Some musings on past, present, and future

I’m going to wax a bit philosophical here.

Folk who know me (most here, I would presume) know that I lean very heavily “pro-liberty” if not outright libertarian.

OTOH, I part company with many Libertarians (the capitalization is no accident) in that I believe that some government, a “state” if you will, with some modest power is necessary for the preservation of liberty. “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men….”

Consider this example:  being able to get up on your roof with a rifle to drive off rampaging hordes of barbarians (whether Avars, Huns, Viking raiders, or rioters) is liberty.  Having to spend all your time on your roof because the barbarian hordes are endemic to your situation, is not.

So the barbarians have to be driven off or kept suppressed, which requires organization with the sanction to use force (since the barbarians, pretty much by definition, aren’t going to respond to sweet reason.  If they did, they wouldn’t be barbarians).  And once you have an organized body with the sanction to use force, there you have government.

Too little government, and your “freedom” is spent fighting off the barbarians piecemeal.  Government itself is a restriction on freedom, also just about by definition.

So there must, then, exist some level of government, some small level, where liberty is maximized, where each individual has the most freedom.

The folk who founded the US appear to have been attempting to find that level.  And perhaps, at the first, they were pretty close to it–or would have been if they could have gotten rid of chattel slavery (which wasn’t politically achievable at that time and the attempt would probably have destroyed the country before it ever got started).

I submit, however, that the level of government that leads to the greatest freedom (which may vary depending on a number of factors) is always unstable–in fact, I wonder if it’s not the least stable form of government–and will immediately begin to move in the direction of either anarchy or totalitarianism (usually, if history is any guide, toward totalitarianism).  The movement may be gradual.  Various “checks and balances” may slow the motion.  But they cannot halt it.

I do wonder if perhaps the checks and balances in the original United States Constitution were not too successful in slowing the move toward totalitarianism.  The Founders did appear to expect a revolution every couple of generations and they got one in the American Civil War, but, although that did lead to an end to chattel slavery I’m not sure that it was a net win for Liberty in the long run with the increase in Federal power that can be traced directly to it.  But the increase was slow enough, before and since, that we, as a people, largely got out of the habit of revolution.  While the old saw about boiling a frog is not true, it remains a useful metaphor and, I think may describe what has happened to the US.  In this case, by the time the water got hot enough to start being a serious problem we had had multiple generations growing up with “There ought to be a law” and “goodies that other people pay for” so that even if a revolution did happen it would just be a faster route toward totalitarianism.

This is why I have been watching the Trump administration with bated breath.  Some people pay more attention to the rhetoric, to the Tweets.  To the protests. (Really?  Trump being a new Hitler?  I’ve addressed that already and the claims have just drifted more from reality since.) I, instead, have looked to the little things on the side.  The appointment of judges, not just Goresuch, but a number of other federal judges, that are closer to Constitutional literalists than folk have been wont to appoint for some time.  An executive order requiring to federal regulations to be repealed to be able to pass one new one.  Tax reform that will actually reduce the tax burden of the majority of taxpayers. (Yes, people will tell you otherwise.  They are lying to you.)

It’s not all roses, of course.  We still have doubling down on the War on Drugs (the recent avenue is restricting people in pain from getting effective relief because a loosely familially related drug in the illegal drug trade is causing an “opiod crisis”).  We still have the endorsement of “civil asset forfeiture” (depriving people of property without due process). Hack.  Spit.  But on balance, the trend does seem to be toward the better.

I’m far from certain that the trends will continue.  The “Reagan Revolution” didn’t.  The Gingrich Revolution didn’t.  In both cases, there was a good start, some “rah rah” from the small government types, and then they passed.  Washington returned to business as usual, and the succeeding administrations and Congresses swallowed up whatever had started in those years without a trace.  The seven withered cows swallowed up the fat cows and remained withered.

I wouldn’t say we’re doomed.  But I wouldn’t say we’re saved either.  I remain…watchful.


3 thoughts on “Some musings on past, present, and future”

  1. It seems to me that the majority of the failure of the Gingritch Revolution (I can’t remember details about the Reagan Administration and aftermath, not because I was too young, but because I was politically deaf), is that too many people looked at the results and declared it a failure because it didn’t do everything at once. A problem we have had with support at other times as well. Basically, too many don’t believe in reversing a little at a time, and insist that if we don’t get it all NOW, it’s a failure.

    1. Well, Bush I basically pissed away the Reagan Revolution setting the stage for Clinton. and then it was gone. What you’re describing about the failure of the Gingrich Revolution is a large part of what causes my trepidation now. That’s an endemic problem. That combined with how so many people may mouth the words of liberty but when it comes right down to it “There Ought to be a Law” and “Goodies that Other People Pay for” is what they really want.

      As Milton Friedmann said we don’t need to elect the right people to fix things. The way we fix things is to create a climate where it’s politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things. The change has to come from the people, not the politicians. I remain cautiously hopeful that a lot of people actually approve of the thing Trump has done that I mentioned above. (Less hopeful since CAF still has entirely too much support.) I’m just not particularly sanguine that enough people support those things to create the necessary climate.

  2. This was a really good point made about level of gov’t:
    “some level of government, some small level, where liberty is maximized,”

    The problem is that everybody wants a “Free Market” for their hat as consumer, but wants some form of gov’t goody when they wear their producer hat. And even tho there’s no free lunch — it’s clear a LOT of people get a LOT of lunches that somebody else pays for.

    I believe that about 10% tax spent by the national gov’t would be enough, if it was combined with required retirement savings accounts, required health insurance, and educational voucher loans; with some local taxes for local gov’t issues of roads and local justice.

    However, if we imagine we are at the Optimal level of maximum liberty, there will be lots of public pressure to move towards more security. This constant desire for more security, and predictability, and controllability, seems part of what you, too, have been seeing.

    I’m hoping to get more gov’t workers replaced with robots, including pure software, since so much of gov’t work is filling out forms. Tho “Brazil” is not my goal, either…

    Tiny typo “to” should be “two” … An executive order requiring to federal regulations

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