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December 26, 2010

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A good question. I'm not sure what unites us anymore. It seems that a significant portion of the population has a vision of what the U.S. should be so fundimentally different from mine that I can't see any way to reach a reconcilliation. Do you think Canada would be interested in adding the North East and Pacific Coast?

"If one nation, what is the basis of the unity? At the beginning, it seems like "one nation" meant that the various states assented to be governed by central, federal institutions. At least, as regards some stuff."

There's your problem: The federal government no longer accepts that "SOME" anymore, wants to govern as regards to everything. But a federation is a mechanism for allowing heterogeneous peoples to cooperate for limited ends, it only works so long as that "some" is taken seriously.

What unites us? Inertia, and the memory of a lot of people dying the last time we tried to go our separate ways.

the defining characteristic of american exceptionalism is the celebration of american exceptionalism. and killing and incarceration, of course. and resentment of the life of drudgery the poor have foisted on the middle class, and lionization of the rich. and fear, don't forget that one. but hey -- mark twain! louis armstrong! james dean! basically authoritarianism with style, this is my country.

Great question. I predict there will be as many answers as "the many" from E pluribus...

I'll take the first shot at it. We have in common the history of a great nation and a debt of gratitude to those who helped forge and develop it. Not just the military who risk life, but the pioneers, the native Americans, the workers, the schemers, the teachers, the artists who've given us a rich heritage.

We owe it to our history to preserve and advance this late great experiment in democracy.

It's not ONLY our religion, however that gets defined, just as it's not ONLY our melding pot of integration, ONLY our free market capitalism, or ONLY our great Constitution. All of these things are important, but never to the exclusion of the other threads running through the tapestry of the United States of America.

This is what the political squabbling misses. Each side ( not only two sides) has its point, but too often folks want their point to exclude all others.

Look to our history, not dogmatically, but allegorically. Thats what it means to me to be an American. I owe a gret debt to so many...

When I try to come up with a mission statement for the US, I start with the “unalienable rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” from the Declaration then move to the preamble of the Constitution which pretty eloquently and succinctly states why we need a government and constitution, then I come to the Gettysburg Address, “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish” and FDR’s four freedoms speech rounds things out.

We’re not there, lot of work to do and you’re never going to make everyone happy, but I haven’t given up hope that we can still move toward a more just and free society.

We’re not there

you left out that we're going backwards, but i quibble.

Well, one thing that binds us together is that we keep coming back to this question and worrying/arguing over it. Answering it is more like mowing the lawn than solving an equation; you have to do it, but you'll have to do it again next week (or, in my case, month), and it's never done once and for all.

"Back in the early days, 'lots of different kinds of people' basically meant 'different kinds of male northern Europeans'."

And they weren't really sincere about thinking any white male who wasn't of English descent was a real human being.

But we have gotten better since then. And I still think it is possible that this little experiment of our might one day amount to something.*

*Sometimes I feel like Alfred to America's Bruce Wayne: "He's working out some problems, but once he settles down, I think he will accomplish something really significant."

So, yeah, Ideally, we're a nation of people from diverse cultures, each trying to develop our own gifts while gathering inspiration from each other's strengths. Because we also contend with frailties, such as greed, resentment, etc., it's difficult for us to balance individual freedom with collective responsibility. Defining our rights and duties (and their limits) with regard to each other and people who live outside of our country is our most difficult struggle.

But, yes, we are rewarded with Emily Dickinson, Billy Holiday, John Coltrane, Philip Roth, Aretha Franklin, Diana Krall, John Ashbery, Steve Jobs, Stanley Kubrick .... There are a whole lot of really outstanding people who are Americans. (And, of course, a lot who aren't, but the diverse talent that exists here doesn't thrive in authoritarian hellholes.)

I used to have a pretty good idea of some basic things which united most of us, but I'm not so sure now. Twenty or thirty years ago, I would have said that a rational pragmatism was something we all shared, more or less. Now, not so much. I would have said that we all believed, at least at a very basic level, in liberal democracy. I wouldn't say that now, since a salient feature of neoconservatism, and much of movement conservatism, is hostility to precisely that.

I made a crack a few weeks ago, on this blog, to the effect that the GOP wanted to return to the 1880s, but that was wrong. I think our political split is much deeper now than it was then.

Current Democrats (and a very few Republicans) are more like conservatives of old - pragmatic; pro business; somewhat interested in middle class issues but not so much as to offend donors; not really all that concerned with the poor; resistant to change, but not rigidly so, etc. It's a big party, so there's lots of variation within, but in the aggregate (i.e. the Proof Pudding), I think that describes them pretty well.

On the other hand, we have post moderns - on both the left and right (but the political power is on the right). They don't like liberalism at all, are skeptical of the Enlightenment - basically, they don't like the whole Modern project. They don't really believe in civil society - or any society. That is different from 1880s conservatism.

I think there is a really fundamental difference now. It's not simply policy disagreements, but different normative visions of the world. I honestly don't see how you synthesize them. We talk past each other most of the time.

Cheery, isn't it?! Sorry.

My view is that the 'one' part is the American Ideal. The American Ideal is something like 'individual liberty under representative government'. The original government formulated using this Ideal was a federated republic. The most recent historical political model available to the founders was the European nation-state (strong remnants still seen in the nations making up the European Union). The borders or boundaries of those nations (and resulting patriotic loyalties) were mostly based on common language. The American nation is exceptional in being utterly different from these European models.

Being an American means to be committed to the American Ideal. In its most extreme form, this ideal would protect the inalienable rights of a minority of one against any tyranny of the majority. And being an American patriot has a different sense, I suspect, from being a German, French, or Spanish patriot in that the focus is more toward an idea than to a state with a language, culture, boundaries, and history and its people.

What I'm trying to understand, after watching the crazy dysfunctional drunken wild ride of American politics over the last, say, 40 or 50 years, is whether we really are one, or not.

We're definitely not. No one I talk to seems to care about the concept that got us all together in the first place -- community -- and they'd rather shriek and howl in their own self-interest than even consider the bigger picture. I'd quote Donne at them, but I'd get laughed out of the room.

I think GOB has captured the essence of the American ideal: that what is critical (not the only important thing, nut the one critical one) is that anyone who is willing to accept the ideal can be an American. Doesn't matter where they are from, when they got here, who their ancestors were or what those ancestors did. All that matters is that they accept the American ideal.

Admittedly, what a particular individual thinks is "the American ideal" will vary. But what all of their visions have in common is that they will accept anyone who agrees with them about that ideal as a "real American." (And, somewhat in parallel, some will cast aspersions on those who do not agree with their vision -- again without regard to who they are or where they come from or when.)

This in contrast to other countries where what matters is who your ancestors were, and perhaps what sub-group they (and, therefore, you) belong to. Not to say that there are no other countries which are quite accepting of immigrants as citizens (Canada and Australia come to mind). But a case can be made that the attitude is what originally distinguished America from other countries -- for all that is was not as broadly applied in the past as it (mostly) is today.

I think GOB has captured the essence of the American ideal: that what is critical (not the only important thing, nut the one critical one) is that anyone who is willing to accept the ideal can be an American.

Agreed. And, I think most folks would agree.

Admittedly, what a particular individual thinks is "the American ideal" will vary.

And there is the rub.

GOB cites "individual liberty and representative government". What is liberty?

Is it essentially being left the hell alone to do your thing as long as it doesn't intrude on anyone else? Is it that, and also other things, or just that?

If it's just that, what is all of the language in the Constitution about the "general welfare"? If the agenda is individual liberty and representative government, and nothing but, what the hell is "the general welfare"? What the hell is "general"?

If it's not just that, then what else is included?

'What I'm trying to understand, after watching the crazy dysfunctional drunken wild ride of American politics over the last, say, 40 or 50 years, is whether we really are one, or not.

We're definitely not. No one I talk to seems to care about the concept that got us all together in the first place -- community -- and they'd rather shriek and howl in their own self-interest than even consider the bigger picture. I'd quote Donne at them, but I'd get laughed out of the room.'

Here is one way to understand it. Federalism, with the specifically enumerated and limited powers of our Federal government, was the final choice of the Founders in order to provide a free economic market across the United States while insuring more limited ability for state fostered political coercion against individual sovereignty.

Community might have been something the Founders understood and recognized as important, but as a state (as in the 13 states) and local concern, not a Federal one. So they reserved political and social issues to be governed at those smaller levels. And the several different states in the Union provided individuals the options to exercise their sovereignty in ways they chose.

To say 'no man is an island' is not to deny that man operates first and foremost from his personal self-interest, but acknowledges that there are matters in which he will voluntarily yield his personal sovereignty to a larger community for the benefit of all.

'Bigness' is the point where we begin to lose it. In the first half of the 20th century (after the depression and the "new deal') is where the Federal government and business began to grow and individual Americans saw their sovereignty usurped. To use a word like 'community' to describe anything at the Federal level is a joke.

