How Did We Get Here? – by Bernhardt Writer

Matt Hennessy, writing for City Journal, characterized the state of the 2016 US election. He blames the Democrats for our situation. But, in my opinion, both parties are complicit:

…They’ve spent the last 100 years expanding the scope of executive authority, granting the federal administrative agencies the power of judge, jury, and executioner over their ever-widening dominion. If liberals and progressives didn’t want that awesome, intrusive power to fall into the wrong hands, perhaps they should have heeded the warnings of small-government conservatives, who railed for a century against the bloat, rot, and corruption they saw metastasizing within the District of Columbia. Perhaps they shouldn’t have declared the U.S. Constitution—with its bill of rights and enumerated powers—to be an antiquated relic.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge chronicled the rise of progressivism and statism over the past 100 years in their book: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State. We reviewed it here on this blog over a multi-week period in 2015. Here are some excerpts describing progressivism’s rise:

Beatrice Webb’s vision—the state as the epitome of reason and truth—enabled her to develop the ideology adopted by pro-statists worldwide. To her, the state stood for: planning versus confusion, merit versus privilege, and science versus prejudice…Why cause revolution when the same change could be brought about more lastingly through subversion of society using propaganda and recognized committees of experts.

Beatrice and her husband Sidney founded the Fabian Society as guardians of this socialist transformation. They established the London School of Economics to train a global cohort of social engineers…The Webbs also founded the New Statesman, a weekly review of politics and literature, as the clarion of their revolution.

In the period 1905-1915, the Webbs helped enact redistributive taxation to pay for [British] programs and lessened the stigma of “Poor Laws.” The poor became “victims,” not layabouts…They embraced eugenics as eagerly as they did town planning. The Webbs trusted the judgment of professional experts over the “average sensual man” when it came to bettering the life of commoners.

A prominent liberal ally of the Webbs, John Maynard Keynes, advocated for government intervention to aid Adam Smith’s hidden hand of the market. Although he spelled out caveats to his philosophy, these were conveniently forgotten over the years. His philosophy, Keynesianism, still powers big government.

The British Statist model was adopted by Hitler, Stalin, Mussolini, Franco, and Peron. They all blended Hegelian state worship into their dictatorships and used the state to control their economies. America, however, took a different turn under the Roosevelts.

Theodore Roosevelt (US president 1901-1909) acknowledged that the Webbs were right when they said that laissez-faire capitalism was over. He established regulatory bodies to constrain the power of corporations over the American people…By not embracing European style statism, with its comprehensive welfare state, he squared-the-circle through his progressive republicanism and saved the US from Europe’s excesses.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for his part, imposed tighter regulation instead of nationalizing broad sectors of the economy in the face of economic collapse and world war. World War II demonstrated big government’s ability to marshal all of industry to the service of war through detailed planning, financial incentives, and coercion.

The same occurred on both sides of the Atlantic and the Pacific…When Winston Churchill returned to power in October 1951, his government did nothing to roll back the welfare state. In the closing days of World War II, international supervisory organizations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were created under Keynes influence as a result of the Bretton Woods international agreements.

In his article titled: “It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More,” which we reviewed in 2014 on this blog, Myron Magnet, former Editor-in-Chief of City Journal, says:

President Wilson established in the WWI era the doctrine of the “Living Constitution” administered by the Supreme Court thereby codifying judicial activism that undid civil liberty victories in the aftermath of the Civil War. Secondly, President Roosevelt established prior to and during the WWII era unelected extra-governmental commissions (aka agencies) that have independent legislative, administrative, and judicial powers within themselves. Agencies are created as a matter of course now by legislative action. FDR also strengthened the power of the judiciary to act as a permanent constitutional convention amending the document through their decisions.

Fred Siegel characterized the increasing alienation of the liberal left from common US citizens in his book: The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. We reviewed his book here and here in 2014. This is a brief excerpt from our review:

On July 30, 1916, at 2:08 AM, saboteurs caused a one kiloton explosion on Black Tom Island off the New Jersey coast, near Liberty Island, in NYC harbor. Two million pounds of munitions on their way to the allies were detonated through a series of fires.

