January 31st, 2017 // 10:36 am @ Oliver DeMille
Servant or Partner
There is a funny undertone right now in many media circles. For decades the national mainstream media has largely portrayed Congress as the little brother of the White House—existing mainly to support the president’s agenda. Since at least 1996 the level of independent action by Congress—directly tackling presidential action and shutting it down when necessary—has decreased. On a longer trajectory, this same pattern has been gaining momentum since 1861. Many have referred to it as the era of the Imperial Presidency.
Moreover, real use of power by Congress has become increasingly unacceptable in the eyes of the national media. Just consider the results when Congress tried to use the purse strings to check the president: the media called it “shutting down the government” and portrayed any who supported it as pariahs.
Now that Donald Trump controls the future of the Oval Office, however, the media is seeing things from a different perspective. Maybe the silver lining in Trump’s election, a number of journalists are suggesting, is that Congress can finally get back on track. It should be more of a partner with the president, less of the president’s support base.
Well…yes. On the one hand, this is patently true. Of course Congress should be a partner, independent, sometimes supporting and other times checking the White House and pruning the powers and budgets of the sprawling executive bureaucracy. On the other hand, it is ironic that the media is just now figuring this out. Thanks to Donald Trump, the media is suddenly concerned that we need a stronger, more independent Congress. But when Barack Obama was in charge, not so much.
This is a fundamental problem with liberalism/progressivism. It promotes what it wants, and changes its views on our system of government whenever such promotion would benefit its agenda. In the process, however, it creates confusion and chaos. “Follow the Constitution when it blocks something we don’t like, but just ignore or circumvent the Constitution when it makes what we want more difficult.”
The official name for this is “rule by men,” as opposed to “rule by law.” As one article suggested, “The arrival of President Donald Trump could revive Congress’ political will…” (Foreign Affairs, January/February 2017, 133) Many in the media seem to think this is a new idea. Indeed, Congress might actually start doing what the Constitution says it should do.
A wave of progressives sigh in relief. “Congress shouldn’t have blocked Obama, clearly. But it should block Trump. A lot.” The hypocrisy is poignant.
Or consider another suggestion: “…foreign policy leaders in Congress should take advantage of their positions to fight back against deception on the part of the executive branch.” (Ibid., 143) This is exactly right. What isn’t mentioned is that Congress should have been doing precisely the same thing a lot more effectively for the past eight years.
“Legislators often sense that the administration is not telling them the whole truth but do nothing to call it out.” (Ibid.) A serious problem. But why didn’t the national media call for a change while Obama was in office? Why did they in fact excoriate any Congressional committees that tried to do exactly this? Why the newfound popularity of the Constitution among media elites now?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m elated that more voices are now calling for Congress to step up and do its job. All I can say is: “Finally. It’s about time.” I support this trend, even if it is coming many years late. I can’t help but smile at the irony, however. Now that their candidates are out of office, many in the liberal media are suddenly noticing the importance and value of the Constitution.
The Lesser of Two…
As one writer put it, quoting Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.: “History has shown that neither the Presidency nor the Congress was infallible, and that each needed the other—which may well be what the Founding Fathers were trying to tell us.” (Ibid., 145) Right on. Just as those of us who believe in the Constitution have been saying for the last three decades.
But this trend is bigger than first meets the eye. The sad reality is that the Constitution is more often lauded and promoted by those out of power than those in office. The real need is for it to be cherished and followed by those in authority.
Which brings us to the subject of President Trump. Many who voted for him didn’t do so because they believed he was the great champion of the Constitution, or even America. Indeed, many Trump voters weren’t at all sure what their vote would bring about in our nation and world. They cast their ballot for Trump largely because they were sure a vote for Hillary would bring more the same—more rule by career politicians and bloated bureaucracies, more economic stagnancy and empty promises from Washington, more business as usual politics, more blah, blah, blah from the mouth of politicians, more problems and few actual fixes.
They voted for change, hoping that it would actually come. Many—perhaps most—feared that the election wouldn’t actually change things very much at all. Politicians frequently promise change, and then don’t deliver. Why would Trump be any different? Many Americans are still skeptical that things will truly improve. They expect more bureaucratic double speak, more economic bad news.
They’re waiting, watching. Wondering what will happen. As one Trump voter told me: “Maybe Trump will make things better, maybe he’ll make things worse. But with Hillary we know what we’ll get: more of the same. No solutions. Just an endless stream of problems. If Trump can bring even a little bit of positive change, it’s worth it.”
