The 2010 Elections: What Revolution?
Much recent media commentary has characterized the 2010 midterm elections in the United States as “revolutionizing” the political landscape. While the elections certainly changed the composition of the U.S. House, Senate, and many state legislatures, their impact is anything but revolutionary.
I will not dwell on short-term political predictions, except to say that the next two years of U.S. politics will likely be characterized by gridlock and status-quo bias. A federal legislature divided along party lines will mean that the Obama administration will not succeed with as many of its proposed massive, liberty-infringing interventions as it was able to push through in 2009-2010. Indeed, opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will likely mean that the administration will need to resign itself to no further “accomplishments” of this caliber for the remainder of this term. I do not expect that massive new legislation with the impact of the recent mammoth health insurance and financial reform bills will be politically feasible, but neither will these two bills be repealed. The Senate is still controlled by the Democratic Party, and Obama can still veto any repeal proposal, with little chance of a veto override. While one can certainly hope that the most onerous provisions of these bills will be eroded bit by bit through challenges in Congress and the courts, their overwhelming bulk has a strong chance of persisting into early 2013 at the least.
Congressional gridlock is not all bad, of course; it prevents numerous egregious infringements of liberty from coming to pass. Yet the American political climate is too far gone for friends of liberty to reconcile themselves to a mere continuation of the status quo. It is especially important to recognize that the status quo is not static. Today’s political system has built-in trends toward expanding power and control over the individual through massive automatic growth in budgets and inflation and the discretionary authority of the President and monetary policymakers at the Federal Reserve. Accepting matters as they are will mean that they will not stay as they are for long. Civil, political, and economic freedoms will keep deteriorating. The built-in trend of the status quo is a totalitarian creep. In the past two years, the Obama administration has managed to transform the creep into a gallop. Now we may be back to the creep, but this is no cause for celebration; the United States is already deep into totalitarian territory. Real, fundamental change – not Obama’s faux “change” – is necessary.
So what would a real political revolution look like? It would require a massive change in the mindsets of virtually everyone – within the three branches of American government, the voting public, and the numerous special interests that heavily influence government policy. Figuring out how to accomplish this change is one of the most challenging questions of our time, and I do not have a ready answer. All I can say for now is that the changes must occur peacefully and must respect the rights of every individual during the transition. However, I can answer another question that is just as interesting: “How will we know when a genuine revolution has taken place? What would American society and government look like?”
A genuine political revolution would not need to produce a laissez-faire, minarchist government. That would be like getting every child in the United States to master multivariate calculus, when many are struggling with basic arithmetic. So many new infringements of liberty have occurred over the past ten years that anyone who managed to reverse them all, returning the U.S. federal government to roughly its scope in the year 2000, could justly be considered one of the greatest all-time benefactors of humanity. While still far from ideal, life in the United States would clearly become much more tolerable if the following reforms were to come to pass.
● Elimination of airport “security” theater – practices that would be comical if they were not tragic: Currently, Americans seeking to fly have a choice between being groped and being virtually strip-searched by a Transportation Security Administration that is increasingly attracting thugs and perverts into its ranks. Those who love their dignity and liberty enough – myself included – have decided to cease flying altogether. Some, however, have too much of their livelihoods to lose through such a decision and so must subject themselves to humiliation that offends every moral principle of a civilized society.
● Elimination of government bailouts and special favors for firms that failed because of their own risk-seeking strategies: A genuine end to the heinous notion of “too big to fail” is needed in order for genuine economic freedom to even have a chance. Currently, there are two tiers to the American economic system. The top tier consists of certain politically connected large corporations, which thrive off of subsidies, wealth redistribution, barriers to entry, and exploitation of structural inefficiencies which they advocate and entrench. The bottom tier consists of everybody else. Today’s political system results in a “tall” or hierarchical economic system, as opposed to a “flat” or networked one, which would prevail in a free market. As ironic as it may seem, removal of special political favors will end many of the corporate excesses of which the political left complains – exorbitant compensation and “golden parachutes” for CEOs that drive their companies into the ground, free passes for companies whose operations impose negative externalities on individuals and smaller businesses, and different legal standards for the corporate elite as compared to everyone else.