This sabotage is viewed as the proximate cause for President Wilson to denounce Germany’s supporters in America as “creatures” of “disloyalty and anarchy [who] must be crushed.” He pushed for and got the Sedition Act of 1918 passed. The Sedition Act extended the Espionage Act of 1917.

Whereas, pre-war Progressives {in the US] hoped to reform a nation of immigrants grounded in the Protestant ethic, Liberals objected to wartime conscription, civil liberties repression, Prohibition, and the first Red Scare. They saw middle class values as a continuation of WWI repressions.

“Like most sensible people,” liberal Harold Edmund Stearns said, “I regard Prohibition as an outrage and a direct invitation to revolution.”

Those supporting Communism and the Soviets used the Sacco and Vanzetti trial (1926-27) as a wedge to draw prominent liberals to their cause. Drawing on declassified Comintern documents, Stephen Koch, in his Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas Against the West, explains that Willi Münzenberg, the Comintern’s master propagandist, intended:

to create for the right-thinking non-Communist West… the belief that…to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and mankind by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.

Münzenberg thought the “the idea of America” had to be countered. Koch noted that Soviet sympathizers used events such as the trial:

to instill a reflexive loathing of the United States and its people, to undermine the myth of the Land of Opportunity, the United States would be shown as an almost insanely xenophobic place, murderously hostile to foreigners.

In 1928, H. G. Wells described his alternative in his book The Open Conspiracy: Blue Prints for a World Revolution (revised and republished as What Are We to Do with Our Lives?) where he states: “the [instinctive fellowship] of the highly competent” ruling class would subject the masses to “the great processes of social reconstruction.” and, through their rule, “escape from the distressful pettiness and mortality of the individual life.” He also wrote:

We no longer want that breeding swarm of hefty sweaty bodies, without which the former civilizations could not have endured, we want watchful and understanding guardians and drivers of complex delicate machines, which can be mishandled and brutalized and spoilt all too easily.

…In this light, American liberalism of the early twentieth century, as distinct from classical liberalism of the nineteenth century, was driven by hatred of the common man, his morals, and his liberty.

Reflecting on the impact of such “liberal” ideology, Kenneth Minogue wrote: Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology. We reviewed it in this blog. Here is a synopsis of Minogue’s thought on the outcome of implementing such philosophy in our society:

In Western societies, individuals follow customs or conduct projects of which others may dislike or disapprove and the result may be conflict.

However, Western society is predominantly peaceful in spite of potential (or actual) conflict because individuals master internalized rules of law and morality. Poverty, inequality, and disappointment are inevitable consequences of open participation in a risk based society even when it is free from iniquitous societal distortions (e.g., American slavery).

Ideologists say these consequences result from hidden structural flaws that can only be remedied through the destruction of the prevailing system. One must attain the perfection of social harmony. If material possessions cause envy, then all possessions must be jointly owned. Rather than insisting on moral decency to curb envy, ideologists will abolish ownership altogether.

This same approach, rooted in externals, is applied to all inequality and disappointment. Transcendent principles (e.g., morality) are not applicable to unruly minds. Once harmony is achieved there will be no need for the transcendent; all humanity will become one in thinking and affections.

Finally, Myron Magnet writes on how Tocqueville foresaw the “End of Democracy in America” in the 1830s. Magnet, speaking of current society says:

Today’s sovereign…forces men to act as well as suppresses [their] action…As Tocqueville observed, “It is the state that has undertaken virtually alone to give bread to the hungry, aid and shelter to the sick, and work to the idle.”

…And whatever traditional American mores defined as good and bad, moral and immoral, base and praiseworthy, the sovereign has redefined and redefined until all such ideas have lost their meaning. Is it any wonder that today’s Americans feel that they have no say in how they are governed—or that they don’t understand how that came about?

