: many common “bad to the point of fiscal suicide” problems are not terribly well correlated with wealth. In short: enough stuff can go wrong that even someone moderately wealthy might need help].
              devil’s advocate is fun!Report

  7. Avatar Doc says:

    One may argue back and forth about the putative benefits of the various Fed regulatory bureaucrazies. It is blindingly obvious to me that their net effect is to throw not sand but boulders into the economic engine of this Republic. Left uncorrected and we will soon be seeing third-world economic conditions.

    What ought to be acknowledged by all, however, is that they are blatantly, grossly unConstitutional. The Constitution is a relatively simple document, intended to be understood by the common man. It is not the province exclusively of lawyers, senators, or SCOTUS justices. Read it. It explicitly lists a very few things the Fed gov’t is allowed to do. Then it explicitly says that everything else is left to the discretion of the states and the people. There is not a word in their about EPA, OSHA, Depts of Labor/Education, HHS, SocSec, Medicare, ATF, FDA, etc, etc, etc. Some will protest at the idea of eliminating some or all of these agencies. Fine. If they’re so all-fired important, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble getting a Constitutional amendment passed authorizing Congress to force them upon us. Otherwise, let’s quit breaking the foundational Law of this nation.

    If we ever were so wise as to do that, business would boom, wealth would spread, the poor would benefit from skyrocketing employment and entrepeneurial opportunities they long have been unjustly denied. Freedom would reign.

    But We the People are a wicked and lazy sovereign, allowing and encouraging the ministers we have hired to trample the Constitution in the dust for decades. We’re driving the Republic into the wall at warp speed. This does not end well.Report

  8. Avatar Art Deco says:

    I suspect if you looked into it, the hole in lower Manhattan has little to do with the welfare state and a great deal to do with interest group politics appended to the omnipresence of the legal profession in American public life. (IIRC, there are some curios about the land tenure at that particular site that complicate matters as well). Mayor Bloomberg’s tasteless stupidity in hiring a German starchitect to design what was to replace the trade center did not help either.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Art Deco says:

      I have to agree with this. There’s a huge gap between “this building isn’t being built as fast as I’d like” and “the welfare state.” It could be that Steyn’s book bridges the gap. This post certainly did not, and I say so as a severe critic of the welfare state in general.Report

      • Jason, I did mention the building was a “metaphor,” and that that questions like whether that gap can be bridged “do not readily lend themselves to empirical analysis.” Yet it seems somehow I’ve fallen short of your expectations.

        In fact, I’m not even sure how to go about empirically bridging that gap, particularly in the context of a blog post. I’d be willing to try to make such a case if you have any suggestions.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          I guess my question might be why you find it arresting as a metaphor, then.

          Have you compared this building’s construction time to the time needed for other, similarly situated buildings (major project, on a historically significant site, in a concentrated urban area, in the first world)? Did you get a good, statistically rigorous sampling of them?

          If not, your gut feelings and mine will just have to disagree.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Art Deco says:

      Art Deco – well said. There is certainly a difference between welfare and regulations. Personally, I am much more in favor of working to strip away protectionism, monopoly rents and bad regulations than I am welfare (our welfare is pretty slim anyways compared to many nations).Report

      • Avatar Vertov in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        On the subject of the World Trade Center, wasn’t skyscraper construction notoriously dangerous, like if you had as many workers deaths as you had floors, it was considered an acceptable minimum? Also, isn’t there a lot of jurisdictional bickering over the site? Steyn on this point seems to ignore all the possible explanations (good and bad) for the slow construction in favor of bewailing about how great we used to be and how awful the present is.

        DUReport

  9. Avatar clawback says:

    Could you go into some detail about the “glorious past” from which we “accumulated cultural capital”? Was it when we beat and brutalized our slaves? Or when we beat up blacks trying to vote or just randomly lynched them to keep them in line? Or when we sent goons to beat up striking workers, or locked the doors on filthy, dangerous factories so the workers would die in piles by the doors when they caught on fire? Or when we sent our armies marching around Latin America to protect the interests of plutocrats? Seriously, when was this glorious past?

    On the other hand, we didn’t shut down lemonade stands. So there’s that.Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to clawback says:

      You have to understand that these sorts of arguments are essentially of this form:

      Things I don’t like are happening, therefore they must be caused by other things that I don’t like.

