America: Past, Present, and Future

This post (promised here) is my assessment of the past 50 years of life in America. I have opted for brevity instead of essaying a detailed analysis of cultural, political, and economic changes of the past 50 years. There is, after all, nothing fundamentally unique about the events of the past 50 years, which — in most respects — merely extend and amplify trends that began earlier.

The present condition of America owes much, for example, to the struggle between the proponents of limited government and the proponents of statism — a struggle that began in earnest with the onset of the “progressive” movement in the latter part of the 19th century. The Great Depression and World War II solidified the devotion of most Americans — and especially over-educated elites — to the cult of the state. Relief from the privations of the Great Depression, when it finally came after World War II, fostered the cult of the child and financed the growth of institutions whose denizens (politicians, bureaucrats, professors, and purveyors of entertainment) grew increasingly detached from the vicissitudes of daily life and increasingly attached to utopian schemes for the betterment of the unwashed masses from who they eagerly distance themselves.

I could go on (and on) in that vein, but I promised to be brief, and I shall be. The America of the past 50 years was shaped largely by the following, interwoven trends:

  • state-sponsored and state-imposed abandonment of personal responsibility (with special dispensations for criminals, incompetents, and “protected” groups, accompanied by penalties for private initiative and success)
  • usurpation and negation of private social and economic arrangements by the state (from charity to marriage, and much in between, most notably free markets)
  • state sponsorship of socially and economically subversive institutions, and the related growth of the “technocratic” class (unions, “educators,” and bureaucracies, for a start)
  • technocratic control of the state, in the service of “progressivism” (from the ICC in 1887 to today’s plethora of regulatory agencies and their hired guns)
  • denial of human nature and the limits it imposes on the effectiveness of technocratic “solutions” (magical thinking about the perfectibility of humans and the wonderfulness of government action)
  • growing gap between “real people” and their technocratic masters (third item in “Related Reading,” below)
  • cult of the child and prolongation of childhood (too little discipline, too much dependency — poor lessons for living with others)
  • decline of decorum and civility (as mirrored in and encouraged by “entertainment” that is loud, lewd, and crude in the nth degree).

If America was ever close to being a nation united and free, it has drifted far from that condition — arguably, almost as far as it  had by 1861. And America’s condition will only worsen unless leaders emerge who will set the nation (or a large, independent portion of it) back on course. Barring the emergence of such leaders, America will continue to slide into baseness, divisiveness, and servitude.

That is my view of America’s past 50 years, its present condition, and its future — barring drastic remedial action.

*     *     *

Related reading:
Arnold Kling, “Our New Technocratic Masters,” Askblog, February 3, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Glue Holding America Together,” RealClearPolitics, June 28, 2013
Victor Davis Hanson,”Liberal Apartheid,” RealClearPolitics, July 8, 2013

*     *     *

Related posts:
The Shape of Things to Come
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
Race and Reason: The Victims of Affirmative Action
Race and Reason: The Achievement Gap — Causes and Implications
Secession
A New, New Constitution
Secession Redux
A New Cold War or Secession?
The Real Constitution and Civil Disobedience
A Declaration of Independence
First Principles
The Constitution: Original Meaning, Corruption, and Restoration
Reclaiming Liberty throughout the Land
Secession for All Seasons
Government in Macroeconomic Perspective
Where We Are, Economically
Keynesianism: Upside-Down Economics in the Collectivist Cause
The Economic Outlook in Brief
Obamanomics: A Report Card
The 80-20 Rule, Illustrated
Lock ‘Em Up
Legislating Morality
Legislating Morality (II)
Free Will, Crime, and Punishment
Liberty and Society
Tolerance on the Left
The Eclipse of “Old America”
Genetic Kinship and Society
A Contrarian View of Universal Suffrage
Well-Founded Pessimism
The Hidden Tragedy of the Assassination of Lincoln
A Wrong-Headed Take on Abortion
“Family Values,” Liberty, and the State
Is There Such a Thing as Society
Crimes against Humanity
Abortion and Logic
The Myth That Same-Sex “Marriage” Causes No Harm
Abortion, Doublethink, and Left-Wing Blather
Abortion, “Gay Rights,” and Liberty
Dan Quayle Was (Almost) Right
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity

The “Jobs Speech” That Obama Should Have Given

The following actions will restore jobs by giving confidence to America’s businesses, will ensure robust economic growth over the long haul, and will ensure that future generations are not burdened with crushing debt:

  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (and the expansions known as Obamacare) should be phased out. By the time today’s youngest workers are ready for retirement, those programs would no longer exist. The ability of individuals to enjoy comfortable, healthy retirement years would depend on their assiduous prudence, financially and physically. (I am not a stranger’s keeper, and vice versa.) Private financial institutions and insurers would be allowed to compete across State lines for the savings and premiums of newly empowered individuals. States and municipalities would maintain any “safety net” for the truly needy (including those who cannot afford the care associated with serious illnesses and disabilities). Profligate grants of aid, leading to higher State and local taxes, would be  punished at the ballot box and by emigration to locales where income and property are not targets of opportunity for demagogic politicians.
  • All other activities of the federal government that are not authorized by the Constitution should be phased out within ten years. That is to say, all “independent” agencies (especially including the Federal Reserve) would be abolished, along with every department but Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury. Any legitimate functions of the other departments and agencies would be folded into the four that remain, and those four would be thoroughly cleansed of illegitimate functions.
  • The preceding actions would negate most regulatory authority. That which remains would revert to Congress, which would no longer be able to delegate law-making to the executive branch, and which would have to make law strictly within the four corners of the Constitution. Specific targets for termination: regulation of resource extraction, “anti-discrimination” programs that in fact discriminate in favor of certain classes of individuals, environmental regulation (except for truly major environmental threats, and only then as authorized by an amendment to the Constitution), anything having to do with “global warming.” the Food and Drug Administration, and federal involvement in occupational licensing.
  • The streamlining of the federal government would be accompanied by a sale of all assets not required for the execution of constitutional functions. Thus would land and buildings become available for private use, personal and commercial.
  • The federal budget would be in balance — at a much lower level — within a decade. A tough balanced-budget amendment would keep it there. Such an amendment would cap federal spending at 10 percent of GDP, with a minimum of 6 percent of GDP going to defense. There would be an exception for a war (or wars) authorized by Congress, if the combat deployment of more than one-fourth of the personnel of the U.S. armed forces. Then, federal spending could exceed 10 percent of GDP, but only to the extent of the additional costs of the authorized war (or wars). Federal revenues would have to match spending in every 10-year period, plus or minus 1 percent of GDP.

By taking immediate steps to initiate these changes, we will be telling Americans — individuals and businesspersons — two important things. First, they are at long last free in their “pursuit of Happiness.” Second, because they are free, they do not have to worry about government changing the “rules of the game” capriciously or swooping in to take away what they’ve earned.

Only with such freedom and certainty can Americans, once again, confidently strive to make better lives for themselves and, in so doing, help their compatriots to make better lives.

So, What Now?

The title of this post echoes the title of a post by Victor Davis Hanson. I don’t agree entirely with Hanson’s diagnosis of America’s economic woes and prescription for curing them, but he points in the right general direction. If I were king, this is what I would do to put the U.S. back on the track to long-term economic health:

  • Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (and the expansions known as Obamacare) would be phased out. By the time today’s youngest workers are ready for retirement, those programs would no longer exist. The ability of individuals to enjoy comfortable, healthy retirement years would depend on their assiduous prudence, financially and physically. (I am not a stranger’s keeper, and vice versa.) Private financial institutions and insurers would be allowed to compete across State lines for the savings and premiums of newly empowered individuals. States and municipalities would maintain any “safety net” for the truly needy (including those who cannot afford the care associated with serious illnesses and disabilities). Profligate grants of aid, leading to higher State and local taxes, would be  punished at the ballot box and by emigration to locales where income and property are not targets of opportunity for demagogic politicians.
  • All other activities of the federal government that are not authorized by the Constitution would be phased out within ten years. That is to say, all “independent” agencies (especially including the Federal Reserve) would be abolished, along with every department but Defense, Justice, State, and Treasury. Any legitimate functions of the other departments and agencies would be folded into the four that remain, and those four would be thoroughly cleansed of illegitimate functions.
  • The preceding actions would negate most regulatory authority. That which remains would revert to Congress, which would no longer be able to delegate law-making to the executive branch, and which would have to make law strictly within the four corners of the Constitution. Specific targets for termination: regulation of resource extraction, “anti-discrimination” programs that in fact discriminate in favor of certain classes of individuals, environmental regulation (except for truly major environmental threats, and only then as authorized by an amendment to the Constitution), anything having to do with “global warming.” the Food and Drug Administration, and federal involvement in occupational licensing.
  • The streamlining of the federal government would be accompanied by a sale of all assets not required for the execution of constitutional functions. Thus would land and buildings become available for private use, personal and commercial.
  • The federal budget would be in balance — at a much lower level — within a decade. A tough balanced-budget amendment would keep it there. Such an amendment would cap federal spending at 10 percent of GDP, with a minimum of 6 percent of GDP going to defense. There would be an exception for a war (or wars) authorized by Congress, if the combat deployment of more than one-fourth of the personnel of the U.S. armed forces. Then, federal spending could exceed 10 percent of GDP, but only to the extent of the additional costs of the authorized war (or wars). Federal revenues would have to match spending in every 10-year period, plus or minus 1 percent of GDP.

These actions would tell Americans — individuals and businesspersons — two important things. First, they are at long last free in their “pursuit of Happiness.” Second, because they are free, they do not have to worry about government changing the “rules of the game” capriciously or swooping in to take away what they’ve earned.

Only with such freedom and certainty can Americans, once again, confidently strive to make better lives for themselves and, in so doing, help their compatriots to make better lives.

This — not speeches, laws, regulations, taxes, spending, debt-ceiling compromises, etc. — is the stuff of a brighter future, a future that fulfills the promise of the Declaration of Independence.