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Home Ruminations

Domestic Policy

Besides these thoughts on some specific domestic policy issues, you might also find interesting either my thoughts on some specific foreign policy issues or things that seem common sense to me, or perhaps even my thoughts on improving our government.

Whose Vision are we Pursuing?

I look to leaders who can sketch a picture of the society they're working toward. The elder George Bush called this the vision thing. Unfortunately what many want to create is not a newer and better society. Wanting to change society but not having new ideas, many want to change it back to what it was a hundred years ago, often described as Rolling Back the 20th Century. This is not a new vision for the future of our society, just a sore loser approach to reform battles we thought were over many decades ago.

We Created Our Own "Illegal Immigrant" Problem

These days we're very concerned about "illegal immigration", principally from Mexico and Guatemala. But it's not reasonable to just chalk up our problem to bad luck, or to consider it somebody else's fault; in fact our problem was caused by our own earlier actions.

We made it awfully difficult for people to continue living at home. The coup we backed in Guatemala stopped and reversed their Land Reform, leading to a population having no land and no jobs. Eric B. Ross, in The Malthus Factor described the situation almost two decades ago this way (and a lot more has happened since then):

[T]he unresolved lack of access to land or productive employment has impelled an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans to seek refuge and work in Mexico, the United States or elsewhere.

And rural society in Mexico (especially the southern part of Mexico) has been largely destroyed by "modernization" attempts, commercialization, multinational agricultural corporations, the Green Revolution (not one of the "usual suspects":-), and even NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement). With little to keep them at home, many fled to either the urban areas (hence Mexico City's huge population) or the United States. Again The Malthus Factor describes this:

Thus, Escobar et al. describe the seventies and eighties as a time of "rural collapse" [emphasis added] when increasing numbers of the poor fled the traditional agricultural sector.

And we got people in the habit of moving to serve as temporary (often harvest-time) labor in the United States. The Malthus Factor describes both the intention and the local consequences of temporary migration:

By 1924, the US Border Patrol had been established to help maintain a convenient influx of "illegal" migrant labourers from Mexico to serve the fluctuating demands of farmers and industrialists in the United States.

The net effect of out-migration was a labour shortage in some households during crucial times in the local agricultural cycle.

The Malthus Factor sums up the situation this way:

The dramatic pace of legal and illegal immigration from Mexico during the 1940s reflected a marginalization of subsistence agriculture which reduced demand for rural labour and transformed rural Mexico into a labour reserve for national and international capital.

People and Our Biological Environment

People are part of the biological environment. I much prefer figuring out how we can fit in rather than viewing natural resources as something to be dominated and exploited. I'm disturbed by an over-individualistic antagonistic approach to nature.

(I of course have some more detailed thoughts on people fitting in to our biological environment.)

Small Is Beautiful

The rise of democracy in Western Europe was made possible by each small group being able to make its own decisions. Centralization -even in the name of "efficiency"- is inimical to democracy.

Anthropologist Marvin Harris said this over three decades ago in his book Cannibals and Kings:

Only by decentralizing our basic mode of energy production—by breaking the cartels that monopolise the present system of energy production and by creating new decentralized forms of energy technology—can we restore the ecological and cultural configuration that led to the emergence of political democracy in Europe.

European and American Values

In his book The End of the American Era (although the book focusses on foreign policy), Charles Kupchan describes a contrast of values between the US and Europe, which are not as similar as the phrase the west may suggest. His description of typical European views on American values resonates with me:

Despite continuing deregulation across Europe, America's laissez-faire capitalism contrasts sharply with Europe's more state-centered economy. While Americans decry the constraints on growth stemming from the European model, Europeans look askance at America's income inequalities, its consumerism, and its willingness to sacrifice social capital for material gain. The two have also parted company on matters of statecraft. Americans see the EU's firm commitment to multilateral institutions and the rule of international law as naïve, self-righteous, and a product of its military weakness, while Europeans see America's reliance on the use of force as simplistic, self-serving, and a product of its excessive power. Europeans still share a historical affinity for the United States, but they also feel estranged from a society wedded to gun ownership, capital punishment, and gas-guzzling cars.

USA Had More Than One Founding Event

We have had several founding events (for example our Civil War); only two of the faces on Mount Rushmore are from the 1776 generation. At the end of the FDR era the USA had become a different country. Good thing, because the original founders never imagined either the industrial revolution or a predominately urban population.

But our constitution --and our mythology-- was never updated, so there's a clash between our sacred documents and the real USA we live in. The changes were legitimated by novel (some would say tortured) interpretations of various parts of our constitution, for example the interstate commerce clause. And opposition coalesced around the phrase states rights. Our school students focus so much on 1776 that they often don't learn much about the other founding events. And what they do learn differs from classroom to classroom much more than coverage of our separation from Britain, as it has never been mythologized. So when politicians propose to return the country to the founders' intentions, the logic of their case is prima facie reasonable, and opponents have no event they can all rally around.

Only a Qualified Commitment to Capitalism

This country changed so much in the twentieth century that it would probably not be recognized by its founders, or even its earlier presidents. Founded with a purely agricultural economy, our country soon underwent the shift of the "Industrial Revolution", a shift that for us was so wrenching and thorough that it's been termed The Great Transformation.

It took our country a while to figure out the best way to reap the benefits of capitalism without too much damage to the social fabric. In the 90th Anniversary issue of Foreign Affairs magazine, Gideon Rose makes the unqualified statement ...liberalism's central principle of laissez faire was abandoned in the depths of the Depression.

There's just one problem: Even though such a statement can be made without fear of controversy in some circles, other circles are apparently completely unaware of any such decision.

Returning to Olden Times

To slavishly return to what the founding fathers intended would roll back a couple centuries of progress and flirt with making us servants to museum pieces. Besides, since the founding fathers are not here to speak for themselves, pronouncements of what they'd think are just educated guesses. And I don't want to give someone else permission to authoritatively make those guesses if their guesses will dramatically affect my own life. Whenever the founding fathers are used as a justification for a political action, I suspiciously prick up my ears.

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