      They’re not factual arguments, they’re emotional ones.Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to clawback says:

      It’s just the conservative version of nostalgia with little to no basis in actual past events or past times. Oh I think we lose something with every passing generation – something good and something bad. We progress, shed cultural skin, etc. That can be bad at times. We lose the folk wisdom and folk medicine that might help us understand things better (like child birth) but we gain things to, such as perspective: what other time would we rather live in than now? There are no golden ages.Report

      • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        I agree about the uselessness of nostalgia for an age that never existed, but isn’t the flip side of that a sort of Panglossian things-are-better-than-ever-let-us-never-speak-of-the-past-again attitude? I mean, in between lynching blacks and killing striking workers, Americans also must have had a few good ideas, but listening to plenty of progressives, you’d think we have nothing at all to learn from the past. If nothing else, they made some great clothes, cars, music and movies in the 1950s. You can acknowledge that without being forced to pine for lynching at the same time.Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        what other time would we rather live in than now?

        1998! No slavery, unemployment below 5%, blowjobs in the oval office, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and The Big Lebowski on the silver screen. What else could you want?Report

  10. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    So tell me, are you cheering for China?

    I wasn’t going to ask that question because it seemed too leading, but then I had a look at Steyn’s site, where he terms his book “Lessons from the old country for its superpower successor.”

    I guess China is a model of the small-government, can-do, individualist attitude to you? With laogai and everything?

    Or do you prefer the resurrected Caliphate? Which one’s beating us, and where are its individualist virtues?Report

  11. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    Are these questions for me? I don’t understand why you think I’d be “cheering for China.” Because of the link on Steyn’s site? I haven’t read it, but it sounds like something out of his book. If it is, he’s not referring to China as any kind of model anyone should aspire to.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      These are questions for you, yes.

      Which country (or imagined entity, if it’s the Caliphate) is beating us? And where is the individualist spirit to be found in it?

      The causal model you’re working with seems to be that individualism makes a country great, we’ve lost it, and some other country is going to surpass us soon. So which one is it, and how do they demonstrate individualism?Report

      • Jason,

        I don’t think Steyn’s or my observations necessarily imply anyone “is beating us.” It suffices to say we’re beating ourselves, with the help of the international community, China in particular. That is to say, while I would say China’s corrupt government will be its undoing at some point in the future, in the meantime, it’s enabling the U.S. to accelerate its own undoing. We’re in a race to the bottom situation. While we’re certainly not in the lead, we’re arguably not going to be the last to reach the bottom.

        That’s why I wouldn’t exactly say that China is “beating us,” particularly not in the context of cultivating and protecting individualism.Report

        • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          China’s continued debasement of their own currency has been a form of economic warfare for decades. Unfortunately we let Japan do it first so now it’s kosher. We’re retaliating by debasing our own currency and as you said Tim, “We’re in a race to the bottom situation”.

          The bigger issue is what this economic warfare has accomplished. For every WalMart plant that goes in over in China, regardless of laogai working there, that’s another plant NOT in the USA. We have entire generations of bright minds who have given up on the whole concept of engineering, or building anything with their own hands. We used to know how to manufacture things, all you can point to now is H1B visa workers from foreign lands working for local firms designing products destined to be manufactured in foreign lands.

          I can point to the same alphabet soup of agencies Doc does above to demonstrate how the insidious march of regulations has permanently damaged our ability to produce in this country. That was a point Jon Huntsman brought out in the debates when the Fox anchor tried a gotcha question about why he wasn’t employing more Americans. If he hadn’t been so nervous and would have overspent his time the way Ron Paul invariably did, he could have expanded on the point. Huntsman Chemical is dependent on feedstock from refineries. There hasn’t been a new refinery built in this country in over 30 years. Best to build the next plant where they are building the modern refineries to get the highest quality feedstock.

          Now ask me why we haven’t built a refinery in this country in over 30 years?Report

          • Avatar Scott in reply to wardsmith says:

            wradsmith:

            Easy, the enviro-nazis won’t let anyone build a refinery or a nuke plant which is why I found the out cry about the age of US nuke plants after the Japanese earthquake so amusing.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Scott says:

              > “the enviro-nazis”

              That’s funny.

              IME, nobody likes having a chemical plant in their neighborhood. It doesn’t matter if they’re Right, Left, card-carrying Democrats or lifelong Republicans.

              I wonder if you can find a correlation between plants that are held up by lawsuit or EIRs and the local politics. I’d hazard a guess there isn’t one.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Pat:

                We have something called zoning regs which would allow such things to be built in certain areas if the enviro-nazi would even allow it to happen.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Scott says:

                Yes.

                And when they’re proposed inside those zoning regs and the Sierra Club freaks out, how many of the local residents (left or right) who aren’t “environazis” rush out to defend the chemical company’s right to build a plant in their backyard?

