Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A prophet who got it right

In 1884, Herbert Spencer wrote what quickly became a celebrated book, The Man Versus The State. The book is seldom referred to now, and gathers dust on library shelves — if, in fact, it is still stocked by many libraries. Spencer's political views are regarded by most present-day writers, who bother to mention him at all, as "extreme laissez faire," and hence "discredited."

But any open-minded person who takes the trouble today to read or reread The Man Versus The State will probably be startled by two things. The first is the uncanny clairvoyance with which Spencer foresaw what the future encroachments of the State were likely to be on individual liberty, above all in the economic realm. The second is the extent to which these encroachments had already occurred in 1884, the year in which he was writing.

The present generation has been brought up to believe that government concern for "social justice" and for the plight of the needy was something that did not even exist until the New Deal came along in 1933. The ages prior to that have been pictured as periods when no one "cared," when laissez faire was rampant, when everybody who did not succeed in the cutthroat competition that was euphemistically called free enterprise — but was simply a system of dog-eat-dog and the-devil-take-the-hindmost — was allowed to starve. And if the present generation thinks this is true even of the 1920s, it is absolutely convinced that this was so in the 1880s, which it would probably regard as the very peak of the prevalence of laissez faire.

Yet the new reader's initial astonishment when he starts Spencer's book may begin to wear off before he is halfway through, because one cause for surprise explains the other. All that Spencer was doing was to project or extrapolate the legislative tendencies existing in the 1880s into the future. It was because he was so clearsightedly appalled by these tendencies that he recognized them so much more sharply than his contemporaries, and saw so much more clearly where they would lead if left unchecked.

Even in his Preface to The Man Versus The State he pointed out how "increase of freedom in form" was being followed by "decrease of freedom in fact….

"Regulations have been made in yearly growing numbers, restraining the citizen in directions where his actions were previously unchecked, and compelling actions which previously he might perform or not as he liked; and at the same time heavier public burdens … have further restricted his freedom, by lessening that portion of his earnings which he can spend as he pleases, and augmenting the portion taken from him to be spent as public agents please."

In his first chapter, "The New Toryism," Spencer contends that "most of those who now pass as Liberals, are Tories of a new type." The Liberals of his own day, he points out, had already "lost sight of the truth that in past times Liberalism habitually stood for individual freedom versus State-coercion."

So the complete Anglo-American switch of reference, by which a "liberal" today has come to mean primarily a State interventionist, had already begun in 1884. Already "plausible proposals" were being made "that there should be organized a system of compulsory insurance, by which men during their early lives shall be forced to provide for the time when they will be incapacitated." Here is already the seed of the American Social Security Act of 1935.

Spencer also pays his respects to the anti-libertarian implications of an increasing tax burden. Those who impose additional taxes are saying in effect: "Hitherto you have been free to spend this portion of your earnings in any way which pleased you; hereafter you shall not be free to spend it, but we will spend it for the general benefit."

Spencer next turns to the compulsions that unions were even then imposing on their members, and asks: "If men use their liberty in such a way as to surrender their liberty, are they thereafter any the less slaves?"

In his second chapter, "The Coming Slavery," Spencer calls attention to the existence of what he calls "political momentum" — the tendency of State interventions and similar political measures to increase and accelerate in the direction in which they have already been set going. Americans have become only too familiar with this momentum in the last few years.

Spencer illustrates: "The blank form of an inquiry daily made is — 'We have already done this; why should we not do that?'" "The buying and working of telegraphs by the State" (which already operated them in England when he wrote), he continued, "is made a reason for urging that the State should buy and work the railways." And he went on to quote the demands of one group that the State should take possession of the railways, "with or without compensation."

The British State did not buy and work the railways until 65 years later, in 1948, but it did get around to it, precisely as Spencer feared.

