Tuesday, May 26, 2015

By the People: Part III: A Propitious Moment

In his latest book Charles Murray has come up with a plan to push back against the oppressive regulatory state. We won't get there with normal political process, not even with a Republican president and Congress he writes in Part I of By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission. See By the People: Part I: Where We Stand. It will take "civil disobedience" to fight back and in Part II Murray unfolds his idea to create a "Madison Fund" to pay the bills of businesses and individuals that want to fight back against the regulatory state. See By the People: Part II: Opening a New Front.

In Part III: A Propitious Moment, Charles Murray takes a broader look at the United States in the decades ahead. He gets out of the trenches of the fight against the bureaucrats and looks at the larger horizon. And he likes what he sees.
[I]n the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century the stars are in fact aligning for a much broader rebuilding of liberty than we could have imagined even a decade ago.
First of all, Murray says that we are experiencing a return of a diversified America. You think that the US has always been a white-bread patriarchy? Don't tell the four European cultures that battled each other back at the founding. Using David Hackett Fischer's analysis in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America he argues that while Yankees in New England, Cavaliers in the tidewaters, Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Scots-Irish in the back-country were all from one nation, they had radically different ideas about everyday life, and what it meant to "live life as one sees fit."

Murray "celebrates" the differences between Yankees, Quakers, Cavaliers and Scots-Irish in a table of 30 different cultural memes. Let's look at a couple. On "Marriage," the Yankees observed a civil contract, Cavaliers a sacred ceremony, and the Scots-Irish had "abduction rituals." How about their "time ethic?" Yankees believed in "improving the time," Quakers believed in "redeeming the time," Cavaliers believed in "killing the time" and the Scots-Irish believed in "passing the time." And in dress? Well, those Scots-Irish girls were notorious for tight clothes that accentuated the positive in their lady parts.

Then came the "post-founding" immigrants, the Germans and the Irish, and they brought Catholicism. The "Germans were the antithesis of the Irish." The Irish lived in exclusive Irish and Catholic neighborhoods and the Germans were "typically farmers that practiced advanced agriculture or highly skilled craftsmen." And that was just the beginning. After the Civil War the South identified as defiantly Southern and the North filled up with Italians, Slavs from eastern Europe, and after 1900, the Jews.

The point is that mid-twentieth century America was an anomaly, created by the restrictive immigration laws that obtained from the mid 1920s to the mid 1960s. For forty years the diverse brew of pre-WWI immigrants got to Americanize without a new crop of immigrants in the mix. And, of course, millions of Americans got homogenized in the uniforms of World War II. So it wasn't that hard to do one-size-fits-all politics in the mid 20th century.

The America of the twenty-first Ameica will be going back to normal, with Hispanic and Asian immigrants, and the new segregation by culture, the sorting of liberals into blue urban areas and conservatives into red suburbs and ex-urbs. And then there are the African Americans.

Murray makes several points about the re-diversified America.
  1. Some regions are being latinized by Hispanic immigration, but "America as a whole is not being latinized."
  2. African Americans are also concentrated in specific areas of the old Confederacy and large urban areas.
  3. Asian Americans. Here's the interesting bit. They are only 5 percent of population, but already are concentrating in New York City and Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are "heavily overrepresentative in the elite zip codes of those cities." Silicon Valley? Asians are 33 percent of the population.
  4. The "cognitive elite." Call it what you like, the middle-class college-educated people have a culture with distinctive tastes and they like to live together.
With all this diversity, the one-size-fits-all politics of the post New Deal area is making a lot of people unhappy. So can we dig our way out of it?

In Part I of By the People Murray told us this was the worst of times. Now he tells us that it's the best of times. First of all there's "liberation technology."

This is no longer 1900 and tainted meat, or the Solid South and laws keeping African Americans "in their place." Modern technology can make a scandal out of any political oppression, e.g., Ferguson and Baltimore, and the internet marketplace means that everyone gets rated, from plumbers to bed-and-breakfasts, and Uber can fight and beat the taxi cartel. The point is that bad behavior gets publicized.

