Sunday, September 23, 2012

New threat to the Republic

Many have asked: Could the US lose its democracy, because of problems like what hit the Roman Republic or like the Republic in Star Wars? That's a serious and complex question. There are many scenarios to be alert for. This month... here is the scenario which comes to mind. Crudely -- Obama wins by a large margin, but Congress remains gridlocked; the world economy descends into 1930's style Great Depression II; Obama then becomes as popular as Herbert Hoover, and Karl Rove's plans to turn the nation into a one-party state, with die-hard partisan moles in juduciary and intelligence agencies, following the model of the Roman Empire under Trajan, becomes very firmly established. Among the background sources I think of are Orson Scott Card's Empire series (Card being one of the two strong inspired leading authors from the Mormon community of great interest to all the rest of us as well) and the recent book Boss Rove (biased but with some separation of facts and editorials). The chief negative element in my view: I am not so optimistic as Bill Clinton that re-election of OBama by itself would be enough to grow us slowly out of the present level of unemployment. (Though the Ryan plan would be worse.) The massive cuts in net government spending (spending minus taxes) which both parties agree to will certainly REDUCE demand to much less than what we see at present (unless QE3 leads to a really large new housing boom, which even Bernanke has described in the past as probably not enough to bring recovery). So, sure, the GROWTH in unemployment will be less under Obama than it would be under Ryan/Rove, but it may yet be quite enough to sink his future credibility and reputation, and lead to the rest of the scenario. To avoid an actual growth in unemployment, despite deficit reduction, would take a lot of agility and insight -- and it's simply not clear that this would be possible under a gridlocked Congress. What's more, it's not clear that the doctrinaire Democrat senators would be better than the Republican ones inproviding agility -- but at least they might respond to Obama if Obama is more determined than he was in the first term. (Which is possible.) Of course, there is the obvious opposite scenario. If Netanyahu does take out Iran's nuclear capacity, there is some hope for Romney that he could use that to get back ahead, and squeak through. He might lose popularity a lot in four years as well.. (I remember well just how awful Trajan's policies worked out, and how strong the permanent reaction in Rome towards a more peaceful economics-oriented policy!). But the one-party program might go further than many imagine, with four years of big war as an excuse. So that is no panacea, especially when we consider the huge costs and what such copsts can do to a planet. Of course, this is really about what happens to earth. It would be no more local than the September 2008 crash was. ==== I do hope we can avoid the problems, but if we are not sober enough, we will not. Of course, you can see that I donit trust one-party governments whatever the party. The old ideas of checks and balances, and VIABLE channels of democratuic expression and dialogue, still make sense to me. When I visit the George Wasdhington Masobic Mewmorial, or the Free Quaker meeting in Philadelphia, I do not imagine that these are branch offices of some kind of fundamentaliost segregation academy. The writings of Tom Jefferson sound a whole lot more enlightened than that.

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting that you are a Quaker, since William Penn and the Quakers were at the forefront of morally-limiting government power for centuries(since Penn's 1670 trial, and maybe since Lilburne joined their ranks).

    I assumed you'd probably read the book "Jury Nullification: The Evolution of a Doctrine" by Clay Conrad, and "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki(Quakers; democratic limits on government power), and "On Intelligence" by Jeff Hawkins. If not, please do so. These books should significantly advance your understanding of legitimate politics.

    Your claim that "checks and balances" still exist is quaint. There are a few "checks"(limits) due to the remnants of jury trial, but the theory that power was "balanced" among power-seeking sociopaths is naive. This hasn't been the case for a long time, if it ever was.

    The true limits on government power are all "adaptive" democratic limits(based on adaptive responses from networks of brains that can take specific instances of tyranny into local context), not republican limits(coded commands that once informed culture, but now don't even exist, thanks to government-run schooling).

    In any case, the Quaker meeting in Philadelphia is probably a better avenue for reinstating constitutional limits on government power than any government institution. After all, the members of such congregations have the capacity to read the books I recommended and re-learn their lost powers as citizen-jurors.