There will be no way to curtail political coercion and a total loss of individual sovereignty if we do not devolve much of what the Federal government has gotten into back to the States.

All that matters is that they accept the American ideal.

Admittedly, what a particular individual thinks is "the American ideal" will vary.

yeah, there's the problem. Non-immigrants disagree pretty fundamentally about that ideal. Maybe immigrants don't as much.

What's not well appreciated is our legacy of both liberalism and democracy, tempering each other, building institutions - institutions that we treat so cavalierly nowadays, for quick 'one time' political profits. I swear, Liberals and Conservative have switched places.

You didn't mention Argentina, which is a large country of European immigrants, and was as rich as the US into the late 19th century; but we had homesteading and land grant, which I think gave us the edge - we developed a middle class eventually. Now though, we are becoming more like them, more aristocratically oriented. Seems impractical to me, a mistake.

I think you have to decide what you want to be, and be honest about it. No ideology, by definition, is going to have all the right answers. Ideologies get out of hand, too. Ronald Reagan, Barry Goldwater, and WF Buckley have plausible deniability vis a vis the current GOP. I'm neither exonerating nor blaming them. I think they had very specific ideas and were creatures of their times. But ideologues-followers (anywhere on the spectrum) tend to 'take a mile' given an inch.

You really see the bankruptcy of what's called 'conservatism' in the US when the idea of protection of minority rights is pimped to mean protection of the rights of the wealthy, where believing you are the Chosen Ones becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I don't know if I can understate this enough: that's not what protection of minority rights means, is not why it matters so vitally.

We have to start acting our age, as a country. No incumbent likes that idea, but I don't think we have a choice. There's the Graceful way, and there's the Jackass way.

GoodOleBoy: To use a word like 'community' to describe anything at the Federal level is a joke.

We each have a different sense of humor. I find it funny, myself, that some Americans reject the idea of a national 'community'. What makes us all Americans, they seem to imply, is that we are first of all Georgians. Or Arkansans, or New Yorkers.

Never mind that Minnesotans might care to move to Arizona and take their social security checks or their civil rights with them. As Americans, they may feel that the whole point of living in the United States is the freedom of individuals to move about the country without feeling they have entered a totally different 'community'. But they're wrong: the real Americans, the ones who take pride in understanding what "America" once was and ever should be, know that "America" is not one 'community'.

No, the national motto of real Americans must be: "Out of many, fifty".
That's the ticket!

--TP

I don't want to be an American any more. I want to be a Canadian.

GOB, the Fathers opted for local control because they had to. (Is math really different in Kansas vs New York?). As you note, it was a different world then. But politics is politics, whether it's the 1770s or the 2000s. They had to kludge. 'Local control' is usually a punt nowadays - a romantic punt. When your country gets big and complicated, you can either deal with it or pretend it's not happening. Like I said, graceful or jackass - one or the other.

I think two main elements of the American ideal (or illusion, if you are as cynic as I am) are 'can do' and 'don't owe'. That means that goals can be achieved and that achievement should be the result of one's own doing. Unfortunately both are now not much more than Big Lies. Those who indeed owe deny it. And those who cannot do for reasons out of their control are blamed (usually by the former group).

"We each have a different sense of humor. I find it funny, myself, that some Americans reject the idea of a national 'community'. What makes us all Americans, they seem to imply, is that we are first of all Georgians. Or Arkansans, or New Yorkers."

I suppose it's a question of what exactly you mean by "community"; I think a state, too, is too large to be a "community". Maybe a town, certainly not a city.

Perhaps a a country can be a "community" on certain limited subjects, but then we're back to that "some".

The principle of subsidiarity is fairly important, but it sometimes appears that 'liberals' are operating on an anti- subsidiarity principle. As witnessed by how often somebody like me will make a point about how this or that shouldn't be done at the federal level, and the response assumes we've asserted it shouldn't be done at all.

Federalism, with the specifically enumerated and limited powers of our Federal government, was the final choice of the Founders in order to provide a free economic market across the United State

It's pretty clear to me that personal, individual liberty was a high priority for the folks who founded the country.

"Free economic market" is just not something I'm seeing as something that occupied their minds all that much. At least as regards the basic institutions they set up.

Or, if so, only in contrast to the explicitly mercantilist policies that they lived under as colonists.

Can you show me the language in the Declaration of Independence, or the Federalist Papers, or the Constitution, where anybody talks about dedicating their sacred life and liberty to establish and maintain a free economic market?

When I read the Constitution, I see three federal roles called out relative to the economy:

To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures

To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes

So, monetary policy, standards for weights and measures, copyright, and regulation of any commerce that crosses state or national boundaries. All explicitly enumerated powers of the Congress. I don't think that's making the argument you want to make.

I suppose it's a question of what exactly you mean by "community"

A very good point.

The word "community", in fact, doesn't really show up in the founding documents. Which could either indicate that the concept was familiar to the founders, but simply not thought to be relevant. Or, it could indicate that the concept as we imagine it wasn't really in their heads. Or, that it did so under a different name.

I suspect it's a mix of the last two.

It seems to me that the founders were interested in political union mostly, and less the sort of "taking care of others" sense that gets bundled into "community" these days.

There's nothing in the Constitution about relief for poor people, or unemployed people, or sick people. As a practical matter, stuff like that was handled mostly at a town or county level. State, maybe?

That was proportionate to the scale and scope of economic and social institutions of the time.

There will be no way to curtail political coercion and a total loss of individual sovereignty if we do not devolve much of what the Federal government has gotten into back to the States.

Great. That's certainly worked out for education, hasn't it? Shouldn't a kid in Mississippi have just as good an education as a kid in an area where education is better provided for?

Any talk of states' rights, to me, starts down that slippery slope toward a nation of haves and have nots, where what really determines a kid's future is where he or she is born, and that, rather than achievement, potential, or aspiration, will be all that matters. Though, after hearing about some Republican legislator who thinks it might be a good idea to enfranchise property owners only, we're already on the slide.

I don't think the founders particularly spoke of community because it was so obviously needed in a developing nation. It was an implied concept that in later selfishness got tossed aside. In fact, I think there was plenty implied in the Constitution that's been lost or ignored.

n the first half of the 20th century (after the depression and the "new deal') is where the Federal government and business began to grow and individual Americans saw their sovereignty usurped.

Every time I see this, I ask: What things are there that you so badly want, as an individual, to do, that you are prevented from doing by the Federal government? I'd like a list. I never get an answer, or if I do, it's a flippant one.

Will this time be different? Who knows.

It's interesting, Russell didn't mention community at all in the post, but now it seems to be the concept that is providing the centerpost for the comments. I'm a bit surprised that the use of the term seems to imply some geographic grouping. Community is from French, and etymologically, doesn't have anything to do with a place, but derives from the word common. That's a word that goes back to Proto Indo European, with the *ko- suffix meaning 'with' and the *mei stem meaning change, which becomes Latin munis, which gets us to municipality, etc.

So 'community' originally meant something like 'to change together', so it could be taken to me a group of people that experience changes together. This makes the scoffing at anything federal not being a community sort of missing the point. For the US, or most any nation, there are a set of changes that the inhabitants of that nation, for the most part, experience. They may experience them in different ways, and they may take different things away from those experiences, but from things like 9-11, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina to the more mundane experiences of pop songs and must-see TV, the people of the US experience those changes, as other nations experience the changes that touch them.

This is not to claim that the etymology demands this interpretation, but if it does have some claim on the meaning, the idea that you have some people in the US experiencing changes that others don't is a bit strange. Even events confined to a locality, such as blizzards in the Northeast or Katrina, or even something like Deepwater Horizon have ripples that effect the nation as a whole. And while there is a level at which events do not effect on a wider basis, they can get picked up, and brought forward as examples, which then does create change that everyone experiences. (frex, Fountain Hills, AZ!) Some think that it might somehow be possible to reverse this, and somehow return to some halcyon days of old, but it is hard to imagine people giving up all the things that link us together and any attempt to do this is not conservative, but reactionary.

If the agenda is individual liberty and representative government, and nothing but, what the hell is "the general welfare"? What the hell is "general"?

Individual liberty is the general welfare. "General welfare" is mentioned once in the Constitution, in the preamble, and it didn't mean welfare state. It meant general well being. Given the limitations of communication and travel, virtually all government was local, including defense.

Can you show me the language in the Declaration of Independence, or the Federalist Papers, or the Constitution, where anybody talks about dedicating their sacred life and liberty to establish and maintain a free economic market?

Yes, the 5th amendment, in which life, liberty and property are co-equal. Whether you call it a free market or what have you, the sense was that each person had a right to possess and own his (now his or her) own property, free from gov't taking or intrusion. Property ownership was viewed as an individual right.

and regulation of any commerce that crosses state or national boundaries

The commerce clause had been alive and well for nearly 150 years when the SCt discovered this is what it meant.

