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The Recurring Topic of Equality by Oliver DeMille

July 6th, 2016 // 7:15 am @

(Note: In the Internet Age, writing short blog posts usually wins the day.
“Nobody wants to read more than 1-2 pages,” the experts say. “Less is more.”
I usually try to follow this maxim. But today I’m making an exception.
So be forewarned: This article is quite a bit longer than usual, and I feel that
every word of it is worth reading! Enjoy…)

I.

meritocracyFree enterprise isn’t perfect. But the most popular alternative proposed in human history—equality—isn’t either. Neither of them bring full justice or fairness to society.

The truth is, freedom has a lot of problems. Still, humankind hasn’t come up with anything better than freedom as the guiding societal arrangement—and so far in history the many human attempts at creating lasting equality have brought disaster after disaster.

Here’s why: Life isn’t fair. And life isn’t just. There is unfairness and injustice in every era of history—in every nation and time period. A world that is entirely just and fair simply doesn’t exist—and has never existed—among humans.

Even in an ideal society, whenever that comes (and I believe it can and will come), there will still be unfairness. Just like there is unfairness in every family, every business, every friendship, every marriage, every relationship, every church, every group of humans anywhere.

No exceptions.

To repeat it one more time: If it’s human society, then human nature is at play, and therefore there will be injustice and unfairness. Period.

II.

Of course, people don’t like this reality, so all through history we’ve tried to change it. Some people attempt to fix this frustrating reality with more “freedom,” but it doesn’t work. Not perfectly. So they try to fix it with more “equality,” but that doesn’t work either.

They try to fix it with increased government regulation, intervention, and oversight, and guess what? There is still injustice and unfairness. In fact, such governmental attempts nearly always increase the amount of injustice and unfairness.

Here’s the reality:

  1. The problem with freedom is that it always ends the same. In a free society, an elite economic class eventually rises and dominates the regular people. Without government controls to keep those who succeed in the market from becoming too big and powerful, elite economic classes always take over.
  1. The quest for equality is also problematic. In a society seeking equality, an elite political class always rises and dominates the people. If there isn’t a level of economic openness that truly allows anyone to rise economically, and to rise as far and as big as they choose (as long they don’t violate anyone’s inalienable rights), a few elites always use government power to keep certain people from competing in the marketplace—and this results in even more inequality.

If you like the allure of “equality,” read Item #2 over and over until it makes sense. It is, literally, the history of almost all human societies.

If you love freedom, read Item #1 as well. It’s very important to understand this reality. (See, for example, Federalist Papers 1, 2, 10, 14, 15, 18, 19, 20, 51)

III.

The American framers knew this history, and they tried to find a middle ground. They hoped that by separating powers and further checking and balancing the forces of government, they could keep the elite economic class working in the Senate and in the Executive branch, and the elite political class busy in the House of Representatives and the Court—all fighting each other. Fighting enough, in fact, to keep both elite groups too busy to dominate the regular people.

The framers’ plan worked and it failed. It worked because it improved the situation from what it had been before. The branches of government do attract much of the attention of the elite economic and elite political classes, and they do fight each other—a lot. Enough, in fact, that they dominate the regular people less than before the Constitutional system (for example, compare the English system from 1078 to 1894, and the Continental model from 1530 thru 1915).

But the Constitutional system failed too—because both elite classes still spend some of their time dominating the regular people. Result: we live in a society that isn’t fair, and is often unjust.

Did the founding model improve things a bit? Yes. Demonstrably so. Did it entirely fix the problems of unfairness and injustice? Not even close. But it did better than any of the societies aiming for equality—just look at Russia, China, Cuba, Nicaragua, all of Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1989, and nearly all of Western Europe after the 1960s.

The elite economic class and the elite political class are still growing, and still inflicting their various agendas on the rest of the people. Thus our modern world: Not fair, not just. Also: not particularly free, and not very equal.

IV.

To understand this more deeply, compare the two groups as they currently operate in the United States. The elite economic class (largely Republican) is trying to convince everyone to support it by calling for “freedom,” “liberty,” “capitalism,” and “free markets.” It uses these phrases and slogans as catchwords for its real agenda: “Let’s use economics to increase our power over the elite political class.”

The elite political class (mostly Democrats) does the same thing. It uses terms like “equality,” “social justice,” “democracy,” “fairness,” “higher minimum wage,” “free college for everyone,” and so on to promote its actual agenda: “Let’s use government to increase our power over the elite economic class.”

In all this, here’s the thing that everyone who wants to avoid being swayed or manipulated by the spin machines of either side needs to understand:

Both groups—the political elite class and the economic elite class—win when they keep their message complex. They both lose when the regular people understand very, very basic principles of freedom and fairness.

As a result, they both put a lot of money and resources into influencing academia, the media, the professions, and the entire upper middle class.

Let’s get specific. When anyone argues for “equality,” you have to move it out of the realm of complex, academic, deep, intellectual, and expert, and into the realm of very, very simple. The same is true when anyone argues for “freedom” or “free” markets, etc.

If you’re in a place of complex, the elites are winning. If you get to very simple, extremely basic, the regular people might win.

V.

