Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Thrift, RIP - Time for a Resurrection

I just finished reading Phillip Longman's The Return of Thrift (Free Press), which - despite its age (or rather, perhaps because of its age) - remains very current.  Published in 1996, the book provides a detailed analysis of the impending entitlement and debt crisis.  What makes the work so poignent today is that the problems he identified - huge deficits, growing medicare and medicaid liabilities, the impending insolvency of social security, and related fiscal issues - remain seemingly intractable problems.

Although one could seriously debate his proposed solutions (and no one reading this should assume that this post is an endorsment of all of Longman's policy solutions), it does an excellent job reviewing the origin of many of our entitlement issues and poses almost insurmountable evidence that our entitlement schemes are unsustainable in the coming decades.    Indeed, with half-trillion dollar deficits for next decade, one would be hard pressed to ignore the crisis today.  

Although our Founding Fathers were somewhat split about the desirability of debt (Hamilton supported its unifying effect on the country and its ability to transform our country into a commercial giant, while Jefferson hated it with a passion), there is little question that our current state of affairs would cause considerable concern about the long term well-being of the nation.  Huge debts have been the bane of stability, consumer confidence, and living standards worldwide - it has even propelled some countries into revolution (think of France, circa 1789) - we are fools to think that we are immune to these pressures.  With each passing day this crisis expands; the time to address it is now.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Our Limited Government

"The people . . . erected this government.  They gave it a Constitution, and in that Constitution they have enumerated the powers that they bestow on it.  They made it a limited government.  They have defined its authority.  They have restrained it to the exercise of such powers as are granted . . . ."  Daniel Webster, Second Reply to Hayne.

As Webster explained, the federal government is one of limited, enumerated powers.  The Constitution specifically sets forth its powers, and any powers not expressly granted to the federal government reside in the states.

Although a core concept of our Constitution, the First Principle of limited government has often been but an afterthought in policy discussions.  Regardless of one's views about particular issues and policies, we do a grave disservice to our freedom and the Constitution when we fail to recognize and account for the limited nature of our federal government.  To maintain our liberty, limited government needs to front and center.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Hitler - Agent of Evil and Enemy of First Principles

To defeat evil,  one needs to understand it.  As this is Hitler's birthday, today is a good day to learn about the abyss that was, and is, Nazism.

"Adolf Hitler was born at half past six on the evening of 20 April 1889, in the Gasthof zum Pommer, an inn at the small town of Braunau on teh River Inn which forms the frontier between Austria and Bavaria."  Alan Bullock, Hitler - A Study in Tyranny (1971).  Thus, began a life that would set the world at war, result in the tragic loss of millions of lives, and assaulted the very foundations of free civilizations across the globe.

Hitler espoused the idea of the superiority of the Aryan race over mankind.  "Everything we admire on this earth today - science and art, technology, and inventions - is on the creative product of a few peoples and originally perhaps of one race," he wrote in Mein Kampf.  "On them depends the existence of this whole culture.  If they perish, the beauty of this earth will sink into the grave with them."  

Thus, Hitler advocated that the Aryan race dominate the lesser races, and a war of the racially superior to those of the inferior to preserve and advance mankind.  "All great cultures of the past perished only because the originally creative race died out from blood poisoning," he asserted.  "Those who want to live, let them fight, and those who do not want to fight in this world of eternal struggle do not deserve to live."  

Thus, "the folkish philosophy finds the importance of mankind in its basic racial elements.  In the state it sees on principle only a means to an end and construes its end as the preservation of the racial existence of man."

Hitler's philosophy is exactly opposite of America's founding First Principles of the rule of law, unalienable rights, equality, the Social Compact, and limited government.  We believe that "all men are created equal."  We reject the idea of superior people or races - we are all of God's (or if you prefer, Nature's) children.  We embrace the idea that all men and women have certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that governments are instituted to protect those unalienable rights.  We reject the idea that government is intended to make some masters and other servants.  Thankfully we prevailed in World War II and set the stage for the historic spread of freedom following the Cold War.  

The issue now is whether we can keep the freedom that we so have fought so hard (and which millions literally sacrificed) to obtain.  Without a firm understanding of who we are - and who the enemy is - we could very well lose those freedoms.  If we don't remain vigilant, the likes of Hitler can easily arise again.  The best way to preserving our freedoms is to understand the First Principles and our Constitution; understand our enemies; and meet them at every opportunity.  

Friday, April 16, 2010

Unalienable Rights - Endowed by the Creator not by Government

As Thomas Jefferson explained, “a free people claims their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as a gift from their chief magistrate.”  This understanding is deeply rooted in the American experience.  We understand that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator from unalienable rights . . . ."

This understanding rejects the idea that we depend upon the government for our rights.  Yet, this belief seems to be too often forgotten today. Many act as if everything we desire, everything we need, must come with the approval of the government.  This subverts the American principle - in America the government serves the people, not the other way around.

As we move forward with new policies, we need to keep in the forefront that the people are sovereign, and do not require the government to bless their liberties.  Indeed, our liberties are blessings - from nature and the Creator.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The People's Constitution

Daniel Webster famously explained in his Second Reply to Hayne that "It is, sir, the people's Constitution, the people's government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people."

This idea underlies the First Principle of the Social Compact - articulated in our Declaration of Independence "that governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the government."

The growing frustration and resentment of the public - on all sides of the political spectrum - with government today often stems from the belief that government of the people has been subverted to the interest of the government of the special interest.  The pitching of factions against one another has always been a feature of our republic, but the domination of special interests in so many political avenues threatens the legitimacy of our system.  With so many political discussions devolving into rancor and personal attacks, that many have become cynics is not surprising.

So what do we do?  Become educated, become more engaged in the political process, and hold our leaders accountable for their actions.  To do otherwise cedes the field to the most corrupting influences in our politics.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Freedom is Lost By Gradual and Silent Encroachments

James Madison warned that "Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe that there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpations . . . ."  Stated another way, we don't simply lose our freedom by coups and martial law - our liberties can be suffocated by small measures, which over the course of time, strangle our liberty.

We need to be vigilant to protect our liberties, and the only way we can expect to keep our freedom is if we are well educated in connection with our Constitution and the First Principles that undergird it.  Take some time away from American Idol and Tiger Woods, and spend some more about learning about our Constitution and First Principles.  Then, and only then, can we halt the otherwise "gradual" and "silent" affronts to our liberty.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Things Fall Apart; the Centre Cannot Hold . . .

"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."  -- William Butler Yeats 

Today, it seems that we are in world full of passionate intensity from quarters who care little for our First Principles and Constitution.  This punishing wave only displaces those who try to marshal their forces in favor of liberty and freedom.  We cannot let Yeats come to fruition.  Form the centre - and hold it fast.