It is not only precedent that prompts the constant spread of interventionist measures, Spencer points out,

"but also the necessity which arises for supplementing ineffective measures, and for dealing with the artificial evils continually caused. Failure does not destroy faith in the agencies employed, but merely suggests more stringent use of such agencies or wider ramifications of them."

One illustration he gives is how "the evils produced by compulsory charity are now proposed to be met by compulsory insurance." Today, in America, one could point to scores of examples (from measures to cure "the deficit in the balance of payments" to the constant multiplication of measures to fight the government's "war on poverty") of interventions mainly designed to remove the artificial evils brought about by previous interventions.

Everywhere, Spencer goes on, the tacit assumption is that "government should step in whenever anything is not going right…. The more numerous governmental interventions become … the more loud and perpetual the demands for interventions." Every additional relief measure raises hopes of further ones:

"The more numerous public instrumentalities become, the more is there generated in citizens the notion that everything is to be done for them, and nothing by them. Every generation is made less familiar with the attainment of desired ends by individual actions or private agencies; until, eventually, governmental agencies come to be thought of as the only available agencies."

"All socialism," Spencer concludes, "involves slavery…. That which fundamentally distinguishes the slave is that he labors under coercion to satisfy another's desires." The relation admits of many gradations. Oppressive taxation is a form of slavery of the individual to the community as a whole. "The essential question is — How much is he compelled to labor for other benefit than his own, and how much can he labor for his own benefit?"

Even Spencer would probably have regarded with incredulity a prediction that in less than two generations England would have rates of income tax rising above 90 percent, and that many an energetic and ambitious man, in England and the United States, would be forced to spend more than half his time and labor working for the support of the community, and allowed less than half his time and labor to provide for his own family and himself.

Much more HERE


Regulation nation a symptom of an incurable disease?

Niall Ferguson has a piece in the Wall Street Journal which talks about the growth of regulation within the nation.  He starts with a quote from de Tocqueville in which de Tocqueville marvels at how Americans manage to self-regulate through associations.  He then notes that de Tocqueville wouldn’t recognize the US if he were to suddenly come back.  It looks too much like Europe.  Why?

Regulation has crept in to help smother us all the while the culture has changed to where Americans seem to no longer look to each other to solve problems, but instead look to government.

Regulations are simply a symptom of this business and autonomy killing movement.  And their growth track pretty well with our demise:

As the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Clyde Wayne Crews shows in his invaluable annual survey of the federal regulatory state, we have become the regulation nation almost imperceptibly. Excluding blank pages, the 2012 Federal Register—the official directory of regulation—today runs to 78,961 pages. Back in 1986 it was 44,812 pages. In 1936 it was just 2,620.

True, our economy today is much larger than it was in 1936—around 12 times larger, allowing for inflation. But the Federal Register has grown by a factor of 30 in the same period.

The last time regulation was cut was under Ronald Reagan, when the number of pages in the Federal Register fell by 31%. Surprise: Real GDP grew by 30% in that same period. But Leviathan’s diet lasted just eight years. Since 1993, 81,883 new rules have been issued. In the past 10 years, the “final rules” issued by our 63 federal departments, agencies and commissions have outnumbered laws passed by Congress 223 to 1.

Right now there are 4,062 new regulations at various stages of implementation, of which 224 are deemed “economically significant,” i.e., their economic impact will exceed $100 million.

The cost of all this, Mr. Crews estimates, is $1.8 trillion annually—that’s on top of the federal government’s $3.5 trillion in outlays, so it is equivalent to an invisible 65% surcharge on your federal taxes, or nearly 12% of GDP. Especially invidious is the fact that the costs of regulation for small businesses (those with fewer than 20 employees) are 36% higher per employee than they are for bigger firms.

Got that?  224 new regulations which will have an economic impact that will “exceed $100 million” dollars.  Negatively of course.  That was the purpose of having regulations rated like that – to understand the probable negative economic impact.  And we have 224 in the hopper, in a very down economy, which will exceed the negative $100 million dollar mark.  What are those people thinking?  Or are they?  Indications are they give it no thought when these new regulations are proffered. They just note the cost and move on. No skin of their rear ends.

