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Unicorns, Vampires, Eve & the Apple, Small Government and Other Myths

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TygrBright Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-14-11 01:41 PM
Original message
Unicorns, Vampires, Eve & the Apple, Small Government and Other Myths
The Founding Fathers wanted us to have a small government. After all, theyd just gone through the horrendous struggle to free the Colonies from a large, tyrannical, costly, and (for the era) bureaucratic government that had been oppressing them with (gasp!) excessive taxes, demands for compliance with irrelevant and stifling commercial and social laws, and other Evils of Big Government. They knew whereof they spoke. Errr... wrote.

They wanted things, by and large, left up to local communities and states, with the Federal government kicking in only to do a few critical functions like standardizing weights and measures, maintaining a Navy, mediating disputes between states, and so forth. The reasoning behind this was threefold: First, the aforementioned struggle left them with an ineradicable conflation of Big Government=Tyranny. Second, they understood human nature: We trust neighbors (people like us) more than strangers (others), so the closer we keep the government to the neighborhood, as it were, the more we could keep an eye on it and ensure that its trustworthy. Third, the essential differences in economic and social needs were at that time dictated by geography, and locally-based government would be better equipped to address those needs.

In 1790 this worked just fine.

When the U.S. Census was born in 1790, the population of the former Colonies was about 3.9 million people. About 750,000 of those people were slaves of African origin or descent, who were politically powerless. Its safe to assume that their needs and well-being were not a concern of any level of government, although their productivity and the retention of the institution of slavery as an economic engine was critical to half-a-dozen states.

Although the present mythos of the American culture is based on our establishment from the very beginning as a nation of immigrants, in 1790 immigration was actually a very small factor in population growth. No formal records were kept on immigration, but current estimates from contemporary documents place it at about 6,000 people per year, or .15% of the population. Less than one-half of one percent, anyway.

Of the 3.2 million white people living in the U.S. in 1790, less than five percent were Catholics, but they represented the most significant religious minority among the free population. There were probably somewhere between 2,000 - 4,000 Jews, mostly descended from European Jewish immigrants

More than 2,500,000 of the white people in the U.S. in 1790 could trace their ancestry directly to Great Britain, and the only State with a significant population from somewhere other than England, Scotland, Wales or Ulster was Pennsylvania, with nearly 400,000 residents of German, Dutch, and Swedish ancestry or origin.

There were twenty-four cities in America with a population greater than 2,500 people. Ninety-five percent of the population lived in rural areas. We were spread out. Only a few of the largest cities even had multi-unit housing.

The point of all this demography is that in small-government-friendly 1790, the U.S. population was arranged in highly homogeneous communities. Communities where all of the decision-makers (propertied adult males, mostly) looked alike, spoke the same language, held very similar religious beliefs, and engaged in a comparatively small range of economic activities. Communities, mostly, which were spread out on agricultural land around small villages or towns.

Four additional factors militated to small government as a viable option:

First, the influence of religious institutions as a social force, despite the disestablishment clause of the Bill of Rights, was dominant. Churches formed not only the social hub of community life, but also the moral and ideological framework of social engineering. They were even more powerful, in some social respects, than local governments, and they controlled the expectations and institutions of social life, including hospitals, care of the destitute, education, and family life.

Second, the array of natural resources, agricultural produce, and manufactured or crafted products required to maintain the accepted standard of good living, was a narrow one. A few dozen basic commodities, and a couple of hundred consumer/luxury goods categories formed the backbone of the economy, which made commerce, trade, and economic organization a comparatively simple affair.

Third, America had a perceptually unlimited frontier. For anyone who found the lifestyle of the established communities in their States and organized Territories, unrewarding or too confining, there was a vast but potentially claimable and exploitable terra incognita to the west, with only a little genocidal extermination required to access it. Social misfits, entrepreneurial spirits, unwelcome minorities and new immigrants, could all be effectively channeled into the opening and exploiting of new resource streams, outside the confines of law and government.

