God and Country

From the title, you might think this post is entirely about politics. It could have been, but instead, we examine human responsibility in light of God’s sovereign providence. Though, by the end of this post, you might concede that the principles we will discover are applicable to today’s political process and the restoration of our Republic.

The scripture that starkly portrays this seeming dichotomy between God and Man is found in the second book of Samuel the prophet (sometimes referred to as Two Samuel.) Preparing to battle the Ammonites and Syrians, Joab, commander of David’s armies, exhorts Abishai, his brother, to:

Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him.” 2 Samuel 10:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

John Calvin discussed this verse in The Institutes of the Christian Religion. As prelude, he sets out the following principles for one who would know and do God’s will. First God’s provision for us often comes through human hands:

…He [or she] will revere and extol God as the principal author [of the blessings which he receives], but will also honor men as his ministers, and perceive…that by the will of God he is under obligation to those, by whose hand God has been pleased to show him kindness.

The one who fears God will:

Believe that [any loss sustained through negligence or imprudence] was the Lord’s will it should so be, but, at the same time, he will impute it to himself.

Furthermore:

…In the case of theft or murder, fraud and preconceived malice, […he] will distinctly recognize the justice of God, and the iniquity of man, as each is separately manifested.

Therefore, this one:

…Will not…be remiss in taking measures, or slow in employing the help of those whom he sees possessed of the means of assisting him. …As hands offered him by the Lord, he will avail himself of [all the aids which the creatures can lend him] as the legitimate instruments of Divine Providence.

Yet, undeterred by uncertainty or overconfidence:

And as he is uncertain what the result of any business in which he engages is to be (save that he knows, that in all things the Lord will provide for his good), he will zealously aim at what he deems for the best, so far as his abilities enable him.

However, his confidence in external aid will not be such that the presence of it will make him feel secure, the absence of it fill him with dismay, as if he were destitute.

Calvin, having laid out these principles, says:

Thus Joab, while he acknowledges that the issue of the battle is entirely in the hand of God, does not therefore become inactive, but strenuously proceeds with what belongs to his proper calling, “Be of good courage,” says he, “and let us play the men for our people, and for the cities of our God; and the Lord do that which seems him good,” (2 Sam. 10:12).

The same conviction keeping us free from rashness and false confidence, will stimulate us to constant prayer, while at the same time filling our minds with good hope, it will enable us to feel secure, and bid defiance to all the dangers by which we are surrounded.

***

Some voters this election season have been thinking:

“…[I have] nothing to lose,” but most of us have something to lose.”

I feel we’re in danger of throwing our Republic to the wind. Another commentator has said:

Now we are at the start of an electoral season that Americans say is of the utmost importance even as they make the most flippant choice of front-runners…

Sober up, America. We’re a republic only for as long as we can keep it.

You might say, “we trust in God; He will bring about a good result.” But, I urge us to trust “the Lord to do what seems good to Him” and be courageous for our people: pray, vote, donate, and campaign.

Speaker Ryan at National Prayer Breakfast: ‘Prayer Should Always Come First,’ Speaker Paul Ryan, Published Feb 4, 2016

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

It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More – Review and Commentary — Bernhardt Writer

This week, I’d like to recommend Myron Magnet’s book review: ‘It’s Not Your Founding Fathers’ Republic Any More.’ According to Magnet we abandoned the original intent of the U.S. Constitution long ago. The books he reviews suggest many remedies including automatic sunsetting of laws and regulations in the U.S. Code (USC) and Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), respectively.

Magnet 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.

Signing the U.S. Constitution

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States, Howard Chandler Christy (January 10, 1873 – March 3, 1952), Public Domain in the US

Magnet states that the Founders original intent was to limit governmental authority through the division and limited enumeration of powers. Only nineteen federal government powers were enumerated. Principle among these were: raising taxes, coining money, keeping the country safe, building post offices and post roads, regulating the armed forces, and making laws for carrying out limited governmental responsibilities. All other powers devolved to the states or the people.

