Monday, March 29, 2010

We the people?

At the very beginning of the U.S. Constitution, before it starts in on the specifics of governance, it lists the reasons for its existence.

To form a more perfect union
To establish justice
To insure domestic tranquility
To provide for the common defense
To promote the general welfare
To secure the blessings of liberty

Six things. One would hope that all specific procedures and laws ensuing would harken back to one or more of these general goals. One would expect, for example, for congress NOT to pass a law which does away with our armed forces.

One could argue that the fifth reason authorizes the current nanny state. Perhaps even the second reason, too - if you assume "Social Justice" as well as legal justice.

Today, the only tenet the government really adheres to doesn't appear on that list: "To redistribute wealth."

Some of you may have gathered from my past writings that I personally prefer the belief that the government is best when it is concerned with finding ways to facilitate personal liberty and individual initiative rather than coming up with actual social programs and then pushing that agenda, a certain group of people having decided this or that program will make all citizen's lives somehow better.

My opinion, however, doesn't automatically mean most Americans don't want a nanny state, womb to tomb care from their government. I recognize that. All I can do is fight for my idea against THEIR idea, by trying to garner majority support. I don't mind having to do it that way; it seems very congruent with the concept of democracy, and I like democracy (with certain modifications.)

The only thing is, it seems like the two concepts (nanny state versus individual liberty) are not things that can really coexist: the more social programs and other things the government thinks up that are in their opinion good for me, the more necessary it is for them to take personal liberties away from me. Little by little, chunk by chunk.

The pendulum seems to have swung very much in favor of Uncle Sam as nanny right now. This is probably not surprising since there are a lot of new inhabitants who don't remember having a lot of personal freedom, who mostly come from countries with governments who are not that big on personal freedom for their citizens anyway. It is also not surprising since, because of past government social programs, more and more of us don't have a lot of money left anymore and the current government entitlements look pretty good. Best not to try to look too far into the future, though; nobody is dumb enough to think the current entitlements are financially sustainable, let alone add more stuff to the dole menu.

I also have this theory that there should be a balance between Capitalism and Socialism, if only to produce jobs for those who might WANT to work rather than suck up a dole. However, that is not likely to happen again until the nanny cycle has run its course. Only when the government has drained all the producers of all their money, only when the government has printed so much worthless paper that $20 might buy you a pack of chewing gum, only when "entitled citizens" are suddenly forced back into productivity and self-responsibility again in order to survive, will the cycle of capitalism will resume.

Like that ol' Phoenix, capitalism always rises, of necessity for human survival, from the ashes of the false and cruel dreams of socialism.


  1. From a European perspective it is quite funny to see you guys in the states complain about how the US has become a "nanny state". Please, you don't know the first thing about nannies - you only just managed to get a very weak form of universal health-care!

    I have to admit, I don't really get what seems to me the prevalent notion in America, that socialism=bad, no civil liberties and capitalism=good, freedom for all!
    Why is socialism linked to civil liberties? You can have rampant capitalism with very limited civil liberties (see the rail and oil-barons in the late 19th century - their workers were virtual slaves), and heavy socialism with quite normal liberties - see Scandinavia today.
    All socialism is, in the end, is redistribution of wealth. And the rich will bitch and moan, and the economy might not be as vibrant as it could be if totally unshackled, but at least you won't have people starving in one of the richest counties in the world, or dying because of lack of basic medical care.

    An last but not least, speaking of civil liberties - remind me again which country has the highest incarceration rate in the world?
    Reading through the above, I seem to have written an anti-capitalist, anti-american rant worthy of the old soviet union. Not what I set out to do, especially since I'll only visit the states for the first time this summer. Maybe I'll change my mind!

  2. One more thing - I do not at all agree with you that the recent loss of civil liberties (and I do whole-heartedly agree with you there, deciding to abandon small things like, oh, habeas corpus is an outrage, and if you could connect a generator to your rapidly spinning founding fathers, you'd probably be independent of foreign oil by now) is due to immigrants not being used to the same. Oh no, that is decidedly home-grown, by your own capitalist, republican, anti-socialist wingnuts. Do you think the War on Terror was the idea of immigrants?