The word "community", in fact, doesn't really show up in the founding documents. Which could either indicate that the concept was familiar to the founders, but simply not thought to be relevant. Or, it could indicate that the concept as we imagine it wasn't really in their heads. Or, that it did so under a different name.

Or that is was such a well understood, basic notion that like the millions of other things not specifically addressed in the Constitution, it went without saying.

Any talk of states' rights, to me, starts down that slippery slope toward a nation of haves and have nots, where what really determines a kid's future is where he or she is born, and that, rather than achievement, potential, or aspiration, will be all that matters.

Because 'states rights' is so heavily freighted with opposition to minority equality under the law and in fact, it is difficult to address the issue without having first to dispose of that baggage. The flip side is whether legislators in DC should be able to dictate to the citizens of X city each and every item on their school's curriculum, for example. Or that no local entity can have more of X than any other local entity, all if the name of fairness and equality, of course.

As for the haves and have-nots, the differences then between then and now are extraordinary. Have-nots back in the day had nothing, literally. Have-nots today have a variety of safety nets, opportunities, sources of food, clothing and shelter that weren't even on the distant horizon back then, 'back then' being as recent as first half of the 20th century.

The flip side is whether legislators in DC should be able to dictate to the citizens of X city each and every item on their school's curriculum, for example.

That's an extremely literal, not to mention extreme, interpretation regarding the government's role in education. At the same time, you give a very lenient interpretation of free market/5th amendment. I'm missing the consistency here.

'The flip side is whether legislators in DC should be able to dictate to the citizens of X city each and every item on their school's curriculum, for example.

That's an extremely literal, not to mention extreme, interpretation regarding the government's role in education. At the same time, you give a very lenient interpretation of free market/5th amendment. I'm missing the consistency here'

How is education within a community at the state or local level different from police protection, fire prevention, and parks and recreation services?

Phil, you may start the list of things the Feds should get out of with education. Please don't mount your states' rights racial discrimination hobbyhorse.


Individual liberty is the general welfare.

No, it's not.

"General welfare" is mentioned once in the Constitution, in the preamble, and it didn't mean welfare state.

And the phrase "individual liberty" appears exactly one time less than "general welfare", which is to say not at all.

The folks at the time were well acquainted with the idea of individual liberty. Had they intended to say "individual liberty" in the preamble, they would have done so.

Agreed that it does not mean "welfare" in the sense we use it, which is direct transfer payments to individuals by the government.

"General well being" is probably closer, but reading that as "make sure individual people can do whatever they want without any sort of interference" strains the sense of "general" beyond what the word will bear.

Given the limitations of communication and travel, virtually all government was local, including defense.

Um, no.

The commerce clause had been alive and well for nearly 150 years when the SCt discovered this is what it meant.

Whether, and how, the power to regulate commerce between states was employed is an interesting historical study.

What the clause actually says is fairly straightforward. By the standard of Constitutional language, it's crystal clear.

And for the record, states *have no rights*. States have powers, which are limited in significant ways by the Constitution, and deliberately so. For reference, compare and contrast with the Articles of Confederation.

Rights are held by people, and by no other entity.

The reason the feds expanded their scope historically is because state and local governments either failed to do necessary things, or because things needed to be done that were beyond the scope of a state government. Whether that has been, net/net, a good or bad thing is a very interesting question, but the historical reasons for federal expansion have everything to do with making necessary responses to crises of one kind or another.

From Federalist 46:

If, therefore, as has been elsewhere remarked, the people should in future become more partial to the federal than to the State governments, the change can only result from such manifest and irresistible proofs of a better administration, as will overcome all their antecedent propensities

I'm not convinced that the current balance of federal and state power is correct, but you cannot simply call for rolling back federal responsibilities to the states without dealing with the reasons it went to the feds in the first place.

Phil, you may start the list of things the Feds should get out of with education.

Well, to begin with, I didn't ask for "a lit of things the Feds should get out of." I asked for a list of things you, personally, GOB, want to do that you are deprived of by the Federal government. I'll assume from this non sequitur of a response that no such list is forthcoming.

Next, given where we are in terms of global competitiveness, and given the fact that globalization by businesses isn't going away anytime soon, I think a Federal set of standards for primary and secondary education is a good thing.

Do you think there should not be a minimum set of standards to which all U.S. schoolchildren should be educated, even if they have the misfortune to be born poor or to stupid parents?

(Insert snarky remark here about how we might need tighter standards on reading, since you responded to a question I didn't ask.)

Please don't mount your states' rights racial discrimination hobbyhorse.

Since I have not used the words "states' right" or "racial discrimination" anywhere on this thread, I don't know WTF you're talking about.

And, in the spirit of "what russell said," he's exactly right: If the states could have been trusted to play nice and behave in the first place, some of these functions would never have been kicked up to the Federal level in the first place.

It's interesting, Russell didn't mention community at all in the post, but now it seems to be the concept that is providing the centerpost for the comments.

Yes.

IMO that's likely because what we all seem to agree least on is what, if anything, by way of "community" was intended at the start of our whole national project. And/or, regardless of what was intended then, what, if anything, is appropriate now.

Clearly, the folks at the beginning had some kind of "unum" in mind. It wasn't "out of many, many", or "fifty", or even "several".

It was "out of many, one". One.

Washington feared factions, although they emerged almost before the ink was dry. I'm sure the folks at the time understood that there would always be some level of contention and argument, because it's a big country, there are lots of different kinds of people in it (even then, even more so now) and different people have different issues and interests.

But it seems to me that where we're at now is like some kind of bad marriage, where folks don't actually want to occupy the same space, but they can't actually make up their minds to cut the cord.

I don't just not see common ground, I'm not sure I see room for common ground. People don't differ on details, they differ on what the basic project is supposed to be.

I don't understand how to go forward from there.

'Well, to begin with, I didn't ask for "a lit of things the Feds should get out of." I asked for a list of things you, personally, GOB, want to do that you are deprived of by the Federal government. I'll assume from this non sequitur of a response that no such list is forthcoming.'

Make this the first item on the list you asked for. Federal expenditures for education (even when the funding goes to states with Federal strings attached) deprives me of retaining those resources or having local determination of how the funds are used.

Don't be so linear in your question/response requirements.

'Washington feared factions, although they emerged almost before the ink was dry. I'm sure the folks at the time understood that there would always be some level of contention and argument, because it's a big country, there are lots of different kinds of people in it (even then, even more so now) and different people have different issues and interests.'

Russell:

I'm texting off the top of my head now so I may be inaccurate in recall. If Washington feared factions, did not Madison think they were beneficial to keep Federal powers in check and protect minorities? Your point in the above seems to be supportive of the idea that all these different people with different issues and interests may not be well served by centralized authority.

If the premise is that by further centralization people get a better result in their service from the government, are we stepping toward a global authority since that would be the natural conclusion for this idea. That way we could improve conditions for the people of Rwanda or Bangladesh since the global approach would serve them better, even though they may not realize that.

Make this the first item on the list you asked for. Federal expenditures for education . . . deprives me of retaining those resources or having local determination of how the funds are used.

Oh, this is simply infantile. Federal expenditures for anything deprives you of retaining those resources. This amounts to "I don't want to pay my taxes."

To believe that the Federal government has no compelling interest in the standards and quality of U.S. public schools is simply puerile nonsense.

What's more, Federal funding for U.S. public primary and secondary education is a tiny, tiny drop in the bucket of total school funding*. And the DoE is hardly handing down school curricula from on high.

Don't be so linear in your question/response requirements.

Thanks but no thanks for the advice. If I ask a question, and you decide to answer, answer the question that's asked, please, not one you would like to answer instead.

*In the 2004-05 school year, 83 cents out of every dollar spent on education is estimated to come from the state and local levels (45.6 percent from state funds and 37.1 percent from local governments). The federal government's share is 8.3 percent. The remaining 8.9 percent is from private sources, primarily for private schools.

Returning power and responsiblity to the states is part of the Republican war on everyone but the rich. The latest round in that war is to destroy public employee unions and pension plans. The idea, conceived by Norquist, Atwood, and Rove (and others) was to run up the federal deficit tothe point where the federal governnment could no longer afford to give money to the states. This has had the effect of shifting the tax burden for state level programs and infratructrure to the voters in the states which has resulted in an increased tax burden on middle and lower classes which has resulted in tax limitation initiatives like the one that has made Califouurnia ungovernamble and the one Washington voters were stupid enough to pass recently. Thus things have been set up nicely to bankrupt the states. The hope for Republicans is that state leislatures will be forced to balance their budgets by cutting all the things that Repulbicans don't care about; foster care, animal control, home health care, monitors and inspectors for everything from clean water to mental health facilities, education...The real triumph for REepublicans will come when the public service unions--cops, firemen, teachers, etc, ==get substancial reductions in benefits or lose big hunks of their pensions. Of course the ripple effect of this will be to destroy local business where all these newly impoverished people used to spend their money, but that doesn't matter.

