The Uncrackable State, And How It Might Crack Up

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There have
been lots of tales about aristocrats who wind up being transfixed
by a painting, another kind of artwork, a gadget, a trinket, or
even a person. "That I must have!" one declares
as he or she opens up his or her wallet. In appearance, this kind
of gentleman or lady is nothing more than a fop who would benefit
from a few financial planning lessons — a big spender, the customer
of every gallery owner's dreams. I know of no aristocrat who ever
saw a book on sound budgeting and exclaim, "That I must
have!"

The real thing,
though, is much shrewder than appearances show. A crucial attribute
of aristocratic government is the transformation of all criticisms
of the State into either disguised pleas to it or mere captiousness.
This is how the lords and ladies stay in their place. The trinket
that an aristocrat "must have" is actually a symbol, which
reinforces prestige and acts as a magnet for they who desire prestige
themselves. "All High Roads In My Land Lead To Me" — this
maxim, if successfully implemented, keeps the aristocratic head
out of the guillotine's reach. It isn't just valor (not to mention
success) in war that keeps the ruling class ruling — not as long
as the words of the Prince of Peace are heeded, or at least listened
to.

There seems
to be an escape from this prestige box, one glimpsed when the true
record of government policy is exposed. Typical economic policy
is, upon reflection, a comedy of errors. Some creature of State
has a Bright Idea which all find both advanced and plausible; it
gets enacted; the unintended consequences surface; the Bright Things
save face by plastering adjustment upon adjustment on top of the
original "simple" measure; rules and forms grow more complicated
as a result; and people who can see through the charade shake their
head, once again. If there were any Iron Law of Modern Statecraft,
it would have to be: "a law which requires a regulatory body
to oversee its implementation is the result of a bill poorly drafted."
Loss of this kind of common sense over the course of the last hundred
years has seriously circumscribed the reach of the unconstitutionality
argument against regulatory agencies. Americans, thankfully, still
believe that unjust policy is equivalent to impracticable policy.

The essence
of comedy, according to Aristotle, is the maladroitness of a low
man raised to a high place. The would-be ruler who proves to be
hopelessly out of his or her depth is the source, therefore, of
political comedy. Traditionally, Hamiltonian attempts to grow the
American economy have been the subject of many a joke — which explains
why the myth of the government saving Americans from the ravages
of the Great Depression is clung to so tenaciously by government
types. It is their "Great Exception" to the rule of government
maladroitness, and it has been the hardest statist myth to debunk.
To see why, ask yourself what would happen to millions of "revenooers"
if Murray
N. Rothbard's analysis of the Great Depression
became the consensus
view in America.

From the point
of view of the statist, though, the Roosevelt
Myth
provides inadequate security. Even if FDR was officially
canonized, there is always the risk of the plain citizen taking
a cue from the recently-deceased Lloyd Bentsen and saying to the
latest offering from the Demopublican circuit, "Sir, I know
Roosevelt's record very well. He bailed out the economy and he did
it on the cheap. You, sir, are no Franklin D. Roosevelt." Since
economic performance is subject to measurement, criticism and later
analysis, the Myth of the Great Depression is both limited and has
a shelf life. Its intellectual bodyguard, Keynesian economics, has
already suffered a telling blow to its credibility thanks to the
eruption of inflationary recession, and the first "full-employment
recession" will drive a stake right in its heart. If there's
a recession with full employment all through it, what need is there
for the Keynesian panacea? The old laurels have to be pulled out
— always a risky maneuver, since old laurels are often obsolete
laurels.

A more secure
foundation is built through the absorption of intellectuals into
the State. If you want a sound education, a State school is where
you go for it. A more subtle but also more blanketing take-out of
critical thought is, "if you want to use your education,
the State is where you go to."

This approach
worked wonderfully well for Rome. If you spoke and wrote perfect
Latin, then you were welcomed — invited in – by the rulers. If you
didn't have that intellectual polish, you were a mere nothing. This
division point meant that the dividing line between ruling class
and ruled was full Latin literacy. Thus, it was easy to dismiss
even the most perceptive "barbarian" right out of hand,
or to take one in as a mere man of use and get rid of him once he
began to see through a few of the tricks.