Note the cynicism wrapped in a tiny husk of wistful hope. “If” he can bring “even a little bit of positive change…” The subtext is sobering: “It’s not likely anyone will bring any solutions. But if only we could get even a tiny bit of good news…”
Dusk or Dawn
We are now an America deeply in doubt. “No good news will come. Probably not even a little. But still, if only it would…”
The desperation is palpable, if we allow ourselves to notice. In short, America 2.0 is suffering from PTSD. We’re just waiting for “the other shoe to drop.” Too many Americans expect bad news. We expect tragedy. We are biding our time, assuming bad things will come. “This is the new normal,” the Obama Administration told us. We anticipate more that is negative.
Consider the following headlines:
“Officials hold firm, despite Trump’s skepticism” (USA Today, January 6-8, 2017).
“Department stores become endangered” (Ibid.) [More lost jobs, the end of the Mall Era that began in the Eighties and became synonymous with the postmodern American Dream.]
“Year Ahead: A partly sunny outlook for sales” (Ibid.) [We bide our time, trying to stay positive, largely sure that clouds are coming.]
“Sears watches its relevance fade in changing world” (Ibid.) [For many people, this sentence would be even more true with the word “America” inserted for “Sears”.]
“Macy’s and Sears, which owns K-Mart stores, announced more than 200 store closings on Wednesday and Thursday” (Ibid.)
All of these come from one page of the same national newspaper. They paint an emotional picture of a nation not in full-blown crisis but clearly expecting it. Or, maybe, it is in crisis already. Sadly, each day’s front page is similar. Another front page from a different national newspaper tells the same story:
“The retail property market is showing signs of a slowdown…” (The Wall Street Journal, January 6, 2017)
“Trump Creditors Are Many, Varied” [The article tells us the new president is deeply in debt, as is the norm for real estate developers, and this may weaken his ability to lead.]
“The Yuan surged, posting its largest-ever two-day gain against the dollar…” [China is still gaining ground on us, slowly but surely.]
“Trump blasted Toyota…” [Big government and big media are constantly in conflict.]
“Belgium’s Botched Hunt for ISIS Cell” [Danger everywhere…]
Look past page one, and the same newspaper adds the following:
- Young people are now renting more, buying fewer homes.
- “More older people carry student loans”
- Research shows that smartphones hurt children’s eyes.
- Sales at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores are way down, while liquor sales are up.
- Saudis cut oil production, so fuel prices are expected to rise.
- Macy’s, Kohl’s, and many other retailers’ sales are way down.
The news is endless. It’s more than “bad news sells,” there’s a distinct tone of worry, concern, even fear of what’s ahead. “What is coming next?,” Americans seem to be asking. The answers are generally cynical and a bit gloomy.
Again, in this environment, the Constitution is gaining “support” in many media outlets. No doubt President Trump will face many big battles with Congress, not just from Democrats but from those in his own party. (See The Wall Street Journal, January 7-8, A13) In fact, Trump probably won’t just face an attempt to set the national agenda from Chuck Schumer, but also from Paul Ryan. (Ibid.) Congress seems poised to reassert itself.
That’s a good thing. The Founders would have applauded. It’s way past time for Congress to do its Constitutional duty and stand up to the President as needed. Sadly, it didn’t do this very well during the Obama era—or the Bush era, or the Clinton era. It’s great that there is more support for such a resurgence today, even it makes us chuckle at the irony.
The fact is, the Constitution is still the best hope for good government. We should follow it. Congress should follow it. They should follow it with Trump in office, and with anyone and everyone else in the Oval—not just when it’s convenient, or popular in the media, but always.
January 23rd, 2017 // 1:55 pm @ Oliver DeMille
(What it Means for the Future of America)
First of all, the very idea that each president must aim to leave a lasting legacy of some sort is wrong-minded. Some of the best presidents in history did little except what they were elected to do: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from intervening in the economy.
This is precisely what they should do. For example, presidents Madison, Harding and Coolidge are seldom given props for their legacies—but they were better presidents (using the Constitution as a measuring stick) than many others who used their time in office to “do more”, and in the process went beyond the Constitution and reduced American freedoms.
At its root the concept of legacy as a vital part of the presidency comes from the Establishmentarian desire to have a king. Establishment media, political parties, and many professional politicos want the pomp and circumstance of looking up to “royalty,” and the perks that come with close connections to those who hold executive power.
