2013 November 17 Sunday
Bigger Government Strapped Down By All Its Clients

Ross Douthat provides one reason why big liberal policy initiatives flounder and fail.

... liberals’ proudest achievement, the modern welfare state, tends to resist, corrupt and baffle their efforts at comprehensive reform.

This was the message of Jonathan Rauch’s book “Government’s End,” which was first published in the Clinton era, and which I’ve recommended before as essential to understanding liberalism’s struggles in the Obama years. Because our government spends and regulates so much, Rauch argued, because its influence sprawls into so many walks of life, because so many clients and beneficiaries and interest groups depend on its programs and policies, the policy status quo is far harder to dislodge today than it was during the Progressive Era or the New Deal or the Great Society.

The policy status quo is rather like a captain of the Titanic seeing an iceberg in broad daylight and holding on a course directly aimed at it. Liberal policy proposals on such issues as medical care and immigration amount to requests to make the propeller spin faster. The correlation of forces is shifting in favor of a faster collision with the iceberg. You can not change that. The course of American society is baked in.

We are not so fortunate that the welfare state serves as our biggest problem. Much more intractable problems are accelerating our decline. Is it good to understand the course and causes of decline? One theory has it that you can become happier by understanding all that could go wrong. Perhaps. I'm trying to work toward being happy in spite of the larger society. I have made much progress in that direction and my happiness has become much more decoupled from the fate of the nation. But I know I'd be happier still if the causes of decline were reversed.

Have you developed a deep enough understanding of human nature that you can say you've taken the red pill? Does this make you more or less happy?

My own reaction to the red pill: I've become very motivated to insulate, insulate, insulate. I want a great life raft. I want a destination for a good escape and a way to do well in a refuge well removed from all that is going wrong in our society.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2013 November 17 10:42 AM 

James Bowery said at November 17, 2013 1:37 PM:

Its not just the public sector rent seekers but also the private sector rent seekers that have dysfunction locked into place.

From Machiavelli's "The Prince" chapter 6:

"It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new. This coolness arises partly from fear of the opponents, who have the laws on their side, and partly from the incredulity of men, who do not readily believe in new things until they have had a long experience of them."

It must be kept in mind that "new" here means "new" to the current generation since one may attempt to reintroduce an old order and encounter the same difficulty due to the failure to learn from actual history (as opposed to the version of history provided by the existing order).

radical centrist blogger said at November 18, 2013 3:43 AM:

the nation is harder to change because the nation is larger and because the people are more diverse.

Larger nations have more factions. More factions means more divisions. More divisions means less unity, fewer common shared interests.

Less unity means that the government (the agent of change) represents the people less well. When the people are more homogeneous, they are more united and therefore the politicians they elect are more accountable to the people.

Larger == more factions == less unity == less control of government.

Also, thanks to multiculturalism and 'civil rights' the electorate is now more heterogeneous and less homogeneous, thus adding more factions to the populace, and therefore less united, which means the govt is less controlled by the populace and more controlled by corporations and zillionaires.

The use of factions to degrade democracy through enlargement of voting districts is why the rich people discarded the articles of confederation and installed the constitution and why they created the EU.

Of course you have no idea what I am talking about....

Better Have a Backup Plan said at November 18, 2013 6:23 AM:

I'd have to say that I was happier before inadvertently taking the red pill. It's like some horror movie where I can see the aliens disguised as humans but no one else can. If you try and tell people about the truth, they look at you like you're crazy or evil. You see the future 2nd world country that the US will become and you wonder how your children will fare. (Of course, a Mexico/Brazil-like future for the US may be the least violent scenario. If whites ever wake up on mass, things could get ugly. But, so far, whites seem as aware and dangerous as a lab puppy, so I'm not expecting much.)

Personally, I'm just doing my best to as you say insulate. Build a good-sized portfolio, keep some money out of the US, learns some skills, etc. I'm also going to push my kids to spend some time in Australia or NZ, hoping that they develop some connections that would allow them to emigrate easier.

Luckily, the US is a ship that's sinking slowly, so we have some time to make adjustments. However, if you think about it, the US started heading in the wrong direction about 50 years ago. I'd suspect that the decline will accelerate, meaning that it won't take another 50 years to fall as far as we have since the 1960s. It'll be interesting if we fall as far in the next 25 years as we have in the last 50. That might be enough to wake the sleeping giant. Then again, maybe the Derb was right: White people are pussies.

WJ said at November 18, 2013 3:55 PM:

"The correlation of forces is shifting in favor of a faster collision with the iceberg. You can not change that. The course of American society is baked in."

Not necessarily. I agree with radical centrist that (if I interpret him correctly) a nation as large and diverse as the United States is impossible to govern responsibly, but...