So how do we take complex “equality” and complex “freedom” and make them truly simple? The answer is easy. Just know the following two definitions of “equality”:

  • Equality of Opportunity. Everyone has the same opportunity before the law, meaning they can do whatever they want as long as they don’t violate the inalienable rights of any other person. And this has to be simple, not complex! Meaning: people can do anything, as long as they don’t violate someone’s inalienable rights. This might sound like too much freedom to the intellectual crowd, but the regular people get it. It works.
  • Equality of Result. The government tries to make sure everyone has the same results—a generally similar level of income, similar levels of ownership, similar levels of wealth (or poverty). Or, failing to obtain this, they settle for enforcing limits on how much any business, person, or family can own or grow—to try to keep everyone at least somewhere near the same level.

Anyone who argues for Equality of Opportunity is likely on the side of the regular people. They want things to be simple: A government that protects us from foreign invasion and local murderers, rapists, and thieves—and does nothing else at all.

That’s simple: nothing else at all. Protecting inalienable rights, period. And doing nothing else.

Go beyond this, and you’re into complex. Seriously: Any fudging of this moves society into complex, where the elite classes can step in with their experts and intellectuals and take charge.

Again: The simple approach wants government to allow people to do whatever they want, and own whatever they choose to earn, as long as they don’t violate anybody’s inalienable rights. Period.

In contrast, the forces promoting Equality of Results usually want either the elite political class to win, or the elite economic class to win. The political elite class dominates the regular people by using government to regulate, intervene, and keep down the power of the wealthy elite—or so they say. But in all of history this has never once actually happened.

What happens in real life is that elites promising “equality” and “fairness” get elected or appointed to power, and then they and their friends use their position and influence to rig the system so they end up keeping more of the money and power for themselves. This is what has happened every single time. No exceptions.

Literally—there are no exceptions in history. No matter how good the theory of equality and fairness may sound, nobody has ever done it in a lasting way. Some have gotten close—but within a few years it broke down. Always.

Always!

But that’s not all. If the economic elite class dominates, it does the same kind of thing. It promises the people that it will keep the political elites from dominating, and then once it is in power it works to rig the system so it can dominate the regular people. Again, this is how it always works.

This bears repeating: There are no lasting exceptions in all of recorded history. It always ultimately turns this way, as long as either of the elite groups (political [Left] or economic [Right]) have the power.

The only time it doesn’t happen this way is when the regular people maintain the majority of the power—by keeping the government protecting inalienable rights, and doing absolutely nothing else. This creates a true Equality of Opportunity. But this is a very rare situation indeed.

It happened briefly—for some of the citizens—in ancient Athens (the Solonic era), for two short periods during the ascendance of Rome (see the Gracchi and the Aurelian eras), during the Saracen golden age and later in the Swiss Vales period, during the Frank and Anglo-Saxon golden ages, after the implementation of the Magna Carta and again after the English Bill of Rights (but only for aristos), and after the American Founding (but only in the North and West, and only for some of the population).

Again, it is rare.

We don’t live under such a system today. We are firmly dominated by the economic and political elites, and their battles with each other. They both claim to want to put the power in the hands of the regular people—but they never do.

Those calling for equality and freedom mostly want Equality of Results—either led by political elites (Democrats) or economic elites (Republicans). Neither of these ultimately promote the interests of the regular people. If they call mainly for “equality,” “fairness,” and “social justice,” they are nearly always political elites vying for ascendancy over their Republican enemies. On the other hand, if they call for “freedom,” “capitalism,” and “America first,” they are nearly always economic elites seeking to beat their Democratic foes.

People who are convinced by their slogans, catchwords, well-compensated intellectuals, and candidates are routinely disappointed, year after year after year.

VI.

Again: focus on the most basic principles. What we want is Equality of Opportunity—which is what government was created for in the first place. Jefferson outlined this very clearly in the Declaration.

This means simply that we want our government to protect Equality of Opportunity for everyone (strong protection against invasion, and violations of our inalienable rights—period), and do nothing else. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

A government that does anything else—whether in the name of “equality” or “freedom”—always ends up working for one of the dominant elite classes, or both.

So the next time someone tells you that we need more “equality” or “freedom,” find out what they mean. If they mean Equality of Opportunity, great. If they mean something else…one of the elite groups, intellectuals, writers, experts, or apologists have been bending their ear. This may seem too simplistic to some intellectuals—but it is true nonetheless. (For example, very closely scrutinize Federalist Papers 1,15,31,47-49,62 and 70.)

When government protects everyone from foreign attacks and domestic infringements on our inalienable rights—and does nothing else—we’re in the freedom zone.

Everything else done by government is an assignment from either the political elites or the economic elites, and their agenda is to keep the regular people in submission. Fact: they’re good at this game, and they’re still winning it.

VII.

One more thing. Understanding the historical roots of the idea of equality is very important. The word equality came from the ancient Greeks, and they meant something precise. Something specific. “Equality” was holding the same status before the law. But what does this phrase actually mean?

Well, for example, small landowners were “equal” with wealthy landowners, even if the wealthy owner had 100 or even 1,000 times the amount of land and wealth. (See Victor Davis Hanson, The Other Greeks) How could they be considered “equal” in such circumstances? Answer: on their land, their own private property, they had the final say. They couldn’t do something to somebody that took away that person’s universal rights, but they could kick that person off their land simply by choosing to do so.

It was their land. They actually owned it. Entirely. If the wealthy landowner with many thousands of acres came on the property of the subsistence owner with just ½ an acre—the small owner was in charge. Period.

They were equal—because on land one person owned, he had the power. And they both had this power, each on his own land. The law backed the owner up on this, even if the person losing a dispute was the very wealthy owner. If he was on the small owner’s land, the small owner was the boss.

