August 03, 2011

Imagine there's no country

(Just a note: it occurs to me that John Lennon and George Gershwin, who both died too young, at about the same age though in different ways, were the two incandescent musical geniuses of their respective generations. John Lennon, who could not be imitated, fused rock music with the lyrical sensibility of poetry and the art song; and Gershwin, similarly inimitable, took the American standard to an entirely different level with the influence of jazz, Yiddish folk themes and classical music.)

As I tool around the fair environs of this pretty nice county where I live, sometimes on foot, or in a car, or even on a bike, I sometimes think to myself: my actual interface with government, the parts I really rely on, are very local. For example, we have a very good fire department here, because the conditions demand it. Lots of trees, lots of dried-out tinder every fall (we're entering fire season now and the signs are everywhere - "Get Ready! - meaning, prune back the overgrowth from around the house, etc.). I live in an unincorporated area so there's no city council and no municipal police, but we're covered by the Sheriff's Department. The nearest emergency room is within two miles from where I sit. The only federal facility I can think of, that I interact with regularly, is the U.S. Post Office. I practice law at the state court level, organized by county. These are the government features that seem to matter most to my individual well-being.

Which is to say, all this crap that goes on in Washington, that I write about, talk about, blog about, actually has very little to do with my everyday life. More than anything, it's a huge, complicated, irritating annoyance. It's such a mess that it's virtually incomprehensible. The semi-competent grifters in Washington, D.C., who went there out of ambition or because they could never find work in the private sector that paid nearly as much, have run the country's finances into the ground so that we're now a zombie country, more than just technically bankrupt - we're the real thing. When the tax revenue pays for slightly more than half the "services" you're trying to provide, you're bust-o - you just haven't admitted it yet.

All of these matters are intellectually diverting, of course, something to talk about, argue about. In a mostly pointless way. Americans have to "interface" with the federal government mainly when they fill out a 1040, and make their contribution to the "insurance company with an army" that is the United States of America. Although the federal government actually seems to have very little to do with one's day-to-day life, they're the big tax hogs. They want most of the money, even if to a large extent we have overlapping and duplicative levels of government - local, county, state, layered beneath the federal behemoth, all of which have to be paid for.

The sheer size of the United States produces a feeling of alienation and powerlessness in the individual taxpayer and citizen. Maybe we hang in there because we want, at the end of all of it, those goodies we've been paying for all those years - the "Entitlements." Social Security and Medicare.

Out of curiosity, I looked up the U.S. population in the year Social Security was enacted, 1935. It was 127 million people. The official census says we now have 307 million, so FDR introduced a program, when unemployment was at 20%, in the very depths of the Depression, to a population that was about 41% of its current size. In other words, the entire population of the United States was about three times larger than California's current population.(Detroit beat the Cubs in the World Series that year, 4-2, and Fred Perry won at Wimbledon. Minnesota was the NCAA champ in football.) The total federal budget was $6.4 billion. Life expectancy (from birth) was 61.7 for both sexes combined. A male reaching the age of 60 could expect to live another 14 years.

In 1965, when the Great Society brought us Medicare, the U.S. had a population of 194 million (the Dodgers took the Twins in the Series, 4-3, and UCLA beat Michigan, 91-80, for the NCAA b-ball championship. Roy Emerson won at Wimbledon.) Federal spending was $118 billion and the national debt was $322 billion (and was about to get much worse because of the Vietnam War). Life expectancy was 70 years; a male achieving the age of 60 could expect to live another 16 years (it's about 20 years today).

If James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Dmitry Orlov, Guy McPherson (that's his website over to the right, "Nature Bats Last") and others are correct, that imminent energy shortages are going to force a "re-localization" of commerce and life in general, it's probably good to keep such basic statistics in mind. The local government entities that we rely upon stand a much better chance of weathering the storms of energy constraints, and of national insolvency, than the huge, bloated, militarized, globalist federal government, for which size, distance and "reach" (the ability to "project power") are everything, its life blood, perhaps the only justification for its existence (if that's a justification). The feds dangle those pretty baubles of the "entitlements" in front of a dazed and confused populace in order to keep them in the game, along with the paternal protection of the huge military establishment keeping us safe from all those terrible al-Qaeda monsters who are out there somewhere, "plotting" even as we sit here nervously wondering why they've waited a decade to hit us again. (We're spending trillions to protect ourselves here! For God's sake, give us something to work with!)

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