                I have seen this precisely never.Report

              • Avatar Scott in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Pat:

                So the absence of a pro plant group proves that folks don’t want the plant? Really, is that your logic here? The enviro nazi don’t want nuke plants or refineries anywhere even where they would properly zoned.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan in reply to Scott says:

                I will readily consider changing my mind as soon as you show me a real prevalence of any political stripe actually *not* pulling NIMBY.

                Go for it.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                I’ll just handle refineries first since that is an area where I hold special expertise. Notice this first paragraph from 2005:
                About 100 miles southwest of Phoenix, in a remote patch off Interstate 8, Glenn McGinnis is seeking to do something that has not been done for 29 years in the United States. He is trying to build an oil refinery.

                Part of his job is to persuade local officials and residents to allow a 150,000-barrel-a-day refinery in their backyard – no small task. Another is to find investors ready to risk $2.5 billion in a volatile industry. So far, the effort has consumed six years and $30 million, with precious little to show for it.

                So in 1999 he started, and $30M later he’s still trying (in 2005). Where do you think he is today?

                Industry officials estimate the cost of building a new refinery at between $ 2 bn and $ 4 bn — at a time the industry must devote close to $ 20 bn over the next decade to reducing the sulphur content in gasoline and other fuels — and approval could mean having to collect up to 800 different permits. As if those hurdles weren’t enough, the industry’s long-term rate of return on capital is just 5 % — less than could be realized by simply buying US Treasury bonds.
                “I’m sure that at some point in the last 20 years someone has considered building a new refinery,” says James Halloran, an energy analyst with National City Corp. “But they quickly came to their senses,” he adds.

                Source: Investor’s Business DailyReport

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to wardsmith says:

                @Pat, I am personally aware of a tribe holding relatively worthless land in a largely barren and undeveloped section of Utah that has been pushing to build a refinery for about 10 years on their OWN land. That would be the opposite of NIMBY. It is closer to Vernal and there is insufficient pipeline capacity to bring oil produced in that region to the existing refineries. They have been trucking it for decades. The locals are all for it, can you guess who is against it?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

                I will readily concede that in economically depressed areas, people will agree to put a chemical plant or a refinery or a prison in their backyard.

                I walk back, I’m over-reaching. Point to you.

                But I don’t think that generally jibes with “people are held down by the econazis” meme to which I was responding.

                I would think that usually, the locals all run to the town council meetings and talk loudly about not having their property values depressed or having a potential Union Carbide plant blowup, regardless of their own contributions to Greenpeace or lack thereof, or their own political party inclinations. Do you agree?

                In fact, I’d hazard a guess that the tribe to which you refer has plenty of environmentalism running through it, right?

                Maybe not the Sierra club variety.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                Actually Pat, my experience is quite the opposite. You could go to the most egregious examples of mountain leveling in West Virginia and find the locals are in complete agreement. That isn’t to say there might be some who vociferously complain but they are the minority. Employment uber alles.

                As far as chemical plants (or nuclear for that matter), it is ridiculous to compare ancient American plants still chugging away under grandfather EPA clauses to what can be built today (and is, elsewhere). I invite you to examine the Jamnagar refinery

                I received a special report on it, unfortunately I can’t find an Internet version at present. The Jamnagar facility not only is close to zero emission, they built a massive mango plantation nearby and literally changed the local weather! The locals love it and the US paid for it. Oh and they export diesel and gas to Iran from there, because, why not?

                Great things /could/ be done in this country, but the OP premise is correct, we just don’t have the will anymore. So we do it elsewhere and elsewhere benefits.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

                > Actually Pat, my experience is
                > quite the opposite.

                Fair ’nuff. My experience is with organizations like homeowner associations, not with chem plants, so you probably have me trumped, there.

                > That isn’t to say there might
                > be some who vociferously
                > complain but they are the
                > minority. Employment
                > uber alles.

                How many of them are still glad that the plant is there 10 years later? This isn’t supposed to be a goal-post moving, I’m just wondering if you know.

                > As far as chemical plants (or
                > nuclear for that matter), it is
                > ridiculous to compare ancient
                > American plants still
                > chugging away under grand-
                > father EPA clauses to what
                > can be built today (and is,
                > elsewhere).

                This, I’m totally 150% behind you, Ward.

                I didn’t say that people who freaked out about Union Carbide had rational misgivings. Shoot, you engineer something decent and you can plant it in my neighborhood (within a reasonable delta of breaking up my skyline), I’m on board.

                I’ll readily grant that we ought to replace all this crap with new stuff that works better, costs less to run, spews less crap into the atmosphere, and gives people jobs.

                And I’ll also grant that there’s plenty of people on the greenie left who can’t see the forest for the trees: getting rid of the chemical plant is the goal, not replacing it with one that is actually good for the local economy, safe, and nonpolluting.