Such oppression is “less degrading” in democracies because, since the citizens elect the sovereign, “each citizen, hobbled and reduced to impotence though he may be, can still imagine that in obeying he is only submitting to himself.”

Moreover, democratic citizens love equality more than liberty, and the love of equality grows as equality itself expands. Don’t let him have or be more than me. Tocqueville despairingly concluded, “The only necessary condition for centralizing public power in a democratic society is to love equality or to make a show of loving it. Thus the science of despotism, can be reduced…to a single principle.”

By this last statement, Tocqueville anticipated the controlling idea of Orwell’s classic allegory, Animal Farm: “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

***

Progressivism used to stand for progress and truth. But, collectively, we’ve abandoned that paradigm for historical revision and nihilism. Perhaps we should “adjust,” as our leaders say, to a new normal: terrorism, crime, corruption, and complicity. Perhaps…

But, then I remember that the United States of America was founded not upon blood and soil as other nations were but on ideals summarized in our Declaration of Independence and Preamble of the Constitution.

In case you don’t recollect these ideals word for word, the Declaration of Independence says:

…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

And the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States of America says:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

***

If you profess Christ as Lord and Savior, why should you care about the direction this country is taking? The Prophet Jeremiah spoke to that question in his letter to all those whom King Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

…Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. Jeremiah 29:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

While He dwelt among us, the Lord Jesus Christ pressed home this lesson:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Matthew 5:43-44 (ESV)

And, while characterizing the whole of God’s law, He said:

The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:31 (ESV)

***

After all this, maybe you’re thinking: “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

I think that this election is about consolidating power of the unconstitutional administrative state and persecuting, either overtly or covertly, those opposed to its decisions versus a return to a constitutional republic of, by, and for the People of the United States of America, however tentative that return seems at the moment.

It’s your choice.

Declaration of Independence of the United States of America

Principles for Voting, R. C. Sproul, 27.5 minute MP3, 2012, Associated post, Declaration of Independence courtesy of the National Archives – Charters of Freedom

For your consideration:

All Israel Shall Be Saved

Much has been said recently about the reestablishment of Israel in the Middle East. Even Kim Riddlebarger’s A Case for Amillennialism, which we mentioned a few weeks ago, touches on the issue of national Israel. Some of what’s been said is divisive and some is not.

So let’s step back from the contemporary rhetoric and see what the Bible says. The Apostle Paul discussed Israel in his letter to the church in Rome. He described that nation’s relationship to God now that the gospel had been revealed. Paul made the following statement:

And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,

He will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;

Romans 11:26 English Standard Version (ESV)

What did he mean by ‘in this way?’ It seems that a lot of controversy surrounds this clause.

The exegete John Calvin said of the verse:

Many understand this of the Jewish people, as though Paul had said, that religion would again be restored among them as before [e.g., the sacrificial system].

But I extend the word Israel to all the people of God, according to this meaning:

“When the Gentiles shall come in, the Jews also shall return from their defection to the obedience of faith; and thus shall be completed the salvation of the whole Israel of God, which must be gathered from both; and yet in such a way that the Jews shall obtain the first place, being as it were the first-born in God’s family.”

Calvin didn’t make this assertion and others because of personal preference or animus, but based on the context of Paul’s statements in the chapter. Paul went on to say:

As regards the gospel, they [i.e., Israel] are enemies for your [i.e., the hearers of his letter] sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. Romans 11:28-32 (ESV)

To this, Calvin commented:

[Paul] shows that the worst thing in the Jews ought not to subject them to the contempt of the Gentiles. Their chief crime was unbelief: but Paul teaches us, that they were thus blinded for a time by God’s providence, that a way to the gospel might be made for the Gentiles;

Paul then intends here to teach two things — that there is nothing in any man why he should be preferred to others, apart from the mere favor of God; and that God in the dispensation of his grace, is under no restraint that he should not grant it to whom he pleases.

There is an emphasis in the word mercy; for it intimates that God is bound to none, and that he therefore saves all freely, for they are all equally lost.

