Genius of Democracy is in the Details

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The following is a nice piece that furnishes a quick summary of how government, namely the “social contract,” has evolved, yet continues on its exclusionary path of the people it governs.  If you thought Democracy was alive and well, Bill Bonner urges you to check your premises.

“…the genius of modern representative government is that it cons the masses into believing that they are insiders too. They are encouraged to vote…and to believe that their vote really matters. Of course, it matters not at all. Generally, the voters have no idea what or whom they are voting for. Often, they get the opposite of what they thought they had voted for anyway….

…now the insiders are in trouble. The typical citizen is beginning to realize that he’s been had. As long as the insiders could plausibly promise him more and more benefits, he was willing to go along. But now, growth has stalled. They can’t deliver. The insiders keep borrowing — more than $10 trillion this year alone. Soon, they’ll be out of credit…out of time…and out of luck.”

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The genius of our representative democracy, then, is that it is not representative at all.  Yet if furnishes the political elite the legal and presumptuously moral rights to tax our wealth.  Just something to chew on for a while.


Government Propaganda Cannot Hide Sinking Chinese Economy

Despite China’s reported weathering of the storm throughout global financial stagnation, Larry Lang reveals what many of China’s censored academics and intellectuals are saying behind closed doors regarding the vitality of their economy.

Lang’s assessment that the regime is bankrupt was based on five conjectures.

Firstly, that the regime’s debt sits at about 36 trillion yuan (US$5.68 trillion). This calculation is arrived at by adding up Chinese local government debt (between 16 trillion and 19.5 trillion yuan, or US$2.5 trillion and US$3 trillion), and the debt owed by state-owned enterprises (another 16 trillion, he said). But with interest of two trillion per year, he thinks things will unravel quickly.

Secondly, that the regime’s officially published inflation rate of 6.2 percent is fabricated. The real inflation rate is 16 percent, according to Lang.

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The implications are twofold for America.  Beyond the obvious impact of a faltering Chinese economy on the U.S. government’s ability to continue its record-level borrowing, the presence of government censorship and media manipulation are also a concern.  Mr. Lang stated, “Don’t think that we are living in a peaceful time now.  Actually the media cannot report anything at all.  Those of us who do TV shows are so miserable and frustrated, because we cannot do any programs.  As long as something is related to the government, we cannot report about it.”  If the Chinese can do it, so can other governments.

Regarding this, America is no longer the isolated bastion of free press and responsible government (indeed, it never has been). The term “free press,” is actually an oxymoron and is quickly being exposed as a misnomer.  According to John Stauber of PR Watch, western industrialized nations are actually more susceptible to complex forms of propaganda.  Its system of free-press, specifically its evolution into a corporatocracy, is uniquely positioned to distort facts or simply omit those stories and truths undesirable to the status quo.  Why is that you say?  After all, America is a democracy and democracies do not foster propaganda.  The truth is that all governments exhibit a certain degree of control over what information is furnished to the public.  In truth, America is no different in kind from China regarding collusion between giant media conglomerates and its elite establishment.  In many circumstances, they are one in the same.  Any substantive differences would likely be in the degree by which governments control information.

Property: The Junction of Economic and Political Liberty

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I find it striking how little attention is given to the fundamentals upon which America and its namesake of democracy were founded.  Amidst the political and economic turmoil that characterizes our time, we seem to neglect what is simultaneously important to each and all of us, liberty.  We should never forget that the fundamental precept of democratic politics is and has always been the individual and his or her liberty, i.e. freedom from oppression from either foreign or domestic persons.  Yet, it seems that government rhetoric has obscured the true meaning of what it means to be free by seeking to substitute what they call the “public welfare” for that of the individual.  Perhaps the most militant weapon used in both the past and present is fear, but fear of what? Economic turmoil via crises, massive unemployment, giant restructuring of the markets and so on has left most of the American public confused and groping in the dark for solutions to these problems, because they intimately affect each individual’s daily life.  We turn to the government for answers, yet our system continues to unravel at each successive piece of legislation carefully crafted to safeguard the holiest of bureaucratic utterances – the public welfare.  To this I ask, but what of the individual?  To find such answers as they have been pronounced for nearly two-and-a-half centuries, one needs to revisit the traditional notions of democratic government and free-market capitalism.  Together they illustrate an intersection, that once laid bare, shines a brilliant light not just on past scholarly or even political achievement, but on the fundamental relationship between the economic and political.