                Moreover, their desire to stop it at all costs just moves it to the developing world *instead* of here or Europe, where it’s not good enough for the local economy, it’s less safe, and why bother to make it nonpolluting.Report

        • Avatar MFarmer in reply to Tim Kowal says:

          We just have to give China time to change or destroy itself, because all of its State Capitalism, which some on the Left and in the middle envy, and their monetary manipulation, and their abuse of workers, and their Planned Economy, and their blustering military build-up, and their facade of real growth, will crumble just as the USSR crumbled, and as we will crumble if we try to compete on their terms. We need to neither praise them nor fear them, we need to just do what we know is right — allow economic freedom. The idea that we as a corporate/military nation are in competition with China the corporate/military nation is bogus. The global market is made up of individual companies from all countries, some will succeed, and others will fail, and any country that tries to prevent the failures or pick the winners will only hasten their nation’s demise. This is not a short term race — it’s a marathon, a process of the global economy changing daily.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to MFarmer says:

            The bad news M is that over time China and the rest of the world will build everything and we’ll face our own crumbling infrastructure with far less clues about how to repair it than the Visigoths had after they “owned” Rome.

            Ultimately the world is not a virtual place. We need /things/ and things need to be manufactured. We may not need as many things as we have but there is a certain minimus that is required. The fantasy that everyone can work for the government or in a service job is just that, a fantasy. Unfortunately that is the way our country is squaring up.

            I always appreciate your optimism though. You also believe the political masters will implode on their own over time. I think with a REALLLLLLLYYYY long worldview you’re right. I’m just too old for that view myself.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to wardsmith says:

              The world is not for us, Ward. The world doesn’t give a shit about us.

              The world is for the future.

              It’s a silly aphorism, and you can take that optimistically or pessimistically, but it’s true all the same.Report

          • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to MFarmer says:

            MFarmer,

            I hope you’re right! Steyn does talk a bit about China and how they’re in a demographic death spiral, as is much of Europe.Report

  12. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Maybe China’s one-child policies are increasing growth by allowing women to fully participate in the economy instead of having their productivity squandered on raising children.Report

  13. Avatar North says:

    Mourning the decline and impending destruction of what is admirable in the present while pining for halcyon days of yore is a time honored tradition as old as literature itself (Homer, I’ve read, was writing a lot about the glories of the old days and how fallen Greece was in his time). So while I don’t share you or Steins sentiments I don’t begrudge you indulging them.Report

    • Avatar Anderson in reply to North says:

      I completely agree with this thought. I finished reading a biography of Andrew Jackson earlier this summer in which the author speaks of Henry Clay and John Calhoun bemoaning the end of American democracy with the election of Mr. Jackson. They said he was rendering the legislative branch useless and striving to keep the executive branch for life. A similar sentiment arose in anti-federalist circles during the ratification of the Constitution. And, like you said, you can take this back to the Greeks and before. But I guess those were the “Golden Days”, no? Politicians always need to speak of consequences in apocalyptic terms…or else maybe we wouldn’t listen? Honestly, if I were British citizen, I’d much rather be alive now than in the “Sun never sets on the British empire” Victorian days…I don’t feel my individual “robustness, resilience, and energy” are determined primarily by my birthplace, especially in this globalized era.Report

  14. Avatar Keith Matthews says:

    Good luck Daniels and Cheeks,

    Fights on. I’ll spend the rest of my life fighting for the proper dimensions of the Federal Govt. and fighting people like you.
    The 10th amendment is clear. You are WRONG. Economic and regulatory enslavement will not be taken lying down.

    Fights on boys.Report

  15. Avatar Maureen says:

    You can argue about the ‘size’ of government and slice and dice it anyway you want, but we are being nickeled and dimed to death. My city is now planning to charge a fee for garbage pickup so they can ‘expand’ the service to pick up recyclables. Nice cause, but wait a minute. At one time in that not too distance past (like two years ago), garbage pickup was one of those things that cities did as part of your municipal property taxes (which only go up, not down). In the last civic election, only the fringe green party candidate was talking about extra fees for city services – none of the elected Councillors had that in their campaign. But apparently the city bureaucrats have come up with this plan. So the result is that I, who deliberately limit the amount of packaging that comes into my house, take my papers and magazines on-line, get and pay all my bills on-line (the mailman maybe drops off mail at my house twice a week and it is usually junk flyers) will be paying a required fee so that I can have a blue roll bin for curbside recycling. My regular garbage can be picked up one a week in a roll bin, but goes out about one every five weeks in winter and maybe once every two or three weeks in the summer, so I can guess that the blue bin (which will also be picked up once a week ) will likely go out about once ever three months. And all the wheeled bins now will clutter up my patio. So I’m already not using the regular garbage pickup as projected by the brainatics in the city bureaucracy, and now I will not be using the bluebox pickups as projected. And how much are they being paid!!???Report

