I was listening to former Governor Romney practicing demagoguery and sophistry for his movement base a few minutes ago and I kind of mentally exploded. After all these years such feats of stupendous mass stupidity still make me want to throw up occassionally. I can usually take it, but once in a while it just breaks through that part of me that can’t abide fools. I don’t know if the fools are the ones offering this argument — which seems to fool some folks; are the ones who use this argument as a battle cry, and part of a set of factional arguments, or are the people who actually sincerely believe it. But in any case this one set my mind to analyzing why the argument made me sick. He gave the usual lip service reference to an argument that was used famously by Ronald Reagan and that has been around for 30 years now but is bad logic. In the process he was making a false, devious and an also demonstrably illogical and self-contradictory argument, both historically and logically:

“The federal government isn’t the answer for running health care any more than it’s the answer for running Amtrak or the Post Office. An economy run by the federal government doesn’t work for Europe and it won’t work here.’’ [From Boston Globe]

I think it was the Post Office reference that set me off so I’ll concentrate on that.

False logic of the Referenced argument (from Reagan)

The reference, of course, is to Ronald Reagan’s famous argument that:

“Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.” [Quotedb]

The false logic of this is that Ronald Reagan attacked a term that means “problem solving” so by definition Government is that which governs, which in turn is that which solves problems. Therefore Government is in its original sense the process by which problems are solved. Therefore this argument was, is, and always will be an absurd argument. But it made great sophistry and a great way to practice demagoguery.

Government is actually both the problem in some cases, and the only way to solve problems. To believe that Government cannot solve problems is to say that problems can’t be solved — not that one shouldn’t use governance to try to solve them.

Bait

The bait of the argument is that Reagan used a self contradictory notion attacking the value of governance itself to attack the New Deal and its successor regimes. He used the truth of the existential difficulty of resolving human disputes justly, to disparage the Federal Government as an institution. However, this was in the context of removing those powers from the Federal Government and restoring them to abusive local authorities. Thus he was disparaging the power of democracy to moderate local governance in the process, while claiming to argue for the power of ordinary people to do it instead of the Federal Government. The switch was, that removing the power to solve problems from the Federal Government defaulted those powers back to local governance; corporations, employers, banks and other local tyranny. That was and is the goal of limiting Federal Power.

Switch

Reagan usually clarified what he meant by that statement with the argument that the Federal Government could not rationally solve problems from the center, that “one size fits all” solutions don’t work, and that efforts to put into law all solutions only tended to create complex top down bureaucracy. However, his solution was to ignore governments mandate to organize solutions. His idea of Federalism was to leave solving problems to God and “Free Markets.” This approach sounded good to some, but really meant leaving solutions to already unjust and tyrannical local powers, and strengthening the powers and unequal rights of those powers. Innovation can mean inventing new things like Computers, but it can also mean inventing new ways to swindle people.

Devious Arguments

Romney ratchets up this argument with this speech, in the process he unconsciously demonstrates the hollowness, corrupt center, and falsity of the argument itself. Both Romney and Reagan use the argument that “one size fit all” solutions won’t solve our countries problems and that therefore the solutions should be left up to the States. He is right in that the country faces a variety of problems that can’t be solved with a massive complex law nor with a “one size fits all” solution. However, the problems our country faces have long been nationwide, and with enough common features and inter-dependencies that State Solutions often fail because investors can arbitrage inequity by moving businesses to places where they can oppress people with impunity. Indeed our health care problems and other problems are almost getting too big for the United States to manage by itself, and our international treaties have only exacerbated our problems so far by providing even greater power to our irresponsible and corrupt international corporations to leverage inequity and oppression on a worldwide level. We shipped jobs to China because they had access to slave prison labor. We have people who would replicate the same oppression here. It takes governance to control such behavior, whether it is a local feud between local Hatfields and McCoy’s, a drug cartel, a company employing undocumented workers to avoid paying them wages (oppression), or the reality of out of control health care costs. When dealing with a system, the system has to be governed at all levels or it tends to fail.

The Financial Meltdown was and continues to be evidence of System Failure.

The financial meltdown we are still experiencing is evidence of system failure. During the Great Depression Wall street (which is now an international Corporation) recovered not only before the country did, but at the expense of the rest of the country. The Banks and Investment houses and markets on Wall Street Governed the Country. We may think of Studio heads as powerful people, but their bosses were shadowy and even more powerful — and based in Manhattan. DC may have been the Capital of the political government, but the political economy was and is Governed from New York. No wonder the UN was located there. Our economic system tends to suck local capital and investment out of local economies where it goes where-ever it looks like the most bucks can be made. This system has to be governed at a National level, and it is — by the Federal Reserve and the IMF. Bad Government is the problem, and good government is the only way to solve it. Devolving banking power to the States would only exacerbate problems — as happened at the end of the Jackson Administration when he succeeded in destroying the US National Bank. Systems collapse for a lot of reasons — and getting rid of a corrupt or poorly functioning institution is often a sure way to completely collapse them.

Historical Postal Failures

Romney’s arguments thus make a segue to the central point I’m making — when he makes the point that the Government shouldn’t run the Post Office. This to me merely points to how “privatization” has corrupted one public trust after another in this country.