Flawed through compromise (in the bad sense), the Constitution was amended from 1865 and 1870 via the Thirteenth Amendment which freed the slaves, the Fourteenth assuring black Americans citizenship and civil rights, and the Fifteenth that prohibited states from denying black citizens the right to vote.

However, a series of Supreme Court decisions undid the power of those amendments won through Civil War bloodshed. In 1873, the Supreme Court subverted the Fourteenth Amendment through the Slaughter-House Cases, stating that the amendment did not include the rights: to own property; to court access; to equal taxation; to vote; to live, work, and travel where you want; and to have the protection of the Bill of Rights against state and federal violation. The Court held the amendment only granted the right to travel on interstate waterways and to petition the federal government for redress of grievances

In 1876, the Supreme Court, in their United States v. Cruikshank decision, threw out a federal indictment of Louisiana murderers for conspiracy to deprive more than 100 freedmen of their constitutional rights, on the grounds that the killers had violated no federal rights that extended to the states, citing the Slaughter-House Cases. This decision led Southern Democrats to enact Jim Crow laws. Cruikshank smoothed the way for Plessy v. Ferguson, in 1896, which enabled Southern states to segregate transportation and schools and outlaw interracial marriage.

In 1908, Wilson wrote:

No doubt a great deal of nonsense has been talked about the inalienable rights of the individual, and a great deal that was mere vague sentiment and pleasing speculation has been put forward as fundamental principle…Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and practice…The chief instrumentality by which the law of the Constitution has been extended to cover the facts of national development has of course been judicial interpretations—the decisions of courts. The process of formal amendment of the Constitution was made so difficult by the…Constitution itself that it has seldom been feasible to use it; and the difficulty of formal amendment has undoubtedly made the courts more liberal, not to say more lax, in their interpretation than they would otherwise have been.

Wilson went on to advocate that the judicial system adapt the Constitution to the times through their decisions. In other words, the courts were to “make the law for their own day.”

Although the Supreme Court deflected attempts to control the national economy, executive pressure during the New Deal swayed the Court’s 1942 Wickard v. Filburn decision. Filburn, a dairy farmer, was fined for not limiting his wheat crop in accordance with the Agricultural Adjustment Act. The act was meant to curb a perceived deflationary overproduction crisis (held, at the time, to be a cause of the Depression). Congress established the act based on the Interstate Commerce Clause. The act established a crop quota system by state. These quotas were then allocated to individual farms by the states. Filburn used his wheat locally to feed his cows. But the Court decided that his wheat competed with wheat in commerce (he could have purchased it instead of growing it) so, therefore, it was subject to the Commerce clause and the act’s quotas.

In the same period, FDR noted, “The practice of creating independent regulatory commissions, who perform administrative work in addition to judicial work, threatens to develop a ‘fourth branch’ of Government for which there is no sanction in the Constitution.” He was responsible for numerous legislative Acts and their associated bureaucratic agencies.

So much for the intent of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address:

FOUR SCORE AND SEVEN YEARS AGO OUR FATHERS BROUGHT FORTH ON THIS CONTINENT A NEW NATION CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY AND DEDICATED TO THE PROPOSITION THAT ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL…

IT IS RATHER FOR US TO BE HERE DEDICATED TO THE GREAT TASK REMAINING BEFORE US

THAT FROM THESE HONORED DEAD WE TAKE INCREASED DEVOTION TO THAT CAUSE FOR WHICH THEY GAVE THE LAST FULL MEASURE OF DEVOTION

THAT WE HERE HIGHLY RESOLVE THAT THESE DEAD SHALL NOT HAVE DIED IN VAIN

THAT THIS NATION UNDER GOD SHALL HAVE A NEW BIRTH OF FREEDOM~AND

THAT GOVERNMENT OF THE PEOPLE BY THE PEOPLE FOR THE PEOPLE SHALL NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH

I must admit, with everything going on lately, I became overwhelmed. I’m sure it’s happened to you too. Please forgive the hiatus. We’ll cover two special topics from Professor Siegel’s book Revolt Against the Masses in the future.