    • Avatar Elias Isquith in reply to Maureen says:

      There was a financial crisis in 2008 as well as a recession from 2007-2009. One of the consequences of both of these events has been a massive decrease in the amount of money usually taken-in through taxes by all levels of government. Because significant portions of both the population-at-large and politicians think that the best response to such a lack of funds is not to borrow and potentially kick-start growth, but to cut spending and raise taxes across all sectors of society. This has led to many state and local governments raising taxes to complete services that previously could have been done with what was already in the government’s coffers. No one is getting rich off of charging you a minor amount to recycle.Report

  16. Avatar Matthew Drabik says:

    Size of Govt can be best measured by Govt spending as a % of GDP and the number of laws/regulations currently being enforced. By these measures, we presently have nearly to largest Govt in American history (with only the relatively brief WW2 Govt being larger).Report

    • Avatar E.D. Kain in reply to Matthew Drabik says:

      Matthew – first of all, no that is not the best measurement of government size. It ignores all sorts of things like civil liberties. A very small government can still be very brutal. Second, the reason we have such a large government by your definition is the 2008 recession. Oh, and the wars.Report

      • Avatar Matthew Drabik in reply to E.D. Kain says:

        “A very small government can still be very brutal. ”
        So, you’re saying a very small govt can be big if by big one means brutal? Or maybe you’re saying that very small means big if …?

        Regardless, what I stated is the best way to measure govt size. The nature of that govt being another question all together.

        Also, the 2008 recession in no way necessitated the recent swelling of our govt. I believe we would have been better off without a govt response to that recession.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Matthew Drabik says:

          … even Mises wouldn’t go that far. I figure he’d say something like “If America can get a bargain on necessary infrastructure, why not invest when it’s cheap?”Report

        • So, you’re saying a very small govt can be big if by big one means brutal? Or maybe you’re saying that very small means big if …?

          You might have also picked up from one of the comments here that less liberty means more liberty. It’s also commonly suggested that less discrimination means more discrimination, more equality means less equality, etc. Unstated shifting definitions is the bread and butter of political discourse, I’m afraid, so you’ll have to become fluent in the Newspeak.

          [Revised 10:20 a.m. -TK]Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Matthew Drabik says:

      The Federal Registrar has grown exponentially, but as E.D. points out, most are so benign that the actual problem is not simply the growth of government, but the growth in ways that are costly but so innocuous that no one cares or takes notice.

      So “big” government is a sympton of the fact that in many ways it’s very un-encroaching, and so could just as well be considered “small.”

      It made more sense when people spoke about “big” government and meant the actual number of federal employees and the costs of running government’s day to day functions, rather than some immeasurable quantity of “regulations” or monetary transactions.

      A government could be 50% of GDP by having 100 employees sit around collecting taxes and redistributing wealth via checks. They could also have millions and millions of laws regulating the sale of dragons. I would hardly consider that entity “big” government.Report

  17. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Suggesting that excessive regulations are the cause for our problems is a racist thing to say, because the only thing that lets black people have a fair chance is those regulations and the legal threats backing them up.

    Tim, why are you a racist? Why don’t you want to let black people have a fair chance?Report

  18. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    But, on the other hand, it’s important to remember that from about 1950 to about 1989–the “golden age” that I think most pundits like Steyn are thinking they remember–we were at war. It’s a lot easier to justify unequal treatment and destructive behaviors when there’s a war you can blame it on. “We’ll worry about equal treatment for women when we aren’t ALL GONNA DIE IN AN ATOMIC WAR WITH RUSSIA.” “We’ll worry about avoiding crony capitalism when we aren’t ALL GONNA DIE IN AN ATOMIC WAR WITH RUSSIA.” “We’ll worry about protecting the environment from industrial waste when we aren’t ALL GONNA DIE IN AN ATOMIC WAR WITH RUSSIA.”Report

    • Haven’t we been hearing for oh, ten years or so, that “WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE IN A TERRORIST ATTACK”?Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Burt Likko says:

        “Lots of people in downtown Manhattan might die” isn’t the same level of threat as “the whole world’s gonna blow up”.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to DensityDuck says:

          I totally agree with that. In fact, a joke I sometimes make when teaching undergrads about that time is that I remember when the largest country on earth had hundreds of nukes pointed at us that we were assured they were very likely to use and we’d all be incinerated, so it’s hard for me to get too scared about a bunch of guys in Pakistan with box cutters.

