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:

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

No Rest

We are now planning Mandated Memoranda Publishing’s next novel: Who Shall Be God. We have characters, certain scenes, and even a cover image in mind already. We’re investigating background materials for the theme of the novel. Since it deals with political conflict reflected through two families, we’re reading The Fourth Revolution by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge and Alien Powers by Kenneth Minogue. However, we always have a biblical theme in mind too.

The scripture: Isaiah 57 jumped out at us based on our reading of The Art of Dramatic Writing by L. Egri. Here are the pertinent parts:

The righteous man perishes,

    and no one lays it to heart;

devout men are taken away,

    while no one understands.

For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;

    he enters into peace;

they rest in their beds

    who walk in their uprightness.

Isaiah 57:1-2 English Standard Version (ESV)

But the wicked are like the tossing sea;

    for it cannot be quiet,

    and its waters toss up mire and dirt.

There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Isaiah 57:20-21 (ESV)

We commonly know the last verse (repeated elsewhere in Isaiah 48:22, 57:20, 57:21) as the phrase:

“No rest for the wicked [or weary]”.

As we always do, let’s consult Calvin to get his take on Isaiah’s verses:

The righteous man hath perished…And no man layeth it to heart. …The Lord holds out as a mirror this event of his providence, more remarkable than all others, that he takes away good and worthy men out of this life, when he determines to chastise his people severely. But no man considers it, or reflects that it is a token of approaching destruction, that God gathers them, and places them in safety from being distressed by prevailing afflictions.

…The general meaning is, that wicked men grievously deceive themselves by supposing that there is no greater happiness than to have life continued to a great age, and by thus pluming themselves on their superiority to the servants of God, who die early. Being attached to the world, they likewise harden themselves by this pretense that, by nothing else than a manifestation of God’s favor towards them, while others die, they continue to be safe and sound…

Men of mercy are gathered. …But, since God, in many passages of Scripture, represents gentleness and kindness as a distinguishing mark of his children, this may be, as I have said, a definition of true righteousness.

Hence we see that the Lord, at that time, gathered many good men, whose death portended some dreadful calamity, and yet that the Jews [the Prophet’s proximate audience] paid no regard to such forewarnings, and even proceeded to more daring lengths of wickedness; for they thought that all went well with them, when they were the survivors of many excellent men.

Peace shall come. The Prophet describes what shall be the condition of believers in death; for the wicked, who think that there is no life but the present, imagine that good men have perished; because in death they see nothing but ruin. For this reason he says that “Peace shall come,” which is more desirable than a thousand lives full of trouble; as if he compared them to discharged soldiers, who are and allowed to enjoy case and quietness.

They shall rest in their beds. He adds the metaphor of sleep, in order to show that they shall be absolutely free from all the uneasiness of cares, just as if they were safely pleasantly asleep “on their beds.”

Whosoever walketh before him. …as if he had said, “Whosoever walketh before God shall enjoy peace.” Thus, when righteous men die, and their various labors are finished, and their course is ended, they are called to peace and repose. They “rest in their beds,” because they do not yet enjoy perfect blessedness and glory; but they wail; for the last day of the resurrection, when everything shall be perfectly restored; and that, I think, is what Isaiah meant.

By these comments, Calvin seems to echo Revelation 18:4.

Then I heard another voice from heaven saying,

“Come out of her, my people,

lest you take part in her sins,

lest you share in her plagues;”

Revelation 18:4 (ESV)

As for Isaiah’s second couplet, Calvin says:

But the wicked. …But because the reprobate make false pretensions to the name of God, and vainly glory in it, the Prophet shows that there is no reason why they should flatter themselves, or advance any claim, on the ground of this promise, since they can have no share in this peace. Nor will it avail them anything, that God, having compassion upon his people, receives them into favor, and commands peace to be proclaimed to them.

As the troubled sea. That metaphor of “the sea” is elegant and very well fitted to describe the uneasiness of the wicked; for of itself “the sea is troubled.” …Most appropriately, therefore, has the Prophet compared them to a stormy and troubled sea. Whoever then wishes to avoid these alarms and this frightful agony of heart, let him not reject that peace which the Lord offers to him. There can be no middle course between them; for, if you do not lay aside sinful desires and accept of this peace, you must unavoidably be miserably distressed and tormented.

There is no peace to the wicked. He confirms the preceding statement, namely, that in vain shall the reprobate endeavor to seek peace, for everywhere they will meet with war. It is God who threatens war, and therefore there can be no hope of “peace.” Wicked men would indeed wish to enjoy peace, and ardently long for it; for there is nothing which they more eagerly desire than to be at ease, and to lull their consciences, that they may freely take their pleasures and indulge in their vices.

They drive away all thoughts about the judgment of God, and endeavor to stupefy themselves and to repose in indolence, and think that these are the best ways and methods of obtaining peace. But they never shall enjoy it; for, until men have been reconciled to God, conscience will never cease to annoy and carry on war with them.

Saith my God. Thus he represents God as the only author of peace, that he may, by this dreadful threatening, tear from the Jews their dearest pleasures; and calls him “his God,” in opposition to the vain boasting of those who falsely boasted of his name; for they cannot acknowledge God, so long as they reject his Prophet and his doctrine. For this reason the Prophet boldly declares that he has received a command from God to declare perpetual war against them.

There is no rest for the wicked; no rest now or in eternity. Turn away from evil ways and do good.

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder

Triumph of Death, 1562, Pieter Breughel the Elder (1526/1530–1569), Museo del Prado, Madrid, Public Domain