           This naturally begs the question as to how economic doctrine, namely how it fits within the larger framework of classical liberal theory and which economic system is most conducive to individualism, liberty, equality, and property.  Given these criteria, capitalism is the most legitimate form of economic organization because its legitimacy parallels that of democracy.  Just as democracy attains its legitimacy from participation, capitalism attains legitimacy by virtue of its requirement of participation.  The difference is that participation is not mandatory in a representative democracy because stable government can exist (for some time) without direct influence from the masses.  Shockingly, Dye and Zeigler note, “It is the irony of democracy that democratic ideals survive because the masses are generally apathetic and ignorant…The survival of democracy does not depend on mass support for democratic ideals…[A]ll that is necessary is that they fail to commit themselves actively to antidemocratic movements.”[1]  More fundamental, is that the American democratic system possesses written law, namely the Constitution, which provides the framework that fosters individualism, while protecting liberty and one’s right to property.

            Although capitalism has no such document, the market demands daily participation for no other reason than one’s basic subsistence—indeed, the market is literally manifested via the daily activities of rational consumers.  And because any market necessitates property, mandatory action is the very basis of property itself.  This provides both the need for the justification of property and is the linchpin that unites democratic theory with the traditional conservative notion  of capitalist doctrine originally promoted by Adam Smith.

            As mentioned above, the preeminent tenet of liberal theory is individualism, which liberty necessitates—the freedom to maintain one’s existence in accordance with their own self-interest so long as their actions do not infringe upon the equal liberty of others.  However, so engrained in liberal theory that it seems almost common sense is that no individual is able to maintain his or her own life without the right to property, the justification of which is most clearly pronounced by Locke.  His proviso asserts a key requirement for what constitutes an individual’s right to property—that being acquired or produced by his own labor.  “…every Man has a Property in his own Person.  This no Body has any Right to but himself.  The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his.”  The crucial conception to property rights in Locke is therefore the act of production, which necessitates a mixing of the worker’s labor with the object in question.  The individual, by mixing his labor with the object, bestows upon that item the virtue of property:  “he hath mixed his Labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his Property.”[2]  But how does this translate into liberal democratic theory, particularly how does one’s right to property ensure his or her right to liberty?  It is not until we answer this question that a substantive relationship between democracy and capitalism can be established.

            Ayn Rand provides what many view as a highly idealist philosophy, commonly known as objectivist epistemology.  Her philosophy attempts to reconcile classical liberal tenets with the material world.  By doing so, she provides mankind with a moral justification for its material existence, thereby reinforcing both liberal democratic theory and its necessity of capitalism as the arbiter of social justice.  She asserts uncompromisingly:

The right to life is the source of all rights—the right to property is their only implementation.  Without property rights, no other rights are possible.  Since man has to sustain his life by his own effort, the man who has no right to the product of his effort has no means to sustain his life.  The man who produces while others dispose of his product, is a slave.[3]

For Rand, then, property rights are the very basis of life and liberty.  Moreover, since life is deemed by liberal theory as a natural right, Rand also provides mankind with a moral justification for their natural right to exist and to hold property.

            This has broader effects than some acknowledge today because the moral imperative of democracy, i.e. individualism, manifests itself via private property and the market.  Thus, while the legitimacy of democracy comes via participation, the legitimacy of capitalism is manifested via man’s right to his own life.  The traditional justification for property then becomes a crucial precept of liberty itself and the only viable means by which man is able to sustain his own life.  That said, if man’s fundamental right is his ability to bestow his labor upon that which is to become property, and the value of property lies in the labor that man bestows upon it,[4] then man’s fundamental rights are his right to property (his political right) and the right to dispense of his labor as he sees fit (his economic right).  More precisely, democracy provides proprietary legitimacy to acquire property via the law, and capitalism furnishes man the moral right to acquire property by virtue of its necessity for his survival.[5]  That said, man’s fundamental right to his liberty presents itself via the duality of the political and economic right to sustain his own life.  Therefore, these two dimensions form a coherent conception of man’s fundamental right to liberty, for they represent to him his own power to create and contribute to the betterment of his own position (or at least to sustain his current position) through the acquisition of property.  Furthermore, the theoretical connection between democracy and capitalism is that while capitalism provides the moral legitimacy to acquire property, democracy protects that moral right via a commonly acknowledged and accepted canon of legal statutes.