It's all free market, ownership society, screw you Jack Social Darwinism. Yes, we are a divided society: it's them (Republicans) against the rest of us. One of the ironies is that the Republican winners in this dystopia they are creating are just as willing to screw over fellow Republicans as they are everyoine else. But nevermind! The important thing is to make policy out of a bunch of half-baked smug shiboliths that serve to rationalize selfishness! So sure power and responsibility to the states!

Also, too: There are no unfunded federal education "mandates." Every federal education law is conditioned on a state or other grantee's decision to accept federal program funds.

Federal education program "requirements" are not unfunded mandates because the conditions in federal law apply only when a state (or other grantee) voluntarily chooses to accept federal funds. Any state that does not want to abide by a federal program's requirements can simply choose not to accept the federal funds associated with that program. While most states choose to accept and use federal program funds, in the past, a few states have forgone funds for various reasons.

GOB,

Federal expenditures for education (even when the funding goes to states with Federal strings attached) deprives me of retaining those resources or having local determination of how the funds are used.

How local? You could say the same thing, after all, about state, or even county, expenditures. Or, for that matter, any public expenditures whatsoever. So at what level of aggregation are you willing to chip in for education?

Once you agree that there is some community responsibility for education then you have agreed, first of all, to some redistribution of resources. Why redistribution within a state is OK, and redistribution at a national level isn't is not clear to me.

Then, of course, it might make sense to think about what functions different levels of government do best. The federal government has a role, I think, in setting minimum standards and overall goals. I don't see the magic of complete local control of those matters.

In short, I think there's a lot of sloganeering that goes on as a substitute for thought.

Bernard:

'Once you agree that there is some community responsibility for education then you have agreed, first of all, to some redistribution of resources. Why redistribution within a state is OK, and redistribution at a national level isn't is not clear to me.'

I accept this as true. I would aggregate at the lowest effective level of government. Perhaps the following discourse will yield clarity.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/journal/cj15n2-3-8.html

'In short, I think there's a lot of sloganeering that goes on as a substitute for thought.'

Please restrain yourself from jumping to this kind of conclusion. I know you may not agree with Buchanan, but he is a Nobel Laureate.

In teaching about comparative colonialism in Southeast Asia (which I used to do for a living), I observed of course the basic similarities with regard to felt administrative needs: public order (the first government buildings were usually the barracks, the courthouse, and the jail), taxes to pay for the above, economic policies geared to the extraction of profits by the colonial power (tariffs, infrastructure, &c.) Roughly comparable among British in Burma and Malaya, French in Indochina, Dutch in Indonesia, Spanish and then the US in the Philippines, although with enough slight differences of emphasis to make debate lively.

The one BIG difference: America believed in public education. Funded it, built schools, supplied teachers, from primary through university, to the extent that the Philippines was ahead of other colonies - where the imperial powers generally educated just enough natives to provide the necessary interface between rulers and ruled - by almost an order of magnitude.

And we did it because we believed in public education, virtually as a panacea. Problem with economic development? Education is the answer. Problem with political "caciquism" (boss rule)? Education. Too much influence of the Catholic Church? Education, etc. I saw this faith as being the quintessential heart of American-ness, possibly going back to our own colonial times.

And now - where has this faith gone? Throughout this country I see opposition to public education by partisans who are trying to circumvent it or undermine it in any way they can. Much of their argumentation is grounded in the economics of selfishness: education (it is assumed) profits *only* the student, so s/he or his/her parents should pay for it. The time-honored American idea that education is a *community* good (there's that word again!), that it's in the interest of ALL of us that everyone should be literate and numerate, has been abandoned.

Or refudiated, perhaps? Sigh.

'and the one Washington voters were stupid enough to pass recently.'

Wonkie:

If your raging is worthy, how does something like this happen?

@wonkie: The latest round in that war is to destroy public employee unions and pension plans.

Could you favor us with a rationale for why public employee unions are a reasonable/good thing in the first place? And perhaps why public employee pension plans should necessarily be kept substantially better than the pension plans enjoyed by those individuals outside the government who have one at all?

Thank you.

And perhaps why public employee pension plans should necessarily be kept substantially better than the pension plans enjoyed by those individuals outside the government who have one at all?

One thing to keep in mind is that in some states, many (all?) public employees are not allowed to participate in Social Security. Because they can't legally contribute to SS, obviously when they retire they can't collect SS benefits. Now, this seems like a really screwed up system and a bad idea all around to me personally, private sector worker that I am. But, given this weird system, it doesn't seem totally unreasonable that public sector employees should get some extra higher security retirement support than equivalent private sector workers who can pay into and rely on SS.

'And now - where has this faith gone? Throughout this country I see opposition to public education by partisans who are trying to circumvent it or undermine it in any way they can. Much of their argumentation is grounded in the economics of selfishness: education (it is assumed) profits *only* the student, so s/he or his/her parents should pay for it. The time-honored American idea that education is a *community* good (there's that word again!), that it's in the interest of ALL of us that everyone should be literate and numerate, has been abandoned.'

I'm a partisan who is not against 'public education' but for more choice. But public employee unions or associations are opposed because such an approach will reduce their power and influence. This opposition is at least tacitly supported by the Federal government by its failure to facilitate alternative approaches. This is an excellent example of political coercion that becomes more difficult to combat by individual effort the higher it is aggregated.

If you're talking about charter schools as emblematic of "more choice" or as "alternative approaches" to a lousy school system, I heard a statistic the other day: Only 17% of charter schools are as effective or better than the public schools in their district. That's not an effective advertisement for them. In fact, they don't seem to be worth the money they're draining from the public school system.

Debbie;

'If you're talking about charter schools as emblematic of "more choice" or as "alternative approaches" to a lousy school system, I heard a statistic the other day: Only 17% of charter schools are as effective or better than the public schools in their district. That's not an effective advertisement for them. In fact, they don't seem to be worth the money they're draining from the public school system.'

Well, isn't a charter school still a public school? What if I were given a public funds voucher equal to that portion of public funding allocated to the children for whom I'm responsible to which I could add funding to send them to the school of my choice.

debbie, perhaps you are referring to the CREDO study. If so, that 17% figure is not "as effective or better," it is 17% better, nearly half no different, 37% worse.

The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools. These findings underlie the parallel findings of significant state‐by‐state differences in charter school performance and in the national aggregate performance of charter schools. The policy challenge is how to deal constructively with varying levels of performance today and into the future.

I happen to be a charter school proponent but I have to say they are no panacea. As for federal government involvement, "No Child Left Behind" is a failure. Its excessive emphasis on standardized testing has had the predictable result of "teaching to the test" and neglecting other areas. Here is Diane Ravitch, who was the assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush, discussing the topic.

What if I were given a public funds voucher equal to that portion of public funding allocated to the children for whom I'm responsible to which I could add funding to send them to the school of my choice.

And what if I could just get my money back completely? After all, I don't have any children at all!

"Free economic market" is just not something I'm seeing as something that occupied their minds all that much. At least as regards the basic institutions they set up.

Or, if so, only in contrast to the explicitly mercantilist policies that they lived under as colonists.

Russel: The commerce clause specifically addressed this issue with respect to interstate commerce. It created a free market inside the U.S.A., one not subject to taxes as goods traveled from one state to another. And property rights as previously stated.

Of course the commerce clause has become the basis for federal encroachment, but that's another issue. That happened later.

But it seems to me that where we're at now is like some kind of bad marriage, where folks don't actually want to occupy the same space, but they can't actually make up their minds to cut the cord.

Wow. I don't get that sense at all except when I read political blogs. I may not see eye to eye with most here, but that is not my experience with those around me, whether immigrant or not, Democrat or Republican, whether from my home state of Alaska or here in California, Raiders fan or 49er fan, etc. etc. I am quite confident I could have lunch or take a three day hike with most of you and not once want to move to another country or hit you (o.k., if you whine while hiking, that is another matter).

So here is where I dissent. What does being "American" mean today? It means being part of the single greatest government on earth, one that has provided the framework that has lead to greater freedoms (both politically and economically) than any other government in history. To the extent that any country today exceeds this country in any particular aspects of freedom (political or economic), such freedoms typically are directly related to the American experiment.

The system of government that was set up has been resilient. It survived a civil war, started us on the path to overcoming a glaring defect in our country. In spite of all that has happened, our basic freedoms are still there. I don't view the enlarged federal bureaucracy as benign, but it hasn't yet wiped out what it means to be American.

You can mostly choose your own job. You can say what you think about the President. You can live where you want to live and are free to roam. You can own your own land. You can freely exchange ideas. You are mostly limited by YOU.

And I'm not so sure the political animosity is anything new. There was a lot of venom in those early newspaper articles.

