January 4th, 2014
in Op Ed
by Roger Erickson
Two recent articles seem to have passed under the radar screen of most mass media in the USA. Yet they're the kind of "calls to action" that Wall St. financiers can get behind. Like the early support from foreign investors for, say, Mao, Tojo, Hitler, Stalin and Lenin, just to name a few. We could add a long list of smaller actors too, from Pinochet to Quisling, all supported by "business interests" interested more in business than in the general welfare of the people of their respective countries.
Should we worry about the following calls for action? Should we at least discuss them widely, and ensure that more than just the input from "investors" is represented? What is - for us - different this time is that it is the USA itself that is the target of the latest call to action and "intervention."
You can read these articles for yourself.
David Brooks and FRANCIS FUKUYAMA seem to be in agreement that we have a problem.
"So we have a problem."
Do we, though? Or are we the problem?
If it's us, then making one of us a temporary dictator seems to be grasping at straws.
James Madison and the other Framers of the US Constitution thought long and hard about what had been written about the fall of all prior republics and democracies. They foresaw what we're now facing, called it "factionalism" and said that the best way to forestall it's development was to form a more unique form of government than had come before, one with MORE, not fewer, checks and balances.
Fukuyama calls that a "vetocracy." Greater minds, 200 years ago, called it what it was precisely intended to be, institutional checks and balances.
In addition, the framers of the Constitution also explicitly cautioned us that it will always be the character of our people, not the peculiar form of our government institutions that get us through national challenges.
So my suggestion would be to revise the character of our people first, and be more selective about whom we send as representatives to our national Congress ... before we consider weakening the checks and balances that got us this far.
If Ben Franklin were here today, he might scoff at calls for more power, and repeat his famous "table talk" about shaving something from all planks in order to join the parts together into a enduring piece of furniture. He might then go on to ridicule calls for a sledgehammer to smash the furniture, if one faction felt it was taking too long to produce something in their narrow interest.
It'll take a bigger intellect with a more reasoned argument than calls for unlimited emergency powers to make me acquiesce to temporary dictatorships, one faction at a time. That sounds more like a return to the old thinking that held sway before the US Constitution was written, when government of the people, by the people and for the people hadn't yet taken hold, and the ancient device of despots calling for more power was recognized as leading to national insanity.
Fukuyama argues that "We need stronger mechanisms to force collective decisions." Surely he jests? By definition, a collective decision is not one that is forced. As Walter Shewhart and W.E. Deming lamented for decades, an ounce of prevention and preparation speed the quality, not just the tempo, of distributed decision-making - far more than any attempt to repair the process after the development of the actors.
If dictatorships were so valuable, surely the USMC would also be calling for them on the battlefield, rather than going the opposite direction, and also acknowledging the enduring superiority of improving the quality (including tempo) of distributed decision-making. That kind of quality comes only from preparing and developing the character of the people involved, not in trying to force unqualified people through chattle-chutes of imaginary quality. The path that Brooks and Fukuyama dream of has led only to collective disaster, albeit temporary gain for individual looters.
Fukuyama goes on to mention multiple points of personal frustration, in a manner reminiscent of all people who have yearned for simple dictatorships. He wraps it all up with what is itself a peculiar claim.
"Whatever the reasons, the American state has always been weaker and less capable than its European or Asian counterparts."
Personally, I predict that that particular statement will produce more surprise, laughter and outright indignation than agreement from Americans. If not, then I truly don't know my country.
Predictably, Fukuyama then trots out the bogeyman of regulation, both it's absolute magnitude, various distributions, and methods of development. Having built several premises, i.e., that there IS a problem, that said problem is embedded in our very institutions, he now asks credible readers to wrap those presumptions around what "everybody knows," i.e., that there's too much regulation. Of Wall St, presumably?
At this point, I sincerely do hope that most credible readers are, indeed, laughing. Yet what Fukuyama is toying with is not a laughing matter. Tojo would have approved of his underlying message, even if he chafed at the slow, political correctness of it's delivery. If nothing else, you have to credit Brooks and Fukuyama for working so hard at what is, at heart, an incredibly simple and ancient message. "Give us the Goddamn Power! NOW!"
Finally, Fukuyama unravels his own case by making the mistake of exposing a simpler solution to his entire thesis.
"Thus, conflicts that in Sweden or Japan would be solved through quiet consultations between interested parties through the bureaucracy are fought out through formal litigation in the American court system."
Fine. Delegate more of the tactics and strategies that now masquerade in Congress as National Policy, and get Congress, SCOTUS and the POTUS the heck out of tactics, and back in matters of true policy, national goals and Desired Outcomes for the nation ... where they belong.
For that, you don't need a dictator. Shoot. You don't even have to strengthen the Presidency. Just improve the quality of distributed decision-making, by investing more in the character development of all citizens? What a concept! Again, Fukuyama shoots his own argument in the foot, by overdeveloping it's lopsided armaments.
[PS: Note that Fukayama conveniently does NOT review all the failures of every other form of government worldwide, during the time course of the events he laments in the USA. Japan? Right. Nothing has happened in the last 70 years of THEIR government's history. His oratorical arguments lack the barest of required statistical controls. His arguments wouldn't receive any attention at all in any scientific debate. Indeed, they receive attention only for the dangers they present to an electorate challenged with responsibility for reasoned and logical discourse.]
Nevertheless, Fukuyama drones on and on about various cases, each time imaging tactical issues that he's presumably conditioned readers to see a Strengthened POTUS as the solution to. He even mentions the current mess of financial regulation, but not how elegantly the same issue - and effective responses - were developed back in the 1930s. We didn't bother strengthening the Presidency back then. Why now?
While it's unstated, the underlying premise is that the ONLY rational solution for a Congress filled with micro-managers is to have a POTUS free to veto each and every inappropriately micro-managed Congressional gambit.
That's not the way the Framers of the Constitution saw it. There is nothing of substance in Fukuyama's essay that wasn't more fully developed by James Madison et al, first in the Virginia Plan, then in the Congressional Convention leading to the actual signing of the Constitution, and on to it's initial amendments. [Madison's actual notes on this process are fascinating, and little read by our 320 million citizens of today.]
The solution that the Framers saw as a better way, was to maintain the quality of the American electorate, and charge THEM with preventing the development of an incompetent class of politicians in all three branches of the newly designed government.
I see no further use in belaboring all the remaining points Fukuyama or Brooks trot out in their call to action. Rather, I'll close with a simple point.
The easiest way to form a vetocracy of the type they fear, is to populate ANY form of government with irresponsible people unfit for the task at hand.
Rather than trying to create a fool-proof formula for protecting ourselves from the Idiocracy they fear, isn't the simpler, and more scalable solution to instead invest in the quality of people we send as representatives to any form of government? And to do that by developing an electorate capable of selecting better quality representatives for themselves.
No Child Left Behind? How about no Democracy left behind, by leaving no citizens behind?
Personally, I don't see any other way. If Fukayama and Brooks are right, then we could engineer institutions so idiot proof that we could populate them with the proverbial 500 monkeys with typewriters, and then just sit back to wait for the guaranteed results.
There is a better way.
"Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." - James Madison to W. T. Barry, 1822