And if you think that’s bad, just wait:

Next year’s big treat will be the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, something every small business in the country must be looking forward to with eager anticipation. Then, as Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) warned readers on this page 10 months ago, there’s also the Labor Department’s new fiduciary rule, which will increase the cost of retirement planning for middle-class workers; the EPA’s new Ozone Rule, which will impose up to $90 billion in yearly costs on American manufacturers; and the Department of Transportation’s Rear-View Camera Rule. That’s so you never have to turn your head around when backing up.

Yes, that’s right, they’re hardly done. In fact, they’re not even slowing down. The accumulation of power within the central government – the ability to intrude in almost every aspect of your life – is attempting to reach warp speed.

To say America has lost it’s way is, well, an understatement. We aren’t close to being what was envisioned at our founding and we’re almost kissing cousins of that which our Founders attempted to keep us from becoming – today’s Europe.

Unfortunately, that ruinous drift and over reliance on government seems to be fine for all too many of those who call themselves Americans today.



Trust the Constitution, not the government

Without the slightest hint of irony, President Obama said last week, "if people can't trust not only the executive branch but also don't trust Congress, and don't trust federal judges, to make sure that we're abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law, then we're going to have some problems here."

Yes we are, because more and more of us don't trust government. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, "trust in the federal government remains mired near a historic low, while frustration with government remains high."

Furthermore, notes Pew, a "majority of the public says that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms." What has led to this distrust?

The Benghazi cover-up, the IRS fiasco, the Justice Department's monitoring of reporters, the commandeering of phone records of private citizens in the name of national security, "data mining," the so-called "kill list," drones with the power to spy and kill, the proliferation of surveillance cameras, DNA swabs after arrests, Obamacare, unrestrained spending and unending debt. This is the federal government encroaching on our civil liberties.

The federal government long ago exceeded its constitutional boundaries. It has reached into our public schools, our colleges and universities, our wombs, our wallets; Congress banned incandescent light bulbs, Bloomberg tried to ban Big Gulps, and now government wants to insert itself into our health care. Government does few things well, but it does them at great expense.

A loss of some privacy was supposed to be the price we had to pay for security following 9/11. Obama declared the war against terrorism over, but the surveillance expanded. Now it seems there are more cameras out there then there are cicadas.

The president claims, "Nobody is listening to your telephone calls." But the government has the ability to listen. Michael Isikoff of NBC News, citing two former U.S. intelligence officials, reports, "The National Security Agency has at times mistakenly intercepted the private email messages and phone calls of Americans who had no link to terrorism, requiring Justice Department officials to report the errors to a secret national security court and destroy the data." Oops.

When I was a kid, some of my relatives had party-line telephones. People shared the same phone line but were assigned different numbers of rings so you'd know which call was yours. My cousins and I eavesdropped on other people's conversations. Will the federal government now take listening in to a new level?

We have an "on the one hand, but on the other hand" attitude about security. On the one hand we want to be safe; on the other hand we don't like government intruding on our rights because once we've lost them, they will be difficult to regain.

The notion that we should trust government is foolish and dangerous. Government officials, like all human beings, have the capacity to do wrong as well as right. That's why the Founders gave us a Constitution, to control government that "the blessings of liberty" might be secured.

Here's some history for those who missed it in history class: "The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution ... are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite." -- James Madison.

"Freedom is lost gradually from an uninterested, uninformed, and uninvolved people." -- Thomas Jefferson.

On this 64th anniversary of the publication of George Orwell's novel "1984," uninterested, uninformed and uninvolved Americans should consider his concocted language called Newspeak, which includes: "War is peace; freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength."

Obama is speaking in Newspeak when he says government can be trusted. Government cannot be trusted. We -- and he -- must trust the Constitution.


There is a  new  lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc


For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

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