            Given such a justification for property within the canon of traditional liberal theory, one may reason as follows:

P1Liberty necessitates individualism.

P2 Individualism is grounded in property rights.

C1 Liberty necessitates property rights.

In other words, liberty is based in the necessity to exist, whence the basis of property rights.  Therefore, the traditional justification of property is grounded in the individual, not the state.  If, then, liberty necessitates the right to acquire property free from state intervention, then the point at which the state becomes directly involved in the distribution of property becomes the point at which capitalism is circumvented and liberty, as pronounced by democratic theory, threatened.

[1] Thomas R. Dye, Harmon Zeigler, and Louis Schubert. The Irony of Democracy: An Uncommon Introduction to American Politics, 14th ed. (Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, 2009), 114.

[2] John Locke, Two Treatises of Government: Cambridge Texts in the History of Political Thought, ed. Peter Laslett(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 287-288.

[3] Ayn Rand, “Man’s Rights,” in The Virtue of Selfishness (New York: New American Library, 1964), 110.

[4] Locke, Two Treatises of Government, 287-288.

[5] Rand, “Man’s Rights,” 110.

Elitist Government: Is America Still a Democracy?

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Ray McGovern’s assault by police at Secretary Clinton’s February 15th speech should awaken Americans to a repeatedly demonstrated trend in Washington.  Since 9/11, Americans have seen their civil liberties eroded.  The US Patriot Act, the taxpayer-funded bailouts, the recent tax cut for the rich, massive stimulus spending, and the contentious issue of TSA pat-downs illustrate a civil society in decline.  While it is sometimes difficult to pinpoint our government’s agenda, I think we all know by now that our rights no longer fit within its framework.  The implications are staggering, for this means that whatever our government’s policies, they are not to be trusted.  Adam Smith stated nearly 250 years ago in his monumental treatise on political economy that “The proposal of any new law or regulation….comes from an order of men who….have generally an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public” (The Wealth of Nations p. 174).  This book guided global commerce and politics for nearly two centuries and is still considered a fundamental text in our nation’s top schools.  From it – along with Locke’s Two Treatises of Government – came the spirit of American capitalism and liberty.  Yet, the growth of government over the past few decades speaks to the contrary.

Our education system still teaches the traditional story of the Founding Fathers as patriots who had the people’s best interests at heart. Our children do not learn, however, that the majority of the founders were acting on behalf of their positions at the zenith of society. The founders rationalized a representative government not because they felt that it was best for the people, but that their interests could be safeguarded from the masses only via representation by a small elite.  Democracy, they believed, is better achieved without mass participation in the daily affairs of government. The idea that participation be limited only to electing representatives is the basic tenet of elitist doctrine, and was born from an antiquated and feudalistic sense of aristocratic privilege.  Political Scientist David Truman in “The American System in Crisis,” stated of elites, “Being more influential , they are more privileged; and being privileged, they have, with very few exceptions, a special stake in the continuation of the system in which their privileges rest” (cited in The Irony of Democracy, p. 2).  It is from this conception of privilege that our government still acts today.

Between political action committees, lobbyists, and special interest groups, it becomes self-evident that much of privilege is derived from economic prowess, and economic prowess shaped the very Constitution upon which our liberty rests.   Indeed, Howard Zinn speaks of the economic interests behind the development of the Constitution and how elites reconciled the conflict between their power and the people’s liberty.

Howard Zinn

“When economic interest is seen behind the political clauses of the Constitution, then the document becomes not simply the work of wise men trying to establish a decent and orderly society, but the work of certain groups trying to maintain their privileges, while giving just enough rights and liberties to enough of the people to ensure popular support.”

A People’s History of the United States, p. 97

The Founding Fathers were only interested in a degree of liberty agreeable with the maintenance of  their power and privilege.  Zinn concludes, “In fact, they did not want a balance, except one which kept things as they were, a balance among the dominant forces at that time” (p. 101).  Revisionist interpretations of history such as these are conveniently left out of America’s classrooms; this is not by accident.  Indeed, I learned in my undergraduate studies that democracy is saturated with irony.  That is, its survival, according to the doctrine of elitism, hinges upon the apathy of the general public.