…Paul simply means that both Jews and Gentiles do not otherwise obtain salvation than through the mercy of God, and thus he leaves to none any reason for complaint. It is indeed true that this mercy is without any difference offered to all, but everyone must seek it by faith.

And thus ‘in this way’: All Israel Shall Be Saved.

Valley of Jezreel

The view from Megiddo, northeast across the Jezreel Valley in Israel to Mount Tabor, 9 November 2005, by Joe Freeman, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic

The Fourth Revolution – The Nordic Future

In the fourth and last installment of our review and commentary on The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State by Micklethwait and Wooldridge, we examine the authors’ contention that Sweden and the other Nordic nations represent the future for the West’s reinvigoration.

Before and After

For most of the twentieth century, Sweden embraced the Fabian ideal for their society. Marquis Childs called their social experiment the “middle way,” one between capitalism and communism. In the nineteen sixties, Sweden moved left as they broadened the meaning of equality in their society. They applied more government and higher taxes to every problem.

Then it ended. Their politicians did what most world leaders know they ought to do but fail because they lack courage. Sweden reduced their public spending in proportion to their GDP. The government required itself to produce a fiscal surplus over the economic cycle. Swedish politicians reinvented the state while reducing its size. They gave their nation’s pension system a sound foundation, they adopted education vouchers, and revamped their health care system.

Sweden focused on reducing waiting times for hospital procedures and on speeding patients through their stays, which also reduced the frequency of hospital communicated diseases. They published data such as operation success rates in health registries for patients and taxpayers to evaluate. And they charged minor fees similar to those that Lee Kuan Yew initiated in Singapore to discourage healthcare system abuse through elective services overconsumption. Swedish health care is now one of the most efficient in the world. Swedes live longer than most in the Western hemisphere and their health costs have decreased too.

Other Nordic countries have improved to a more limited extent. Yet, all four have triple A credit ratings and debt loads below the Eurozone mean. Their economic experiments seem successful. Indices show that they have superior social inclusion, competitiveness, and well-being.

And they’ve done this by serving the individual, employing fiscal responsibility, promoting choice, and encouraging competition. They’ve eschewed state expansion, pump priming, paternalism, and centralized planning. The Nordic countries have extended the market into the state instead of the opposite.

From There to Here

The Nordic countries show what is possible. They had to change because they ran out of money and continued to change because they found they could provide a better state for their citizens.

In 1991, Sweden plunged into their “black of night crisis.” The banking system seized up, foreign investors abandoned their confidence in the third way, and mortgage rates peaked briefly at 500 percent.

In the early 1980s, the people of Denmark faced a “potato crisis.” It was called this because they felt that potatoes might be all they’d be able to afford for their subsistence. Not only was there a cash shortage but the industries which financially supported government programs were strapped.

Now, countries in the West find themselves at or near the same crises. Western states have promised their peoples benefits beyond their ability to provide. The Nordics prove that the state can be brought under control and can be improved for the betterment of their peoples’ future.

But Big Government

History over the last two centuries seems to show that governments grow larger as they accumulate power and control. The Nordic countries provide a counterfactual: government can be contained while its performance and efficiency increases.

The authors pose the question: “How far can you take [the Nordic experiment]?” They argue that neither diminishing productivity returns in the service and government sectors [Baumol’s disease] nor society’s accelerated aging can prevent success. They claim technology is a solution to both problems.

Baumol stated that systems which boost manufacturing productivity are not applicable to the service sector (of which government is a part). The authors suggest that his disease is simply technological lag. As an example, educational efficiency once depended on increasing class sizes.

Now, with the internet, students with drive and grit can access materials from world-class educators. This sort of teaching is even extending into formal classrooms. Accredited degrees are increasingly available online. As a result, universities are having to reconsider the wisdom of administrative bloat and building monuments.

Technology is delayering management and making workers more productive, disseminating health care and school performance data so citizens can make informed choices, and, increasingly, bypassing government by putting power in citizens’ hands.