Equal.

And vice versa, if the small owner, or anyone else, went on the big owner’s land.

This is where the concept began. “A man is the king of his own home.” All men are thus equal.

Note that there is no forced equality here. Only enforced equality. The difference is important. Jefferson put this exact concept in eloquent terms: “endowed by their Creator…” In other words, the big and small owners were equal because “Nature and Nature’s God” made it so.

They didn’t become equal because of some act of government, and they weren’t granted equality by some government decree. Instead, they were born equal, regardless of government. The government didn’t force equality—it had no right to do so in this worldview.

It could only enforce the equality that was already there, put there by “Nature and Nature’s God.” Put there by an endowment of the Creator, to cite the Declaration of Independence.

Furthermore, “equality” in this sense was inalienable. It was given to all men equally by birth, by the Creator. It was to be enforced by government, never forced by government.

In contrast, the type of equality we usually talk about today—always on the political Left, and even frequently on the Right—is the kind of equality that government forces. Government wants people to be equal, so it sets out to legislate it, or decree it, or adjudicate it so. This is force, pure and simple.

VIII.

Any time we see real Equality of Opportunity, we’re ultimately just talking about two owners each being the boss on his or her own land or home. When government tries to force equality, in contrast, it nearly always aims for a totally different kind of “equality”—not the kind that came from ancient Greece, but the kind that came from Assyria. In the Assyrian model, the King divided land “equally” among his subjects. They were “equal” in the sense that the King gave each subject what they had. Their ownership came “equally” from the same place—the government.

But this kind of equality is a poor counterfeit of the Greek version. Indeed, in the Assyrian approach, the King kept most of the land for himself and his relatives (royals). He typically maintained another big portion for his close friends and allies (aristos). Honored soldiers received the next level of “equality,” and the rest of his subjects got what was left over—according to the whims of the King.

Call this “equality” if you want, but it’s actually a totally different thing. It’s not even equality at all, even though it still passes for it in most intellectual circles today.

When Marx and Lenin promoted modern socialism and communism, they gave great wordplay to the Greek type of equality—and yet every system set up based on their template implemented the Assyrian structure. No exceptions.

IX.

Indeed, the early Greek meaning of “equality” developed during the pre-polis era. (Ibid.) When a lot of people left the farms and built up the early city-states (city = polis), this model changed. While the small landowner and the large, wealthier land baron still followed the traditions of equality (“If I am on your land, you are the boss, and on my land, I am the boss, regardless of how much land each of us owns—thus we are equal…”), the new aristocratic management class in the polis soon saw itself as superior to the farming “hicks” of the countryside.

The cosmopolitan bureaucrats owned no land, in most cases. So what was their status? They saw themselves as above the rural farm-based regular citizens of their society, and they began demanding special tribute to themselves. They didn’t ask to be treated as equals, but as superiors. The small and large landowners still believed in equality, but they found themselves dealing with an Assyrian-based urban aristocracy/bureaucracy that demanded taxes and titles—above that of all the landowners.

The polis-era landowners responded by arguing for equality—for everyone, including small landowners, big landowners, and the new class of urban managers. The urban elite, of course, rejected this idea—it would have made them equal in title and status with the nation’s “hicks.”

The urban aristos, however, had a problem when they adopted this new model. Sadly for them, they depended on these very “hicks” for all their food and sustenance. What to do?

Answer: They went with the Oriental approach, the Assyrian/Indian/Chinese model. They adopted monarchy. They argued that Kings and Queens would protect the whole nation better, and since the urban aristos ran most city-state governments, they were able to win the support of the urban working masses. They used “democracy” to support kings and queens who they promised would take better care of everyone.

The people who lived under the older system of pre-polis “equality” soon lost both their freedom and their equality. When they complained, they were informed by the urban aristocratic class that freedom meant having the honor of serving the King in whatever way he demanded, and equality meant accepting whatever station and ownership (if any) the King deigned to hand out to you. This pattern repeated across the Middle East, Near East, and West. (See Plutarch, Parallel Lives…; Will and Ariel Durant, The Story of Civilization; Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History; Hugh Nibley. Ancient State.)

Of course, the old crowd disliked this new approach. But the new, self-proclaimed “civilized” states had a name for the old landowners and their widespread freedoms and equality. They called them “barbarians.” In England the term was “boors,” and in America it was “hicks” or “clods,” as Victor Davis Hansen reminds us. (Op cit., Hansen) President Obama exemplified this attitude when he mentioned that too many Americans cling to their guns and religion. He might as well have openly used the word “hicks.”

The connotation (from ancient times to Obama) was that those in the big cities were smarter, better educated, wealthier, and in positions of power—while those in the “sticks” were less intelligent, less educated, less prosperous, and boasted few official titles of nobility.

Remember what the word “nobility” meant: “One who receives his position, status, title, lands, ownership, and assignments from the King.” For their part, the landowners (big and small) rejected nobility. They hated the idea. They wanted ownership: which for them translated to equality and freedom.

X.

Fast forward roughly two thousand years. Today, the two major models of equality have the following characteristics:

REcurring-equality-od

Note that both national parties—Democrat and Republican—are dominated by majorities who largely ascribe to the Assyrian values. Those who prefer the Greek principles are in a minority in both parties. They have higher numbers among independents than in either party, however; mainly because independent status by its very nature appeals to people who value standing out and emphasizing their individuality.

