We’ve been discussing here at the Hayride for a whole year now a concept we first saw forming in a speech given by James Piereson at the American Enterprise Institute last fall, developing in a lot of the videos put out by Bill Whittle after the 2012 election and approached from a slightly different direction by Kevin Williamson in his book The End Is Near And It’s Going To Be Awesome earlier this year.
Namely, that American society is evolving beyond that which can be governed by the Industrial Age bureaucratic state the Democrat Party is so committed to, and this fact creates an opportunity for conservatives and the Republican Party to leave the Democrats in the dust.
If you have the time, this Whittle speech in Reno from a few months ago, which he uploaded to YouTube on Sunday, is a good statement of the case…
If you don’t have the time, the basics are these: there have really only been three truly consequential events in human societal history at the end of the day, and the organization and governance of human beings has followed those events.
The first was the Agricultural Revolution, when human beings stopped being hunter-gatherers and began cultivating crops. The transformation of human society from the nomadic tribe to the farming village enabled the development of commerce, as farmers could trade their excess crops and produce for needed items, and villages, towns and cities emerged as centers for that exchange.
The ultimate product of the Agricultural Revolution, in terms of human governance, was the U.S. Constitution. What the Framers created was a document made for a nation of self-reliant, independent individuals who looked to the government to produce a navy to keep the British away, an army to keep the Indians away, courts to resolve their commercial differences and perhaps a paved road from their farms to the marketplace – and not a whole lot else. One of the primary criticisms the early Progressives made of the Constitution was that it was built for an agricultural society, and to some extent that criticism had merit.
Those early Progressives were products of the second great event, namely the Industrial Revolution – in which humans created the ability to mass-produce goods and to leverage machines to increase productivity on a large scale. An industrial society no longer revolves around the village and field; instead, it’s based in cities. As such, Progressive policies are based on solving urban problems. Mass transit, law enforcement, housing, health care, labor, financial regulation – all of those are primarily policy issues an urban society will encounter. Even the Progressives’ great overreach, Prohibition, was an attempt to solve an urban issue – farmers might drink like fish, but alcoholic farmers don’t present a social problem of such size anyone wants to amend the Constitution over it; it’s alcoholics harassing people on street corners and causing problems in cities and towns that would cause such a mobilization.
And so the Progressives built a different kind of government to reflect the new society. They built the Industrial Age bureaucracy, complete with things like public schools, the progressive income tax, Social Security and Medicare, government-owned mass transit and the DMV. It’s large, it’s coercive, it’s wasteful and it’s stupid – but it has the strength to compel the individual to conform to the collective, generally speaking.
That redistributive, Industrial Age semi-coercive state built by the Woodrow Wilsons, FDR’s and LBJ’s here in America is only the friendly face of all the terrible “isms” which surfaced in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century. There is only a matter of degree between the Progressivism of a Wilson or FDR, for example, and the fascism of a Mussolini, Nazism of Hitler or communism of a Stalin or Pol Pot. The basic principle – that society must be controlled by masterminds who know better than individuals how best to govern those individuals’ lives – remains. Only the method of that control and the aggression used within it are different.
But society has continued to evolve, and we’re no longer in the Industrial Age. We’re now in the Information Age, and the flaws of an Industrial Age government have become exposed.
To explain this further, we’ll switch to Williamson. The basic thesis of The End Is Near is that these gigantic legacy systems created by Industrial Age Progressives – most notably public education, Social Security and the Medicare/Medicaid complex – are collapsing under their own weight, and while that collapse will certainly bring pain their demise is actually a blessing of sorts. Why? Because of technology and the evolution of our society, we would never design those systems today the way they were designed when the Progressives foisted them on us – and their obsolescence is holding us back from doing things in a more sensible way.
Williamson looks at our $17 trillion debt and our $100 trillion-plus unfunded liabilities on things like Social Security and concludes the issue is not how we’re going to continue to fulfill the obligations of those legacy systems, but how we’re going to go about repudiating them when they’re clearly unaffordable.
Fusing the two concepts, because Whittle and Williamson are saying basically the same thing, the solution is to reorient government toward an Information Age society – where, to paraphrase Whittle, someone can order steel from China from a smart phone while eating a burrito at a Mexican restaurant in Fargo. As Williamson asks, is it even possible for an Industrial Age government to exercise something like gun control on people who can 3-D print a gun at home?
The fact is, it isn’t possible. A government $17 trillion in debt cannot secure the resources necessary to watch you 24/7 and deny you the ability to get a gun off the internet via a 3-D printer. Not in an age where Amazon is experimenting with using drone helicopters to deliver online purchases within 30 minutes.
We’ve already seen governments try, and fail, to exercise such control. The Soviet Union was a perfect example – the Soviets lost the Cold War to a free nation which was able to bury it with technology and prosperity, but they also collapsed as a superpower because it was not possible for a command economy to fulfill the commercial needs of hundreds of millions of people through the bottleneck of rationing and governmental waste such an economy brings with it. Instead, at the end of the USSR’s time it was the black marketeers – the Russian mob – who controlled the supply and distribution of goods and services, and those mobsters have largely come into control of the Russian Republic which succeeded the USSR.
And that brings us to Obamacare.
The essential premise of Obamacare is a perfect example of the stupidity and venality of an Industrial Age coercive state operating in an Information Age economy. Namely, Obamacare says to the American people “I don’t care what you think of the health insurance you contracted for yourself through an individual purchase or your employer, which in any event is none of my business as the federal government since it’s already regulated by the states; I’m going to blow up that insurance by making it illegal. Instead, I’m going to dictate to you what kind of coverage you will have, whether you like it or not, by forcing insurance companies to offer only those policies of which I approve.
“And I will force you to purchase that coverage through online exchanges I create, despite the fact I am incompetent to create them.
“Furthermore, I will also coerce the young and healthy to subsidize the old and the sick. I will do that via the IRS, who has the power to forcibly extract money from your paycheck or your bank account.”
That this disastrous rollout has created an entire universe of bad economic consequences – most of which are unintended, but some are surely not – was eminently foreseeable. Republicans foresaw it, and were vocal in saying so. It’s quite apparent that Obamacare’s two main goals, increasing the number of people covered by health insurance and decreasing the cost of that insurance across the board, not only won’t be met but that Obamacare will actually make Americans worse off in both respects.
Little wonder that some pundits are discussing Obamacare as the death of liberalism. It can be that. Obamacare is the best example yet of how the Industrial Age coercive state is incapable of governing an Information Age society.
Repealing Obamacare is a no-brainer. The harder work, which only the Republican Party and the conservative movement can do, is to create the kinds of reforms which transform government to fit the new age we’re in – with respect to the health care sector and all the other manifestations of the state’s interaction with society.