So for those that want to go to another country because of the political state of today, I say ????. I just don't get that.

Being American means being part of a conversation about what is best for the country. You actually have a voice. You are represented, even if it is by persons you'd rather not have represent you (as is my case).

The sky is not falling. "Out of many" perhaps refers to our disagreements. Yet we are still one.

Your point in the above seems to be supportive of the idea that all these different people with different issues and interests may not be well served by centralized authority.

No, it wasn't even that specific or sophisticated. I was just pointing out that, as an example, George Washington was anxious to preserve the unity of the nation. You are correct, others saw political factions as less of a threat.

My take on centralized / not centralized, aka federal / state is that you need an actor roughly commensurate with the action that needs to be taken. The practical consequence of that is that I'm less freaked out by the feds coloring outside of the Article I Section 8 lines than most conservatives appear to be.

The basic, everyday things that government has to address are just on a larger scale now than they were in 1789. Something's gotta give.

The commerce clause specifically addressed this issue with respect to interstate commerce. It created a free market inside the U.S.A., one not subject to taxes as goods traveled from one state to another. And property rights as previously stated.

That's a great point, and thanks.

I'm not claiming the founding generation was against free markets. Within US boundaries in particular, they clearly were, and expliclitly limited state powers to make that happen.

What I am claiming is that a free economic market was not the raison d'etre for founding the country.

Also - thanks for the note of optimism, it is appreciated.

To sort of answer my own question, my take on what the essence of the American identity is as follows: self-government and the rule of law. All equal before the law, no-one above the law, and the people and nobody but the people are sovereign.

That theme traces a thread from the Mayflower Compact, through the colonial period, to the founding and beyond. We weren't the first nation to organize itself that way, but we were probably the most influential, and the most successful (at that, and otherwise).

If we can hold onto it, I'll be pleased.

"General welfare" is mentioned once in the Constitution, in the preamble, and it didn't mean welfare state. It meant general well being.

Wrong. See Article I, Section 8:

"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States"

This broad grant of taxing and spending power "To . . . provide for the . . . general welfare" is inconsistent with your analysis of the phrase. Understandably, this is the clause the "small federal government" right likes to forget.

Talk of the Founders supposedly being concerned with estalishing a "free market" is an anachronism. The Founders were largely mercantilists, not free market capitalists. Adam Smith was a contemporary of the founders, and his ideas were not generally accepted for decades after the founding of the United States.

To sort of answer my own question, my take on what the essence of the American identity is as follows: self-government and the rule of law. All equal before the law, no-one above the law, and the people and nobody but the people are sovereign.

Exactly on sovereignty, equality and rule of law. I meant to put something in my comment on the rule of law as it cannot be overstated. Not only in being a country of laws as in founded upon a Constitution, written laws, etc. but in having due process and having the ability have a neutral settle disputes expeditiously. In spite of court clog, etc., our ability to solve disputes is part of what really works.

bc and russell, I concur, especially about the rule of law. Part of what makes that work, though, is acceptance of and respect for the institutions that enforce the law. That is to say, the government. We've had considerable discussion in other threads of threats to that acceptance.

I'd also like to expand on dr. ngo's point:

Throughout this country I see opposition to public education by partisans who are trying to circumvent it or undermine it in any way they can.

The people being sovereign, there's a vital civic responsibility attached to being a citizen of the United States, and it cannot properly be carried out in ignorance. I find our current political situation deeply troubling due to the willful spreading of misinformation, celebration of ignorance and disrespect for facts.

I don't just not see common ground, I'm not sure I see room for common ground. People don't differ on details, they differ on what the basic project is supposed to be.

I think this is true at the extremes as well as of the extremes. Neither extreme has much common ground with the other or with the much larger middle. I know very few, perhaps no one, who does not respect the outcome of a vote, the enforceability of contracts, the rule of law and most of the other general principles of what America is, or tries to be.

What things are there that you so badly want, as an individual, to do, that you are prevented from doing by the Federal government?

I badly want to not have to buy federally mandated insurance or to pay a penalty.

I badly want to keep my financial transactions private, such as taking cash out of my account, putting it where I want and not having the federal gov't knowing each transaction I make.

I badly want to give some of my money to my children without being subject to federal taxation, since I've already paid tax on my money once.

What I am claiming is that a free economic market was not the raison d'etre for founding the country.

There was no single reason for declaring independence, but among the reasons at the time were taxation without any say-so in the matter, onerous tariffs and limits on imports and exports etc. Respecting private property rights was big for the founders, but was not in the basic constitution. It came later, in the Bill of Rights, see 4th and 5th Amendments.

There was no single reason for declaring independence, but among the reasons at the time were taxation without any say-so in the matter, onerous tariffs and limits on imports and exports etc.

Taxation without representation, correct. Americans were not represented in Parliament, and resented being subject to Parliamentary taxation.

Taxation per se, not correct.

Onerous tariffs, limits on imports and exports, etc., correct. Also, rules about who folks could trade with, etc. All of those fall under the heading of mercantilism. British North America was a colony of England, and was run for the general enrichment of England.

So, if you want to argue, "free market vs English mercantilist policy", I agree. Although, as rea points out upthread, upon independence, US economic policy was also largely mercantilist, at least as regards international trade. It was just mercantilist to our advantage.

If you want to argue, "free market vs a market subject to government regulation", then the actual history is not on your side.

And, as noted above by me, private property and free markets are not equivalent.

Goodoleboy: "Well, isn't a charter school still a public school?"

They may operate with public funds, but they're not subject to the kind of regulations that public schools are. In fact, they're pretty much unaccountable, period.

I don't have a problem with charter schools in theory; it's just that there's been so much abuse and overreaching. In my area alone, one guy physically abused the kids, and another made off with $1 million worth of computers in the middle of the night. School funds are too precious to be wasted on scams and shenanigans.

I badly want to not have to buy federally mandated insurance or to pay a penalty.

OK, fair enough. If that's the very first and worst violation of your sovereignty that springs to mind, I'd say we're doing pretty damned good.

I badly want to keep my financial transactions private, such as taking cash out of my account, putting it where I want and not having the federal gov't knowing each transaction I make.

I am not sufficiently up-to-date on banking law to know whether this is the case, so enlighten me.

I badly want to give some of my money to my children without being subject to federal taxation, since I've already paid tax on my money once.

This has been dealt with on a sufficient number of prior threads that this is a non-starter. Not only the silly, puerile "double taxation" argument, but the fact that, first, you can give money to your kids now without incurring any tax whatsoever; and two, unless you're dying tomorrow and leaving some amount in excess of, what, $5 million, there are no tax implications whatsoever. So you are not, in fact, prevented from doing that. Don't you feel better?

'Russel: The commerce clause specifically addressed this issue with respect to interstate commerce. It created a free market inside the U.S.A., one not subject to taxes as goods traveled from one state to another. And property rights as previously stated.'

And I would add, a little research will show that there was not a history of free commerce on the European continent in the late middle ages, but England was an exception to this condition. Tolls were everywhere in Germany and France until the monarchs eventually managed to consolidate rule of the many smaller areas controlled by the lesser nobility. So there is ample evidence that a principal concern was to insure that trade between and among the thirteen states would be unfettered, thus the Commerce clause.

Why do I never hear any crticism of the size of the federal Government Defense department and the taxes that are "taken" from each of us to support it? Why isn't there a push for "Army of Choice"? Just give each person back their federal taxes that go to support the defense of the country and let them choose at the local level which army they wish to support?

My point is education of our young is as important to national defense as a standing army. Why is it OK to not have national standards for education, but to have a completely socialistic defense department?

If the federal government is bloated, our defense department is larger than those of the next 14 nations combined. Why is that never a concern for the small government crowd?

I'm not addressing anyone in particular, because this issue never comes up from those of you who think the federal government is overstepping its bounds. But, the complaints I do hear ring hollow because of this vacancy.

Any response?

debbie: They [charter schools] may operate with public funds, but they're not subject to the kind of regulations that public schools are. In fact, they're pretty much unaccountable, period.

That is not the case in California. It's true that charter schools are exempt from many provisions of the California education code, but accountability was a key goal of the charter legislation. For a charter to be granted it must include assessment criteria.

As time has passed additional accountability requirements have been imposed. See here and here.

To complement dr ngo's observation, when I first came to Japan, I worked at a high school and later moved to the prefectural board of ed and I noted then that working in Japanese public education gave a foreigner knowledge of a set of experiences that one could access when talking to almost any Japanese person. While education has always been a local concern in the US, it wasn't so long ago that the set of experiences from school were shared on a wide scale basis as can be seen by the way the US template was placed on places like the Philippines and Japan. Now, it seems that there is horror expressed by some in the thread that the US as a nation might have some reason to create a more unified education system. I realize that there is some sort of balance one needs to find between standardization and diversity, but this recoil with horror at the federal government touching education really baffles me.