Fourth, the necessary infrastructure required to maintain the population and promote commerce was extremely small. The Erie Canal had not yet been built, railroads did not exist. The power grid was based on a modest flow of coal to some urban areas, and do-it-yourself wood, water, and wind generation. Plumbing was based on dug wells and hand pumps. Local governments did concern themselves with waste disposal to a modest degree, but there wasnt anything wed recognize as sanitation. Public health, no. The education required to maintain a workforce was based on a few private guilds with apprenticeship programs and learning on the job. Communication depended largely on 1-hp (or less) organic engines and a few shipping routes. The actual infrastructure was limited to a few overland roads and some minor waterways.

No wonder small government seemed like a workable desideratum.

In 2010, America had more than three hundred million citizens, more than eighty percent of whom are urbanized, living virtually on top of one another in small, highly-concentrated areas.

More than eleven percent of us are foreign-born. Nearly eighteen percent of us speak a language other than English as the primary language in our homes, and that number is growing, not shrinking. Nearly thirty-five percent of us are not white, non-Hispanic. The Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Agnostic, Wiccan, neo-Pagan and other religious minority population is exploding. In other words, the majority of our people live in communities that are ethnically, linguistically, religiously, and/or culturally heterogenous to a high degree, possibly the highest in the world.

Religious institutions, annoying as they may be to the militantly unchurched, have almost no institutional power beyond some political influece via moral control of their membership. The ability of American religious institutions to manage any substantial part of the social safety net has been eroded by multiple forces to the point where it is beyond inadequate to meet the needs of communities. (Those eroding forces are not, by the way, limited to the governmentalization of parts of the safety net. The capitalist privatization of the health care infrastructure and the diminishing capacity of churches, mosques, synagogues and other institutional centers of religion to maintain their overhead and membership services, much less do good works in the community are at least as powerful.)

Our economy is immeasurably complex, based on thousands of commodities that are essential to a greater or lesser degree, and hundreds of thousands of consumer/luxury goods and components, the majority of which are no longer extracted or manufactured under American jurisdiction. And thats only the tangible goods part of the economy. When you add in financial and intangible products, services, and added-value based activities, even the largest supercomputers cannot effectively model or manage the levels of facilitation, fabrication, distribution, etc., required.

Our geographical borders are now fixed. We have effectively no frontier, and a vanishingly small number of wilderness and unincorporated areas that are even marginally open to unregulated settlement and exploitation. Further, the extractive and exploitive activities of the last two hundred years (particularly the last century) have left us with a considerable mess to clean up in the way of unbalanced ecologies, polluted areas, and appallingly stupid land-use policies and practices. There is no place for our social misfits to go except among us. Our entrepreneurs have no new geographic resources to open up. We all have neighbors, near or far (usually near) who are intimately affected by how we put our real estate to use.

The infrastructure grid required to maintain this vast, heterogeneous, and continually-growing population, and this incredibly complex economy is similarly vast and complex. Transit, power, communications, water, public health, breathable air, and workforce preparation are all critical factors. The capacity of an unregulated, profit-centered, oligarchically-controlled private sector to ensure efficient, equitable, functional and effective management and accessability to this infrastructure by all of our population, is a recipe for apocalyptic disaster.

If you truly believe that small government can solve our problems, say hello to your pet unicorn for me.

exasperatedly,
Bright
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Drale Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-14-11 01:44 PM
Response to Original message
1. Your more likely to run into a vampire
then you are to run into a small government that works with a country of 300 million people.
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Kennah Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-14-11 01:59 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Not me
I don't run in bank executive circles, so my blood is safe.
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defendandprotect Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-14-11 03:28 PM
Response to Original message
3. Interesting --
Edited on Mon Mar-14-11 03:35 PM by defendandprotect
We move to small government at the peril of our lives -- however, expecting elected officials

who are elites -- millionaires and multi-millionaires -- to legislate for the general welfare

rather than in their own interests would be naive.



Just want to comment on religion --

I wouldn't say they have "no institutional power" -- consider the Vatican is recognized

at the United Nations as a sovereign nation, though it is a male-supremacist orgnaization

and it's "nation" one square mile and all male.

It also has great wealth -- presumably as much as the Royals in England, or greater --

But it is not "moral" control that they have over their citizens any longer. Democracy has

freed members from that control. Rather, the Vatican seeks control over their members and

most of society by trying to influence our government.