However, the Post Office isn’t just mail delivery, it is the core function that originally encompassed the countries communication and transportation system, and its governance has determined whether we had either. The Post office is a requirement of the Constitution. The way we’ve gone about establishing the Post office has included all sorts of efforts to privatize it, fund it, sabotage it, or corrupt it — and when it doesn’t work it is usually due to efforts to privatize profits while continuing the socialize the costs. This has been a struggle since colonial times, and it was Benjamin Franklin who both put the Post Office on a stable model and founded our first Newspapers by enabling Post Masters to also wear Publisher hats and found printing presses. Not only did he and the early Government do that, but they subsidized the press. This was the best thing the country ever did, and it worked fine, though not perfectly.

Lying about the Post office

The Post Office in the Kings hands, and later under John Adams, almost was a source for oppression, internal spying, and police powers. Our Country organized “Committees of Correspondence” to provide an alternative Post so that the King couldn’t arrest dissidents and our country could be founded. The post office has failed every time the Government has privatized its governance. The country built up “Stage-coach” lines largely by subsidizing mail. The country tried to privatize road building with “turnpikes” — every one of them failed. The Government financed the building of the Railroads, in part to provide better postal delivery. And not one of these efforts would have succeeded without Government support and investment. In nearly every case where a new technology came along, the post office has subsidized it, often at the expense of the formal Post Office losing money. This is true now. UPS and Federal Express are doing fine because they have been given work that is part of the Governance responsibility of the Post Office. If we were serious about having a viable postal or rail system we might have private operating and construction companies involved, but almost certainly Government would have to be there to ensure that the system wasn’t robbed by them.

It takes a Government to Govern a System

It takes a government to govern a system. Privatizing some elements of postal delivery makes sense, but public trusts are more important than as for-profit corporations. Without post offices, local towns and cities die. It is possible, even desirable to separate the executive functions from the governing, administrating, and judicial functions; but to put the governance of the post office in private hands is just tyranny and a recipe for failure.

More importantly both Amtrack, and the Post Office, represent infrastructure investments that are as important for connecting, linking, communicating and delivering goods and services as they are for making profits. While there could be a greater role for states, counties, towns and cities in governing these things, to say that the Government has no role, nor should have any role in these systems is to advocate for the degradation and impoverishment of the country.

Systems require good governance, that means checks and balances, separation of powers, judicial and legislative oversight, etc… What is causing failure in this country is that we increasingly are relying on transfers of power to executive powers and have the illusion that somehow “markets” will check those powers. But markets only check powers by making them fail. There are limits to what one can do at any one moment. It takes projects, investments, construction and intelligence to transform from dysfunctional systems to functional systems — and those are all governing functions. What these folks really are advocating is Oligarchy — since if the Federal Government doesn’t organize these things — private folks will.

J.P. Morgan, J.D. Rockefeller, Dupont, and other great Industrialists got their power not by entrepreneurship in invention but by entrepreneurship in organizing, governing, coordinating, and integrating efforts. This is governance, and we need better governance; and not either chaotic anarchy, nor tyranny. As long as Republicans continue to offer their Polish “Schlachta” Aristocratic Anarchy style solutions the country will continue to sicken and eventually will fail. We need rational arguments that really in fact are rational. And none of the Republicans are arguing them – certainly not Romney — and the others are worse.

PS

Note; the “Schlachta” (not sure spelling) were a class of aristocrats in Poland from the late middle ages to the partition and ending of Poland whose “rights” and “liberties” came at the expense of everyone elses rights and liberties in Poland; including the survival of the country. The Schlachta had a vote in a Parliament in which they could veto the King. They kept the King weak so they could fight over land, privilege and honor. They also could never make up their mind on who to betray the country to; with factions who supported Russia, others who supported Germany and others who supported Austria-Hungary. Once the country was finally done in by their treachery they awoke to Patriotism and Catholicism and fought constantly to reconstitute the country. Eventually they succeeded, but when they did the old divisions resurfaced. Such is human nature. Imagine the three Musketeers, or perhaps the three stooges. Then imagine an entire Army of them running a country in perfect aristocratic anarchy. That is Polish Federation.

Anyone who studies the Gilded age and the rise of the railroads (and our national Highway System) is struck by the reality that there would be no viable railroad system in the US without the governance of a strong Federal Government. Thus it is amazing to hear people like Romney disparage efforts to build railroads or repair our highways. They have to know their history even if they can count on their audience being either too partisan to care, or too stupid to check.

Finally, I spent 20 years giving the right the benefit of the doubt on the intelligence question. Part of the reason for that is that early on the Right made its arguments in a vacuum of intelligence on the side of the left. However, they seem to have inherited the predispositions, prejudices, propaganda style and stupidity of the left and no longer seem to care whether they have any facts in their arguments at all. At least on the subjects I care about. They remind me of the Trotsky followers I met when I was a kid (a long story). I think I’ve figured out the chain of custody. Many of the followers of Trotsky started as anarchists and converted to Communism when Anarchism became passe. All of them believed in politics as religion, and propaganda as war by argumentation. Thus it was hard to tell what any of them really believed because all their arguments were tactical. Kind of like sales. It doesn’t matter that the car being sold is a lemon — the goal is to sell the car. Similarly modern party hacks don’t care if their policies will work or if they are founded on facts — what they care is the effective acquisition of money and power. Thus the difference between a John Edwards and a Newt Gingrich may well be only a matter of how to get to the goal of immense wealth and riches. Thoroughly corrupt — and stupid.