Again, original roots of both freedom and equality come from the same place—the pre-polis view of ownership, and of equal status and inalienable rights given to us by “Nature and Nature’s God.” This is the model the American founders adopted—Greek, not Assyrian.

The Assyrian approach has the King or other government—whatever it is—doling things (and rights) out to the people, telling them what they can and can’t do. The Greek approach is different. It maintains that “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

These exact words by Jefferson are perhaps the best summary of Greek equality (pre-polis) ever written. Specifically: the people are equal with each other, and they are, together, above the government. Unconvinced? Try this: “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends [What ends? The ends of: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”], it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government…”

The Declaration goes on and on—spouting one pre-polis Greek equality/Greek freedom viewpoint after another. Remember, this all started with: “…all men are created equal…”

“Equality” as it is used in the Declaration means pre-polis Greek equality, not aristocratic/bureaucratic-rule equality. They are very different.

A huge surprise-Freedom WorksFinally, to repeat: the American founders got their views of both equality and freedom from the pre-polis Greeks (who got it from the Hebrews—but that’s another article). It was the same culture. Same values. Today we usually just call it the culture outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

Because that’s exactly what it is. Including:

  • Equality of Opportunity.
  • Freedom of the regular people.
  • Government only protecting inalienable rights—and doing nothing else.
  • Not a society run by either the economic elite or political elite classes.

The Declaration had it right: real equality means pre-polis, “Nature and Nature’s God” equality—which also means freedom.

The truth is, we should give it a try sometime…

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy! by Oliver DeMille

June 8th, 2016 // 12:08 am @

Washington’s “Grin and Bear It” Message About an Economy that’s Still Struggling

The Need/Desire Question

decline_graphIn a 1927 issue of Harvard Business Review Paul Mazur of Lehman Brothers wrote the following prescription for the nation: “We must shift America from a needs to a desires culture.” How? “People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” (Cited in The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha, p. 78.)

What a thing to say! And it has happened, just as Mazur recommended. But in the process, something else happened as well. Not only were people convinced to want more and newer things, but government got caught up in the same quest. And people began desiring many more and new things from government as well. This changed our entire culture.

More recently, President Obama has assured the nation that a slow growth economy is the new normal. But is this good news? Or very bad news masked by a smile? Truth: it’s certainly not good news. (See the new report: “The World is Flat: Surviving Slow Growth” in the March/April issue of Foreign Affairs)

But before we address this, let’s take a little quiz. Just for fun.

Messages and Meanings

The following quote is about what nation?

(1) “_____________ will not be able to grow its economy…without…privatizing state-owned companies, [and] loosening regulations…”

Or consider this:

(2) “It may have…an undervalued currency, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 250 percent, and an average annual GDP growth rate over the last decade of less than 1 percent…. [but] Life expectancy is among the highest in the world; crime rates are among the lowest. The…people enjoy excellent health care and education.”

One more:

(3) “Middle-class wages stopped rising more than 30 years ago, but…low interest rates…and easy credit obscured the problem, allowing people to bridge the gap between their stagnant incomes and their spending.” How? By going into massive debt.

What is most interesting to me about all three of these quotes is how applicable they are to the United States today. Just re-read item 1 above. It could be a very realistic (and important) “To Do” list for Washington in 2016. Yet it was written about today’s Russia under Putin. (Foreign Affairs, May/June 2016, p. 20)

Still, Washington does need to heed its message:

  • privatize state-owned companies that are a drain on taxpayers and gum up the free market
  • loosen regulations that are killing small business and sending investment capital to other nations

Item 2 above could also seem to be about the United States, but in fact it describes today’s Japan: “It may have…an undervalued currency, a debt-to-GDP ratio of 250 percent, and an average annual GDP growth rate over the last decade of less than 1 percent…. [but] Life expectancy is among the highest in the world; crime rates are among the lowest. The…people enjoy excellent health care and education.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2016, p. 50)

The intended message here is clear: “If the people have good health care, education, and a stable economy, everything is good. A growth economy isn’t necessary.”

Starts and Stops

In fact, in the United States, “Middle-class wages stopped rising more than 30 years ago, but…low interest rates…and easy credit obscured the problem, allowing people to bridge the gap between their stagnant incomes and their spending.” (Ibid., pp. 50-51)

But how have Americans masked falling wages? The answer is illuminating:

  • By going into massive mortgage debt (eventually leading to the housing bubble crash and the Great Recession).
  • By using credit cards, car loans, student loans and building up major consumer debt. The average U.S. household has over 97 thousand dollars of debt and growing. (The Motley Fool, January 2015)
  • By more than doubling the amount of work they do, with both parents typically now in the full-time workforce, instead of just one breadwinner.
  • By working longer hours. The average workweek in the United States is now 46.7 hours, not the 1950s model of 40 hours and a crisp 9-5 workday. (USA Today: Modern Woman, Fall/Winter 2015) Over the course of a month, that’s an extra 29 hours—almost an extra workday every week compared to American workers of the 1950s.
  • By depending on increasing amounts of government support, including “free” public school education, “free” health care for those who qualify, and a number of even more direct government programs and assistance.

In all this, according to Gallup, less than 20 percent of U.S. workers love their job. Around 80 percent are in jobs they hate, dislike, or feel less than passionate about. Moreover, most Americans don’t believe that their current job will ever get them ahead financially. They’re just barely paying the bills—if that.

