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2011 June 09 Thursday
Eric Robert Morse Juggernaut: Decentralization Needed?

While reading Amazon reviews of David Mamet's The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture (about a very successful liberal playwright's turn to the right) I came across an enthusiastic recommendation for Juggernaut: Why The System Crushes The Only People Who Can Save It By Eric Robert Morse. From the book description:

By now, everyone recognizes the severity of the 2007-08 financial crisis. But, to many Americans, the bailouts, stimulus packages, and regulatory schemes aimed at solving the problem seemed to merely pull the economy further into the mire of bureaucracy, party politics, and unsustainable debt that led to the crisis in the first place. Only the bankers and officials who caused the problem were in a position to solve it, and so fixing the system necessarily meant becoming part of it--and thus making it even harder to fix. This is the crux of the Juggernaut.

The bankers do not want a fundamental fix because that would cut the size of their banks and restrict their risk-taking with the public dime. No objective and yet competent people can possibly become influential in trying to reform the financial system. Many forces are arrayed against a sound banking system.

Is the Federal Reserve trying to manage an uncontrollable system that is going more berserk?

A sprawling, uncontrollable system that only grows larger and more berserk the more we try to quell it, the Juggernaut has become a way of life. It is not, as many would suggest, a product of the last ten or even thirty years. Rather, it is inherent in the system itself, with roots that reach as far back as Columbus and the dawn of modern times.

The writer sounds like he draws a great deal from the Austrian school of economics and also from public choice theory. But the web site for the book presents an interesting twist on what the book's about. Note the reference to the closing of the frontier and our inability to escape from a huge web of interdependencies. The Thesis of Juggernaut:

The modern system is based on alternatives. Private property, free enterprise, specialism, industry, cooperation, and all other central aspects of the modern politico-economic system are based in the ability for the participants to reject the system and make do somewhere else. Since the close of the frontier around 1890, those alternatives have become increasingly difficult to secure since it has become increasingly difficult to reject the system and move somewhere else.

Even after the frontier closed there was a sort of afterglow of its effects on American culture. The country was still sparsely populated and the beliefs the frontier engendered made Americans more independent of mind and less inclined to see government, especially federal government, as a major force in their lives. But the afterglow is fading and the world is becoming a smaller place. It is hard to get away from it all.

As a result, growing interdependency has given larger authority to those in power. Those in power are granted wider freedoms in their rule, and everyone else must acquiesce or attempt to gain positions of power to survive. As the close hardens, society sheds its free and democratic characteristics and takes on a more hierarchic or statist appearance.

The Patriot Act, anyone? Security threats emanating from abroad (or from immigrants whose religious beliefs are incompatible with a free society) get used to justify more power for central governments and more cooperation between governments to monitor and control people. Also, as governments become more powerful they attract more of the ambitious. The ambitious naturally want to make government more powerful so they can do more things from their positions of power. Seems like a vicious cycle.

Morse proposes decentralization as a solution. But aren't the same historical forces that have brought us to this point bound to keep us going even further toward centralization?

The only way to reverse this trend is to open alternatives by localizing power, denationalizing the economy, and increasing self-sufficiency.

Were the last couple of centuries in America an inherently unsustainable brief interlude between the periods which naturally characterize human societies? As the world becomes more densely populated, polluted, and resource-constrained will even our current potential for independence become an impossible fantasy?

I've downloaded sample chapters of Mamet's and Morse's books to see if they are worth a read. Anyone read either of them?

Update: The problem is bigger than just bankers and big money special interests which benefit from the Leviathan. Higher population densities, bigger impacts on the environment, and rapid movement of goods brings us into more interactions with each other. We have many more relationships to manage. We have many more reasons to object to what other people do. It is the difference between living in the country and living in an apartment building. Suddenly you share walls, sidewalks, parks, parking spaces. The number of ways we turn to government to regulate our interactions goes up as our frequencies of interactions go up.

By Randall Parker    2011 June 09 08:21 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (8)
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