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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Scott Rasmussen's Heroic Battle With Tyrannophilia Rex, The Love Of Dictatorship

Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon
leaves the Rose Garden June 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via Forbe's article)
by Ralph Benko, Contributing Author: Steve Bannon, call your office!

Scott Rasmussen’s new book Politics Has Failed America Will Not, published by the Sutherland Institute of Salt Lake City, presents a potent indictment of the “administrative state.” You, Mr. Bannon, promised, to great attention and some acclaim at CPAC, to deconstruct that.

You, Mr. Bannon, were talking to a national audience while preaching to the choir. Many people out here are unfamiliar with the argument for deconstructing the administrative state. It would be advantageous to undertake a public inquest to assure the consent of the governed.

Politics Has Failed America Will Not does exactly that.

Rasmussen is a rara avis, or, to put it in English, a rare bird. He founded, and then left, one of the most consistently interesting polling and analytics companies, Rasmussen Reports. He is now a Senior Fellow for the Study of Self Governance at The King’s College, a tiny but impressive Christian liberal arts college based in New York City. And a writer of highly regarded books.

Rasmussen runs with a dangerous crowd. The book carries back-jacket merit badges from, among others, the intensely cynical Mark McKinnon, the super-idealistic Leslie Graves, CEO of Ballotpedia (for which Rasmussen serves at editor at large), and one of the most wonderfully iconoclastic (usually in a good way) public intellectuals of our era, my friend Jonathan Rauch. Rasmussen’s book was introduced to me by my favorite progressive arch-nemesis Joan Blades, co-founder of

He commands an eclectic group of admirers.

Rasmussen saves the best for last. In his concluding chapter, he -- after a long, winding, rather discursive buildup -- directly calls out The Enemy: the elite embrace of dictatorship.

Usually this sinister sentiment is politely left unstated. Rasmussen finds and features two heavy hitters willing to come right out and say it. This represents a breakthrough in the discourse. Let’s jump ahead.
Today, the primary challenge comes from the advocates of the regulatory state who reject the founding commitment to self-governance. Despite the historical evidence, they believe the nation will be better off if we let bureaucrats make the important decisions for the rest of us. Convinced of their own superiority, they are willing to sacrifice the founding ideals of freedom and equality to empower the bureaucracy.

This narrow ideological perspective was clearly articulated in one of the most chilling books I have ever read, The Executive Unbound: After the Madisonian Republic. In it, a pair of law professors from Chicago and Harvard urge us to turn back the clock and reject all the lessons learned during 800 years of pragmatic experimentation with freedom.

Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule think it is well past time to replace the “Madisonian Republic,” or constitutional government…. While most of us celebrate the Madisonian system of checks and balances, Posner and Vermeule see it as nothing more than an outdated “historical curiosity.” They say our Constitutional approach “overestimates the need for the separation of powers and even the rule of law.”

Posner and Vermeule … believe “the technological problems in the modern era…require continuous monitoring and adjustment, tasks that only the executive bureaucracy can handle. Starting with such faith in the bureaucracy, they are not at all troubled by the fact that the regulatory state violates our founding ideals.

What does deeply trouble the scholars is something they call “tyrranophobia.” They define this condition as an “irrational fear of dictatorship” and trace its roots back to the beginning of our nation. These teachers of the law claim that tyrannophobic views were “reflected in the “Declaration of Independence and founding debates.” To be clear, what they call tyrranophobia is what the rest of us call a commitment to freedom, equality, and self-governance.

Posner and Vermeule think it’s time for the American people to give up on those founding ideals and accept the fact that the “administrative state is inevitable.” They argue “that law cannot hope to constrain the modern executive,” so everyone should simply “make their peace with the new political order.” The scholars are especially concerned that tyrannophobia is preventing us from turning over enough power to presidents and bureaucrats.

One of Posner and Vermeule’s most stunning assertions is that even a loss of freedom might not be as bad as we think. “It is not even clear whether authoritarian governments systematically offer different public policies than democracies do.” As a result, “democratic institutions should not assume that the loss of well-being caused by a transition from democracy to dictatorship is higher than in fact it is.”