          Having said that, there are still people who do think the whole world’s going to blow up, right? Because there are plenty who talk that way.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Rufus F. says:

            The excruciatingly bad “Red Dawn” came out in 1984. I was 13.

            I remember at one point remarking that this was a stupid premise, as it was clear that nukes would have blown everybody up already.

            In my experience, a lot of people in my age group thought it was a crapshoot as to whether or not the bombs were going to fall before 1990. Unlike some people of an earlier age, we were under no illusions that anybody was going to survive it.

            I wonder, sometimes, how this has affected my generation’s outlook on the world.Report

            • Patrick- one of my dream projects is to write a novel about being a child growing up in that time. It was weird. I remember adults being very sure that it was about 50/50 whether we’d get nuked or not. Me and my young male friends (about 9 or 10 years old) were pretty sure that we’d die in the blast, but if we didn’t, it would be a great adventure. It was movies like Red Dawn- the post apocalyptic landscape looked like adventureland to a young boy. I sort of hoped we’d get nuked so I could fight the Russians.Report

          • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Rufus F. says:

            Mathamatically and in IR cricles, a bi-polar world is considered to be more stable than a uni-polar or multi-polar one.

            Personally, my unease comes from the inevitablity of a re-alignment internationally, and the sinking feeling that my country, or at least strong segments of it, don’t have the humility or global outlook to take it in stride and enjoy a less hegemonic existence.Report

  19. Avatar Vertov says:

    Is “mediocrity of spirit” a problem? Do government entitlements contribute to it? These are questions that do not readily lend themselves to empirical analysis.

    This is the sort of question that was addressed in other post in this blog, either yesterday or the day before, where the writer was bothered by a kind of paternalism that exists on the left AND the right — that the government is either supposed to be the guardian of the wretched, or that the government needs to strengthen the nation’s moral fiber by removing entitlements. I’m more interested in the question of whether a policy improves the lot of people. I’ll leave the question of whether its good for their souls to the ministers and priests.

    Further, we shouldn’t shy from using empirical evidence, although your mileage may vary considering what data you use. I note that when people get nostalgic for the 1940s and 1950s and at the same time yearn for more “individualism,” they’re getting nostalgic for an era where the government was at its zenith of power and openly cooperated with Big Business and Big Labor to get things done.

    Its widely understood that this whole era of consensus was brought down in part when the public no longer believed in this consensus, often because the public itself was becoming more individualist, breaking off into smaller identity groups – that is, as in ethnic and sexual minorities, as a “counterculture,” and as, yes, cultural conservatives.

    And if you want to get into an earlier era, don’t forget that the American West was opened up by aggressive government policies, such as the Indian Wars and the Mexican War. We conquered the land, pushed out the native population, and subsidized the railroads and other business concerns. The frontier, often idealized as the apex of rugged individualism, was opened up by collective action.

    I also can’t help but note that this is the same Mark Steyn who’s not afraid to praise neoconservative military action and gets nostalgic for the British empire. Its usually the nations that turn into roving empires that are known for being big and oppressive.

    In short, I’m not sure that encouraging policies based on moral fiber or soldierly honor really helps “rugged individualism” so much as it empowers large institutions as the expense of individual Americans.

    DUReport

  20. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    I put up with the Massachusetts State Police shutting down my step-son’s lemonade stand three weeks ago. What am I supposed to do about it? No one answers the phone when I call, and everyone I talk to about it agrees it’s absurd, but no one does anything about it because the government is totally inaccessible.

    I’m trying really hard in my day to day life to avoid drawing the same conclusions you’ve drawn here, but I don’t know how much longer I can take people sleeping through job interviews, simply blowing me off, referring to me by an incorrect name, etc. while I continue to smile politely and do my best to no avail. I’ve been here for six months, and I’ve discovered a culture that is unprofessional to the extreme, selfish, spoiled, childish, belligerent, and entitled. Whenever anything goes wrong, finger-pointing is the universal response: my obesity is McDonald’s fault; I have the right to eat out at fancy restaurants five nights a week and not run into financial problems; etc. I think 90% of this necessarily hinges on the Baby Boomer generation, a generation that has benefited like none before from its parents’s unprecedented public investment and yet has managed to put its children into debt for the foreseeable future.