Still, the current message from Washington and labor experts is that things are fine, that the economy has improved under president Obama’s leadership, and that we should be grateful. Most people won’t see financial increases anytime soon, “but don’t sweat it.” Like people in Japan, we are assured that we should just be happy for general stability and get used to a stagnant economy.

Fewer jobs, more college-grads who are unemployed or (underemployed) and living with their parents, more three-generation households, falling home values, rising costs of food and necessities—these are the new normal. “And it’s okay,” Washington assures us. “If things get really bad, there are more government programs than ever to help you make ends meet.”

Don’t worry, be happy.

Regulations or Solutions

“Don’t desire so much anymore,” we’re told. “Make do with less. Except when it comes to big government. We’ll give you more of that!”

But how does this message from today’s Washington jive with the reality? Truth: “An economy that grows at one percent doubles its average income approximately every 70 years, whereas an economy that grows at three percent doubles its average income about every 23 years—which, over time, makes a big difference in people’s lives.” (Foreign Affairs, March/April 2016, p. 42)

Factor inflation into these numbers—on the basics like food, housing, education, and transportation—and one percent growth means the average household falls further behind each and every month. At three to four percent growth, in contrast, like the overall average from 1945-2005 in the United States, families can improve their standard of living over time—and even help their kids do better than themselves.

Right now this level of growth is found mostly in Asia, certainly not in North America or Europe. Thus the increasing American realization that our children and grandchildren are likely to be worse off than we are, while their Chinese counterparts will probably experience upgraded lifestyles and standards of living in the decades ahead.

But this isn’t a static reality. It is based on the current policies and agendas of Washington. These can be changed. For starters, just adopt the suggestions Westerners often give to Russia, as outlined above:

  • reduce/remove numerous government regulations that are killing small businesses and driving investment capital and high-growth corporations—and jobs—to other nations
  • stop federal overspending in so many government agencies by simply cutting their budgets—significantly—to spark increased investment and business growth

Just these two changes would significantly reboot the U.S. economy.

Americans can become a more frugal and a resilient people once again, no doubt. But they would rather be a more innovative and entrepreneurial people—and they have proven that they are incredibly good at it—if government will just cut away the red tape and let free enterprise thrive again.

(Read a lot more on this topic in Oliver’s latest book, Freedom Matters, available at The Leadership Education Store)

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Why Doesn’t America Elect Many Great Leaders to the Presidency?

April 25th, 2016 // 5:40 am @

Then and Now

right or leftOver a century ago the British historian James Bryce travelled the United States to discover what had changed since Alexis de Tocqueville wrote Democracy in America. One of the most interesting topics he wrote about was, “Why Great Men Aren’t Elected President in the United States.” (James Bryce, The American Commonwealth.)

Bryce noted that during the founding era, the greatest men in the nation rose to the presidency—Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, etc. But as time passed, this tradition changed. (see ibid.)

“Why?” Bryce wondered. His answer is instructive today: the greatest leaders in the nation don’t even try to become president. (Ibid.) They don’t want the job. It is true that Washington didn’t seek the position, but after John Quincy Adams—with the exception of Lincoln—the greatest leaders actively shied away.

At the time Bryce described this phenomenon, it could be explained by showing that the presidency wasn’t the real seat of power. (Ibid.) This reality dominated for a long time after Bryce, in fact. Congress wielded great influence during the long progressive era (from 1890 to 1970), and the Court increased its power as well—a major frustration for Wilson and FDR. William Howard Taft, for example, who served in Congress, as president, and on the Court, had less influence in the White House than the other positions.

Tragedies

In the post World War II era, however, the executive branch greatly increased its power—both literally (with huge additional powers in foreign relations and budgetary influence) and relatively (largely because Congress stopped effectively or frequently using the purse strings as a serious check or balance). If lack of power is the reason the greatest leaders didn’t aim for the Oval Office a century ago, what is the reason now? The power of the presidency is immense. It is often referred to—and seen by the populace—as the most powerful job in the world.

Why don’t the very best leaders want it? Is it because the party system has become so strident that anyone elected will spend as much or more time fighting partisan battles and attacks as governing? Is it because the perks of the office are so much less than the soaring benefits of corporate or business leadership? Is it because the headaches and problems are worse than other fields of leadership? Is it because the election process itself has become such a torturous ordeal? Or is there some other reason?

At this point I intended to list the names of a number of excellent leaders—from different walks of life and from both sides of the political aisle—who might put the current crop of candidates to shame in terms of leadership. But as I made the list it became clear that in the current political climate all of these men and women would quickly be turned into caricatures by the party system and the media. Just picturing them in politics somehow changes how we see them.

This is a central part of the problem. Here’s what I think it means: The system has become bigger than a candidate can ever hope to be. The job is simply so big (because the federal government is doing so many things never intended by the Constitution) that it has become…too big. It is too much for any one man or woman. The leaders with the most acumen and wisdom know this.

Those who don’t realize that this is the situation aren’t the best leaders because they don’t even understand the reality, and those who realize it but–want the job anyway–may not have the purest of intentions, in some cases. If Washington were pruned back to its literal Constitutional authority, the job would once again become manageable. But just like Washington is out of control, the position of president isn’t structurally up to the task.

The media has attempted to cope with this reality in two major ways: with humor or tragedy. Shakespeare took the same approach in dealing with European monarchies that had also become too big for one person—trying to run the executive, legislative, judicial, national and local all at once. His plots pit the character—man or woman—against the impossibility of the role. The result is either comedy or tragedy.

Icons and Candidates

In America, we tend toward tragedy. As Christopher Orr has pointed out (The Atlantic, March 2015, 56-59), America’s modern image of what our president should be was largely created by Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: A noble hero taking on a corrupt system. Though Stewart’s character was a Senator, the icon has been repeated in many popular American movies, television dramas, and books about the executive branch (e.g. Dave, The American President, West Wing, Air Force One, The Candidate, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Madam Secretary, etc.).

These “tragedies” are more hopeful than their British counterparts, but the noble heroes never do truly change the system. They fight a noble fight, but the system ultimately prevails. Other recent American comedies or dramas about Washington (e.g. Veep, Scandal, House of Cards, State of Affairs, The Bourne Ultimatum, Political Animals, etc.) portray less-than-noble leaders who are simply part of the broken system. (see ibid.)

In contrast, Orr notes that many British portrayals of their prime minister emphasize humor or, in the case of the British version of House of Cards, the opposite of the American model: a prime minister who is truly conniving and dishonest working his schemes and plots in a government made up of basically well-meaning people (ibid., 57). But in America, “the one honest man” motif still dominates (ibid., 58).

In the real world, this icon has become part of the 2016 election in both major parties. Ted Cruz frequently invokes “the Washington Cartel” as the corrupt system and pits himself as the lone voice fighting its many nefarious agendas, while Bernie Sanders attacks the establishment as the great roadblock to American progress and happiness. Both promise to change Washington in drastic ways.

Donald Trump makes the same case, albeit in very different words: to make America great again, a true outsider with proven big business leadership is needed (because only such a background prepares one to manage the behemoth of a job, to fully understand the global economy and to lead the kind of “non-politician” projects and negotiations that will reboot our economy for real). A number of candidates have made similar outsider arguments (the noble hero rides Quixote-like to reform Washington), from Ben Carson and Rand Paul to Carly Fiorina and John Kasich.

Only Hillary Clinton isn’t closely aligned with this theme. Her message (which seems to vacillate between “it’s my turn” and “vote for experience”) is the opposite of “the one honest woman” icon. As a number of political experts have pointed out, Americans don’t tend to elect two consecutive presidents from the same party. When they do (i.e. Bush I, Johnson, Truman) it typically occurs after an exceptionally popular president (Reagan, Kennedy, FDR).

The New World?

Is Obama such a president? And can Secretary Clinton capture the nation’s attention and support? Such questions remain to be answered. But the biggest question of all—for America and the world—also remains to be seen. Will the next president turn out to be a great leader?

In a world with incredibly high-stakes challenges (including big power conflict between the U.S., China, Russia, Europe, etc.; the chaotic rise of new powers in the world including Saudi Arabia, India, Brazil, North Korea, Iran, and a half dozen others; getting a real solution for terrorism—just to name three), this is a serious issue indeed. And effectively rebooting our flagging economy is enough of a challenge for any leader ahead, and drastically needed.

But what if James Bryce is still right and in 2016, despite the serious need for real change, we don’t elect a great leader…?

Not a happy thought. As the primary season continues, the election itself is becoming an increasing anxiety for many Americans. A hard truth is presenting itself: It may just be that Washington isn’t going to have the answers after the next election, and that its dysfunction will actually increase. If that happens, the people of United States are going to need to find another way to fix things.

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Why John Kasich Deserves Another Look!

February 27th, 2016 // 7:14 am @

 The Real Outsider

Governor_John_KasichThe men were talking a bit loudly, and I don’t think they even realized it. Almost everyone in the restaurant could hear them. In fact, a lot of people were obviously listening.

“I know what you mean,” the man with the deep voice said. “But I’m seeing something totally different in this election. You’re right that the outsiders like Trump and Cruz are really getting a lot of support. I just don’t think they’re the true outsiders.”

“What do you mean?” the man with the higher voice asked. “Who else is an outsider? Do you mean Bernie Sanders, because he’s a socialist?”

“No, I wasn’t thinking of Sanders,” Deep Voice replied. “But let’s just look at this whole election from a different angle. We’re calling Trump and Cruz outsiders because Trump has never held political office and Cruz is a Tea Party guy who constantly attacks what he calls ‘the Washington Cartel,’ meaning the establishment from both parties. Right?”

“Right.”

“Well, I’m not sure that’s a very good criteria for being an outsider. I think the reason a lot of voters want an outsider this year is because they’re tired of the political establishment, of both parties, and of politicians who get into office and just do more of the same—like the people they replaced. They promise real change, but it doesn’t happen. In fact, a lot of the bad things just keep getting worse, election after election.

“What we need is a real outsider. Not just someone who hasn’t been in office or always attacks other politicians, but someone who is the kind of leader we really want…”

He paused, and Higher Voice asked, “But what do you mean? I’m not sure what your point is.”

Class and Leadership

“Okay,” Deep Voice responded. “I’ll get right to the point. Our politics has become a disaster. The politicians fight all the time. They are constantly attacking each other. Attack. Attack. Attack. And we’re supposed to believe that this is just the way things are.

“But they shouldn’t be this way. We shouldn’t want leaders who are all about attacking people all the time. We vote them into office, and they just keep attacking each other in Washington. That’s not leadership. Not really. If they attacked a lot and then got really important things done, and made a lot of things better, that would be one thing. But that’s not what happens. They attack, and attack, and attack—and that’s pretty much all they get done.

“We need a president who gets the right things done, and who also doesn’t go around attacking people. We need the kind of leader we can look up to, someone who can bring people together in this nation. We’re so divided. So angrily divided. We need a real leader to get the nation back on track.”

Higher Voice replied: “That’s too idealistic…”

“Reagan did it,” Deep Voice interrupted. “He wasn’t the Attacker in Chief. He fought for what he wanted, but he did it with class. Not with name calling. Not with personal attacks. He stayed above that kind of junk. He was too good for it. He fought back, yes. But never by stooping to name-calling and personal vendettas. And that allowed him to lead the nation in big ways, and do big things like bring an end to the Cold War. We need a classy president who is also tough and confident.

“And a truly classy president would be a true outsider, very different from the attacking years of Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Just look at the 2008 election. We watched Obama and Hillary attack each other mercilessly in the campaign and debates, and we should have realized right then what kind of president Obama would be.

“We need a real change. And I don’t think that means making our politics even more focused on attacks. It means electing someone who isn’t an attacker. A fighter, yes. But classy, like a true leader.”

Higher Voice sighed loudly. “That’s so far from the current election that I don’t know what you’re proposing. What do you want to happen?”

To Act or To Attack

“First,” Deep Voice said, “let’s divide the candidates into those who attack and those who refuse to get down in the muck and act like jerks. Hillary, Trump, Cruz and Rubio are often on the attack—in the debates, in interviews, in their campaign rallies and speeches. They attack a lot. Regardless of how you feel about their politics, or their reasons for such attacks, they are consistently attacking, attacking, attacking. So put them in the jerk category, at least for this discussion.

“Second, the three candidates who usually aren’t on the attack are Bernie Sanders, John Kasich, and Ben Carson. So if we want a classy president, one whose focus is always on building people instead of tearing them down, it has to be one of them. I really dislike Sanders’ politics, so throw him out of the mix. He’s a socialist, and proud of it, and his proposals would drastically hurt the nation.

“So, third, we’re left with Kasich and Carson. Both are classy. And both go out of their way not to attack other people. They focus on building people up. They really do.

“And before you roll your eyes, really think about what I’m saying. If we want our politics to be built on people acting like jerks and fighting each other—and not really improving our nation—we should keep electing people who attack, attack, attack.

“But if we want real change, the kind that we can truly be proud of, we need to change the way our top leader acts. We need class. Depth. Virtue. We need a Washington, a Lincoln, a real leader. Tough, yes. But focused on building others, not attacking them.

“You can call this idealistic if you want, but what I’m saying is true! If we don’t have a true leader, a classy, uplifting Reaganesque example that we can tell our kids to emulate, we haven’t put our best leader in the Oval Office. Imagine telling your 12 year old son: ‘Be like Donald Trump’ or ‘attack people like Ted Cruz—as long as you win, it’s okay.’ Or even: ‘If you get behind, like Marco Rubio, find out everything bad you can about the other person and loudly tell everyone.’

“Ridiculous. We need a real president. And both Carson and Kasich are the kind of men you can tell your children to emulate. To be proud of. To follow—even into battle and death if necessary to defend our nation. To admire.

“We’ve become so used to something less that the highest character in our leaders that we seem ready to accept mediocrity in character and behavior and simply shrug it off. We need to do better than that!”

The Question of Class

Higher Voice interrupted: “I just don’t think Carson has enough experience in doing the kinds of things a president has to do.”

“Maybe he doesn’t. Or maybe he does. His understanding of freedom principles is deep, like Cruz or Rand Paul, and he might surprise you. But let’s say you’re right, just for the sake of argument. That still leaves Kasich…

He paused. Then he spoke a bit more quietly, and I noticed people leaning forward to hear. “John Kasich is everything you would want a president to be in terms of character. He’s classy to the core. He’s a man of principle and morals. And he never attacks others to tear them down or try to get himself ahead. Not ever. When others attack him, he answers their charges, clarifies the truth, and then turns to the policies our nation needs. Like Carson.

“Kasich doesn’t do what Trump, Hillary, Cruz and Rubio frequently do in the same situations—start counter-attacking whoever attacked them. When the media tries to get him to attack, he refuses. He consistently calls us to our better angels, as Madison put it.

“Kasich is classy like Reagan. He’s above petty name-calling and attacks like Reagan. He focuses on building people. Pretty much always. Yet his history proves that when it’s time to fight—against real enemies, like terrorists—he doesn’t shrink or back down. He is deeply principled. Again, like Reagan.

“But here’s the real kicker. Kasich is actually the most experienced leader out of everyone running for president. He was the architect of balancing the U.S. budget in the 1990s. He led it, and he planned out the details. He knows how to balance our national budget! He’s already done it once. Nobody else can say that. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich took credit for negotiating it, but John Kasich ran the numbers and developed the plan.

“He also balanced the budget of Ohio as governor. He started out with a major deficit, and turned it around very quickly. And made it last. Nobody else in the race has ever done that—with a state, or with the United States. Only Kasich has done it. Twice!

“He also served on committees that oversaw military and international affairs, and has more national defense experience than anyone else running for president, including Hillary Clinton. And beyond all this, he’s a true conservative, and has been for decades. He also worked many years in private business as a leader—he’s not just some lifetime politician.”

America The Great, Again

Higher Voice asked: “Why hasn’t he caught on with the voters?”

“I’m not sure,” Deep Voice replied. “Part of it is probably that he’s not loud and constantly attacking people. Part of it is probably that a lot of voters don’t really know much about him. I’m not sure. He did do well in New Hampshire, and the race is far from over.”

He paused. Then kept talking: “Kasich has class. He has dignity. He is the kind of person we can look up to and tell our kids to look up to—and mean it. He’s tough. He’s a proven leader. But he’s really, really nice. And, again, he’s the only person in the race who has ever balanced a major government budget, and he’s done it at both the state and the national levels. That’s huge!

“I’ve really given this a lot of thought and research. Go back and read Kasich’s speeches. He’s the kind of man who would tell Mr. Gorbachev (or Putin) to ‘Tear down this wall!’ He’s the real deal.

“Conservatives need to step back, take a deep breath, and give Kasich another look. If we want the kind of America that truly is great again, we need the right kind of leadership. And that means the right kind of leader! A true leader, one who isn’t just going to get the job done but who’ll get it done with class, dignity, and an infectious smile.”

I left the restaurant mentally kicking myself. In all my reading and watching of the election, over many months, I hadn’t done what I always tell others to do—really go study the records, writings, and speeches of all the candidates. Really get to know them. At least, I hadn’t done this with Kasich. I’m remedying that.

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America All Alone! by Oliver DeMille

February 19th, 2016 // 4:30 pm @

A Big Picture Look at the World in Twenty Years

The Shift

United NationsFor more than a century America has enjoyed the luxury of strong allies in Europe. When problems came, as they always do, many European and North American nations relied on each other for strength, leadership, even rescue.

This was certainly the case in World Wars I and II and the Cold War from the 1960s thru the 1990s. Nobody alive today remembers a time when America was alone in the world.

Yet such a world is rapidly emerging. The main reason for this dangerous development is the massive and truly tragic decline of Europe. Most people don’t realize this is occurring, or just how significant it is.

A few pundits warn that this may be Europe’s last century as a great power—as leadership shifts from the Atlantic powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Canada, etc.) to the Pacific Rim nations (China, Russia, India, North America). This shift is inherently problematic—the U.S. and Canada are trading European allies (nearly always friendly) for more belligerent and totalitarian foes in Moscow and Beijing.

Huge difference. And this will undoubtedly bring even greater difficulties whenever problems arise and help is needed. Russia and China each see themself as the top emerging superpower. India is a close third.

In times of trouble, where will America turn for support?

The truth is even worse than the pundits let on, however. The idea that this is Europe’s last great power century is overly optimistic. If current trends continue, no nation in Western Europe is likely to act as a major power after 2030. Certainly not beyond 2050, and possibly not even after 2020.

Downward Spiral

This will catalyze a tectonic shift in global affairs, and the ramifications of the change are already beginning.

But what exactly is happening in Europe to bring about such rapid decline? The answer is a warning to Americans, if we will heed it.

1) Terrorism

Terrorism has taken root in Europe. European nations are quickly becoming like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Yemen or other Near Eastern and North African states in terms of an underground but steady terrorist presence. This will only deepen and grow, unless something drastic occurs.

2) Refugees

The influx of refugees last year, this year, and likely for the next few years ahead will only exacerbate the incidence and proximity of terrorism. Certainly not all, or even most, of the refugees are terrorists. But a few are. That’s a major problem. The whole point of terrorism is that a very few can drastically impact the many.

3) Population Decline

Birthrates are rapidly changing the European electorate. Birthrates for traditional Europeans are down—in some cases negative—while birthrates for immigrants living in Europe are high. Democratic institutions are quickly changing as a result.

4) Debt

Debt is skyrocketing in the poor European nations, roughly two-thirds of the continent. The pattern of Greece is spreading.

5) Societal Decline

A general lack of innovation has settled over the continent. This is reinforced by a widespread and growing belief in high levels of government regulation in nearly every sector of society. Financial capital is moving elsewhere, increasing unemployment and further convincing voters to elect big-regulation candidates.

6) Leadership Gap

As a result of the fifth problem above, Europe is experiencing an era of lackluster leadership. Private sector leaders of all types are increasingly powerless in a big-government environment, and those in government were elected to regulate rather than lead. The bureaucracies are swelling (along with the costs), but strategic national thinking has become rare. This further fuels debt problems.

All of this was avoidable at one point, but we have long since passed the likelihood of any kind of serious turnaround. It now appears to be a downward spiral.

A New Path

Again, the United States and Canada aren’t far behind Europe in this pattern. Perhaps a decade, if the U.S. stays on its current path. Two decades at the most. But we still have time to reverse course.

Will we? The answer is very much in doubt.

In any case, Russia and China are attempting a major rise just as Europe is losing much of its vitality and strength. This puts North America in a tight spot.

If the U.S. needs strong, committed allies ten or twenty years from now, we may be out of luck.

Perhaps it is time for an entirely new strategic approach toward Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and the rest of Latin America. This may be source of future allies. It is certainly time—past time—for a serious return to the principles of freedom and free enterprise, along with a renewed adherence to the U.S. Constitution, in the United States.

At this point, the U.S. is charting a European-style course to join Britain, France, Germany, and Italy in their decline. President Obama has been an open proponent of a more Europeanized governance.

It goes without saying that this is a bad choice. Likewise, following the Chinese or Russian strategy is also the wrong approach.

It is time for America to chart its own direction, one based on a major refocus on freedom, free enterprise, and Constitutional values, as mentioned. Any other direction—any other direction —is a sure path to our decline.

Interested in Oliver’s works on freedom, forms and how to mend society?

Check these out:

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