Tyrranophobia? Pathologizing opposition to tyranny?

Great Caesar’s Ghost!

Count me, like Bannon, an unashamed tyrannophobe.

And it is brilliant of Rasmussen to identify America’s true enemy within.

Call it Tyrannophilia.

Rasmussen devotes one of his most lucid chapters to the rise of the regulatory state, thank you very much President Nixon.
While Nixon is most remembered for the debacle of Watergate, Jonathan Rauch believes “Nixon’s most important legacy was as the “Great Regulator. It was he who built the modern regulatory apparatus.” Nixon’s lust to centralize power led him to regulate with what Rauch describes as “reckless abandon….

He created entirely new laws and bureaucracies, giving them great power but few guidelines or limits. The list includes:

“in 1969, the National Environmental Policy Act; in 1970, the Poison Prevention Packaging Act, the Clean Air Amendments, the Occupational Safety and Health Act; in 1972, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Noise Pollution and Control Act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Act; in 1973, the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act; in 1974, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. Nixon opened the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.”

It is impossible to overstate the significance of these actions. In the context of the Putting People First model of governance, this was shifting power as far away from community control as possible. These agencies quickly acquired the power to make large corporations dependent upon their rulings. Lobbying and corruption played an ever-larger role in determining profits and losses.
Nixon’s legislation reflected laudable goals. Who opposes safe drinking water?

That said, there is much evidence that regulatory agencies played a minimal, and sometimes retrograde, role in achieving these social goods. Hello, Flint! And did enormous damage to America’s economic vitality by imposing gratuitous compliance costs, courting regulatory capture, and, worse, damaging the republican form of government that is America’s political charter.

These damages are manifesting vividly today.

Another excellent chapter presents how decentralizing technologies ... like laptops (I began writing this column at 30,000 feet on route from DC to Phoenix), the Internet, and mobile ... are eroding the very premises on which the centralized regulatory state was built.
In the ‘70s, without knowing it, we were experiencing the end of the Industrial Revolution and the beginning of the most significant cultural change in American history. The digital revolution kicked off what I call the Great Turnaround:

“For two centuries leading up to the 1970s, the trend was for everything in America to get bigger, more centralized, and more homogenized.”

“After the ‘70s, however, cultural trends moved in the opposite direction with everything becoming more niche-oriented, decentralized and personalized.”
Rasmussen, an optimist, is quite sure republicanism will win out. Yet his proposed primary countermeasure -- community engagement -- is unproven. Community engagement is not a new discovery. It's a great thing.

That said, there's a scaling problem.

The great Saul Alinsky, who coined, or at least made current, the term “community organizer” was all about that. I’m a true believer and, thus, serve as the president of The Alinsky Center under the chairmanship of Saul’s son David.

Alinsky, however, was frustrated that he was unable to scale it. He was, at the time of his untimely death, pivoting to address the disaffections of the Middle Class in an effort to do so. Meanwhile, his precocious admirer, Hillary Rodham, in writing a brilliant honors thesis on Alinsky concluded therein that to bring social justice at scale you had to work within the political system. She spurned Alinsky's job offer and proceeded to do just that. (Obama, who never met Alinsky but learned from his disciples, came to the same conclusion.)

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama thereby had greater impact than Alinsky. However, it also appears neither of them materially succeeded in their goals of durably advancing social justice through use of high office and central power. That said, the creation of the Alinsky Center has not, at least yet, attracted the resources requisite to bringing Alinsky’s unfinished symphony -- expanding community organizing from the “Have-Nots” to the Middle Class -- to conclusion to see if that will work.

Rasmussen’s proposed mechanism to get us there, “radical incrementalism,” is just a buzzword. It doesn’t offer anything in the way of beef. The "power of community" without the resources to go to scale is insufficient. Nor is his chapter on “the power to walk away” convincing.

Hope is not a strategy.

Neither is optimism.

Community engagement and disengagement may be necessary.

They are not sufficient.

More is required.

National scale community, or, better yet, civic engagement might succeed.

