July 04, 2011

When in the course of human events

I note with satisfaction that Governor Rick Perry of Texas has recently made the rounds in California, shakin' hands, back-slappin', grinnin', and no doubt testin' the waters for a possible GOP primary run at the Presidency. He met with professional fund raisers and party bigwigs. This is gratifying indeed. In part my satisfaction has to do with a sentimental attachment to Governor Rick's lengthy citation, some years back, of a Waldenswimmer post in which I defended Perry from scurrilous, smarmy attacks from Keith Olbermann concerning Perry's statements about secession from the union by Texas. Since I favor Texas's departure from the United States on any terms whatsoever, I was quick to point out that Rick had it just about right, that Texas (along with other populous states such as California and New York) actually has a negative ROI (return on investment) when measured in terms of transfer payments received from the federal government versus taxes paid in. Olbermann, who had not done his homework, implied that Texas was little more than a ward of Washington, D.C., and this was way, way off.

Indeed, there has been a lot of talk, and some action, over the last decade or so not only about secession but so-called "Tenth Amendment Resolutions" in the several states, Texas prominent among them. The Tenth Amendment, part of the original Bill of Rights, provides:

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The Tenth was ratified in 1791 and has been part of the Charter from the beginning, although sometimes you wouldn't know it. I was reflecting on this situation recently as the patriotic sap rose in my American veins, as it often does around July 4. I would venture to say that the Declaration of Independence is the single greatest political manifesto ever written by human beings, and it's interesting that its chief drafter, Thomas Jefferson, is also credited with saying that "that government is best which governs least," and that if he had to choose between "newspapers without government, or government without newspapers," he would gladly choose the former over the latter. Which is to say, Jefferson was very suspicious of centralized power, and it's not hard to imagine that he would be horrified by the bloated, overfed monster his little democratic baby had become over the 235 years since his magnificent document was read out.

The only kind of "revolution" I can imagine in our day and age is a soft devolution in which the centralized form of American governance gives way to a return to the original federalist scheme idealized in the Tenth Amendment. The main opposition to such a movement, paradoxically enough, would probably come from liberals, because the ideas behind "states' rights" always seem to conjure up memories of George Wallace and Lester Maddox, recalcitrant Southerners who wanted to perpetuate segregation and Jim Crow laws under the guise of state "independence." This is what gave "states' rights" a bad name and, conversely, made liberalism and big Washington government seem virtuous. Unconsciously, us here liberal folk probably all carry this bias around within us.

Big centralized governments, however, also deliver other things, such as 1984, Stalinist bureaucracies, the Third Reich, central planning of economies (viz., the Federal Reserve), militarized foreign policies, National Surveillance States, spying on one's own citizens, illegal searches and seizures by the government, breakdowns caused by overly-complex systems, massive wastes of money, and a vast sense of alienation of individual citizens from the workings of the government which controls their lives. We sometimes forget that the United States, as the third most populous country on Earth, is the only First World nation trying to pull off a functioning democracy under conditions of such size and complexity.

I was talking about such things the other day in the context of the Social Security funding crisis. As the 78 million Baby Boomers keep retiring, or trying to, this problem is simply going to get worse and worse. Medicare funding problems are already in a state of profound breakdown. It's weird, however, to hear any member of Congress complain about the high cost of Social Security, because as I've said on other occasions, the best way to conceive of the "Social Security Trust Fund" is as a crime scene. In order to continue funding military adventures the world over, and to over-capitalize the armed forces, Congress has since the early 1980's looted the excess payments into Social Security to the tune of $2.5 trillion, replacing real tax revenues with a pile of worthless IOU's payable by an insolvent central government, one that is so far underwater that it now runs a "budget" based on 42% borrowed money. If such criminality occurred at the local level, say in the legislature of New Jersey, for example, one can imagine that the legislators responsible would be rewarded with something other than reelection. All of these thieving solons would be treated as the frauds and embezzlers they actually are, representatives who stole money which they knew, to an immoral certainty, could not possibly be paid back.

American Representatives and Senators get away with such thievery (and escape with their lives) simply because there is no personal responsibility attached to being a member of such an amorphous, mutating, undefined, unresponsive body as the modern American Congress. If I, a California voter, complain about the embezzlement of Social Security money, how do I redress it? Isn't it true that the blame can be equally laid on representatives from Ohio, Utah, and Oklahoma, people I never had a chance to vote against because of the federal system?

You can multiply examples of this taxation without representation and powerlessness to change the policies by which your life is governed. It's built into the system of overly-centralized government, which never, in recorded history, has worked very well for very long. If you take the five states which supply the federal government with 40% of its revenue (California, Texas, New York, Illinois and Florida), you can imagine that if these states (all with a negative ROI on federal taxes paid) were simply allowed to retain such taxes (FICA and income), that each could devise a much better system of retirement security and health care than the federal government can provide using a one-size-fits-all approach. Indeed, if there were 50 such separate systems, one would imagine that out of that very diversity that far better ideas would emerge about how to provide pensions and health care to aging citizens.

Anyway, these are huge subjects. We obviously need a new Constitutional Convention to rework all the things that aren't working, and to return the lion's share of power to the local level, where the citizenry can control and keep an eye on it. We can repeal the 16th Amendment (income tax by the federal government) while we're at it, since the present system, in which the top 10% of all income earners pay substantially more than half of all income taxes, has simply gotten stupid beyond words. Hey, Grover Norquist, if you want to starve the beast, then starve the frickin' beast and get serious about it. Let's leave the federal government with enough money to "provide for the common defense," as the Constitution says, but not to start wars every other week on a President's whim. Let diversity and experimentation from state to state reign free. We have many states with populations larger than European countries, and the European stats seem to thrive on their compact and manageable size (they seemed to get into trouble when they began emulating the United States with its ideas of "union" and centralized banking. Don't copy us, folks; we have no idea what we're doing).

The federal government can run the bankruptcy courts, patrol the maritime coasts, secure the borders and deal with immigration (for the first time, perhaps?), and defend the country as a whole against attack, just like the Constitution says. For everything else, it can get the hell out of the way, and stop, as Tom said, its long train of abuses and usurpations...

1 comment:

  1. Machipongo John10:51 AM

    Sir, have you lost your marbles? States' rights acquired its bad name ca. 1861, and interestingly, the same states that invoked the idea then are invoking it now. Why do you think that states with bizarre governments like South Carolina or Texas are likely to come up with good ideas to do anything? And finally, let me point out that the Constitution also says government should "promote the general welfare" and "secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity". Do you actually think that the current Texas state government is in a position to do either of those things?