Saturday, July 16, 2011

Anarchy Lite

I view the controversy over the debt ceiling as a fake debate. What is now going down is simply a naked clash of power in which the need for a vote to raise the debt ceiling presents a convenient object of focus. I agree with today’s New York Times editorial position, namely that if U.S. debt were dangerously high, interest rates would signal that danger. U.S. debt instruments would not be attracting money unless they offered very high interest rates. But we have no problem selling them. The assets of the United States are there—and real. And interest rates—not only federal but all—are actually ridiculously low. I think we’re earning one percent or less on our personal cash holdings. The banks don’t want to pay for money because they cannot lend it. Nobody wants to act when the ruling element seems to have gone erratic.

The signals—meaning the words I hear repeated and words I never hear—are also wrong. All expenditures on “programs,” especially if these are “entitlements,” are viewed as evil by the Republican forces that control the House. All taxes are evil. Defense expenditures may be “on the table,” but they are never labeled outrageously, monumentally, or obscenely high. I do not hear Republicans screaming about evil “wars of choice”—such as we’re engaged in. I don’t hear loud calls for privatizing defense—although Republicans show plenty of passion in defending the right to bear arms.

The silly idea that now holds a significantly large enough element of the Republican party in its thrall to cause absolute stalemate might be described as Anarchy Lite. Behind it is a very fuzzy notion that society is effectively self-governing without any institutional government at all—except for pieces that the Republicans happen to favor. The military belongs in that domain, and evidently very little else—except perhaps those elements of the state department able to project power overseas to make foreign markets favor U.S. interests beyond our borders. Negative pressure by defunding is laid on all regulatory elements—regulation itself being viewed as evil, but a lesser evil than taxes. The worst category of expenditures is Social Security and Medicare—this despite the fact that we pay earmarked taxes to fund those programs. And the absolute evil is Medicaid, which goes to the poor.

This wooly not-quite-thought has absolutely no support in historical observation, theory, law, tradition, or custom. It is incoherent. It has never ever held sway anywhere—pre-fossil fuels or after. It can only be held by people who have not thought things through and who lack experience of just how bad things can really get unless you do your homework. But there are now millions of people who honestly think that their temporary wealth is a consequence of individual achievement without broad social support—and that those who don’t enjoy their advantages don’t do so because of personal laziness, immorality, and self-indulgence—and therefore can be jettisoned without much consequence beyond raising a few walls around gated communities.

Okay. Perhaps I’m overstating. But what I’m actually doing here is boiling that idea down so that only its nasty essence is left at the bottom of the pan.

It occurs to me that 63 years have passed since, with U.S. leadership (Eleanor Roosevelt having been the chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights that first drafted it), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was passed and adopted by the 48 countries with 8 abstentions (the Soviet block). That document represents an articulation of principles broadly held across the globe and only criticized (for not going far enough) by Islamic countries that want to see more emphasis on religion. These principles are never mentioned in the current debate—as “entitlements” are put on the table and the altogether insufficient health care law that managed to pass is damned and double-damned. If we take a generation to be 30 years, two full generations have reached maturity after World War II with no direct memory of it. Indeed, I sincerely doubt that today’s Congress would actually approve that declaration if it had a chance to vote on it again.

The current debate, I would submit, is not a clash between liberals and conservatives—but between two wings of a political establishment that has entirely lost its sense of reality. The Republicans have turned into anarchists and the Democrats have long since lost their only redeeming role—defending the powerless against organized wealth; they’ve become mechanical progressivists feeding at the same trough as the GOP—the corporate campaign contributions table. Campaign contributions are always on the table. It might surprise some readers, but I am a conservative. Meaning? Meaning that I want order and justice for all, not just for wealth—and I don’t worship dead things, like hidden hands. I also lack all interest in that famed vox populi—unless it cries in anguish. The true conservative feels responsible—for other people—and willing to do the necessary things to ensure a functioning and just community.

1 comment:

  1. Then there's this poll that I saw on the CBS Evening News last night: "About 66 percent of Americans believe any final deal should include a combination of both spending cuts and tax increases. This includes 55 percent of Republicans, and 53 percent of tea party supporters." With their "no new taxes, only cuts" stance they're going against their own constituents and even those Americans who are in their same political party. A link to the full story can be found here:;featuredPost-PE