Conservativism, Socialism, America, and Fear

America is so afraid of Communism that we’d rather go bankrupt than buy better health, cheaper

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I rather like the information here, especially the median wealth information, and what it means compared to the information here, about median income, and the information here, on net debt-to-GDP. In the end they tell a story about some tremendous, obvious failings within America’s economic system, failings with both antiseptic negative economic impacts as well as moral failings. It’s a story about fear, and what it means to be culturally American.

There are a few stories here when you look at all these links together:

  • The gap between median wealth and net mean wealth is a good measure of how unequal the distribution of wealth is in the country. Consider a place with ten people in it, nine owning $0 and one owning $10M: it has a median wealth of $0 and a mean wealth of $1M. That’s not a great place to live.
  • The median wealth countries all tend to embrace socialized medicine and strong public support for post-secondary education. Medical bankruptcy is the most-common form of bankruptcy in the US, an incredibly disruptive and wealth-destroying event, and university education is a tremendous hole of American debt. It’s no wonder that the US can draw in such good income (see the second link) yet have much less to show for it.
  • The US has, in terms of median wealth, 64% of the OECD average of median wealth. We’re on par with Portugal and Slovenia, places that make two-thirds or half of what Americans do. Put differently: for every $1 a typical American makes in a year, they end up converting that, year-on-year, to $1.46 in wealth over their lifetime. Someone in Portugal converts $1 in yearly income to $2.75 in ultimate wealth. They’re more frugal to some extent because they earn less and culture is clearly part of this equation rather than just numbers, but there’s still a story in those numbers about how inefficiently the US converts income into wealth.
  • Taking a look at the third link, with debt-to-GDP, and you see that the US is on par with France. Running a nationalized healthcare system is economically wise at both the personal and national level: free market healthcare is a scam. The US spends 17% of our GDP – the highest in the world – on healthcare (about $2.9T), it is an average product, it is bankrupting us, and we have nothing to show for it. Sweden is in second place in the OECD with 12% of their GDP towards healthcare. If we could wave a magic wand and have Sweden’s system, we’d be spending around $800B a year on anything else other than a system that bankrupts us. It’s a terrible inefficiency.

It seems clear to most that there are some industries, services, what-have-you, which are not well-managed by markets with respect to the customers/citizens at large. That rationale is precisely why I support things like socialized medicine; it just so happens that others draw the line at, say, roads and parks. I’d call that overly conservative, but in the end the exercise of the rationale feels to me to be an ultimately conservative line of thought: test, move cautiously, keep what works… the part that seems missing in American conservativism is that one ought to eventually feel comfortable also tossing aside what doesn’t.

“Seizing the means of production” is an overwrought phrase that, when unreservedly adhered to in practice, tends to look like Zimbabwe. Central planning is not a universal panacea. Making wise decisions about what markets can and can’t do, however, and respecting that there are certain things that they magically cannot or will not do will in certain cases look like big bad Communism, and the question then is what are you scared of, and is it truly relevant. For example, I don’t see many gulags in France because of universal health care and generous leave policies and their post-secondary education system. Their finances are doing rather well, actually, at the national and personal level – in the latter case, much better than the US in terms of widely building wealth between generations regardless of class distinctions. Yet Zimbabwe and Venezuela are held up as what happens when you decide that markets run healthcare systems rather poorly, despite the tremendous gap between “socializing the healthcare system” and “nationalizing your country’s most-vital export” that only seems to be bridged by fear rather than an appreciation for what it actually takes, socially and historically, for that final event to come to fruition.

Progressive conservativism is a thing. It’s about as popular as libertarianism, I imagine, though I think it’s the fundamental position of the reformacon commentariat.

One Legacy of White Supremacy in America

The GI Bill helped build post-war America, but it wasn’t really for everyone

 
The GI Bill was instrumental (in addition to the central planning industrialization and unionization of America that happened during World War 2) in creating the modern American middle class, and its racist implementation yet another serious impediment to equality and justice in America. There are generations of people that followed in the wake of the GI Bill – such as myself – who are able to build on the wealth and resources of what my parents and grandparents were able to build thanks to the Bill, and those are precisely the resources that were denied black Americans.
The American history of white supremacy is an ugly one, and it has lots of manifestations: the GI Bill implementation, red-lining, highway routing, Jim Crow laws, the abandonment of Reconstruction… and what’s interesting to me is that I figure that the financial impacts are probably the longest-running and most pernicious and damaging manifestations. Seeing old photos of lynchings are obvious and brutal in their testament to inequality and the cruelty of the past, but because they’re so obviously awful and public, they’re much easier to discount: “well, there hasn’t been a lynching like THAT in decades”. And in some sense, that’s true. Blacks have been voting on equal terms (or near-equal terms, depending on your state’s laws regarding districting and IDs) for decades… and yet and it isn’t like Baltimore or Montgomery or Charlotte have been transformed into bastions of black freedom because of it.
Meanwhile, the financial effects chug along. They’re hidden, but their impacts go on for decades.