    And it's not as if this whole 'let's dispense with our civil liberties in the name of security' is a new thing - McCarthyism ring a bell? And of course, I won't pretend that it is an American invention - I think every government ever was tempted to use external or internal threats to increase it's own power. I claim (and this political theory is freshly pulled out of my ass, you are all welcome to it!) that all evolution of political systems since the ancient Greeks (or even before them) is just a way of restricting the government of grabbing too much power. Modern democracy seems to be pretty good at that - so far. It's a young system, after all. Let's see what happens in the next hundred years!

  3. I am going to agree with Boris, nor did I think it an un-American rant. The argument that social programs and civil liberties are mutually exclusive makes no sense to me.

    Yes, we could go back to the freedom of letting our children work fourteen hour days in the factory, and the freedom from vaccines where a third of them could die from preventable diseases. We could go back to when corporations could poison the environment with no consequences (except to the rest of us) and banks could do horribly foolish things with money that put EVERYONE in the wait, we did that, cutting back on regulation.

    It's all well and good to talk about personal freedom. Unfortunately, that personal freedom often has a price on the rest of us. If someone isn't forced to have liability insurance, they can destroy other people's properties, cause injuries, cause death and no one can touch him.

    I know far more people living on subsistence wages than I know living on welfare. I have a friend who works at an ice cream store for minimum wage, trying to eek a living, unable to afford a car, unable to afford the down payment for an apartment. She doesn't get money from welfare or anyone else. She had to give up her children to an abusive husband because she couldn't afford child care. That doesn't happen in Europe.

    Truth is, when you're poor, you don't have many choices.

    I think the view that "everyone's on welfare" and "no one will be working" is vastly skewed. And unfair. You shouldn't have to be wealthy to have choices and freedom, though, of course, that WAS the state of this union when they wrote the Constitution.

    I think we've outgrown that notion, or that we should have.

    But then, you knew we'd see this differently.

  4. The Constitution was written as a fairy tale-the thing we now think of Rights and what we are Entitled to as Americans was nothing but a pipe dream when a bunch of British rebels wrote it all down. It was still pretty much a pipe dream when good old Abe talked about it being only four score and seven years ago.

    For all of our modern enlightenment, most of the ideals are still just ideals. There shouldn't be a Standing Army unless we are at War, but fortunately, we seem to be perpetually at War-so no worries there. Is general welfare not taking care of everyone from cradle to grave?

    Our domestic tranquility is not too bad either, no one has set off a car bomb in my neighbor recently-though there are lots of nutjobs carrying around Guns-also thanks to our great Constitution.

    Anyone who has ever served on a Jury knows that legal Justice is total joke-anyone that can't afford to go to college and is looking for a good job knows that social justice is not doing so swell either.

    I also think your very optimistic about the $20 chewing gum-have you checked what twenty pesos will buy lately?

  5. @Boris Legradic- That's a very thoughtful comment. It deserves a thoughtful answer, but it is late at night here and I am not feeling very political right now. :)

    I don't think I would ever convince you that your thinking is wrong anyway. You are happy with the way things are and that's not going to change probably.

    When I am not so sleepy, I will try for a wiser reply. Thanks again for what you said.

    PS-I don't think what you said is anti-American. I think you care.

  6. @Stephanie Barr - You are in a very know it all mood tonight. :) I won't argue with you any more about your beliefs. We all have witnessed countries go down the road you seem to think is idyllic. So I know you are wrong in the long run. Your caring about other people is as it should be. I just think your methods of achieving prosperity for those who need it are short-sighted. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate you coming buy and reading my ranting.

  7. Boris Legradic said: "From a European perspective it is quite funny to see you guys in the states complain about how the US has become a "nanny state". Please, you don't know the first thing about nannies - you only just managed to get a very weak form of universal health-care!"