That means that it's going to become more and more difficult for government to hide its incompetence from the average citizen. Call it the "collapse of the blue model." For instance, Californians can now go to TransparentCalifornia.com and find out that there's a Los Angeles firefighter named "Murray" that made $273,773 in 2011 in salary, overtime, and benefits.

Murray predicts that we are going to see an "alienation of the people who pay the tab for government." Our Democratic friends are comfortable about "the rich" paying their fair share, but in fact the 1% in 2011 "paid 35 percent of all income taxes." The people in the top quartile that "pays 86 percent of the federal government's income tax revenue are not billionaires... They have earned their success." The top 25 percent, says Murray, are not happy about politicians that demand the "rich pay their 'fair share'" and the anger "crosses party lines."

Up to now big corporations have made their peace with the administrative regulatory state, but maybe the world of "collusive capitalism" could be changed. Up to now, corporations have just been trying to go along to get along with the regulation and the criminalization of their world, but since the Crash of 2008 government has upped the ante and has been extending its activities into frank shakedowns, with billion dollar settlements imposed on oil companies and banks. The formula is simple. You find a corporation that may have done something wrong; threaten its managers with ruin and criminal charges, and then have them pay a huge fine in a "secret settlement." Then repeat.

So far, corporate America hasn't fought back. But at "some point, some of them will start defending themselves." And that could be a gamechanger.

Don't forget, Murray adds, that the rank-and-file bureaucrat isn't a happy camper. There can easily be up to 22 layers of management in a federal department. Federal employees like "their benefits and job security" but not much else about their jobs. When the Madison Fund starts to roll, its offensive will be going up against an army that is badly demoralized.

Charles Murray ends By the People on an optimistic note. It's time we pull aside the curtain at government, he writes, and say "This is ridiculous."

First of all, per-capita wealth has been going up ever since reliable records started in the late 19th century, from $5,000 to $50,000 in 120 years, through all the wars and depressions and government blunders. If wealth continues to increase,
[I]t is unimaginable that Americans will still think the best way to live is to be governed by armies of bureaucrats enforcing thousands of minutely prescriptive rules.
Somehow we will have to figure out a better way. Because it's ridiculous:
  • "It's ridiculous that the cost of routine health care has not been falling for decades."
  • "It's ridiculous that towns and cities can't afford to provide basic services."
  • "It is ridiculous that anyone lacks the means to live a decent life."
  • "It is ridiculous to impose one-size-fits-all national solutions for policies that involve morally complex cultural differences."
Notice the cunning in that list. The items all point accusing fingers at the basic assumptions and coercions of the current Progressive-inspired administrative regulatory state. As I might say:

  • Never mind about Obamacare, what would "Walmartcare" look like? 
  • How come lifer bureaucrats get better pay and pensions than ordinary middle-class families in the private sector and they still can't fix the potholes? 
  • Can't we find a better way to relieve the poor than our current failed welfare system? 
  • Hello gays and feminists! Are you really sure that the way to the future is to beat up on Christians and frat boys? 

The point is that in a culturally diverse society the only way to avoid lose-lose conflicts over loot and religious wars over morality is to overlay the whole with a culture of live and let live, and a limited government with limited powers.

But that is exactly what the gentry liberal ruling class refuses to consider.

I'm not as sanguine as Charles Murray about the glorious future. This is politics; politics is about division. This is government; government is about force and coercion. The gentry liberal ruling class is not going to give up without a fight. But like most dynasties, the quality of the liberal leadership tends to decline from generation to generation. Think Obama; think Hillary Clinton. Today's gentry liberal leaders are just not up to the job.

No doubt the United States will one day climb to Charles Murray's new sunny uplands from out of the present dusty Obama plain. But the way from the plain to the uplands is uphill. The path is steep, and the obstacles formidable.

But that's no reason not to just to try it, but to do it.

See here for a final summing up of By The People.

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