But it only takes one or a few politicians, speaking in a language that people understand, but that manages to be non-divisive. With the right man (and the right circumstances) change can happen.

destructure said at November 18, 2013 9:26 PM:

@ Randall, The hippiest hated the America of their parents and wanted to tear it down. Well, they have. I can only hope they spend the remaining years of their live eating dog food. I'm rather looking forward to watching the show.


@ Better Have a Backup Plan

It's like some horror movie where I can see the aliens disguised as humans but no one else can.


Check it out said at November 21, 2013 5:05 PM:

"Luckily, the US is a ship that's sinking slowly, so we have some time to make adjustments."

A slowly-sinking ship, only at best. I see the U.S. more like a moribund giant, and a moribund giant is very dangerous.

I think your ideas on sending kids to Australia and NZ are very good, but my advice would be to hurry up on those adjustments. The window of opportunity usually closes sooner than we can predict, just like the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Communist Block, the start of WWI, or 911. The tense calm that precedes a hurricane is a great teacher to learn from.

If we're at the stadium watching our team lose a game, it is an ephemeral disappointment at most, but if things in the U.S. are more like watching the World Cup Soccer Final between England and Germany, it's probably time to ask ourselves, "What the hell am I still doing here!?", specially if you got a family to look after.

In times of peace, the good warrior sharpens his sword.

Ekdromos said at November 22, 2013 4:16 PM:
WJ said: "But it only takes one or a few politicians, speaking in a language that people understand, but that manages to be non-divisive. With the right man (and the right circumstances) change can happen."
1. Charismatic intellectual conservatives:
Is it possible to name a single conservative or libertarian politician or political commentator in the current era who's both intellectual and charismatic?

That's probably the algorithm for success in politics.

Theodore Roosevelt probably counts as one from previous eras. He would certainly oppose the modern era of unskilled immigration. He was very much about the American culture that built the country: meritocratic, "west of the hajnal line" (HBD Chick 1, 2), and high-civilization.

2. The decline of conservative intellectuals:
But all those conservative intellectuals of 100 years ago lost a battle of the cradle against religious conservatives. Our current world is the end result of the idiocracy trends of the past.

The result is that all conservative political figures today must believe in sky cake in order to get support. They're required to spend conservatives' limited political budget on religious issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, which affect nothing and weren't worth losing the country over.

*(Roosevelt's efforts to provide a "square deal" might seem liberal at first glance, but they were reasonable in that era from the perspective of modern conservativism.)
**(The Catholic church in particular opposed the varied efforts of intellectuals like Roosevelt to prevent those idiocracy trends. Similarly, Catholicism is the only major religion in the U.S. that's now able to maintain stable membership numbers, due to the mass influx of immigrant Catholics replacing the declining religiosity of Whites.)

destructure said at November 23, 2013 1:17 AM:


Why blame religious conservatives who vote for smaller government and not the radicals who actually push big government? But if you're really looking for a demographic to blame then blame women in general and single women in particular. The majority of women have always voted for big daddy government and always will. They can't help it. They're wired that way.


Ekdromos said at November 23, 2013 4:13 PM:

Nyborg's full paper is available free here.

Ekdromos said at November 23, 2013 4:28 PM:


We can't do anything about some people wanting big government. But we can try to make conservativism more persuasive.

Maybe the U.S. is looking at a period of reduced average prosperity for several decades (2080s?) before technology eventually turn things around (genetic engineering etc.).

But making conservativism more persuasive in the meantime could lessen the fall.

More conservatives like Theodore Roosevelt would be a good start.

Another good start: Encourage conservatives to raise their daughters to enjoy quantitative and technical pursuits, like Marissa Mayer, such as programming instead of dolls.

Engineer-Poet said at November 24, 2013 6:44 AM:

That's just not going to happen.  Girls are naturally drawn to things involving individual relations; very few are going to be pulled toward programming, engineering, physics and the like.

Ekdromos said at November 24, 2013 4:44 PM:


That's a good point.

But we can amend it: Girls will tend to not be pulled toward technical pursuits if left to their own frivolous pleasures and instincts.

Raise sons and daughters to know great things are expected of them. They will be expected to do things that others cannot.

Engineer-Poet said at November 24, 2013 6:39 PM:

Trying to force girls (and boys) into molds based on leftist blank-slatism isn't just stupid, it is a form of child abuse.

The sexes are different.  They have different capabilities as well as different tendencies, to carry out their different roles.  Besides, nobody who is bored with or even hates physics is going to be a good physicist, no matter what they are capable of doing; picking something worthwhile to do and doing it well does not require blindness either to gender or personal strengths and weaknesses.

Ekdromos said at November 24, 2013 9:28 PM:

That's part of the story. The other part is that women like Marissa Mayer and Linda Gottfriedson do great work, and the world is better off for it.

There's no reason why most of the women programmers in Silicon Valley should be Asian or Indian.

If future Sarah Palins were to be as intellectual as the above women, conservativism would enjoy increased outcomes.

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