So there is ample evidence that a principal concern was to insure that trade between and among the thirteen states would be unfettered, thus the Commerce clause.

For the record: yes, I agree that the folks who wrote the Constitution wanted trade between the various United States to be open and unfettered. Accordingly, they prohibited the states from imposing their own duties or imposts, except within very narrow exceptions.

What this does *not* amount to is an endorsement of what we now call "free trade" or a "free market", wherein any regulation of commerce or industry is seen as intrusive. On the contrary, Congress is *specifically and explicitly empowered* to regulate commerce between states, and between the United States and other countries.

Congress can regulate interstate commerce. States cannot impede interstate commerce by imposing imposts and duties. That is what is in the document.

And for the record, that is only one of several powers expressly forbidden to the states in Article I Section 8.

Long story short, what we mean nowadays by the term "free market" is not a part of the Constitution of the United States.

'If the federal government is bloated, our defense department is larger than those of the next 14 nations combined. Why is that never a concern for the small government crowd?

I'm not addressing anyone in particular, because this issue never comes up from those of you who think the federal government is overstepping its bounds. But, the complaints I do hear ring hollow because of this vacancy.

Any response?'

I will respond because it is a fair question. There are two aspects. First, national defense is clearly an appropriate function for the Federal government, so little place for argument there. Secondly, we could expect to have some differences relative to the size of the military establishment and on the issue of a standing army. I, for one, would probably take the position that the nation is quite a bit off the mark with its current defense establishment. But I never really get around to those points because of all the other things that I consider more inappropriate.

I do think in this coming year's budget and spending process in the House that the size of the Defense Department will be a significant issue.

May I just say that I do not give a single, solitary crap about what "the Founders" or "the Framers" or any other group of long-dead "gentlemen" wanted the government of the United States to be like in the 21st century?

I am not into ancestor-worship. It strikes me as more perverse than necrophilia, and somewhat gay to boot. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

The Framers of the Constitution were smart guys, but they're, like, dead. If we agree to abide by their principles, it's because WE embrace those principles. If we choose to extend their principles to meet modern-day contingencies, who the hell can say for sure that the Framers would object?

They did not mention education in the Constitution they wrote to set up a federal government for themselves. They had nothing explicit to say about an estate tax. For all we know, they would have endorsed the one to pay for the other, had the question come up. Or maybe not. I don't know, but I assert that neither GOB nor McKinney know, either.

Whether universal education promotes the general welfare or whether dead people have inviolate property rights is a debate, not an ineluctable deduction from some kind of holy writ composed by demigods to last for eternity. It's a debate between living Americans, not between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton.

Tom and Alex are, I repeat, dead. We cannot resurrect them; and even if we could, we'd have to bring them up to speed on everything from evolution to electricity to the fact that we buy more than tea from China, nowadays. I have no doubt they'd learn very fast because, I also repeat, they were smart guys. But I'm not at all sure that, being smart guys, they would insist on interpreting their own 18th century principles quite as narrowly as some of their descendants do.

The only reason I can offer for thinking as I do is the obvious one: the Framers were revolutionaries, not ancestor worshipers. It's at least possible that they would be contemptuous of the opposite tendency in some of their posterity.

--TP

I think it's useful to look at the European Union as a contrasting federal state. The EU disclaimed cultural unity - probably necessarily during the formation process - and initially had very little federal power, being largely a free-trade area.

But it has steadily accumulated federal power despite far stronger opposition from the component states. Why is that? Because to the extent that the economies of the states are integrated, uniform regulation must follow; to run the regulators, you need a parliament; to enforce the regulations you need supra-national powers; as those powers accrue at the federal level, the importance of state-level powers decreases.

The EU is at an early stage in this process, and is experiencing some growing pains right now, as Germany is finding that the creditworthiness of its customers in other countries is necessarily dependent on those countries having their own productive economies. In the US this process is far less controversial because states do not possess a veto power over financial transfers and no one state is so powerful as Germany in Europe.

E pluribus unum could mean "What, you want to be Europe?"

The US, for all its many failings, has historically been all about a kind of peaceful domesticity. While Europe was fighting over the placement of borders and destroying its cities, the US was building houses and factories. The presence of a powerful but still responsive federal state is part of why the US has been able to avoid internal wars for 150 years now. I don't take that for granted, and I don't think Americans should.

"The Framers of the Constitution were smart guys, but they're, like, dead. If we agree to abide by their principles, it's because WE embrace those principles. If we choose to extend their principles to meet modern-day contingencies, who the hell can say for sure that the Framers would object? "

Here's the general argument:

We are not in any way obliged to admire the framers of the Constitution, or agree with their principles. OTOH, they did leave us this written document called "the Constitution", which created our government, and which is, ahem, "the highest law of the land".

Now, we could trash that document, and start anew. The framers of the Constitution wouldn't even have any basis for complaining, they did the same thing with the Articles of Confederation.

Or we could make massive changes to it. The framers obviously anticipated that, they did, after all, incorporate a mechanism for 'amending' it, which has been used a number of times.

Instead what 'we', (Really, the political class...) are doing, is leaving the Constitution unchanged, while entering into a tacit conspiracy to lie about what the words mean.

This makes people who don't like the Constitution, and who don't particularly care about the means used to get around it, happy. But it's ultimately, (And immediately!) corrosive of the rule of law, and would be just as deadly to a constitution you liked, should we ever get one, as it's proving to the constitution we actually have at this moment.

bc: So for those that want to go to another country because of the political state of today, I say ????. I just don't get that... The sky is not falling. "Out of many" perhaps refers to our disagreements. Yet we are still one.

Also, this.

I believe I can speak as a bona fide expert in going to another country because you can't stand the one you're in. Here's the news from outside the US: politics is just as stupid everywhere else, the only two differences being that everyone is a little bit less rich - or a lot less rich, depending, but generally people here are fantasizing about moving to first-world states - and that the stakes of the politics in world outcomes are smaller. Which just means you're even more powerless and helpless when you're not in the US.

All of those countries have their own big problems. As an outsider, you can move and you'll probably be oblivious to the problems for a decade or so, during which period you can pretend that they don't exist, which you traditionally accomplish by spending all of your time with people of the equivalent social/economic class as yourself, just in another country. You won't be exposed to too many poor people, because ties to poor people tend to be involuntary - family, friendship, proximity - and not voluntary. In other words, the threat to "move to Canada" is as effective a response to the toxic and dispiriting political atmosphere in the US as "white flight" was to inner-city poverty. It's escapism.

For some individuals at some times, escape is a sensible answer. (I can tell you all about that.) But there is no Shangri-La. There is nowhere with no politics or profound disagreement. If there's a Heaven, there will be politics in Heaven. (Were I a believer, the lack of politics would be a terrifying prospect.)

What Brett said, exactly.

Nothing says what the framers left us stands forever, but many ideas expressed by a number of them have, for me, a sense of unchanging truth. And much of their thought found its way into the Constitution.

What Brett said, exactly.

No. What Tony said.

Look at the issues Tony brought up - education and estate taxes. Can you show me where the Constitution addresses them - beyond giving Congress the right to tax?

Extend the principles? Of course we can extend them. We did it, to take a common example, when we established an Air Force, despite only an Army and Navy being explicitly authorized.

Look, the world has changed, and so has our understanding of it. The notion that we should apply the Constitution in accordance with 150 or 200+ year old views of the world is irrational.

Here's an example, more recent than that, that I came across recently - an intensely annoying one. The Fourteenth Amendment says:

..... No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Yet Scalia and presumably others somehow don't think the word "person" here includes women or gays. Why? Because it wasn't thought to at the time, apparently. So what? BFD. We can, and should, adopt the non-discrimination provision, but the idea that there are "persons" who are somehow not worthy of this protection, not covered by this principle, belongs on the ash heap.

That's what I, at least, mean by "extending the principle," and it looks like exactly the right thing to do.

what 'we', (Really, the political class...) are doing, is leaving the Constitution unchanged, while entering into a tacit conspiracy to lie about what the words mean.

This argument would make more sense if it were not being made by a bunch of historical illiterates. Honestly, talking about the Constitution enacting free market capitalism, when the drafters lived before that concept was invented . . .

Bernard:

I have no issue with what you say at 11:22 AM, except for you failure to acknowledge Air Force as just another term for Army. After all, it was the Army Air Corps before we separated the functions. When Scalia and others exclude women in defining persons, that is wrong. I'm not sure how 'gay' gets to be defined distinctly from person since such will qualify as men or women.

GOB, you may want to get with Brett. He believes that, unless the Constitution is specifically amended via the Equal Rights Amendment, the Supreme Court is absolutely forbidden from interpreting "person" to mean "woman."

Y'all "originalists" should work this out and get back to us.