This was most evident recently in the health care hearings where House Leader Nancy Pelosi

had one or two meetings with the US Catholic Bishops and at least one phone call from Rome.*

Consider also that, coincidentally, just as the Vatican was in most desperate need of funds

to pay off lawsuits due to sexual abuse of children by their pedophile priests, W Bush came

along with taxpayer subsidies for their "faith-based" religious organizaitons.

The forces may be eroding, but organized patriarchal religion has certainly polluted our

societies with themes of "Male Supremacy" and "Manifest Destiny" and "Man's Dominion Over Nature"

and their economic system -- Capitalism -- based on exploitation of nature, natural resources,

animal-life -- and even other human beings.

With privatization of the health care industry has come a shifting of our public hospitals into

the hands of the RCC, has it not? And are we not subsidizing those hospitals, as well?



Religious institutions, annoying as they may be to the militantly unchurched, have almost no institutional power beyond some political influece via moral control of their membership. The ability of American religious institutions to manage any substantial part of the social safety net has been eroded by multiple forces to the point where it is beyond inadequate to meet the needs of communities. (Those eroding forces are not, by the way, limited to the governmentalization of parts of the safety net. The capitalist privatization of the health care infrastructure and the diminishing capacity of churches, mosques, synagogues and other institutional centers of religion to maintain their overhead and membership services, much less do good works in the community are at least as powerful.)


Re the economy -- I'd suggest that it has been made to seem "immeasurably complex" but certainly

it is not economic democracy -- which is required to have a true democracy.

The founders also always feared the power of capital. Corporations.

However, they did slip the bindings put upon them -- the work again of dishonest men among us.

Wall Street long ago returned to what it is really about -- speculation to earn income for the

few and to rip off the rest of us.

And the de-regulation of capitalism returned it to what it is really about -- organized crime.

Capitalism has existed for only a few hundred years -- "economies" based on trading and other

means of "buying" products existed long before and could exist again.

We can always uninvent the dollar bill -- but most especially we should recognize the harm

put upon us by those who judge everything by the yardstick of a dollar bill.

As the Native American pointed out 500 years ago, a dollar bill is worthless -- you can't plant

it -- you can't eat it -- it won't show you a rainbow -- and it offers no intelligence.

Our economy is immeasurably complex, based on thousands of commodities that are essential to a greater or lesser degree, and hundreds of thousands of consumer/luxury goods and components, the majority of which are no longer extracted or manufactured under American jurisdiction. And thats only the tangible goods part of the economy. When you add in financial and intangible products, services, and added-value based activities, even the largest supercomputers cannot effectively model or manage the levels of facilitation, fabrication, distribution, etc., required.


Capitalism is suicidal in its exploitation of nature -- Global Warming and pollution of our

planet have been the predictable results.

For more than a half-century the oil industry has put tens of billions of anti-GW propaganda

in play and successfully confused the public. No one can say how quickly it may all accelerate,

but it is accelerting faster and faster, shocking even our scientists.

Nor can anyone say how all of this will compound --

Global Warming is increasing the number and severity of earthquakes --

A 9.0 massive earthquake in Japan, followed by a tsnunami -- and the catastrophe of nuclear

reactors added to the mix. And new volcanic activity. That's quite some compounding!








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BlueMTexpat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Mar-15-11 04:38 AM
Response to Reply #3
5. This should be an OP on its own. Excellent points! nt
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bhikkhu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Mar-14-11 11:11 PM
Response to Original message
4. A good write-up, but "small government" was not the goal
After the revolutionary war there was small government, with very limited abilities to raise taxes, regulate trade, or enforce any laws it might pass. For years that was the case, and it worked miserably; the rule of law suffered, business suffered, trade suffered, the economy staggered along stupidly...in short, "freedom" was off to a lousy start.

The constitution was written to establish a strong central government that was "right-sized" to the task of taxation, regulation of trade, enforcing the rule of law, etc. The alternative "small government" was what they had at the time, and what rich and poor alike were happy to turn their backs on.
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