    I know there are several European countries - maybe all of them - which lean toward the Socialist theory of government, much more than the U.S. does right now.

    I was wondering what you were meaning? What were you feeling when you wrote this? Sarcasm? Bitterness? Regret? Do you LIKE the fact that Socialism is more common in Europe? Is Socialism good, in your opinion? Do you think it would be a good thing for the U.S. to become a lot more socialistic? Are we being held back because we still resist (a little bit) the concept of Socialism? Do Europeans think we are old-fashioned (and maybe a little stupid) because we speak of Socialism as being a bad thing? Are you warning us because of your experiences at home? - or are you telling us to just join the club? Do YOU prefer to have your government provide many major things for you instead of having to get them yourself? Have you ever lived under any other system? For example, have you ever had to buy your own health insurance? Have you ever had to live with the fact that you might not be able to buy health insurance at any price if you have a bad disease?

    I'm not sure how to respond to your other statements and questions until I know a bit more about your beliefs about these things.

  8. Uff, many questions. I'll try to answer them in order:

    What did I feel when I wrote my comments?

    That is a weird one - isn't that irrelevant? But here goes: Mostly I felt elation, because while I only recognise politics as a necessary evil at best, and am pretty sure that in general it attracts not the sort of people you want to actually govern you, I really like discussing and arguing about political systems. The social sciences fascinate me, maybe because they are so removed and have such weak fundamentals when compared to my own field. Other than that, when thinking about your politics in the States I feel genuine bewilderment. For me it is self-evident that a healthy dose (and your definition of healthy may vary here) of socialism is the way to go to do the most good for the maximum number of people - you only have to look at the numbers to see that there is less poverty and suffering if you have things like universal health care and unemployment benefits, i.e. a social net. Conversely it is of course also true that the other extreme, communism, doesn't work, period.

    So yes, I like the socialism in Europe (such as it is), and would recommend that you take a good hard look at it, free from ideological hold-ups. Join the club!

    I do have to pay for health care, btw. Currently I am living in Switzerland, where health-care is private, but mandatory. The federal governement here defines a compulsory basic health-care package, which the insurance companies have to offer to anybody, regardless of health or age. It's about 300 CHF (~280$) per month, and with that you pay the first 2000 CHF of medical costs per year (called franchise) yourself, up to 8% of your annual income. Then the governement covers the rest. Of course, you are free to get better packages, where your monthly pay is higher, but your franchise less.

    In Austria (my homecountry) on the other hand, the government is your insurer, and the cost of health care is directly deducted from your paycheck. You don't get to choose, but coverage is extensive, and since going to the doctor incurs no additional costs to you, prevention works a bit better than in Switzerland, I think.

    So there you go, my thoughts on socialsism as it regards to health care. My (oh-so knowledgeable) advice to the US is to kick out all your insurance companies, and nationalise (oh evil word) your health care. This will, paradoxically enough, improve efficiency (see the 2000 World Health Care report), and not so paradoxically, help improve your national health drastically.

  9. @Boris Legradic - I don't think my question was irrelevant, because I couldn't tell if you were serious or if you were joking; if you were happy with your system or if you not so happy with it. I wanted to find out what your views on socialism were, so that's why I asked how you were really feeling about it when you wrote comment. Now you have clarified where you are coming from:

    "For me it is self-evident that a healthy dose (and your definition of healthy may vary here) of socialism is the way to go to do the most good for the maximum number of people"

    And you like socialism in Europe and would recommend the U.S. get on with sharing Europe's enlightenment:

    "I like the socialism in Europe (such as it is), and would recommend that you take a good hard look at it, free from ideological hold-ups. Join the club!"

    Now, you see, I know where you stand and so I can answer. At least I can give my point of view or opinion. However, I found that my answer was too long, as usual, and other people need to be able to rebut me, so I have turned my answer to you into yet another political post. I can't seem to stop myself.



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