Wednesday, November 7, 2007

the fat slug

I am having a facinating evening watching charlie rose, tavis smiley and somekind of charlie-rose like talk show on bloomberg with mike schneider. first, btv had the mayor of trenton on. he struck me as a very promising black politician in his early 40s. he could have the stuff to go places. his apparent support of gun control, however, worries me.

rose's guests were richard armitage and joseph nye and smiley have lawrence wright, whose book about american operations in afghanistan seem to have a pulitzer. the overall impression I got from everything was that american agency is in shambles. here I mean agency in the most abstract sense of action. armitage mentioned how foriegners now actively question american competence. wright mentioned how the FBI has refused to hire arab americans, even after they complete military service, rejecting them as security threats.

my impression has always been the federal govt is like a swaggering marine corps sgt who needs to take charge of a situation in which he knows little. but, as a marine corps sgt, he must command authority from the start. so you begin with a combative, self-righteous sense of confidence. think of how ike coldly dissed churchill's wishes for an attack through the balkans. look how FDR forced the brits to drain their reserves, knowing it would leave them incapable of keeping their empire after the war.

while these actions might have been the right things to do, they were discharged with a stiff and obnoxious air that permeates everything the federal government does. just entering the federal building in lower manhattan is like entering some kind of hell built in the 1960s. it just feels like such a miserable, slow place where few people reach anything near their potential as human beings. I have a vision of federal employees setting up camps across california during the depression, battling segregation in the 1960s, defeating hitler, spreading wealth and health around the world.

these endeavors were all so full of goodness that you didn't have to be nice, or particularly great, to be heroic. but there was always ugly side. after all, the fedgovt has failed in every social mission from the very first -- taking care of the american indians.

in fact, the govt probably reached a peak of effectiveness sometime in the 1950s or 1960s in the wake of WWII, when a clear sense of mission shaped the country. but since then it has been downhill. the 1960s are interesting because you have tremendous failure at the macro level with a badly understood conflict. but on the ground it was a marvelously run war in which we achieved continuous victories.

the federal govt's managment of the country is the same way. now more than ever, the nature of our society should be clear: we live in an country full of artificial and sprawling communities that are terribly inefficient and unhealthy. people face long commutes, constant traffic and unnecessarily high basic living costs such as car insurance and gasoline. there is a reason for this: in the 1930s, when oil was practically free and housing was crushed by vicious deflation.

the logical response was keynes's: spend as much as possible. so, we fed europe and encouraged a form of economic development that required individual citizens to own and finance a complex and expensive array of assets. suburban living created demand for home appliances, cars and all the other consumer products. but it was deliberately wasteful. over time, the spending was increasingly financed with debt. and that's where we stand now.

sitting on top of most of our problems is the fat slug of the govt, just sitting there, causing problems. it is too slow and confused to do anything but sit there, with huge weight crushing down on all bystanders....

now is the time the rest of the world may learn they no longer require our leadership.

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