The Gordian Knot of Entrenched Special Interests

Some economic/governmental problems cannot be solved. Too many powerful interests have become deeply entrenched in the existing, massively complicated system constructed over many decades by political maneuvering. The politicians cannot cut this Gordian Knot because they are themselves completely under the sway of the entrenched interest groups.

The U.S. healthcare system is such a problem. It will never be solved in any meaningful sense of the word. It will, however, prove unsustainable, and it won’t take a very long time to become so. When the existing mess collapses of its own weight, interest groups and politicians will enter into a great struggle for positions in which they can continue to exploit government power under the new, revamped system constructed on the ashes of the old, unsustainable, terminally messed up system.

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Many Different “Problems,” Identical “Solution” in Every Case

Terrible working conditions
Lots of poor people
Industrial and financial instability
Economic depressions that won’t self-correct
Inadequate supplies of “affordable” housing
Widening economic inequality
Racial and ethnic discrimination
“Market failures” of many kinds
Environmental degradation
Threatened or disappearing species of animals and plants
Global cooling
Global warming
Climate change

These are among the many problems that people have perceived as plaguing economically advanced societies during the past century or so. They differ greatly and involve different causes, mechanisms, and consequences.

Yet in every case the solution has been widely seen as the same: vastly enlarging the power of government. It’s almost enough to make a skeptic wonder whether each perceived or proclaimed problem has been intended from the start to serve as a pretext for a government power grab—especially when one appreciates that somehow the problems that enhanced government power is supposed to solve never get solved to the satisfaction of those who sought the power, but only cry out in their view for even greater augmentation of government power.

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The Historian and His Times

Historians are often rightly accused of carrying contemporary ideas and values back into the past and using them inappropriately to evaluate actors and institutions of bygone days. The presumption in this accusation is that historians know a lot about their own times and relatively little about former times. But such need not be the case.

I remember reading long ago a collection of essays by the distinguished political and intellectual historian of 16th and 17th century Britain J. H. Hexter. In the book’s introduction, Hexter notes how much he is at home in those remote times and how relatively ignorant and unaware he is of the times in which he was living. He simply had devoted much more time and effort to the long ago and far away than he had to informing himself about his own times and circumstances.

I often feel the same way, especially in regard to popular culture. When I hear people refer to contemporary actors, entertainers, and athletes, I often say to myself, Who are these people? Even more so for “celebrities,” people who have done nothing, but are famous for being famous. I’m pretty sure I know more about Grover Cleveland and his presidential administrations than I know about Donald Trump and his. And I have no doubt that I know more about the U.S. economy of the period 1865-1950 than I know about the current U.S. economy.

One really can live in the past. Indeed, it’s what historians are supposed to do.

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Sending Their Sons and Husbands

Why do so many people accept with ease their political leaders’ declaration that the nation must go to war against X, even when X clearly is not attacking them, and must kill and die for the alleged defense of the nation?

Do they suddenly forget that their leaders are notorious liars, extortionists, and oppressors? Do they value their lives so little that they require no substantial reason to surrender them whenever their despicable leaders tell them to do so?

Or do they simply relish killing or sending their sons and husbands to kill in their name?

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Rhetorical Hocus Pocus

There is you. There is I. As fellow human beings, we have rights — legitimate claims on one another’s actions — and correlative obligations. Each of us has rights to life, liberty, and property. Hence, each of us has an obligation to refrain from interfering with the other’s retention and enjoyment of his life, liberty, and property. The situation is the same for any two individuals whatsoever.

There is no society. There is no nation. Not, at least, in the same sense that there are you and I. Society and nation are abstractions. Neither can act or decide anything; neither as such is good or evil. Each is only a linguistic device, not a thinking or acting entity and hence not a moral entity.

You and I owe society and nation nothing, and neither of these abstractions owes, or can owe, us anything. When national political leaders purport to place obligations on us, they are attempting to sucker us into doing what they want us to do by claiming that we have a legitimate obligation to do it. But we have no more legitimate obligation to a president or a prime minister, to a congress or a parliament than we have to any other human being, and each political leader or government functionary has the same legitimate obligations to us that any other human being has.

When they act otherwise, they are simply violating our natural rights, and we need feel no obligation whatsoever to obey them merely because they purport to “represent” the society or the nation. It’s rhetorical hocus pocus. If we fall for it we are fools.

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To Operate Fairly Successfully

When socialists or their sympathizers in the USA are told that socialism doesn’t work, they often respond, “Yeah, just look at how terribly countries like Sweden, France, and Germany are working.”

But these fairly successful countries do not have socialist systems: they do not have government ownership and operation of the major means of production; they do not have central planning of resource allocation and central determination of wages and salaries; they have not outlawed capital markets or private banks and other private financial institutions.

And a damned good thing, too, because the residual market-oriented aspects of these countries, which are extensive in spite of various regulations and other interventions, are precisely what permits them to operate fairly successfully.

If they were socialist in the definitional sense I have just sketched, they would have gone down the same road as the USSR, Communist China, Cuba, North Korea, and Venezuela long ago.

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