“It is the irony of democracy that democratic ideals survive because the masses are generally apathetic and inactive.  Thus, the capacity of the American masses for intolerance, authoritarianism, scapegoating, racism, and violence seldom translates into organized, sustained political movements.

The survival of democracy does not depend on mass support for democratic ideals.  It is apparently not necessary that most people commit themselves to democracy; all that is necessary is that they fail to commit themselves actively to antidemocratic movements.”

The Irony of Democracy, p.114 (my emphasis)

There is a problem with this, however, according to traditional democratic theory because it maintains that democracy gains its legitimacy only through participation of the citizenry.  And here lies the quandary: many Americans see our democracy for what it is and choose not to participate, leaving the political party a vessel of the state instead of the people.  Zinn claims the party system has always served the interests of the state over the people, because “electoral politics drain the energies of the resisters into the channels of the system” (A People’s History, p. 232).  Moreover, Zinn saw this as a constant throughout both the Revolutionary and Civil War eras.  The latter was also the eve of American industrialism, when much of the nation was still agrarian and hostile to industrialism’s effects on wealth inequality.  To help advance the business interests of elites in the north, “political parties took positions, offered choices, [and] obscured the fact that the political system itself and the wealthy classes it represented were responsible for the problems they now offered to solve” (Ibid., p. 233).   By manufacturing a perpetual level of internal dissension among the polity – whether such disagreement is based upon issues of class, nationalism, or ideology – elites remain positioned to offer solutions to the very problems they create.  Their chief asset in this endeavor is the political party, which is highly divisive along ideology, yet, uses a common rhetoric by which to engage the people.

In order to properly identify with American political debate, one must take account of a fundamental shift in political rhetoric since the late-nineteenth century.  The primary shift occurred within the realm of “liberal” ideology, which explains much confusion associated with the term.  Milton Friedman explains the fissure between classical liberals and neoliberals in Capitalism and Freedom.  While the nineteenth-century classical liberal fostered the political ideals of freedom and the individual along with free market capitalism to minimize the role of the State in economic affairs, the twentieth-century neoliberal reverted back to the state as the primary authority in all matters.  Such a shift ushered in the welfare state we see today.

Milton Friedman

“The catchwords became welfare and equality rather than freedom.  The nineteenth-century liberal regarded an extension of freedom as the most effective way to promote welfare and equality; the twentieth-century liberal regards welfare and equality as either prerequisites of or alternatives to freedom.  In the name of welfare and equality, the twentieth-century liberal has come to favor a revival of the very policies of state intervention and paternalism against which classical liberalism fought….He will resolve any doubt about where power should be allocated in favor of the state instead of the city, of the federal government instead of the state, and of a world organization instead of a national government.”

Capitalism and Freedom, pp. 5-6

In today’s political arena, the classical liberal is more closely associated with conservatism. Moreover, when we speak of liberals today, we are speaking of a relatively new ideological paradigm within American government, one characterized by state intervention and the erosion of individual rights.

Although the term rhetoric is typically assigned a negative connotation, it serves the purpose of communication.  This is important because the elite agenda is built upon such rhetoric, as it provides the only platform – albeit false and growing in transparency daily – from which to speak to the people.  We must therefore take this into account when judging our political leaders by their actions, for it provides us with a standard by which to gauge not just the words of our elected representatives, but the state of our democracy.  Ray McGovern’s assault illustrates the importance of recognizing Washington’s hypocrisy, as there are few other incidents that contrast so poignantly rhetoric with policy. What we see today is that the health of American democracy is in decline, and this is recognizable by the degree to which government policies contradict their political eloquence.  Moreover, the fissure between policy and eloquence seems to keep pace with the growing size of government itself.

This growth in power takes on a frighteningly new dimension in the realm of civil liberties litigation.  Elitism argues that the heart of the Constitution is not the Bill of Rights, but is instead the supremacy clause of Article VI:

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.

There was a general consensus at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in favor of the supremacy clause because elites viewed it as a rule of rules so to speak.  They designed it as a federal trump card to play when state and federal laws conflicted.  Consequently, it gave enormous leverage to the national elite because it ensured their interests over local elites throughout the Union.  Such conflicts are raising heads among scholars today.  Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent discusses a trend whereby federal prosecutions are redefining much of criminal law and threatening First and Fifth Amendment rights of free speech and due process.  The lack of clarity in federal statutes often leaves citizens wholly ignorant of what constitutes an illegal act.  Mr. Silverglate discusses this threat to liberty in his recent article for the Cato Institute.