'GOB, you may want to get with Brett. He believes that, unless the Constitution is specifically amended via the Equal Rights Amendment, the Supreme Court is absolutely forbidden from interpreting "person" to mean "woman."

Y'all "originalists" should work this out and get back to us.'

Brett:

Shed some light on this for me. I've not researched this specifically, but is there any definition of person (for my entire lifetime I have interpreted this to mean human being) that does not include women?

Not that I know of; The issue here, of course, is that they didn't think voting was a "privilege or immunity", which is why the 15th amendment followed the 14th; If voting HAD been seen as a "P or I", the 15th would have been redundant, no? So the question of whether women were "persons" was beside the point, "people" weren't understood to have a right to vote.

Did "persons" mean "black-skinned human beings" prior to the 14th, 15th and 16th Amendments?

Did "citizens" and "persons" in the Bill of Rights mean "woman" and "black-skinned human beings?"

If I may take the liberty of reframing Brett and GOB's challege here: How do we know what the limits of the federal government's power are? Is there anything other than a shifting and unstable political consensus that can tell us when a line has been improperly crossed? If we can't use the text of the Constitution to make that determination, is there anything else we can use?

Brett and GOB, feel free to step on me if I'm misrepresenting what you're arguing.

"General welfare" is mentioned once in the Constitution, in the preamble, and it didn't mean welfare state. It meant general well being.

Wrong. See Article I, Section 8:

"The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States"

This broad grant of taxing and spending power "To . . . provide for the . . . general welfare" is inconsistent with your analysis of the phrase. Understandably, this is the clause the "small federal government" right likes to forget.

I am not wrong. The phrase "general welfare" appears only in the Preamble. The complete clause, "Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes . . . to provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States" is different. The operative language is "common defense and general welfare of the United States". This sentence has no relation to individuals receiving welfare payments. "Welfare" as we understand that word today, to borrow a mistaken point about free markets, was not a concept even remotely on the minds of the drafters.

A free market, i.e. one unfettered by gov't, is implicit in the right to property being coequal with life and liberty, to the injunction against the states passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts and to the fact that regulating business enterprise in a way that would impair contractual obligations or property rights--the foundation of a free market economy--were antithetical to the drafters or anyone else in those days.

The operative language is "common defense and general welfare of the United States". This sentence has no relation to individuals receiving welfare payments.

Just so we're clear here, which named individuals who are not McKinneyTexas are conflating "general welfare" with "welfare payments," rather than attempting to make clear that "general welfare" might refer to nonspecified functions that nonetheless benefit the entire United States?

Because, so far as I can tell, the answer is "nobody."

Honestly, talking about the Constitution enacting free market capitalism, when the drafters lived before that concept was invented . .

While the discussion may have gone a bit further afoot, the original question posed by Russel was relating to a "free economic market," not the "free market" as defined today.

Maybe I'm missing something, but mercantilism was either a big cause or THE cause to the Revolution, depending on your point of view. I would add mercantilism without representation. And a lot of King-controlled corporate monopoly to boot.

So I think it is fair to say that the Revolution was meant to address the inequities of mercantilism and to create a more free market than what existed before. Or, at a minimum, a more self-directed mercantilism.

The problem was the states engaged in trade wars. So the Constitution took care of that at least in interstate commerce. Sure, "free trade" abroad wasn't exactly happening, but self-determination lead to freer trade.

I think it's well accepted that many of the founders were familiar with Smith's earlier works, so one would assume they were familiar with "Wealth of Nations" by 1789. Not that the concepts made it into the Constitution per se.

And if we're talking about the emergence of the modern corporation when we say "free market capitalism," say post-Civil War, then yes, that concept did not exist in 1789. Or it did and was specifically rejected by the states until later and the race to the bottom resulting in Delaware. And, yes, anti-trust came much later. This I concede, but isn't it fair to say the Founders were concerned with a "freer market"?

the original question posed by Russel was relating to a "free economic market," not the "free market" as defined today.

As one may ask whether attending a church service would constitute "celebrating Christmas" as defined today.

Certainly the Founders paid attention to economic structures and practices (as well they might, being major landowners and merchants and smugglers and whatnot). Reserving the regulation of interstate commerce to the federal government may count as an instance of creating "freer markets"; it may also count as an expansion of federal power into traditionally local concerns ("You can't tax your imports--only we can tax your imports!").

But if the interstate commerce clause is all you have on which to hang the argument that the purpose of the Constitution was to implement free-market capitalism (of however primitive a variety), that's a pretty weak hook. (As is the Fourth Amendment; private property has been recognized in plenty of non-capitalist economies and polities. Maybe it's necessary for free-market capitalism, but it's far from sufficient.)

This I concede, but isn't it fair to say the Founders were concerned with a "freer market"?

IMO it's fair to say that folks in the second half of the 18th C were concerned with not having their lives, economic lives included, constrained by a government in which their interests were not represented.

So, "freer market" meaning "affording them, personally, greater opportunity", probably so. But in particular, not constrained by dictate of Parliament, an institution 3,000 miles away, and in which they were not represented.

Taxes, duties, other rules imposed by colonial legislatures did not cause the Revolution.

And rea's point about the mercantilist policies of the early American governments is, as best I can make out, on the money.

The US Revolution was, I think, not the triumph of market capitalism over mercantilism. More a matter of rejecting encroachments on what had been a century or more of de facto self-government, and making that de facto reality de jure.

That's my understanding.

McK,

A free market, i.e. one unfettered by gov't, is implicit in the right to property being coequal with life and liberty, to the injunction against the states passing laws impairing the obligation of contracts and to the fact that regulating business enterprise in a way that would impair contractual obligations or property rights--the foundation of a free market economy--were antithetical to the drafters or anyone else in those days.

I don't think so. First of all, you can be deprived of property by due process of law, so your rights are not unfettered. Second, the Contract Clause applies only to the states. And of course the Constitution does give the federal government the power to regulate interstate commerce, which suggests that a complete laissez-faire system was not what the framers had in mind, at least as a Constitutional principle.

More important, "property rights," once you get beyond basic personal property, is a pretty complex concept, that, like it or not, needs to be defined and regulated by government (or by some society-wide mechanism). Without such definition, it is impossible to say where your property rights infringe on mine.

BY--I agree up to a point. A 'right' only exists if its enforceable and without an enforcement mechanism, the 'right' is illusory. There was an existing frame of law spelling out property rights and a court system to enforce those rights in place prior to the revolution and the common law, at the time of the revolution, was the law of the land, subject to alteration by state and federal statute. Implicit in the notion of a property right was the right to do with one's property as one wished. I used the word 'unfettered' somewhere above. Wrong word. Under common law, one could not create a nuisance. This was a limitation on property rights. The principle of caveat emptor also prevailed. This was the ultimate in free market theory (ok, maybe not the ultimate, but close). Ownership of property and the freedom to dispose of it, to trade it, to sell a product or a service was pretty wide open. Prostitution and other activities deemed against public policy were the kind of limitations the law imposed back in the day. The idea of a regulated commercial enterprise, as we understand that term today, was foreign back then.

That's my understanding.

And mine too. I think we're in agreement. Before the French and Indian War, British mercantilism wasn't fully enforced. The colonies were engaged in illegal trade circumventing the navigation acts, etc. But the British were broke and started enforcing those policies to make the colonies pay their "fair share." Much of the Revolution was a reaction to that.

This whole digression came up from a comment by GOB saying "free economic market." That means what you want it to mean. I certainly wasn't responding by saying "free market economics as understood in the 21st century." I think most of this exercise has been reading too much into what each other is saying. I see certain ideas consistent with a free market in the Constitution. I don't see much more than that.

BTW, I'm not exactly a "hands off by the government" type anyway when it comes to economics. I just think the government's role should be to PRESERVE a free market and to regulate when necessary. Anti-trust, frex, preserves a market. You need accurate info for a free market, so securities and fraud laws should be there. And the commerce clause is an integral part wiping out tariffs and duties by states. I see some CEO salaries as symbolic of market failure and part of the problem created in the modern corporate structure of distancing owners from management. And so on. Not much of that in the Constitution (o.k., none!). But the concepts of property, individual liberty, self-determination and representation are there. That's all I was saying, and if anyone interpreted that to mean the Founders were free market capitalists as understood today, I apologize for my lack of clarity. I actually think they might object to the modern corporate structure.

But the concepts of property, individual liberty, self-determination and representation are there. That's all I was saying, and if anyone interpreted that to mean the Founders were free market capitalists as understood today, I apologize for my lack of clarity. I actually think they might object to the modern corporate structure.

Someone upthread indicated the vagueness of the term "free market." I agree. We live in a regulated, mostly private economy and a good chunk of the regs are embraced by large portions of the private sector and a lesser but respectable set of regs are near universally popular. The concept, even if inchoate, of a free, i.e. virtually unregulated, market was the norm in the US after the revolution. It may not have had a name, other than coming under the broad heading of 'liberty', but it was there. The evidence for its existence is the lack of even the concept of a regulated economy, not to mention the absence of regulations.

