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Monday, March 8

Glenn Beck, Mark Levin, and the three little words

Mark Safranski's essay The Rule of Law is a five-paragraph crash course on the technical meaning of the rule of law. The history lesson caused me to recall Dave Schuler's Three Little Words and ponder that today the United States is not so much ruled by law as by regulations.

Dave's essay, published in September 2009, throws cold water on ideas under national discussion to restore America's industrial greatness, including creating a 'green jobs' sector and the one put forward by the Wall Street Journal's Dan Henninger in his recent discussion with John Batchelor. Dan proposed that what this country needs are some old-fashioned 'robber barons' -- of the kind who refused to accept government help -- to create industries that would employ millions of Americans.

Dave Schuler's "three little words" -- adverse business climate -- are the reality check to all these ideas:
... U. S. companies pay the highest corporate tax rate of any OECD country and the effective tax rate is even higher. ... I also doubt that any country in the world has as complex a regulatory environment as the United States. Not only is there the federal government but we have 50 state governments and a maze of county, city, and other local governments, all with their fingers in the regulatory pie. ...
And none of that speaks to the miles of red tape created by the World Trade Organization. Frankly it's a rather clever idea, if somewhat short-sighted, to bind nations to each other with so many trade regulations they have trouble extricating themselves from each other's economies, let alone declaring war on each other. But the WTO does not exist to defend capitalism.

The bottom line is that if a Vanderbilt rose today he'd face so many regulations he'd be forced to become a criminal or outsource his industry to another country. The Rule of Regulation is so pervasive in the USA it transforms every business into a lawbreaker-in-waiting.

As to how we went from the Rule of Law to the Rule of Regulation, I don't know exactly; maybe Mark Safranski can put together Cliff Notes to explain in a few words.

What I do know is that today's regulatory environment is entrenching graft at every level of government, from the local to the federal. And it's institutionalized socially-acceptable forms of extortion (e.g., corporations that habitually make large campaign contributions to both major parties). The only way out for large American companies is to get out -- to find a country with fewer regulations in which to base a major part of their operations.

Fast forward to Glenn Beck's February 20 keynote speech at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and the reaction from Mark Levin. (H/T Riehl World View) Mr Levin is a best-selling conservative author and talk-radio show host and a lawyer who served in various capacities in the Reagan White House. He's also one of the self-proclaimed guardians of Conservative core values:
... I have no idea what philosophy Glenn Beck is promoting. And neither does he. It's incoherent. One day it's populist, the next it's libertarian bordering on anarchy, next it's conservative but not really, etc. ...
Now what's missing from Mark Levin's list?

I interject that sometimes I wonder how many of Glenn's critics actually watch his television show on Fox News Cable; I get the impression that many critics, including those among the Republicans, have formed their opinion from watching snippets of the show at YouTube or from reading critiques.

I have watched his show, and except for a hiatus during the worst part of the Haitian earthquake crisis, I've watched virtually every show and taken notes. From this exercise I've found nothing incoherent about Glenn Beck's position. He's first and foremost a capitalist.

Yet I can see why Mark Levin finds Glenn's views confusing. Both the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican party have as much to do with capitalism as sand has to do with ink. Ditto for the Democratic party. In fact, the United States of America is a statist society, not a capitalist one. Government allows just enough 'free market' activity to provide a tax base worth bleeding.

Neither political party is willing to trust the capitalist system -- and neither do the voters who keep the parties in power and entrench the political status quo, while all the while complaining that things are always a mess in Washington.

So here we are today. I don't know whether Dave Schuler would agree with my views on the parties and capitalism; I'll have to ask him. But no matter how far apart we might be in such views, we're seeing the same outcome, which Dave summarized in his opinion of how far 'green jobs' can take this country on the road to economic recovery:
Based on past performance can you imagine the Obama Administration taking the steps necessary to make creating those jobs as attractive as they are in Germany let alone in China? I can’t. I can, however, imagine them subsidizing companies that import products made in Germany, Spain, Italy, Taiwan, Abu Dhabi, and China and touting the relative handful of marketing, sales, and administrative jobs in those companies as green jobs they’ve created.
You could substitute the name of any likely Republican presidential candidate for Obama's and it would be the same; any Republicans who say differently are kidding themselves. I believe that was the point of Glenn's CPAC speech.

Republicans insist that America's dedication to free market principles is what made this country great economically in the post-World War Two eras. So how is it that as soon as central banks began diversifying away from the dollar as a reserve currency, a burst speculative bubble was able to crash the American economy?

For that matter, how is it that the United States had been running on the fumes of speculative bubbles for almost two decades prior?

And if you want to dial it back to the LBJ-Nixon era, how is that Nixon had to shut the gold window to keep the U.S. economy from falling off the cliff, and all because West European governments got tired of shouldering American debt via massive dollar purchases?

(Nixon's cagey move gave our European allies no choice but to keep buying U.S. debt, although it unwittingly provoked France and Germany into getting serious about creating a eurozone currency that could compete with the dollar's reserve status.)

America the bastion of capitalism, my foot. Americans have confused gains from capitalism with the power of the U.S. dollar's function as the world's major reserve currency. It's that power that propped up the U.S. economy, even when American industry had been regulated out of being competitive.

If Mr Levin protests that he really is a capitalist -- I can't turn on the radio or TV these days without coming across an American businessperson or Libertarian or Conservative activist professing a love for capitalism.

The protestations remind me of a line from an old TV series called "The Equalizer." It was about a man who was dedicated to defending justice and left his wife and young son to pursue a career first as a spy then as a kind of vigilante.

When the son is in 20s he meets up with the father, who tells him, "I want you to know I always loved you."

The son replies, "I know, dad. It's just that you loved other things more."
Much thanks for the link! Though credit for raising this issue goes to Schmedlap. Miss P. wrote:

"As to how we went from the Rule of Law to the Rule of Regulation, I don't know exactly; maybe Mark Safranski can put together Cliff Notes to explain in a few words."

Easy."Aristocracy of Pull" ( Ayn Rand coined the term)

"What I do know is that today's regulatory environment is entrenching graft at every level of government, from the local to the federal."

Feature, not a bug. It's also the "Chicago Way" and a reason why I no longer live in Cook County. :)
Mark -- I'd completely forgotten that term from her writings. Well, that is Cliff Notes in three little words lol.
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