H. A. Silverglate

“The lack of guidance afforded by federal criminal statutes should not be the basis for an intellectual game susceptible to different outcomes that depend on the political disposition of either the citizen or the government (or, for that matter, the judge).  The inability of average intelligent citizens to understand modern federal criminal statutes is a growing problem that interferes not only with Fifth Amendment due process rights but even First Amendment speech and associational rights.” (p. 237)

The issue, then, is one of vague statutes written into law and used by federal prosecutors to target – often from political motives – public figures and ordinary citizens.  And because federal law is backed only by statute, as opposed to state or common law backed by precedent, the legality of any given action becomes severely blurred.  Moreover, without the doctrine of stare decisis to guide litigation, Courts are relying more on interpretation of law rather than its implementation. This highlights a disturbing reality to which all citizens must quickly awaken.  Whereas law backed by precedent acts to protect the individual by deterring actions that impede liberty, the inherent instability and vagueness in statute law is capable of deterring one from exercising that liberty.  Consequently, as federal law supersedes state and local legal customs, citizens become targets of the law rather than its benefactors.

The elite philosophy of government was never intended to represent the general interests of a society.  Growth in the influence of government over the private lives of citizens suggests not only an erosion of civil liberties, but a more tangible manifestation of elitist doctrine.  While its tenets are passively enforced by misleading educational institutions and the rhetoric of political parties, the doctrine itself stems from an antiquated and feudalistic sense of aristocratic privilege.  We see the results more today than ever as government expansion is characterized by encroachment into education, economics, and law.  These aspects of society must be safeguarded at all costs, for they are the pillars of liberty.  To allow government control in these areas is to act as consulate to a tripartite of tyranny. The question we should all be asking ourselves is what this mean for our children’s liberty?  We would not stand idly by while our sons or daughters were deliberately mislead, unfairly taxed, or unlawfully prosecuted.  Yet by allowing these crimes today, we are in fact, committing the crime of neglect to future generations.

Judgment, Democracy, and Liberty

The Magna Carta from 1215 is an early English ...

The Magna Carta, 1215 (Wikipedia)

Judgment is the glue that binds democracy to individual rights.  Judgment in this context is important because it presupposes the only fundamental behavior common to all human beings, and demanded of all free citizens—thought. Judgment is the use of reason and intellect, to call out cause and effect, and to derive from it a solution to any perceived problem. A lack of judgment implies many things, all of which are contrary to the basic character of democratic politics. The five statements below demonstrate a slippery slope that develops when a citizenry lacks judgment of its own actions, people, and government. These also show how a lack of judgment render a sustainable democratic society impossible.

1) To give up our right to judge is to turn out the lights of our minds and our consciences.
2) Therefore, to give up our right to judge is to alienate cause and effect, thereby rendering the perception of any problems mute.
3) To give up the right to judge opens the door for someone else with interests far contrary to ours to do it for us, namely the government.
4) To give up our right to judge is also, therefore, to give up our ability to evaluate the performance of our government and the manner in which it is provided.

And the coup de grâce is that to forfeit our right to judge the actions of others is to forfeit our democracy in the name of blind obedience.

In this sense, judgment is not simply an act, it is the consciousness of liberty itself. Consequently, this is the only sense one may rationally perceive judgment, for it is the only perception of judgment that renders a democracy practical and credible. Liberty is a conceptual construct yes, but with the power of judgment, of evaluation, of thought, liberty becomes a physical manifestation of the people who employ it. Without our ability and willingness to judge and hold accountable those charged with our livelihoods, liberty is nothing more than a concept devoid not of meaning, but of application and concrete reality.

These are the attributes I see in America today, both in its politics and its people. The American model of democracy was founded on the principle of judgment—the people’s ability to judge their government and their fellow citizens. Judgment, then, is simply holding people, corporations, even entire institutions, accountable for their decisions and the actions taken from such decisions. Judgment is the only failsafe to a democratic nation. It is simply a systematic way of reflecting on one’s self-preservation, nothing more.

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