    But at what point does this assessment just take on the character of an unsubstantiated rant? And how much does it reveal about me that I see nothing but this awfulness?Report

  21. Avatar Briney Eye says:

    Tapdance around and claim that the Federal Government has actually gotten smaller!!, by gosh and by golly, but the Federal Tax Code is growing at an exponential rate:

    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_5aAsxFJOeMw/S5kgr2jUd5I/AAAAAAAADG4/MQiFHyiKmlY/s1600-h/Growth-of-US-Federal-Tax-Code-Complexity-1913-2010.PNG

    I think this is a pretty good proxy for the growth of “government” in general. No rational being can believe that this can go on forever, or even very much longer. Ergo, if you have actually convinced yourself that the government needs to be even! bigger! then you are not rational.Report

    • This is obviously a pretty awful proxy for ‘government’, since it seems to be growing more or less in line with the complexity of the economy (exponentially). In other words, it’s perfectly sustainable, and is a result of increased economic growth – which I do think we ought to keep up.Report

      • Avatar Briney Eye in reply to Benjamin Daniels says:

        So you believe that 500,000 pages of tax code by the time you retire (since you appear to be young) is “perfectly sustainable”? Regulatory growth cannot continue on its present trend. Therefore it won’t.

        It’s not the fall that kills you. It’s the sudden stop at the end.Report

      • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Benjamin Daniels says:

        @Benjamin, (exponentially). In other words, it’s perfectly sustainable

        Are you personally familiar with exponential growth Benjamin? Do you have any concept of, say a 7% compound growth rate? We can play all the games we want with the value of the dollars underlying our economy, but the tradeoffs are substantial. In absolute terms our economy has NOT grown even though the numbers have gotten larger. The proof is in the cost of things. It doesn’t do much good to compare tax rates from the 50’s when an entire /house/ in the 50’s only cost $2000. Something’s gotta give in economic growth and it is by NO MEANS sustainable in absolute terms because the curve starts to go straight up.

        There’s a reason they’re having to fudge the tax code to deal with AMT (alternative minimum tax). It was originally constructed to catch approximately 155 taxpayers who had constructed their income in such a way that they owed little or nothing. Because of inflation it now eats into the middle class, affecting millions of filers.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Briney Eye says:

      Fine. Here’s my very simple tax code.

      All income, capital gains, gifts, investments, and winnings from gambling shall be taxed at the following rates –

      $0 – $19,999 – 0%
      $20,000 – $39,999 – 5%
      $40,000 – $69,999 – 10%
      $70,000 – $99,999 – 20%
      $100,000 – $249,999 – 30%
      $250,000 – $999,999 – 40%
      $1,000,000 – $4,999.999 – 45%
      $5,000,000 – $9,999.999 – 50%
      $10,000,000 – $19,999,999 – 55%
      $20,000,000 + – 60%Report

  22. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    By the way, the title of this post is brilliant.Report

  23. Avatar Tim Kowal says:

    Here seems as good a place as any to bookmark this story describing a Politico reporter’s attempt to follow Obama’s advise to “Contact USDA” to dispel “unfounded fears” about new onerous regulations:

    http://www.politico.com/politico44/perm/0811/call_uncle_sam_5c130fdd-0e34-4b04-99e1-3d923ea3919e.html

    I might propose a rule of thumb: If government is so big it doesn’t even know what it’s up to, it’s too big.Report

    • How would you construct a government of 310 million people in such a way that said government would always know “what it’s up to”?Report

      • Enumerated powers. Bicameralism and presentment. Non-delegation of powers. We used to have those things in the “good old” pre-APA days.Report

        • I don’t see how an Illinois state agency, to just grab an example, being accountable by no one but power-holders in Illinois itself would result in a bureaucracy capable of knowing immediately “what it’s up to.” Your complaint is one of efficiency and organization and the link from that to federalism seems to be to be rather strained.Report

          • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Elias Isquith says:

            The buck got passed to Illinois and they were too stupid to duck. The POTUS made a recommendation that clearly won’t work in the real world. No one should be surprised at that.

            Furthermore, when people talk about “the size of government” they had better include state and local in that mix. To a civilian not collecting a “government check” it all starts to look the same.Report

          • I would characterize my complaint as structural rather than about “efficiency and organization.” If our structural barriers had remained in place and federal agencies were not empowered to create tomes of rules governing seasonal puddles and wayward critters (to name just a couple examples), there would be more certainty about jurisdictional limits. Thus, we could start to answer the question “what is the government up to” by simply assuming that if the state or local authority is not “up to” anything, then we can relatively safely presume the answer to be “nothing.” However, when economic activity is subject not only to the jurisdiction of a single federal government but a splintered jurisdiction under literally hundreds of federal agencies—e.g., EPA, FWS, NOAA, FDA, OSHA, etc.—it becomes difficult to imagine someone in one of those agencies isn’t working on some new regulation or another that will impact your business.Report

            • The answer could just as easily be centralization, though, if you frame your argument thus.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Elias Isquith says:

                Actually, I’d argue that Tim has point here.