Bernie Sanders and democracy get screwed in Nevada

There’s no way to lash out in fear that conveys strength

The only reason this stands out is because we thought we got rid of party bosses. Apparently we didn’t, we just thought we did. It’s a quirk of unfinished business.

I get that democracy is dangerous. It leads to all kinds of unfortunate outcomes – Hamas winning in Gaza, or the Muslim Brotherhood winning in Egypt. Of course, bombs and coups can make up the difference in foreign lands. Here, it need not be so violent: pretending to follow rules is as good as following rules so long as you’re in charge.

What’s kind of gross about this is that Hillary is going to win the nomination, with or without superdelegates. This doesn’t need to happen. It did because a threat to power, a belief that control isn’t a given, that the mob may have a voice, are so dangerous that they should be quashed on sight. This is bigger than the count, and the very real fact that Hillary will win on the merit of her popularity among state Democratic nominations. This is the system showing itself out of fear, because it cannot tolerate dissent.

Hillary will win on her own appeal to the people. That’s fine. It’s not how I’d like it to go, but it’s how it is. But this is something different; it’s how the acceptable and unacceptable ideas are filtered by the aristocracy. This is how the deeper game goes, and it’s showing its seams out of fear.

If the GOP could’ve pulled this off, it would’ve. Instead it wrote about #NeverTrump for nine months and then followed up with what will be #AnyoneButHillary. The Democratic machine, too, could’ve learned to deal with a counterinsurgent campaign, but the limited candidate field created conditions for Hillary’s victory. There’s been an active effort in America from the major parties to shut down major constituencies within the parties, and its a telling battle.

Playing to the Edge

Do What Thou Wilt (if Ye Can Afford It) is not a great model of governance

It’s no secret that there are two Americas in the legal system, and that if you can afford the better version you get to define all kinds of grey areas as your playground. The relative powerlessness of the SEC in the face of financial institution malfeasance drives this home the strongest, but the best example in American politics is in the operations of the Clintons.

Now, they’re not illegal! I don’t actually think the various scandals we’re told by the GOP to concern ourselves with has been illegal, but that’s more a feature of the two-tier American legal system than an outright measure. It’s the asterix next to Sammy Sosa’s records.

And the Clintons are great at this stuff, and I’m also guessing that they’re hardly the only folks mining their connections to make money and doing whatever the hell they feel like so long as counsel says it’s fine. But they are the most public, thanks to GOP efforts to dig up anything that’ll stick. And I have to feel that GOP frustration, because they keep alllllmoooost finding something and then HEYO WHAT’S THIS and it turns out nope that’s not illegal either. Over and over again.

I dislike Clinton as a Presidential candidate because of her terrible and bloody foreign policy judgment, but her comfort with Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law as a basis for professional conduct is also of an especially dangerous note in contemporary America, wherein Congress (thanks to the GOP) has written themselves out of the game and given the controller over to the President. Because Clinton is going to way too comfortable with that kind of arrangement. If you thought the Bush DoJ gave him and Cheney a pass to make shit up as they went along, Clinton is going to take that concept and use it as a sledgehammer against any kind of obstacle she finds, and just take the current problem and make it bigger.

America is headed for a rough time… and if Trump wins it’ll be even worse. This too will pass, but I hardly believe that things are going to go well for any of us.

Convention or Bust

The GOP is going to ride this into the dirt and they’re going to take conservativism with them

It’s no great secret that the GOP leadership is struggling. They couldn’t get their chosen candidate(s) off the starting block, the second place nominee was an odious reactionary, and the presumed victor is a mercurial narcissist fuelled by a white nationalism that crops up every six decades or so. So where do the leftovers go?

Well, in this piece from the Atlantic there’s a lot of hopeful consideration of third parties.

I get why third parties are attractive: they stand for something! Unlike the major parties, who are all mishmashed up. But there’s the issue: if you’re really REALLY driven by issues such that you can parse the difference between the American Party and the Libertarian Party and the Constitution Party and the other parties, you’re not going to tolerate the OBVIOUS flaws of Party A; you’re going to choose Party B! And so on until there are a dozen minor conservative parties and none of them want anything to do with the other.

Robespierre was guillotined by his own revolution, and so it ever will be: revolutions eat their own, fragment, and fall apart. If these minor parties are already made up of people selecting party affiliation based on their minor differences as if they were major, they’re never going to see eye-to-eye.