● Elimination of inflation: Inflation is the worst kind of “orderly” theft of the savings of productive, industrious individuals. For all other kinds of government revenue generation, short of outright confiscatory raids, the government only takes so much, leaving the rest in the hands of its subjects. An income tax, for instance, leaves the individual with full disposal of the after-tax portion of his earnings. Inflation, however, keeps on siphoning wealth away from the same units of money. It is the greatest obstacle to upward social mobility and long-term economic planning by the majority of people. At the same time, because, as Ludwig von Mises showed, money does not enter the economy as if dropped by a helicopter, some entities get privileged access the new money. In the United States, these entities are the large financial institutions that sell U.S. debt securities to the Federal Reserve in return for bills or electronic deposits that the Fed creates ex nihilo. Egregiously enough, the Federal Reserve has recently announced that this income redistribution to the politically connected elites from everyone else has not been occurring sufficiently of late, so the Fed will engage in more “quantitative easing” to accelerate it.
● An end to disastrous military occupations: Nine years in Afghanistan and seven years in Iraq have resulted in the deaths of many more civilians than actual enemy combatants by any definition. They have not produced meaningful political reform or improved the prospects for peace in the Middle East. Indeed, as hundreds of thousands of documents from WikiLeaks demonstrate, the U.S. occupation has facilitated egregious infringements of human liberty by regimes that would not have existed but for the grace of Bush and Obama. The fruits of these conflicts have been torture, rape, religious persecution, killing now and asking questions later, and the empowerment of certain sadists who enjoy gunning innocent people down from helicopters.
● An end to the domestic “War on Terror”: No terrorist has done or could have done as much damage to the lives and liberties of innocent Americans as has the U.S. government in fighting its “War on Terror”. The outcomes of this loudly trumpeted but never formally declared war have been warrantless surveillance, invasive searches, the abrogation of habeas corpus and the right to a fair trial, and now the assertion by the Obama administration that it has the prerogative to assassinate anyone in the world, American citizens included, under the mere suspicion of terrorist affiliations. Torture, indefinite detention, and the emergence of a surveillance state are surely developments of which the terrorists would approve. They have succeeded in ridding the United States of the vestiges of personal freedom that once existed here. The overwhelming majority of us will never encounter actual terrorism in our lives, but the “War on Terror” harms us all.
● An end to the “War on Drugs”: Billions of dollars have been spent; thousands of innocent people have been killed and imprisoned; drug lords have prospered in a black market that rewards violent thugs instead of respectable businessmen; the United States has come to have the world’s highest incarceration rate by far; and everyone has been forced to suffer ludicrous restrictions on even basic amenities like cough medicines. It is time for the U.S. War on Drugs – a war, indeed, on its own citizens – to end. No genuine political revolution can allow this institutionalized persecution and its attendant evils to continue.
● An end to persecution in the name of “intellectual property”: Every reasonable person today – be he for or against the abstract concept of “intellectual property” – must concede that attempts to enforce this concept have been nothing short of draconian. The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) is demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars per downloaded song from alleged copyright “infringers”. Meanwhile, entertainment industry associations and Western governments have been meeting behind closed doors since 2006 to negotiate the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which threatens to fundamentally curtail most people’s access to the Internet and other personal technologies. Some organizations, like Righthaven, have decided to turn the persecution of “infringers” into big business, suing small non-profit organizations and bloggers for reposting even excerpts of certain newspaper articles – or having the misfortune of getting those excerpts reposted by someone else on a discussion board they own. At the very least, dramatic reductions in the scope and power of intellectual-property laws are needed.
● A repeal of the health-insurance mandate: Among the many problematic elements of the misnamed Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), the worst is surely the mandate for individuals to carry health insurance. The nature of the coercive power involved in requiring individuals to purchase a private service “for their own good” is unprecedented in the United States. If this mandate stands, it will set the precedent for the federal government requiring the purchase of any conceivable host of other products – allegedly out of paternalistic concern for its subjects’ well-being, but in reality due to pressure from certain special interests who do not wish to compete for customers in a free market. With issues of health, which are pivotal to the very survival of the individual, it is particularly egregious to restrict choice and compel inefficient arrangements in this manner.
Of course, if a genuine political revolution were to occur in the United States, it need not be limited to the above goals – which are a bare minimum. To understand how far into totalitarian territory we have come, it is instructive to recognize that most of the evils recommended for elimination above did not exist until the recent past. Even if only the history of the United States under the philosophy of interventionism is considered, during the majority of the past eighty years, the above infringements were either non-existent or much milder than their present incarnations. The proposals to eliminate them are therefore completely feasible – even if most of the other post-New-Deal-Era interventions are continued. What remains to be seen is whether the will to implement these changes can arise as a result of public outrage over the blatant injustices of the status quo, or whether the American people will lie down and patiently absorb more of the beating they have received from an increasingly unjust system.
Learn about Mr. Stolyarov's novel, Eden against the Colossus, here.