The evidence for its existence is the lack of even the concept of a regulated economy, not to mention the absence of regulations.

Look, McK, this is simply factually untrue.

If you look at the history of the colonies and of their various governments, you will find laws and regulations governing every imaginable form of commercial activity.

For example: a quick and casual inspection of the Colonial Laws of Massachusetts finds the following:

How much bakers can charge for bread. How much beer and wine a tavern-keeper must keep on hand. What hoops a tavern-keeper has to jump through to open a tavern. How much hay and other feed an inn must have on hand if they offer to stable horses. Whether farm fields are required by law to be fenced. Fines for selling tanned hides that are insufficiently dried. Who can practice medicine. Laws granting exclusive monopolies to ferrymen for particular crossing points. Laws regulating the wages of porters.

And on, and on, and on, and on, and on. And that's the provincial government, every county and town had their own set in addition.

These were not vile mercantilistic laws imposed on the colonists by Parliament. They were laws passed by their own colonial governments, to maintain good order and to ensure that folks got good value from the folks they did business with.

If you look at the historical records for the legislatures of any of the colonies, you will find stuff just like this.

The myth of "unregulated commercial activity" during the period we're talking about is just that, a myth.

There were laws out the wazoo concerning every imaginable commercial activity during the colonial and immediate post-colonial period.

Go look, and see for yourself.

'Politically, we seem to be hanging together, more or less, although some folks seem to feel a constant urge to pull as much political autonomy back to a local scale as they possibly can.'

If one believes that sovereignty is in the individual, why wouldn't one feel a constant urge to pull back as much political autonomy to the lowest or smallest governmental level as possible.

'I suggest that a coherent classical liberal must be generally supportive of federal political structures, because any division of authority must, necessarily, tend to limit the potential range of political coercion. Those persons and groups who oppose the devolution of authority from the central government to the states in the United States and those who oppose any limits on the separate single nation-states in modern Europe are, by these commitments, placing other values above those of the liberty and sovereignty of individuals.'

I agree with this quote from James M Buchanan's 'Federalism and Individual Sovereignty' published in the Cato Journal.

A key point he makes is that 'the prospect of exit, which is so important in imposing discipline in market relationships, is absent from politics unless it is deliberately built in by the constitution of a federalized structure.'

Our recent census, showing population movements that will result in significant changes in political representation, demonstrates the value and effect of an exit capability. It's not likely, in my estimation, that these population shifts are attributable to anything other than perceived or real differences in state and local political coercion. It also demonstrates that we still have value in what is left of our Federalist model. The total absence of an a Federalist model (the direction we move in as we centralized more political power) will give us the worst possible result, frex, no exit, unless we indeed want to go to Canada.

This is why I am among those folks who feel a constant urge to pull back political autonomy to the smallest governing level.

The evidence for its existence is the lack of even the concept of a regulated economy, not to mention the absence of regulations.

You don't think the power to coin money, to standardize weights and measures, and to allow and protect copyrights constitute regulation of the economy?

If one believes that sovereignty is in the individual, why wouldn't one feel a constant urge to pull back as much political autonomy to the lowest or smallest governmental level as possible.

My personal understanding is that sovereignty resides in the people, plural.

My sense of where responsibilities lie is that you need an actor commensurate with the action to be taken.

If we'd like to reorganize our society such that all aspects of life had a more local focus, I'd find that more than congenial.

I'm actually fine with the idea of devolving stuff to the states. I'm not that fine with doing so if that leaves big issues unaddressed.

That's my point of view, obviously I only speak for myself.

The total absence of an a Federalist model (the direction we move in as we centralized more political power) will give us the worst possible result, frex, no exit, unless we indeed want to go to Canada.

My personal feeling about this is that if the folks in a particular state want out of the US, vaya con dios. See ya later.

I'd like them to pay back the federal treasury for any sunk investment in infrastructure, etc. Amortized, of course, and adjusted for whatever that states balance of federal dollars paid and received happens to be.

And we'll have to work out some kind of deal if they are currently receiving public goods or services like water, electricity, etc., from across a state line.

But those are nits.

And I'm not planning on shedding an ounce of my blood or anyone else's about it this time around.

Wanna go? Go.

It's not likely, in my estimation, that these population shifts are attributable to anything other than perceived or real differences in state and local political coercion.

What's the basis for that estimation? What's your reason for thinking that "perceived or real differences in state and local political coercion" are more important than education and job opportunities, forced relocation, changing family situations, retirement, marriage, health, and all the other reasons people have for relocating?

'My personal understanding is that sovereignty resides in the people, plural.'

Does this mean that you do not consider that you own yourself? How does this square with a concept like life, liberty, and property?

Does this mean that you do not consider that you own yourself?

No, it means that I am not, politically speaking, a sovereign actor.

From the wiki:

Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory

What do you think is meant by "sovereignty"? Do you think you, personally, are sovereign?

My understanding of the word squares with life, liberty, and property in that the state may not take my life, my liberty, or my property without my consent and/or without recourse to some due process.

'What's the basis for that estimation?'

Taxes are frequently a factor since this affects individuals as well as business activities and the latter is certainly going to affect the job market. Education costs are a factor. Some comes from the more personal factors you list.

But then there's California which has sunbelt characteristics and has recently had a net negative domestic migration after 150 years positive.

Hogan:

And I forgot to mention right-to-work laws.

And states with overly generous public employee pay, pension, and organizing rights are politically coercive to their private sector employed population.

GOB,

any division of authority must, necessarily, tend to limit the potential range of political coercion.

This sounds nice, but I don't think it stands up to empirical testing in the American context. I'd say that history, which trumps logic in these matters, suggests that the states are far more likely to behave oppressively than the federal government.

And I'd add that Buchanan's assumption of easy and frictionless mobility simply does not hold water.

Hogan: Is there anything other than a shifting and unstable political consensus that can tell us when a line has been improperly crossed? If we can't use the text of the Constitution to make that determination, is there anything else we can use?

Who is "we", if not "a shifting and unstable political consensus"?

"We", Americans, can all read the text of the Constitution and its Amendments, just as all "Christians" can read the Bible -- the Old Testament and its amendment, the New Testament. We can read words like "seven days" or "the press" literally, or put a bit of topspin on them. Some of us are inclined to do the one, some the other.

The literalists can always claim that the words "mean what they say", but who are they making this claim TO? The authors of the texts? No: the authors are all dead. The claim can only be addressed to the spinners. The spinners can always respond by pointing out that the literalists are selective about WHICH words "mean what they say".

So "we" are left in a muddle, where we all agree that SOME words "mean what they say", but "we" differ on which words those are. We are all literalists; we are all spinners; but "we" are all there is.

--TP

And I'd add that Buchanan's assumption of easy and frictionless mobility simply does not hold water.

Yeah.

Read some of Buchanan's piece, which led me to this discussion of Tiebout, whose theories of political economy apparently underly Bucanan's piece.

Suffice it to say, like most arguments for the free market as the cure for whatever ails ya, Tiebout and Buchanan's work relies on a stack of assumptions that do not exist as actual conditions in the real world.

It's like the joke about the mathemetician who is trapped on a desert island with an endless supply of canned goods, and needs to figure out how to open them.

"First, assume you have a can opener".

There is no can opener. At least, none that can be summoned by simply assuming it exists. If it doesn't work in the real world, it doesn't work.

Tony P: So what's the purpose of a written constitution?

(I'm not saying I disagree with you, just that I want to tease out some implications of this position for response from any literalists who are still paying attention.)

Stanley Kubrick .... There are a whole lot of really outstanding people who are Americans.
Though certainly an American, given that Kubrick spent the last forty years of his life, 1962-1999 and some time earlier, living in the United Kingdom by choice, I think this is worth mentioning, though below the level of even a quibble.

GoodOleBoy's December 26, 2010 at 06:03 PM, although I wouldn't stress "utterly," and certainly have more to say on the issue, I agree with your, and many others' here statements.

wonkie:

I don't want to be an American any more. I want to be a Canadian.
I wouldn't dream of disputing your desire.

But I'd suggest spending either at least two years living in Canada first, or at least spending two years reading nothing but Canadian publications, and none American, to have some idea of what it is that Canadians don't like about their country, to make sure "the grass is always greener" problem is less likely to be in play.

It's not as Canadians don't have plenty of problems with their justice system, and the rest of Canadian government(s), to put it mildly.

It's been my experience that those Americans who declare a desire to gain Canadian citizenship and renounce American citizenship tend not to try first living in Canada for two to five years, tend to be about 2% or so (number pulled out of my digest tract).

I do know plenty of Americans who became Canadians, and happily so.

After living there for several years.

Also many who moved back, sooner or later. Turns out other countries are less than perfect, too.

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