Formal learning
as a ticket in to the councils of power is often seized upon because
formal education is hard. In order to get a coveted doctorate
or another professional-level degree, you need to spend approximately
twenty years of your life in school. In order to get an even more
coveted doctorate, or advanced degree, from one of the few academies
of great distinction, you have to spend about sixteen of those twenty
years working diligently at your lessons, and studying almost slavishly
for the last eight of those sixteen. The use of standardized tests
as an admission criterion adds an element of invidiousness to the
selection process, too. Selection on the (partial) basis of I.Q.
score makes it very easy to dismiss any credible debunker as being
“not bright enough to understand what's really going on" unless
he or she went to the halls of ivy too. Such a fortunate matriculant
is likely to pull his or her punches, out of old school spirit.

Consider the
trap for anti-statists which is set up by this path of distinction.
If any would-be Mr., or Ms., Smith goes to Washington, he or she
meets with reasonable-sounding people who are willing to lend an
ear to anyone, and who also show a schoolteacherish enthusiasm for
putting criticisms to rest. Why shouldn't they be less than open-minded?
Didn't the halls of ivy inculcate a sense of noblesse oblige?

Yes, that's
right. What appears to be open-mindedness is based upon a kind of
condescension. Critics are turned into pleaders through being painted
as ignoramuses: "if they're not here to plead for government
money — well, then, they're here to plead for knowledge, or for
some kind of validation." This knowledge is granted, increasingly,
by Eisenhower's other
threat to liberty
, the scientific-technological elite.

An education-based
State occupies a much more solid command post than the State that
promises economic security (or prosperity) does, for it is much
harder to debunk. Who would not be diligent in getting the bureaucratic
point of view, if the pain of refraining to do so is being labeled
"stupid?" What do you say when you're complimented, or
thanked, for your observations, no matter how critical in content?
Ask them to "do something" about it (pleading)? Losing
your temper in the face of a polite and seemingly attentive group
of people (captiousness)?

The Education
State is truly a marvel when beheld from afar. Instead of the privileged
and lazy, its functionaries are hard-working — or were hard-working,
up to the point of lifetime habituation to hard study, when in school.
Instead of disdainful "Old Boys," or fiery-eyed power
lusters, the staff is composed of middle-class, middle-brow people
who tend to be pedagogues at heart, not unlike your lovable teacher
in demeanor. Their relativism means that they don't mind being disagreed
with. Their "Everyman" is a likable scholar-barrister,
not the solicitor type that we associate with the word "shyster."
There is also a real intellectual curiosity in D.C. that keeps the
citizen-relations part of the machine turning smoothly. The D.C.
bureaucrat will listen even to us!

In demeanor,
they are the opposite of servile, except when stressed. The stressor
is easy to portray as the bad guy subsequently. Their admiration
for education actually keeps the spirit of servility at bay. And,
because they do have a personal interest in the quest for truth,
any and all well-reasoned critiques of State policy will not get
them angry, but instead will get them curious.

As long as
the educated American belongs on all high roads, all high roads
truly lead to Washington, D.C. The quest for truth is almost completely
co-opted now.

Thankfully
for liberty, the United States government actually aspires to be
the Prodigal Son, though under more altruistic colors than a mere
carouser runs under. This is the fundamental model of the payoff
state: the government must always at least appear to be the benefactor.
When seen in this light, permanent deficits are a kind of King's
Shilling, with the tax-raising President Hoover serving as the wicked
barbarian in the woods.

This dynamic,
though worrisome, is not the worst of all worlds. A "Rosy Scenario"
is even deducible from it: the government goes bankrupt, impelling
government officials to ask the people to bail the government out.
"Uncle Prodigal" winds up broke, and receives a "people's
bailout" as a fatted calf. Rather than resented, government
employees who are let go are welcomed into the private sector as
Prodigal Sons, and Prodigal Daughters, themselves. Life in the private
sector is perceived as a much more secure way of life, long-term.
The resultant reconciliation between government and people results
in fear and insecurity being replaced with sobriety and skepticism
when assessing the efficacy of government. The unity between unconstitutionality
and long-term impracticality is re-established in the public mind,
and consequently the government's broken chains are replaced with
ones much tighter, and more secure.

I will concede
that the above happy ending to the current mess seems implausible,
but as long as respect for truth still prevails in the United States,
it is possible. At the very least, it would make the jealousy-inducing
bugbear, the one often called the "greedy/grasping/anti-social
hoarder," finally vanish, which would be a good thing.

Although an
all-American answer to Shakespeare would be a better thing!

May
26, 2006

Daniel
M. Ryan [send him mail]
is a Canadian with a well-known habit of blundering into fields
for which he is inadequately prepared. Visit his
website
.

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