Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Comments on Belmont Club

Saint Daniel Patrick Moynihan, among his many other gifts to the world, gave us the phrase “Defining Deviancy Down.” Two Hundred and Fifty Million dollars is now chump change. Just how much was Sherman Adams’ vicuña coat worth?

The idea of Federalism has both theoretical and practical justifications. The theoretical argument is that of the laboratory of democracy with competitive solutions to problems. That views States as incubators of change in a political free market. It is a lovely concept that suffers only slightly from a paucity of evidence that these new ideas are allowed to crop up and grow in the hinterlands. The practical reason to divide power in a Federal system is the realization that politicians are by their natures crooks. The central authority should not attempt to provide more than a handful of services. What they can do is stay busy investigating the malfeasance of other levels of government. The States should exercise their power to investigate corruption at the federal level. The Constitution of the Confederacy had a specific clause addressing this issue, as well as another ensuring that Cabinet Officers would have seats in the legislature so that they would be available for questioning. Both were interesting ideas worth considering. The Chinese Nationalist system had a "Control Yuan" tasked with investigating corruption.

My favorite book, damn near my little red bible, is William Kornhauser's Politics of Mass Society (The wiki on Social Movement is dismissive of his work) which lays out how atomization can lead to totalitarianism. When to much power is concentrated at the center the individual becomes isolated and vulnerable to being swept up in mass movements. For the working class that would manifest itself as communism and for the middle class the equivalent in Kornhauser's formulation is fascism. Vibrant local polities that engage individuals and that are subject to inspection by a Central (only partially higher) authority seems safer.

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