Thursday, January 20, 2011

End the Internal Empire

the political class continues to cause government to overpromise and underperform. This class blithely considers itself exempt from the tyranny of the bell-shaped curve - the fact that in most occupations a few people are excellent, a few are awful, and most are average.

--George Will, 1.20.11

The people who start our country’s fastest growing businesses do so at an average age of 40. Some never went to college, and top-tier entrepreneurs who have degrees also tend to have work experience — they learn about an industry before starting a firm in it. . . the personal qualities useful in building a company. . . are widely distributed through our society, not concentrated in young people at universities.

--Carl Schramm, Forbes, 1.19.11

Land distribution in America has shaped our history. Settlers gained farms in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota under the 1785 Northwest Land Ordinance, which divided the territories of the area into equal parts of a grid. The policy carried over to the farm states and the West through the Homestead Act of 1862, which gave 160 acres to any settler who worked the land for five years. These policies extended the vision of our founders, who believed the Declaration of Independence America was built upon the backs of free farmers—men created equal, with the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

But there was another America, that of Southern plantations, Western ranches, and large California and Southwest hacienda land holdings built upon water rights. These large estates enshrined European feudalism inside America’s borders, characterized by giving a small group of wealthy landholders control over the lives of thousands of tenants. In all too many cases, the rich were white, the tenants non-white. In the South especially, the rich in politics used race--a fear of blacks--to corral poor whites to their side.

The industrial revolution worsened this picture, with capitalists based in the East and California railroad barons joining landlords inside the ruling class, and controlling millions of dispossessed tenants and immigrants working in urban factories. The progressive movement began with anti-bank Midwest prairie farmers, but then enlarged the attack to cover rich capitalists, East and West, allying itself with industrial labor unions, while leaving the South relatively undisturbed (progressives and Southerners were white and mostly Democrats who didn’t let race get between them). But after the federal government first tamed big business, it turned on Southern and other racists from the 1950s forward, as a government-based elite centered in the Northeast gained control of the nation.

Government expanded to counter anti-democratic landowners, capitalists, racists, and sexists. It grew and rules now in the name of the people, believing in its right to speak for the voiceless masses against big business, racists, and bigots of all stripes. Without the dark America of plantations, large ranches, haciendas, and rich capitalists, our new elite would never have gained power.

Contrast this government intervention justified by dark forces to the America of free farmers, or especially that of small business, with each owner able to pursue one’s own destiny. They aren’t victims in need of government help, and they don’t trade loss of control for government assistance. The symbiotic relationship of master and servant is foreign to them.

America has a history of elite rule and suppression of its people. But America also has a history of successfully opposing elite rule, and a history of thriving under a free enterprise economic system that allows for success, and for failure followed by success.

Today, we have too much government control. We chafe inside an inefficient internal empire. We need instead, in the words of Carl Schramm, “messy capitalism” with all its possible mistakes, if we are to grow the jobs our people so desperately want.

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