Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Two Laws

My theme today is difficult to formulate because it deals with “laws” that are genuine enough but are not laws we can test using the kinds of experiments that yield reliable Laws of Nature. Today I’m interested in two such laws, one in the economic and one in the international sphere. When the laws are violated, chaos tends to be the inevitable result.

An Economic Law

The economic law I have in mind is that just societies require a balance between freedom and its constraint. Freedom is to let people do. Constraint must come from government. If the organized power is abused, all but a relatively small portion of the population will become impoverished. If free markets are abused, all but a relatively small portion of the population will become impoverished as well because Monopoly will become a genuine fact of life. Rightly defined, monopoly is simply excessive power in the hands of a few. For this reason widespread economic inequality is a form of monopoly.

We are now violating that law because government is becoming an instrument of economic power—rather than its regulator. As a consequence of that, we’re witnessing the formations of classes that combat with one another. The sense of social unity, not surprisingly, is fraying quite visibly—even at the neighborhood level. Cracks are appearing all over the place. Calling them ethnic or racial is an altogether secondary phenomenon. The family is beginning to fail as an institution. Deadlocks are appearing everywhere—and when resolved are resolved only temporarily.

Income inequality is measured by the Gini coefficient. It stood at 0.397 in 1967 and at 0.477 in 2012 as measured at the household level—a 20 percent increase. A Gini of zero represents total equality; therefore the higher the ratio the greater the inequality. The U.S. is one of the more unequal economies in the world. The decline of families is illustrated by the drastic decline in the proportion that married-couple families with children represent among total households. That number was 40.3 percent in 1970 and 19.6 percent in 2012. By contrast, households with children headed by single adults were 10.6 percent of households in 1970, 17.8 percent in 2012. Two thirds of these households are headed by women.

A sign of fraying unity is the militarization of police—almost as if new borders are springing up inside the United States.

An International Law

The law I have in mind here is that sovereignty ought to be restricted to definable geographical territories. This means that nations should defend their territories, not their interests. Interests are almost impossible to define precisely enough to implement a policy of defending them coherently. Such is clearly the case today when I view the American reaction of the Islamic State’s expansions from Syria into Iraq. It does not threaten U.S. territory in any real sense. The only real solution would be to incorporate Syria and Iraq into the U.S. domain by outright conquest. And doing so would violate other long standing international laws.

The shift in the use of our national military—from defense of our borders to the pursuit of such intangibles as “national interest” matches our equipping local police with armored vehicles and the like domestically.

I wonder where these deviations from sensible obedience to visible laws will lead. I can extend the trends I see into the future by imagination—absent any genuinely effective and forceful reform—such as those, for instance, that Teddy Roosevelt undertook to curb the power of the trusts. The scenario that urges recognition is the separation of the United States into independent regions. Will that eventually take place? I think yes—unless we manage to “reinvent” the concept of governance somehow before the shatter takes an effective hold.

As for the international problem of trying to be the United States of the Globe, that effort, I fear, will have to wait until we’ve managed put our house in order again. And once that happens, we’ll probably be happy just to defend our borders.

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