                The answer *could* just as easily be centralization, but centralized organizations are more brittle and less capable of change. They are also differently efficient.

                They are also usually more empowered to scale up to tackle certain types of things that can’t be handled by federated style systems.

                However, I think it’s reasonable to say in this day and age that we can accomplish much of what needs to be done at the state level. Welfare, Social Security… those are both federal programs that certainly could be handled at the state level.Report

              • Kowal and Cahalan are onto something interesting about federalism, devolving power to the states from the current level of centralization, beyond the generic Tea Party ideology.

                I don’t know if or how Social Security could be successfully devolved to the states, but it seems empirically provable that one can live in Shithole County, Mississippi a lot cheaper than NYC.

                I mean, exactly how much do we owe our pensioners?

                I was in Miami Beach during the days you see in Scarface, and wondered how and why pensioners could or should live a block from the beach. Nice non-work if you can get it.

                As it turned out, South Beach is now upscale, overrun by South American rich-kid money. No pensioner could remotely afford even the smallest apartment, but that doesn’t seem unfair to me.

                When I become a pensioner—my 401(k) is in the toilet like everybody else’s—I’m wondering if I’ll prefer Shithole County, MS or Shithole County, MT.

                As long as SS gets me a roof, some heat and mebbe some premium dog food, and Medicare doesn’t let me die of something curable, I dunno what else I can ask from “the system” and my fellow tax-paying American.

                Seems like an OK deal. And if “liberal interventionism” saves a few bucks on me to stop a genocide somewhere, I’m good with that too. I would hate for the last great nation on earth to lose sight of its greatness. During the Civil War, Lincoln said, “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of Earth.”

                For better or worse, Mr. Lincoln’s dream has come true. We’re it.

                Me, I hear Montana’s not so bad.Report

              • Avatar wardsmith in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                The good news about Montana is if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutesReport

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to wardsmith says:

                Just about every place I have lived has said that about itself. But Montana/Idaho/Wyoming seem to take it to a new level.Report

              • I was in Jackson Hole in August once and the temperature dropped below freezing at night. This especially sucked since all the hotels there cost upwards of 130 bucks a night, including one connected to a convenience store, and we resolved to sleep in the car outside Grand Teton National Park.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to wardsmith says:

                One of my best friends lived, worked, and got married on the Grand Teton. It was a pretty sweet deal, since we’re too dang thrifty to actually fork the money over to actually stay there but are perfectly willing to sleep on somebody’s floor.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Montana is awesome in the summer.

                I have suspicious about the winters, though.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                I’d bet dollars to donuts that you would prefer Montana over Mississippi. If you can deal with the cold. If you need heat, there are likely some places in Texas you could settle in without being in the Deep South.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tim Kowal says:

      I ask the same people who contacted the USDA to contact AT&T about their cell phone bill, Comcast about their cable bill, their HMO about an insurance claim that’s been denied, or your home insurance company after your house has been hit by a claim. Large bureaucracies are going to be large, a little unwieldy, and occasionally knock into each other. That’s a fact of living in a modern country with 300-odd million people.

      As for the localism argument, I say go to your local county council, city council, or other local meeting and ask if you want those people to have more power. Talent trickles up, even in politics.Report

  24. The final paragraph of the post echoes Mancur Olson’s Rise and Decline of Nations. My question, though, is how sure are we that we want to live in a “great power?” Who benefits from that “can-do spirit” that rebuilds great monuments? Did average Londoners benefit from Wren’s great buildings? Would average New Yorkers really benefit from completion of the 9/11 monument?

    Mercantilism was an economic philosophy that focused on the “national interest” in that “great power” sense, but Adam Smith showed that it did nothing for the real well-being of the people. Perhaps we need fewer monuments, and more not-so-visible and not-at-all-sexy infrastructure investment.Report

  25. Avatar mark says:

    RE It’s not about the number of government employees. It’s about the spending. True, and even worse, our debt levels are unsustainable. We are going to, over the coming decades, be supporting the Chinese military complex, a direct challenger to the USA. We are paying the federal government to hasten the demise of our nation. I sense a revolt.
    Allso, there is the little issue of human capital. China has 10 times as many people in the gifted and talented range as we do ( 215M vs 22 M) .
    Also, given the compounding of interest on our debt, we will be in peonage to China, forever .Report

  26. Avatar mark says:

    China will expand into Africa. Lebensraum. Bio warfare will take care of the oppposition. We can’t stop them, no one can.Report

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