Jefferson once chided John Adams for this same tendency. In the Jeffersonian spirit, the president should…well, we already said it: keep the nation safe, follow the Constitution, and stop other branches of government from messing up the economy with too much regulation and/or bureaucratic intervention. This bears repeating over and over in our generation—until we get it.
In fact, this is the opposite of Obama’s legacy, which could be summed up as: “The more government intervention in the economy and people’s lives, the better.”
But let’s put aside the battle over ideals for a moment and focus on the practical side of governing.
Obama established at least four major precedents that could be a serious problem for Americans—depending on how Trump and future presidents apply them. These include the following presidential disasters:
1. Do what you want unilaterally, using executive orders, instead of doing the hard work to lead and persuade Congress to work with you—as required in the Constitution. Just dictate things from the Oval Office.
2. Use the “nuclear option” to get things through Congress (the Barack Obama and Harry Reid approach of forcing things with a majority vote instead of sixty Senators). One more check and balance gone.
3. Doggedly ignore the views of people and groups who didn’t vote for you. Act like your supporters are the only Americans who matter, and like those who didn’t support you are sub-par citizens whose concerns aren’t important. Treat opponents as enemies (and idiots), not the loyal opposition whose voices carry some important truths. President Obama was a master at this approach.
4. After you’ve been voted out of office, before the next president is inaugurated, reject two centuries of precedence and don’t try to make things smooth for the incoming president—instead, do everything you can in your last two months of office to establish policies and take actions that make it more difficult for the next president to implement the agenda voters selected during the campaign. Simply assume you know better than the people.
This is the Obama legacy. If Trump adopts it (any of it, for that matter) he’ll do much harm to our nation. We can only hope that the Trump Administration will take a better approach to leadership. Note that he can use executive orders and push the “nuclear option” in the Senate to undo Obama overreaches without using these tactics to engage any additional policies that unwisely expand executive power.
Rise or Fall
I have friends who believe he’ll do exactly that, and others who think he’ll use these negative Obama precedents early and often. If he does the latter, such behaviors will become forever part of the executive branch and the Obama-Trump legacy will further damage our society.
Historically, few presidents choose to exert less power than their predecessors. Jefferson and Madison did, and Jackson. As mentioned, both Harding and Coolidge did the same. Washington is a special case, because he had no predecessor. He belongs on the list of those who did it right, because he chose to exert less power than he was offered.
Other U.S. presidents built on the power they inherited and tried to expand it. That’s a dangerous pattern, one we need to reverse. It remains to be seen what president Trump will do.
Ironically, in all of this, the Obama legacy is a devil on Trump’s shoulder. We can only hope that better angels prevail in the next four years.
January 6th, 2017 // 5:44 am @ Oliver DeMille
The New Reality
The election is over, and the new Trump Administration has a problem. In fact, it’s a major problem. To begin with, governing is a whole different thing than running for office. And “draining the swamp of Washington” while also governing the nation is more than doubly difficult.
But the problem goes deeper. The very things that brought a Trump victory at the ballot boxes can be a serious liability in the White House.
Here’s why: Trump won in large part because he mastered the new media—something the Clinton team mocked and laughed at (until their shocked experience on election night).
In fairness, as Democratic strategist Van Jones pointed out, past media revolutions brought similar results. FDR used the radio to put together multiple winning elections, while opponents tried to stick with the old newspaper approach to media. Years later, Republicans were surprised by the rise of television media and how effectively JFK used it to create broad national popularity.
Another few decades, and the rise of Internet media changed the way presidential campaigns worked. While McCain and then Romney attempted to do things the old way, Obama and his team mastered social media and dominated two very effective campaigns.
Note that in all these cases, Democrats adapted to changing media realities while Republicans remained stuck in the old way. This changed in 2015-2016. As Jones put it, Trump tapped into a new media model—a nation of viewers steeped in Reality Television.
Neighbor or Villain
In this new medium, candidates win by emulating what winning participants do on reality TV. The quickest way to the stay on the show, week after week, is to jump in as the villain during week one. Say outrageous things, stir the pot, get a bunch of Americans hating you, boost the ratings, and do it every week. In fact, if you ever lose the focus of the camera, say more outrageous things. Survivor, The Bachelor, The Amazing Race, The Apprentice, even Duck Dynasty, Real Wives, Jersey Shore, etc.—this formula is effective.