The most confident way America could actually get a real, new major party – and the reasonable kind of conservativism that, for example, likes to legislate and appreciates that government has a function – is from a convention. It’d have to be all the minor conservative parties, and they’d have to agree to a common platform, and they could let the GOP keep the angry and neglected white lower classes… only until those whites realize they’d be better off with allies that actually legislate and fight for them, rather than just tagging along with a loudmouth asshole because he’s a voice for their anger.

The GOP is looking at a decades-long decline, a la the Federalist Party, unless something drastic changes. America is going to be a two-party country for a while yet, and if the GOP is irrelevant and at least one of destructive and/or ineffective when they are relevant, this country is going to suffer greatly. The Democrats need worthy competition, and if they don’t get it it’s going to be Hillarys all the way down.

The Problem isn’t the Presidency

Worrying about who is President makes sense, but it’s been accentuated by the abysmally incompetent Congress.

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Bernie Sanders is making the case here that he’s the right guy for the Presidency, owing to Hillary Clinton’s weaker prospects against Trump. That’s a legitimate concern if you’re a Democrat, because Trump with a GOP Congress is about as disruptive a combination I can imagine to run the American federal government.

What’s unfortunate is that the narrative of a supreme President calling the shots misses out on some key points about what the American federal system ought to be, which is “only slightly dysfunctional”. As it is, we are historically at “highly dysfunctional”: Congress is, in historical terms, the most inactive it’s been in over a century. We’re at war in a half-dozen places under a Congressional authorization that’s over a decade old and in another half-dozen places which are only pretending to be under that authorization. The intelligence services and FBI are so empowered to be playing games with Congress that Congress can’t get itself together to outlaw or sanction the agencies for their criminal activities. Judges aren’t getting approved by the Senate.

America needs a revised Church Committee and a revised War Powers Resolution. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed in the midst of crisis and managed to chip away at out-of-control financial power in the US, but that was probably the last hurrah for big Congressional acts to address systemic dysfunction in America. The Affordable Care Act was the best we could do to control America’s broken healthcare system, and in essence it’s a giveaway to insurance companies which is only going to slightly un-break the system, basically ensuring that no one goes without the ability to receive high-end health care in exchange for everyone not making $300k+ a year from getting screwed with low-end medical costs and higher insurance premiums.

The country needs some serious help, and if Clinton wins she’s going to be facing an even more hostile Congress than Obama faced… and I don’t get the impression she’s going to be half as restrained as Obama was in the face of Congressional torpor. Leaving aside her policies, yet another eight years of an expanding executive and Presidency isn’t going to do a damn bit of good to create a more functional Congress; it’s going to exacerbate the situation so far as I can tell. We all know Clinton is going to do what she wants – she’s had decades to get tired of GOP bullshit – and considering Congress is probably going to be worse than useless the country will need that kind of attention to get anything done, with the inevitable backlash and deepening GOP intransigence to follow. I doubt that in such an environment that the party could mount an effective resurrection and resurgence.

It took the Federalist Party a few decades to die out. While it lingered on, it was irrelevant and basically handed the non-judicial reins of government over to the Democratic-Republican Party. I can only hope that the GOP’s apparent atrophying is sped along by the faster pace of modern life and that something new and powerful emerges. The country will not functional well with a one-party system any more than it has done through the current one-and-a-half party system.

A Machine Too Smart to Stop

Washington is seemingly incapable of learning productively from its mistakes

Philip Giraldi is a smart person, and he deserves credit for keeping The American Conservative flush with good foreign policy pieces. The piece comes out of his attendance at a conference held in New York, hosting lots of folks who have learned little of their time in Washington other than to embrace what brought them there.

The conference website has plenty of video to watch, and you can get a good sense of how things in Washington operate: lots of words, lots of pragmatism, little wisdom. It’s a sad thing to look out at such a large mess of very intelligent people trying their best to make America a better place, who are incapable of calling a timeout to reconcile how America’s policies have become a giant, placing chains on itself, swatting at flies.

When I see this kind of stuff in action, I’m reminded of what it takes to get ahead in any environment of hierarchies and stuffy orthodoxy: submission to hierarchies and acceptance of stuffy orthodoxy. Washington itself runs on just that, so does the military, and basically every institution that is large and difficult to manage is going to want to revert to precisely that behavior. It’s natural: the status quo is safe, even if at time morally undesirable. What’s unnerving is that it doesn’t have to be this way for these folks who go from “employee” to “outsider”… and it maybe would be, save for the prime dangling meat of consulting gigs that seem to prevent even outside criticism from being incorporated into the ongoing management of the Behemoth of the federal government.