That requires serious resources.

Here is another missing, but crucial, piece of the puzzle Rasmussen omits. America’s economy has been growing at only half of the historical trend rate for the past 17 years. A better characterization of what Rasmussen seems to be getting at would be “compound interest” rather than "radical incrementalism."

Had economic growth continued at historic trend rate our GDP -- meaning, on average, each of our incomes -- would, by compounding, be around 50% greater than it now is. Imagine a 50% pay increase!

Historic growth rates would have put the federal government into surplus, making Social Security and Medicare solvent without benefit cuts or tax increases, and provide plenty left over for infrastructure -- simply by expanding the tax base. The “tax base” is Washington-speak for us -- the taxpayers.

Even a normal growth rate would have provided, and again would rapidly provide, ample financial security for us workers so long as it represented general prosperity rather than inuring to "the 1%." Unfortunately, the generality of prosperity fell out of bed after Nixon “temporarily” (45 years ago and counting!) “closed the gold window,” collapsing the relatively successful, although structurally flawed, Bretton Woods international monetary system.

Meanwhile, the rich got richer. Median families did not.

Restoring “good money” through good monetary policy -- ideally the classical gold standard -- is the only known way of bringing that equitable prosperity. That’s something the Constitution places into the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government. No local civic action can transform it. And, with due respect to Rasmussen's indictment of the federal regulatory state, without transforming monetary policy America will remain, to quote Shakespeare, “bound in shallows and in miseries.”

This economic “Little Dark Age” is an outcome of bad federal policies, especially bad monetary policy, something far more pernicious than bad regulatory policy. That’s in the purview of the national, not state or local, government. Stagnation cannot be ignored with impunity. No amount of community organizing will reverse the damage of bad money. Localities can only triage the toxic outcomes of general economic anemia. Goodbye, Illinois!

Rasmussen does strike gold in addressing how technological innovation is a crucial piece of making America great again.
Today the typical car is actually in use only about 5 percent of the time. It will be far more efficient to share cars than keep them reserved for personal use. … In other words… we might order a car to take us to work in the morning. The car would drive itself to pick us up and take us where we need to go. According to one estimate, car sales could fall nearly in half over the next generation. … Some envision the public transit industry being turned upside down. Once we are able to order a driverless car to pick us up at any time, why would we need buses and trains?The implication is that driverless cars are more likely soon to provide a great, affordable, solution to many of our transit infrastructure woes -- such as our decaying subway systems and roadway traffic congestion -- than refurbishing the old dinosaurs. Why isn't Washington thinking about this?

Rasmussen lays out the even more profound improvements in the quality of our lives beckoning from the application of digital technologies to education and health care, among other sectors. Meanwhile, Washington, as usual, is barking up the wrong trees in its various proposed “reforms.” It draws on obsolete nostrums from the left and the right and revels in shibboleths. Rasmussen ignores the implications for the labor force of these developments. Let's just score that as beyond the scope of this book and hope that in his next he will avoid the "fad diet" of the "universal basic income" until someone works out the kinks.

Make no mistake. Rasmussen is in the top 1% of public intellectuals at work today. He provides a virtuoso rendition of the anthem of the classical liberal republicanism that made America great. He may well be on to something bigger than he himself yet fully appreciates. Bravo!

A closing word about reform. Reform, in Washingtonspeak, usually is just a code word for a hustle against the citizens by the political class.

Rasmussen points us, importantly, in the right general direction. The way forward?

Don’t reform.


And down with Tyrranophilia Rex.

Steve Bannon, call your office.
Ralph Benko is an advisor to nonprofit and advocacy organizations, is a member of the Conservative Action Project, a contributor to the contributor to the ARRA News Service. Founder of The Prosperity Caucus, he was a member of the Jack Kemp supply-side team, served in an unrelated area as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House. The article which first appeared in Forbes.

Tags: Ralph Benko, Scott Rasmussen, Steve Bannon, Tyrannophia Rex, Washington D.C. To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service and "Like" Facebook Page - Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 10:20 AM - Post Link


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