George Rebane: Is America too big?
Essayists and political commentators have been musing about the size and cohesion of America for decades, but in recent years the intensity and frequency of such articles has increased. And since Barack Obama’s priorities and programs became clear, there is now an ongoing discussion in the public media about whether and how the United States should proceed toward a more manageable configuration of jurisdictions, or even sovereign nation-states. These thought-provoking essays appear in a broad range of publications from the Wall Street Journal to the periodic journals of public policy institutes and foundations.
In recent years every election season has revealed how markedly fragmented we have become as the country has spilled over the 300 million mark. While our beliefs cover a broad range of tenets, these have more and more bunched themselves towards opposite ends of the political spectrum.
According to latest polls, about 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as conservatives, about 20 percent as liberals, and the remainder settle in the indeterminate middle.
What makes this ideological division historically critical is that it occurs during a time when our country is under an unimaginable debt burden incomprehensible to the large majority of its citizens. It has unfunded obligations beyond any reasonable means of paying them down, an enormous annual deficit that must be bankrolled by foreign loans, and an educational system that has already produced two generations of voters who have little understanding of the country’s problems, and are without skills to compete for wealth producing jobs.
The left, beginning with President Obama, is convinced that raising taxes and increasing regulations this time will not reduce government revenues as it has in the past. This explains their adamant promotion of such economy killers as California’s AB32 and the upcoming massive tax hike in January. The president is on record promoting such hikes primarily “for the purpose of fairness.”
And if we add to this policies that include targeted bailouts and takeovers of corporations, the growth of governments, destructive trade wars to “save jobs,” and on and on, we see a country with two heads. One wanting to go from where other nations are retreating, and the other saying that America should regain its capitalist roots and become competitive on the world markets with a newly educated workforce. Contrary to last Saturday’s union “mandated” leftwing demonstrations on the Washington Mall to promote socialism, most Americans feel strongly that we need less government in our lives, not more.
So today we read journals like Chronicles from the Rockford Institute that devotes its October issue to “the secession solution.” Therein Emory University philosopher Donald Livingston reviews the problems with our size, population segments with widely differing worldviews, and the effective loss of representative government. He cites our founders’ ideas and prescriptions of how the individual states would keep the federal government from becoming the “Leviathan” described by Hobbes.
Few of us were taught that prior to Abe Lincoln’s suppression of the war for southern independence, much of our country was shaped by parts of existing states seceding in order to preserve the republicanism intended by the founders and written into our Constitution.
Since the popularly known Civil War, power has steadily passed from the states to a ballooning central government that grows more and more out of touch with its several states. And now, with the fiscal insolvency of our largest states, this concentration of power has grown into a rout that promises to leave the states little more than lines on a map.
Author Kirkpatrick Sale (Human Scale) cites statistics on the size versus beneficial governance of the world’s countries, and proposes what he modestly calls “Sale’s Law of Government Size.” This states that “economic and social misery increases in direct proportion to the size and power of the central government of a nation.” We may want to take a look around, do another body count over the last couple of centuries, and think about that.
In the meanwhile, we prepare for elections that will set our course as far as we can see into the foggy future. My own mind puzzles over our headlong rush to replicate the mistakes of the Great Depression as we await January and the largest tax increase in living memory. Why are we doing this? And then I remember, it is all “for the purpose of fairness.”
George Rebane is a retired systems scientist and entrepreneur in Nevada County who regularly expands these and other themes on KVMR, NCTV, and Rebane’s Ruminations (www.georgerebane.com).
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