Change We Can Believe In . . . and Need

Cross posted to Daily Kos

The real problem with American politics is that both conservatives and liberals only get part of it right.

Liberals are absolutely right in asserting that a modern society needs a social safety net, universal health care coverage and a vibrant educational system.

Conservatives are absolutely right in saying that these things do not need to be provided by the Government and might be better provided in a de-centralized, competitive system.

Liberals are right in stating that war is the “continuation of politics by other means” (as Clausewitz, the “Dead German” said), rather than its beginning.  Put another way, the inscription on the cannons was “Last Argument of Kings” not “First Argument of Kings.”  Liberals are right in seeing that diplomacy is a vital part of national security.

Conservatives are right in seeing the importance of military strength in a dangerous world and in seeing that national defense is perhaps the single most basic enumerated power of the Federal government under the Constitution.

For this reason, I think we need to re-think and re-invent American politics for the 21st Century.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. If the 20th Century, from Lochner, through Griswald to Roe v. Wade, was the century of the Civil War Amendments, the 21st should be the Century of the Xth Amendment.
  1. The great, looming realities of the 21st Century are: 1) we will have to compete for foreign capital with everyone else; and 2) we will have a less affluent population and a slower rate of growth.
  1. These two constraints mean: 1) we will have to have to allocate a lower percentage of our GDP to government to attract investment; and 2) we will probably have a shrinking tax base in any event.
  1. There will, however, be needs that will have to be met and investment rarely comes to unstable nation-states or to those without a properly educated work force.
  1. The key to dealing with items 3 and 4 above is the Xth Amendment.
  1. The Federal Government needs to shrink, performing only its Constitutionally enumerated powers, as Madison believed it should.
  1. Things like Education, properly a State (or, better, a local) function, would be returned to that level and the Federal Education Department could be eliminated.
  1. Universal health care could be pursued through legal reform and the establishment of not-for-profit buying cooperatives.  Instead of creating a centralized government bureaucracy like the DMV (or continuing the current employment-based system), Americans should get their health insurance through competing not-for-profit groups like USAA.
  1. If this proves successful, Social Security and pensions could be privatized on a similar model.
  1. National defense is a (perhaps “the”) critical function of government but it does not require continuing to buy weapons for the Cold War.  More money, time and effort need to be given to State and USAID.  The Department of Defense needs to think, not only about the current war(s), but the next.  This would best be done through investing in the development and honing of the Military’s current stable of exceptionally experienced Officers and NCOs.  Why not try to make them all McMasters and Nagles?
  1. The Troop Program Units (“TPUs”) of the Army and Air Force Reserves should be reassigned to the states.  State National Guards and Militia ought to be capable enough to handle a disaster at the Hurricane Katrina level on their own.  If these forces are deployed in Federal service, there should be Inter-state compacts that handle the issue.  As a result, FEMA should be stood-down, saving money and decentralizing disaster response and recovery.
  1. Returning Education to the States and allowing individuals to come together to solve common problems though voluntary organizations is not only more efficient, it is more resilient, an issue identified by thinkers like Ramos and Robb and William Lind.

In a world of “Black Swans” it is wise not to put all your eggs in one basket.