Friday, March 4, 2011

A Government Shutdown EVERYWHERE? More “Jasmine Tea Party” Thoughts

Frustratingly, America will have to wait nearly two more weeks for the federal government to shut down (and then, it will only partially shut down).  Most people will barely notice when it does, and it will be interesting to see if the press is as eager this time as it was back in 1995 to hunt down cases of mild inconvenience resulting from the shutdown and make them sound like crises. 

The press’s favorite, endlessly repeated example back then, you may recall, was the difficulty of getting last-minute “emergency passports” during the shutdown, a great example of the press thinking that the one small thing that irks their rich friends is something that strikes at the hearts of all Americans (my parents do not even have passports, last I knew, having traveled no farther afield in recent decades than Canada, apparently without being detained). 

I’m not saying the ruination of your last-minute plan to ski the Matterhorn is irrelevant, but it’s a small price to pay to get the government (partially) off our backs, and absent government, we wouldn’t have passports in the first place (nor borders, which a true libertarian should view with as much suspicion as prison walls and guard towers).

But – as I will likely say in my intro remarks tonight at Lolita Bar (7pm) prior to DAVID FRIEDMAN’s speech there about the third edition of Machinery of Freedom – I would love to see government shut down, as both idea and practice, the world over.  Now may be the time for it, with people irked enough here to stage Tea Parties, irked enough to riot in Europe, and irked enough to rebel across the Middle East.  I know, I know, the grievances vary and are in some cases at odds with my own, but how hard would it be, I wonder, to ju-jitsu the current mood into across-the-board anti-government sentiment – and crucially, into a sense of global common struggle – if we all agreed to start thinking of this mood as a single, broad “Jasmine Tea Party” instead of unrelated Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East, complaints in China, and marginalized right-wingery in the U.S.?

I used to be something of a gradualist, but there’s already a sense of crisis in the air, and we might resolve it faster if we spread the recognition that humanity has a common enemy, and that enemy is government.  Not the current crop of bums.  Not just Mubarak.  Not just the latest Democrat to spend money on his friends or the latest Republican to say something insensitive.  Government.  Leave the idea of governing our fellow humans on the ash heap of history, alongside the idea of selling them as slaves or forcing them to pledge fealty to a monarch.  Good people do not (for example) rape each other, and they do not govern each other.  I hope I live to see the day when people are ashamed to recall they ever thought otherwise. 


Recognizing a common enemy across so many regions means accepting diverse motivations and philosophical perspectives instead of expecting my own precise formulation to reign unchallenged, of course. 

But my pals on the libertarian right may, I dare say, have a good model for a meta-philosophy or at least strategic approach in the idea of “fusionism,” which was the
twentieth-century effort to keep traditionalists and free-marketeers working together. 

Not a bad start – and obviously the inspiration for my little “Conservatism for Punks” trope – but as I’ve briefly noted before, I think we can be more ambitious (and open-minded) and start asking how to yoke together as many anti-government impulses as possible, without needing them all to perfectly philosophically cohere.  (Nobody dismisses the left simply because it has factions.)  Call this broader thing – tapping into the anti-government impulses among rightists, leftists, even Islamists (who see earthly regimes as inherently corrupt) – “neo-fusionism” or “neo-fu,” if you will, and if that sounds a bit like The Matrix, I can live with that, too. 

At heart, I am not so unlike a neoconservative still, my first political thoughts having taken shape in the Reagan years (fight crime and socialism at home, fight militarized socialism abroad – that still makes sense to me).  But at some point, if a great many of us recognize the advantages of sort of skipping around between philosophical perspectives (whether in a day or a lifetime), it may be time to step back, accept this pattern, and stop treating them as wholly separate perspectives – certainly stop wasting energy treating them as warring tribes (paleo this, left-that) – and to move forward unashamed of having learned a little something from them all. 

Most moderate, apolitical people – ones who are not as adept as us ideologues at spotting the veiled political-tribal implications of each item in the list coming up in a moment – have no problem saying, without any (needless) anxiety about being internally contradictory: “I like trees, seeing the lives of the poor improve, technological innovation, revering our roots, fostering community, buying things, liberating individuals, spreading freedom across the globe, avoiding military meddling, being skeptical, revering excellence, achieving great things, and goofing off.”  I like all those things, too – so sue me.

It’s so easy to turn any item on that list into a fetishized core political principle that then makes enemies of all the others.  Endless proxy wars (as it were) result in which, say, protecting the trees at all costs becomes symbolic of a host of things desired in a broader vision of a good world, things that the other factions do not actually oppose.  (Libertarians do not hate trees, for example.)  And I am in many ways a neocon at heart but in some ways a pacifist as well – and it becomes exhausting to deal with people who, for example, pretend that neocons do not (in the end) want a world of peace and freedom (thus their enthusiasm for spreading democracy and toppling tyrannies).  That pretense makes it easier to treat them as a bloodthirsty, alien tribe instead of people with slightly different philosophical emphases and priorities. 

In the end, I trust all non-jerks want peace and prosperity (luckily, I have encountered few actual sadists, as far as I know).  Recognize that governments are obstacles to those basic goals (being parasitic, inefficient, coercive) and many other goals cease to be cause for combat and merely become mildly differing priorities, like whether to donate to the opera or buy new books.

Anyway, that’s the pleasant, non-combative, long-term goal – and in the interim, we may need a global revolution uniting Islamists, neocons, liberals, libertarians, and anarchists – all on the same side in a global flashmob against government (and thus against public sector unions – sorry, Wisconsin leftists, this isn’t just relativism, but more on that tomorrow).  It may finally be time.  The rickety old governmental systems don’t appear able to withstand even the gentlest of winds anymore.  I begin to suspect we could take them down with Twitter instead of nukes. 