The quickest way to lose in this format is simple: try to fit in, attempt to be popular, don’t make waves. Even worse: try to impress people. Today’s generation of Americans increasingly see this as acting like a politician. It feels slick and glib, a la Bill Clinton, Bush, Romney, Rubio, etc. Saying whatever you think the voters (or other contestants) will like is the sure road to losing. In contrast, in this new Reality Television media system, being the villain, saying outrageous things, and picking repeated fights, frequently brings victory.
This media shift shocked the Obama and Clinton machines in 2016, despite the fact that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump had been proving the opposite for many months. But now the election is over, and a new reality is setting in.
It’s almost impossible to predict what this will mean in the years ahead. In the last three major media shifts, the new media worked both during the campaign and after. FDR used radio to his benefit during elections and even more while governing. Presidents did the same with television when it took over the media world. Online media kept Obama’s popularity high, and even helped boost his ratings on numerous occasions during the years between elections.
The question now is whether the newest media system, the Reality Television model of “Be the Outrageous Villain and Keep Doing It, Week after Week,” will work for the next four years. Think about it. This is a big deal.
Breaking or Building
Clearly the liberal mainstream media (led by NBC, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, ABC, CNN, etc.) are an unwitting asset; they have shown they are willing to keep supporting Trump in this approach. They want to tear him down in any way they can, and as long as so many Americans distrust the media, this turns to his advantage.
If Trump wants to maintain this strategy in the months and years ahead, he’ll routinely support major reforms that drastically change Washington, he’ll pick a continuous series of fights with special interests and federal bureaucracies, and he’ll vilify someone new every few weeks.
In all this, he’ll usually blame the media. In fact, he’ll look for as many ways as possible to fault the media. The more the better. He’ll tweet, call names, use bombast, and overstate things, all in the name of stirring the pot and keeping the media focus on him and his policies.
The media will think it’s tearing him down, but if this strategy works he’ll be more popular than ever when the next election comes. If you think the mainstream media was shocked in the 2016 election, imagine how they’ll feel after attacking Trump for four years and seeing his electoral numbers increase in 2020. They’ll be positively apoplectic.
But here’s the rub. What a lot of people don’t want to hear is that this kind of bombastic, extreme tone is a lot more likely to coincide with truly, actually, “draining the swamp in Washington.” If the Trump Administration decides to try to play the mainstream media game and attempt to look like a Bush, Clinton, Bush II or Obama style system, we likely won’t see much real change in Washington.
Not So Revolutionary
Somehow the kind of professionalism and antidisestablishmentarianism [I can’t believe I actually just used one of the longest words in the English language is a serious sentence] exhibited by many presidential administrations create a tone of “Washington staying the same.” And that path guarantees bigger and bigger government. Not draining the swamp, but expanding it.
Consider the Reagan Revolution. It started out with what the establishment in both parties considered outrageous, extreme, and even irresponsible. But it also began by making some real changes. By Reagan’s second term, however, the administration wasn’t a revolution anymore. It started fitting in with the establishment, and by the time Bush was elected, the Reagan Administration was pretty much part of the establishment.
This led to the Gingrich revolution in 1992, which was considered extreme, irresponsible, and outrageous (sound familiar?), but by 1996 the Gingrich/Kasich Revolutionaries had become part of the establishment. The party of Reagan, Kemp, Gingrich and Limbaugh became the party of Dole, W, McCain, Romney, and Jeb. Not really a troop of boat-rockers.
It’s hard to tell where the Trump team is headed. Some of Trump’s White House and cabinet picks are from the revolutionary wing, while others are more establishmentarian. It’s a mix. Moreover, the tone out of Trump Tower and president-elect golf clubhouses is largely mild, professional–and leaning establishment.
The Real Challenge
This may be a smart chess move, keeping things hush-hush until after inauguration. Once the new president is in charge, his team will be a lot more effectively armed to take on the mainstream media.
But what if the Trump team takes the other approach? What if they decide they want to be popular? Or hope to get The NY Times, NBC, and CNN to like them? What if Trump hopes to be loved, or gets tired of being vilified, mocked, called a clown, a buffoon, and a devil? What if he wants popularity in New York and Washington? It might happen early, but even if it doesn’t happen for several years, the pressure will always be there.
The way the mainstream establishment fawned over Bill, Barack, Michelle, and Hillary—that’s a lot of incentive; and The Donald has, in the past, shown an affection for the spotlight and a particular aversion to being mocked or blamed.
And beyond his own instincts of self-preservation: Will his chivalry for his wife or his allegiance to his youngest son (who have both been in the cross-hairs of some harsh media treatments in recent months) begin to figure into the equation? All things considered, who wouldn’t want to be loved and popularly lauded when faced with such extremes? Will this opportunity for validation and praise prove too compelling a siren song?
The hard-working voters in the rust belt, Southwest, or rural America will never be able to provide such flattery or accolades, even if they were inclined to do so. But such fawning isn’t even part of their culture. If President Trump wants that kind of love and admiration, he’s going to have to look for it in the elite class. (They’ll never give it to him, of course. They couldn’t even be objective about Dole, Bush, or McCain–committed cronies of the establishment, all.)
Whatever you think of the new president, if he’s actually going to drain the swamp, as promised, he’s going to have to play the villain. Week after week. Month after month.
In short: Being outrageous won’t be his problem. The challenge will be vanity. And endurance. Will he embrace the role of villain and drain the swamp no matter how bad the media attacks become? Or will he follow the pattern of many presidents before him and go after popularity—by increasing the size and scope of government?
Ultimately, the new president will have to make this choice. The consequences will drastically impact America in the months and years just ahead.
December 27th, 2016 // 7:03 am @ Oliver DeMille
Problems in History
I recently recommended an article from The Wall Street Journal because it addresses the fact that during the Obama Administration the executive branch greatly expanded its power. Unfortunately, the newsfeed on my iPhone gave me clear access to the article, while those following the link I provided were expected to subscribe to view the content.
My apologies for the inconvenience! I’ll address the issues directly here.
The concern is that the Trump Administration could use this expanded power in ways that continue to hurt the nation—giving more and more power to the executive branch and agencies and further reducing the powers of Congress and the States.
Since the Court has largely supported this increase of presidential and executive-branch power, the problem is growing. The article noted that presidents from both political parties have generally increased executive branch power, and that very few presidents have done anything to curtail it.
Though the article emphasized historical presidents in the early part of the twentieth century, the truth is that nearly all presidents have pushed for increased power to the White House. Clearly FDR emphasized this approach, but so did Eisenhower, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, both Bushes, and Obama. It is unclear whether Trump will do differently.
The American electorate should keep a very close eye on this.
Another challenge is that these same presidents tended to simultaneously decrease the power of the States while increasing the power of executive branch agencies, officials, and bureaucracies. The Trump Administration may or may not follow this damaging pattern.
The American citizenry needs to keep a close eye on these two very important issues in the new Administration:
- Keeping the executive branch firmly within its Constitutional limits in its dealings with Congress
- Keeping the executive branch from further degrading the powers of the States
These are vital issues, and they are currently quite perilous. The Trump Administration will hopefully take the right approach on this, but it is ultimately the responsibility of the people to ensure that freedom is maintained. Whoever you supported during the elections, these two issues are very important for the next four years–and beyond.
December 14th, 2016 // 8:08 am @ Oliver DeMille
In light of the recent election, a deeper understanding of the real battle facing America in the year and decade ahead is incredibly important!
But surprise: It’s not what most people think.
THERE is a hidden battle raging for the future of America. And, by extension, this battle impacts the prospects for freedom around the world. Indeed, if the great freedom system created by the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution is lost in the United States, it will likely take centuries before real freedom regains its current level of influence in the world.
This is the great struggle of this generation, but sadly the center-point of this contest is unclear to most people. Only a relative few understand what is actually going on behind the curtain. In fact, this battle for our future hinges on two main questions.
The first question is:
Will Socialism or Free Enterprise be the leading economic system of the 21st Century?
This conflict has been boiling for nearly two centuries, but it is now reaching its climax in the United States. If socialism wins the day, the future of freedom and economic opportunity in the decades to come will be bleak—in North America and around the world.
The decline of the free world will accelerate, China and other socialist-based nations will rise more quickly and gain global power (often by applying free enterprise principles), and the Founding Fathers’ experiment in constitutional self-government will end. Our standard of living will decrease in the decades ahead, the standard of living for our children will be much lower than ours, and their children will likely have a lower standard still.
If, on the other hand, free enterprise wins this battle, the future of American influence will be strengthened, freedom and economic opportunity will spread, and the free world will reboot and rekindle the philosophy of liberty for all humanity.
But the future of this battle is very much in doubt, mainly because the forces of free enterprise don’t actually know who they really are. Free enterprise is losing in both major American political parties, and in the media, academia, Hollywood, and among the political and financial elite. The combined supporters of socialism, though certainly not a unified team, are clear about their goals and strategies. In contrast, those who stand for free enterprise are fractured and unsure, because they are divided by a central confusion about what free enterprise really is. Even when they win elections, the divide remains.
In nearly all writings from the past five decades, when authors speak of socialism and its top competitor, the words used are socialism vs. capitalism. This brings us to the second great issue in the battle for our future:
The second question is:
If Socialism isn’t victorious in dominating the 21st Century, will the winner be Free Enterprise or Capitalism?
These two great questions (socialism vs. free enterprise on the one hand, and capitalism vs. free enterprise on the other) will be the guiding themes of the coming decades. If capitalism wins, the consequences won’t be as negative as socialistic dominance, but they will not be as positive as the results would be under free enterprise.
When a friend told me a while ago that he thinks socialism may be the only answer to our nation’s decline, I was surprised. It’s not what I’m accustomed to hearing from him over the years. But I think I understand what he was saying. Capitalism as we currently apply it too often wreaks havoc with our freedoms, our economy, and our future.
I don’t like the word “socialism” because it has too much baggage (totalitarianism, Marxism/Leninism, a string of failed nations that destroyed their society by attempting to adopt it, etc.) and because there is a better answer. But I do see the desperate need to deal with what modern society calls “capitalism” has done to us. When some people say “socialism”, they mean that capitalism is broken and we need a real solution—soon. And they’re right.
I’m not sure if this is what my friend meant or not, but a lot of people feel this way. It’s a common bond of many who are tired of the “politics as usual” options provided by the Establishment. The desire for something different cuts across the political divide, and its ranks are growing. It has won some surprising elections, but frequently such elections were followed by disappointment as those elected failed to bring true solutions that work.
What does this all mean? What’s behind it all? What is really happening?
Let’s start with the basics. Put simply, free enterprise and today’s system of capitalism aren’t the same thing. Free enterprise is strongly supportive of freedom for all people, while what usually passes for modern capitalism isn’t free enterprise at all, but actually crony capitalism. And crony capitalism deeply undermines freedom.
The problem is straightforward. Both socialism and crony capitalism are steeped in class divisions. Neither treats everyone the same before the law—whether they’re upper class, middle class, or lower class. Socialism claims to do this, but it has never created a society that actually delivered on its promises. In fact, socialist nations have some of the widest divides between the super-rich and poor in the world. And the underclasses in socialist systems are widely neglected, terrorized, and abused.
Crony capitalism is also a disaster. There is a different set of laws for the wealthy than for everyone else, laws that help the rich get richer and the powerful gain more power—while the under classes are routinely treated differently by officers of the government, regardless of what the laws say on paper. To repeat: Under a crony capitalist model, the elite classes have numerous special benefits in the law that allow them to increase their wealth and power at the expense of the rest of us. The law is written to help them, and to keep others from effectively competing with them.
The truth is, crony capitalism is a terrible system. Terrible for freedom, and terrible for prosperity. It lasts because a few elites at the top obtain huge wealth and inordinate power—and they like it that way. Likewise, socialism is terrible model. It almost never gets implemented in a way that even remotely resembles what its proponents idealize and promise. It nearly always becomes an Orwellian caricature of equality, freedom, and “prosperity for all.” Both systems are deeply flawed.
Crony capitalism gives too much power to the money elites, who frequently use it to influence government; socialism gives too much power to government elites, who nearly always use it enrich themselves and give special benefits to their families and colleagues. Both socialism and crony capitalism have proven repeatedly and consistently harmful for the regular people, the masses.
Part of the problem is the binary way in which most moderns see this struggle. Meaning: Many people think that if socialism increases in a nation, capitalism must be decreasing, while if capitalism declines then socialism is on the rise. The truth is that socialism and crony capitalism are natural partners. When the crony capitalists give great power to wealthy elites, the people naturally begin demanding socialistic programs from their government.
Likewise, when socialists increase the amount of money government takes from the wealthy to offer programs for the poor, they make the government bigger and bigger—and the elites who inevitably control such governments from behind the scenes naturally absorb this increased power. The bigger the government—even in the name of social benefits for the citizens—the bigger the power of the aristocratic elite class.
These processes happen simultaneously in most modern nations of the “free world.” Centralized governments get bigger, they control more things in the lives of regular citizens, and a small number of elites enjoy a rapidly increasing share of the money and power.
Best of all, for the elites–when the regular people get upset with an arrangement that is making life harder and worse for most of them, the elites use investment (in businesses, banks, lobbying firms, special interest groups, media, etc.) and donations (to academia, think tanks, hugely powerful private foundations, and political campaigns, etc.) to increase their own influence. It works, year after year, decade after decade. Elites get more powerful and own a bigger share of the wealth.
At the same time, the regular citizen finds it harder and harder to make ends meet, and has less and less influence. Many of the elite-owned and elite-funded media organizations, academic institutions, producers of entertainment, and other top influencers fuel the “socialism vs. capitalism” debate, often using other labels (such as conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat, etc.).
This debate makes many of the regular people think that someone is on their side; and it also gives them someone to see as “the enemy.” But both sides, many in both major political parties, and the Establishment wings of both conservatism and liberalism, are funded largely by the same small class of elites.
Again: These elites win most elections, because they fund both sides. They win most policy battles, because they fund the opposing groups. They win at the bank too, because they manage each major political, media, and cultural conflict in a way that brings more of the regular people’s money into elite-owned business services, products, and corporate bank accounts.
The solution to such behind-the-scenes elite domination is a system that treats everyone equally before the law. Everyone. Rich, poor, elite, non-elite, fat, skinny, tall, short, smart, dull. Yes, there should be a separate set of laws for minors—as a protection. But all adults in a truly free system are treated equally by the laws and government officials. This is not the case under crony capitalism. Elites get special benefits.
The Moral Law and Economy
Moreover, truly free government doesn’t have any laws that are immoral. This may seem a strange concept when we are discussing economics, but it is in fact a central truth. As Bastiat explained, the people can only morally delegate to government authority to do something the people have the authority to do. You can’t morally delegate an authority you don’t actually have. Specifically, the force of government is moral only if it is used to defend inalienable rights. Any other use of force or government is immoral.
Together these two foundational principles are the key to free society:
- Laws and government actions can only protect inalienable rights.
- The government must treat everyone equally before such laws.
Socialism doesn’t do this. It recommends using government force to do myriad things beyond protecting inalienable rights. And, historically, socialist societies don’t treat everyone equally before the law—government officials are treated according to a different set of standards. What we call capitalism today has similar problems. It purposely sets out to give special benefits before the law to those with great wealth, with lots of capital.
Both socialism and crony capitalism operate like the Queen of Hearts in Lewis Carroll’s classic book Alice in Wonderland. When the Queen plays croquet with people from her realm, she must win every shot. Not just every game, but each and every swing of the mallet. Everybody lets her win, knowing that if she is bested in even one shot the person who bested her will hear the words: “Off with his head.”
What kind of system is that?
Actually, people who live in socialist nations or crony capitalist societies are used to it. They don’t usually lose their heads, but they know that the whole system is stacked against them and their children. An elite class rules things—regardless of how proponents of socialism or capitalism claim things are supposed to work—and the elites get their way, either by law or by the actions of government officials (despite the so-called law).
In our modern “capitalist” nation, there are a number of laws on the books that treat elites very differently from everyone else, and long-standing practices and policies that treat the underclasses even worse. That’s not socialism, it’s crony capitalism. And it’s a tragedy.
Still, the answer isn’t socialism. Marx’s model is just another flawed and broken system. The answer is true free enterprise—where the government only protects inalienable rights, and actually does protect everyone’s inalienable rights (no matter their social status).
It’s hard for many moderns to grasp just how effective such a model can be. We simply have very little experience with it. But with true freedom, everyone has opportunity. If the upper class wants to dominate, it can’t. The law won’t let it. (Which is precisely what the “pure socialists” are looking for.) If the government wants to dominate beyond it’s proper role, it can’t. (Which is precisely what free enterprisers seek.) When this is the system, as Tocqueville put it in Democracy in America, everyone belongs to the same class—all are treated equally and appropriately before the law.
The only ones who are let down by free enterprise are the crony capitalists or elites, who truly want to dominate. Their motto, as described by an article in The Atlantic on the culture of Wall Street investment bankers, is telling: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” No win-win is good enough for them. Control is the only acceptable outcome. That’s the driving mantra of elite rule, both in applied socialism and crony capitalism.
If the word “socialism” meant stopping such elite domination and spreading a system of true freedom, I’d be all for it. But the thing is, it already has a name: Free Enterprise. And it works, as long as we don’t let crony capitalism, elitism, or socialism creep in.
Sadly, few people understand the difference between free enterprise and crony capitalism. Yet the differences are largely driving our current decline. It is time for anyone who truly cares about freedom in our modern world to clearly understand this battle, its roots, and the future it is creating for us even as we speak. Moreover, it is time to remedy this situation before it entirely restructures our society. Freedom hangs in the balance.
This is about freedom, success and progress, and how all three are served better by free enterprise than either socialism or crony capitalism. It is about who we really are as people, Americans and members of the free world, and why the differences between these two ways of life—capitalism and free enterprise—are at the root of our future.
For far too long free enterprise has been held back and watered down by the tenets of capitalism. In fact, perhaps the most significant reason socialism has been able to capture the support of so many people in modern times is a direct result of confusing free enterprise with capitalism.
When the differences between capitalism and free enterprise are clearly understood, and the flaws of capitalism are removed from our opinions of free enterprise, socialism will have little or no chance of winning this great battle for the hearts and minds of the people.
Before World War II many Americans combined their view of Stalin’s communism and Hitler’s Nazism into one group considered an axis of evil, and during the Cold War many people mistakenly saw communist China, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba and others as one cohesive entity. This caused numerous flawed policies—and cost far too much in blood, sacrifice and treasure—because national leaders took action based on faulty assumptions.
Likewise, today many people erroneously lump capitalism, democracy, and free enterprise into one indistinguishable whole. But free enterprise is a system of true freedom, and while democracy is clearly better than totalitarianism and capitalism is in some ways superior to socialism, free enterprise is significantly better than all these alternatives.
Free enterprise deserves to be understood on its own merits, without the baggage of capitalism weighing it down. Nearly all of the legitimate criticisms levied against free enterprise are actually attacks on the flaws of crony capitalism. As a result, free enterprise has seldom received a full consideration on its own merits. Indeed, if the battle for the 21st Century comes down to capitalism vs. socialism, socialism may very likely carry the day.
True free enterprise, in contrast, is the best economic and political system known to mankind, and if it is understood as it truly is, free from the stains and blemishes of crony capitalism, few will see socialism as the right choice for humanity. Ideas have consequences, as the great Richard Weaver assured us, because all human actions aim at some goal, some ideal. What we hold up as our standard impacts our most important choices as a nation. As long as our ultimate objective is capitalism, socialism will always have its coffers full and its meetings packed. Capitalism is flawed; so is socialism.
In contrast, free enterprise is a very different model indeed. It is time to truly understand free enterprise, to decide as a generation if free enterprise or it’s de facto modern opponent, capitalism, deserves our support against socialism, and which model we want to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
Again, if the battle is between socialism and crony capitalism, as we have seen for generations, the victor is still unclear. But if free enterprise has a real opportunity in the full light of day, if every citizen in the free world has the chance to understand it for what it really is and choose to support or reject it, the days of socialism are numbered.
And free enterprise is not some idealistic dream. It alone is the proven system of widespread freedom and economic opportunity in mankind’s history. Free enterprise is the basis of most real and lasting freedom everywhere, whether people have recognized it as such or not. Even where capitalism has gotten credit for freedom and prosperity, the truth is that free enterprise was the actual source of success.
As free enterprise goes, so goes freedom—in every nation of the globe, and through every epoch of human history. It has seldom received its due, but it has been at work wherever freedom existed, spreading opportunity from behind the scenes.
It is now time to give free enterprise a bigger chance, to at the very least see what it stands for on its own, how it differs from capitalism, and what it promises for those who implement it in their society. This is a book about freedom, and the reality that the actual principles and processes underpinning all human freedom are found in free enterprise.
One thing the new leadership in Washington, and the people, need to clearly remember is this:
To the exact extent that free enterprise (not crony capitalism) flourishes in the 21st Century, we will see real freedom expanding its blessings in America and in the world.
(Note to Reader: This post is part of an upcoming new book by Oliver DeMille, entitled: Free Enterprise versus Capitalism: Battle for the Future of Freedom. Look for Part Two of this report, which will provide more details on this great hidden battle of our time, in another post coming soon.)