Law and order, a very labor intensive government function, is also an example. Instead of harsh sentences, increased warehousing, or even a decreasing cohort of young men, the authors maintain that crime prevention is what led to a decrease in crime worldwide starting in the mid 1990s (but varying across the globe). And this decrease has most to do with technology (e.g., CompStat, increased video surveillance, monitored alarms, etc.). Although community policing (directed by CompStat), a hands on solution, is also necessary.

Technology is even reducing costs in the military. By replacing soldiers, sailors, marines, coast guard and air men with automated hardware and software systems, lifecycle costs such as salaries, healthcare, and pensions are decreased. Operations, maintenance, and personnel costs are an overwhelming proportion of total cost of military systems when compared with initial development and procurement costs.

Technology, in the authors’ view, is taking out costs while increasing efficiency in many, if not all, public sector activities.

But Greying Demography

The authors’ ask: “won’t any gains from treating Baumol’s disease be wiped out by demography?” They note that the Nordics have changed the basis for their retirement systems from totally defined benefits to partially defined contributions. Swedes put some of their pension money into private plans. The government indexes the retirement age to life expectancy and decreases pensions during economic declines.

Delaying retirement increases worker payments into the system, reduces outlays, and enhances economic productivity of older workers through entrepreneurial activity and skills transfer. And Sweden made these improvements with cross party consensus: the “people’s home” survives only if finances are handled competently.

A Call to Action

There are many ways to improve the state that increase benefits to citizens while decreasing the cost of (and frustration with) government. While the Left argues cutting government will hurt the poor and the Right cries that expanded welfare will collapse the economy, the authors assert that it’s not a zero sum proposition.

Nineteenth century Victorian liberals went after “Old Corruption” in its various forms. Subsidies for the wealthy and middle classes at the expense of the poor are easy to correct via means testing, flat taxes, and repealing funds for government agencies that provide unfair aid where it is not needed (e.g., if I own suitable land that I have no intention of cultivating, should I be paid for not growing tomatoes or some other crop?). It only takes the will to do it.

Rather than take away from the poor, remedying this one situation actually helps the poor. Entitlement programs on which they depend will not run out if we fix who pays in, for how long, up to how much, and who gets to collect and when. There are many other substantive instances of waste, fraud, and abuse that we’re spending trillions on (i.e., not just shrimp on treadmill studies). Fixing these will make the country run more efficiently, benefit those who really need benefits, and increase citizens confidence in government.

Just as Sweden updated their “middle way,” using capitalist competition to efficiently provide socialist services successfully, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western states can shrink government, improve their economies, and restore confidence in Democracy (or the Republic, in our case) while providing the safety nets they’ve promised to those who need them for as long as they need them.

Halfhearted efforts rooted in selective interests just won’t do. We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them.

RSA Replay: The Fourth Revolution

PreCrime in America

For all the tragedy and folderol in politics, one thing for which I consistently credit the left is advocating civil rights. Here’s just the latest example from someone who went to Bernhardt’s high school. I may not agree with the entire speech but here’s an excerpt anyone interested in individualized and equal justice can appreciate:

Here in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, legislators have introduced the concept of “risk assessments” that seek to assign a probability to an individual’s likelihood of committing future crimes and, based on those risk assessments, make sentencing determinations. Although these measures were crafted with the best of intentions, I am concerned that they may inadvertently undermine our efforts to ensure individualized and equal justice…

Criminal sentences must be based on the facts, the law, the actual crimes committed, the circumstances surrounding each individual case, and the defendant’s history of criminal conduct. They should not be based on unchangeable factors that a person cannot control, or on the possibility of a future crime that has not taken place. Equal justice can only mean individualized justice, with charges, convictions, and sentences befitting the conduct of each defendant and the particular crime he or she commits…

Of course, we all know about PreCrime from the movie: Minority Report, which was loosely adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short story: The Minority Report.

Bernhardt will continue his review and commentary of Professor Fred Siegel’s book: The Revolt Against the Masses in the weeks to come.