Are you with us, liberals?  Come on, which do you really love more, freedom or, say, Hillary?  Productive work or labor union largess?  I think the best of you were on our side all along, just as the best neocons would love to see a wave of freedom that required no shots to be fired (as on good days in 1989), just as the best Muslims want justice on this earth instead of corrupt regimes but aren’t eager to blow people up to get there.  We can do this.  Don’t let that feeble, anemic, Marx-spouting Pete Seeger fan standing next to you tell you otherwise.  His time’s past now, along with the era of big government he inadvertently aided, however good his intentions.


As a practical, humble first step here at home – one that is both libertarian and respectful of diversity, not to mention of economic reality – I again recommend the “reverse-Hamilton” maneuver of simply encouraging the fifty states to ignore DC.  We can do that without any secessionist wars right now, I think.  DC is already de facto bankrupt, it just won’t admit it.  Declare the age of federal government over and let fifty smaller, still-governed, diverse new nations bloom (and experiment).  I think it would be regarded not as a failure but as the greatest and most creative episode in American history yet.  No one will miss DC, I’m telling you. 

Hamilton had his good points, thinking in a fiscally-sensible fashion even as he encouraged the states to submit to a new central government.  But right now, the U.S. could use a Gorbachev more than a Hamilton. 

But again, we can discuss all that at Lolita Bar tonight.

P.S. Believe me, I recognize that not all syncretism is good, though.  Witness this mashup of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Final Countdown.” 


Dustin Philipson said...


What your laying down here is a thought that reverberates with in my own mind as well. Its this idea that at many a philosophy's core there is a common thread; the shared desire of most, I think, is one that says "hey man let me do my thing, and you do yours!". And I believe that this is what all us humans, at some basic level, really want from the societies we find our selves in: the right and ability to live out our convictions with as little interference as possible (with the exception of harming others; that would be cause for interference).

As a Christian libertarian I am totally in line with this thinking. I know that what I believe is kinda a hard pill to swallow for many (There is a God, and he was incarnated as a man, Christ, who died for the sins of the world). Its a world view I wholeheartedly subscribe to though (the way I came to subscribe to it involves a personal journey of spiritual exploration and self discovery). But the reason I find myself also wholeheartedly subscribing to a "free markets, free minds" philosophy, instead of a "God and country" mind set, is because I believe that to have any governing force demanding people subscribe to a particular philosophy, even if it be one that I hold so near and dear to my heart, would totally negate the purpose and reason one holds to a set of convictions to begin with (for example: for me, choosing to believe what I believe, with all its contradiction, paradoxes and mysteries, satisfies a deep desire I find, seemingly wired into me, for paradox and mystery. In a life that can get bogged down with "facts" and "hard evidences" of "experts" this can be refreshing to me; Emphasis on the "TO ME" part though because I know others CHOOSE to think Christianity completely Ludicrous (ahem... Todd Seavey).

So all that to say: I agree with you Todd. Any institution that would enforce a set of standards upon a group (beyond basic laws that would allow all to "live and let live"), using threats of jail time and bodily harm to deter defiance of any sort, is an institution that has already sown the seeds of tyranny in its own backyard.

I know my own "tribe" has been guilty of sowing these seeds in history's past (ahem... the Inquisitions... The Crusades... and to a way lesser degree, The Religious Right ). So allow me to do my part in uprooting the tendrils of tyranny that any of my tribe's "forefathers" might have had a hand in planting, I hereby take a stand with all my fellow “Jasmine Tea Partiers" the world over! Raise your voice and be heard!

Jacob T. Levy said...

For good or for ill, the fundamental fiscal situation of the states in aggregate is much worse than that of the federal government. If they start abandoning constitutional rules requiring balanced budgets we're screwed (that way lies Argentina of the late 90s); but if they don't, the conflict between their unfunded pension liabilities and their political and constitutional constraints on taxes looks very hard to resolve. They certainly won't be declaring their independence from federal block grants, Medicaid payments, and so on anytime soon.

Todd Seavey said...

And you call yourself a libertarian...or liberaltarian...or something.

Seriously, though, I'm not suggesting all the states would be fiscally sound on day one (I'm looking at you, California), but the competition between fifty truly diverse legal systems would presumably soon have the salutary effects pro-competition folk imagine. The feds produce much greater policy homogeneity right now.

And after all, with the federal government gone, the states wouldn't _have_ to wait for that money to come back, partly diluted, as block grants. I mean, you don't _really_ think the federal government is _helping_, right?

Jacob T. Levy said...

No! But I'm saying that "ignore DC" is not strategically viable, and that is "already de facto bankrupt" is the standard, that the states in aggregate are ahead of DC. State defaults are becoming increasingly likely. A US default remains extremely unlikely. So the diagnosis/ remedy combination that says "the states can just initiate real federalism on their own, ignoring a central government that has become impotently bankrupt" doesn't hold up. Your evaluation of what the states could do, unilaterally, starting from right now, has to play by the same rules as your evaluation of what the center can do.

Jacob T. Levy said...

(That is, in your reply comment you say "after all, with the federal government gone, the states wouldn't _have_ to wait for that money to come back, partly diluted, as block grants." But in your post you say to "ignore" a federal government that still exists-- you don't describe any mechanism by which it could become "gone.")

Todd Seavey said... it doesn't.

As a fallback, I suggest this dog's attack tactic, including the musical accompaniment: