American history between the Revolution and the approach of the Civil War, was dominated by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Background rumbling was from the French Revolution. The War of 1812 was merely an embarrassment.
Philadephia: America's Capital, 1774-1800
The Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from 1774 to 1788. Next, the new republic had its capital here from 1790 to 1800. Thoroughly Quaker Philadelphia was in the center of the founding twenty-five years when, and where, the enduring political institutions of America emerged.
Multi-national unions of republics are uncommon, usually brief and seldom voluntary. America has had three of them, but we only got it right the second time. Uncertain why we succeeded when many others failed, we remain skeptical of changing the rules. The Europeans, on the other hand, are uncertain whether they want to follow the Confederate States of America toward extinction, or the United States of America toward world domination. When deeply considered, it is a hard choice.
Reflections on Three Constitutions
The central difficulty in uniting sovereign Unions is to persuade nations of differing sizes and history, to agree to a uniform set of basic principles; one size seldom fits all. The double-voting solution, proposed by John Dickinson, was a major refinement of the principle of majority rule, allowing small states to co-exist with big ones without being overwhelmed. It slows agreement, but it strengthens the product.
Worldwide Common Currency and Corporate Headquarters
The Death of Money
Differences Between Europe and North America
Why Can't the Europeans Be More Like Us?
.American and European Unions, Compared(1)
European colonists carried their ideas of government to the corners of the world. So when Europe adopted the system of nation states at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, much of the rest of the world soon adopted it, too. Before then, Kings were mostly just warrior chieftains, and territorial borders were fluid. The new concepts were largely those of Cardinal Mazarin, Finance Minister of King Louis XIV of France, the Sun King. Henceforth, a national plot of land would have fixed boundaries, within which the local King established the rules. His religion defined the religion of the whole country, and could change if the King changed. He owned all of the property in the nation and could shift its ownership arbitrarily, particularly when he needed military support. Private property could be sold or transferred between individuals, but it remained sovereign territory; the distinction was between private transfer of ownership, and "alienation", which could only be negotiated between kings. The subsequent lack of individual religious freedom and the uncertainty of property transfer became two chief irritants, prompting revolts and emigration. A particular problem for the Cardinal was that Pope Innocent X felt betrayed and disliked these ideas intensely. The Peace of Westphalia did bring an end to the Eighty Year War between Spain and the Dutch, as well as the Thirty Year war involving the ruling houses of Habsburg, France, Sweden and others. Europe's era of religious warfare was now over, and secular rule was spreading. But few would disagree with ending an eighty-year war, no matter what the issues were. Although occasional wars continued to break out, the Treaty of Westphalia ushered in an era of relative peace.
|Peace of Westphalia Map|
Curiously, the motivation underlying the new rules of governance seems to have been the construction of an extensive canal system connecting the main rivers of Central Europe. The size and location of such canals had an immediate effect on commerce, and the rather heavy investment in such infrastructure demanded additional peace and stability to survive. Once the trade patterns adjusted to the new waterways, it became urgent to maintain them where they were. Once language patterns and religions became established within certain boundaries, it became materially harder to change them. This function of language was considered an advantage for four hundred years, but is now a major obstacle to achieving continental unity.
After many modifications caused by three centuries of wars, depressions and politics, this is the basic pattern which the Europeans have now decided to change, following the American example of a continent-wide republic. They have twenty-five nations to unify instead of the American thirteen, speaking far more than our one language, scarred by many more than just one revolution, many more industrial conflicts, more religious diversity, and at the moment, a financial crisis. The constitutional goals are not radically different from the U. S. Constitution, but since so much of the American approach was based on subtleties it is not possible to be confident whether the Europeans have omitted something vital or not. It is understandable for them to unify in small steps, starting with a unified currency. But they were unlucky in their timing. Unifying a common currency during a world financial panic is proving to be the hardest step, not the easiest.
DURING the twenty-five years (1776-1801) government was in Philadelphia, Americans who had rebelled against tight royal rule uncovered many defects in its opposite -- a loose association of states. Loose associations only preserve fairness by operating with unanimous consent, which is of course unfair to a thwarted majority, unless a dissenting minority thwarts itself as a gesture of kindness. The Founding Fathers ultimately devised a formula of weakening power by dividing it into layers -- national, state, county, municipal -- and seeking to confine minority dissent to the weakest political unit. Persuasion and peer pressure were given time to work up the ladder of appeal to a wider, more powerful body of citizens. Bottom upward by choice; top-down only in desperation. Furthermore, persuasion first, force as last resort. An implicit third safety valve emerged: if a good idea is smothered by a local concentration of bigotry, appealing to a wider population includes being heard by more viewpoints. No one claims to have authored this whole prescription or foreseen its hidden benefits; it apparently evolved by trial and error. There was another latent discovery for America's sparse population in a hostile wilderness: maintaining harmony was more essential than efficiency. It would be hard to consolidate more Quakerly concepts of governance in one document. Not exactly assembled, it emerged and was admired. The local Quaker merchants were living proof that harmony made riches for anyone, while force only works against weaker people. George Washington the cavalier general came to Philadelphia and gave it a softly Virginian twist, over and over: Honesty is the best policy. It seems to have originated in one of Aesop's Fables.
It is not necessary that the [Constitution] should be perfect; it is sufficient that [the Articles of Confederation are] more imperfect.
Recently examined documentation reveals James Madison, the main theoretician of the closed-door Constitutional Convention, to have been severely contemptuous of state legislatures at this time in his life, and rather severely defeated by John Dickinson in a political quarrel in mid-convention about the powers of small states. From this fragile evidence emerges the idea that in balancing the powers of state and national governments in the "federal" system, it may have been someone else's idea that the greater freedom to move out of an offending state into a more favorable one, would appreciably restrain state legislative abuses. Even with this feature built into the system with the national government to enforce it, Madison is said to have been in a state of depression that the Convention refused to agree to his idea of giving Congress a veto power over state laws. It took some time for improved transportation to strengthen this competition between states, but it may not be an accident that Delaware now leads the way in responding to the implicit opportunity.
Philosophy and history are different. The Framers gradually acknowledged a patched charter of tribal allegiance was insufficient and thus adjusted to the idea of a central government. They tweaked a decentralized model of governance to get the states out of the road, without antagonizing them so much they would not ratify it. Although it is commonplace to say the Articles of Confederation were a weak failure, the Articles did reflect American attitudes at the beginning of our formative period. The Constitution would not have been acceptable if the Articles of Confederation had not first been given a trial. By the end of the 1787 Philadelphia negotiation, the nature of the final proposal was to define a few absolutely minimum powers for a national government, identify a few other powers as destructive when in the hands of any other level of government, and leave a vast undefined area: where new and novel problems would be tried out in the states, then passed to a national level if necessary. Anticipating constant mid-course corrections was an important objective for even a minimalist Constitution, not the least of whose challenges was to create ways to keep it minimalist. Simplicity itself keeps it hard to change. Starting at the bottom of the layers of government continues to this day to introduce new and unexpected problems to the "laboratory of the states" or even lower, working upward only as proven necessary, or spread nationally only after the solution is highly successful. It is a legacy of slavery, the Civil War, and direct election of Senators (Amendment XVII) that many Americans still fail to welcome the merits of this approach, or lack the patience to try it for their pet ideas. Considering the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution as two documents with continuous goals, we got it right, the second time.
And we got it right in the environment of Eighteenth century Quaker Philadelphia, where tolerant examination of new ideas was more venerated than in any other place in the civilized world. With a combination of wisdom and impasse, minor issues were left to the future. It is true this sometimes creates problems of neglect. But it makes it possible to define those few issues which must never change. An unexpected virtue of minimalism surfaced eighty years later: many men understood it well enough to die for it.
"John Marshall and the Constitution"
Much has been written about the separation and balance of powers between the three branches of the federal government. However, the real balance of power in the Constitution in 1787 was vertical, between the central government and the constituent states. Balancing power horizontally, within the central government's branches, is a way of preventing one side of this other argument from tilting the state/federal balance in its own favor, or slowing down the effect of any victories by one side. In other words, it preserved citizen liberty to choose. From this continuing two-dimensional struggle emerges the explanation for filibusters, the seniority system, the confirmation process for Supreme Court and Cabinet appointments. It also calls into question the Seventeenth Amendment, where the state legislatures lost the power to appoint U.S. Senators. In 1786 the states had all the power, in 2009 state power is much diminished; but it is not entirely gone by any means. It is true the cry for states rights, essentially an appeal to the Deity for Justice, is futile. If states are to wrest power back from the federal government, it will be by the adroit exercise of powers buried within the balanced powers of the federal branches, but it can succeed if the public ever wants it to succeed. The Framers seem to have overlooked the possibility that federal power could someday outgrow its blood supply, simply growing too big to manage. It is also true the Framers neglected the possibility of a protracted period of disagreement between two halves of the electorate. At least in these particulars, there is room for further evolution of the Constitutional principle.
While features of the present Constitution can sometimes be linked to correction of flaws in the Articles, one by one amendment never seemed to be quite enough. Subsequent analysis of Original Intent has often had to contend with the unspoken intent of earlier negotiators to strengthen partisan advantage in later struggles. The political battles being fought at the beginning, which except for slavery are substantially the same today, were sometimes being promoted for reasons which now seem merely quaint. Fine, everyone can agree it was complex. Still there was a recurring uneasiness: what was the underlying flaw in the Articles? What, as they say, is the take-home point?
One widely accepted summary, probably a correct one, of what was centrally wrong with the Articles of Confederation, lies in a concise observation, which follows, from Edward S. Corwin's book John Marshall and the Constitution:
"The vital defect of the system of government provided by the soon obsolete Articles of Confederation lay in the fact that it operated not upon the individual citizens of the United States but upon the States in their corporate capacities. As a consequence the prescribed duties of any law passed by Congress in pursuance of powers derived from the Articles of Confederation could not be enforced."
And that's how many Revolutionary Americans, possibly most of them, had wanted to have it. They were in revolt against all strong government, not just the King of England. They surely would have applauded Lord Acton's declaration that "All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Thirteen years of near-anarchy taught them they must at least give some limited powers to a central government, but it was to be no more than absolutely necessary. For some, the Ulster Scots in particular, even the absolutely minimum amount was still just a bit too much. In effect, these objectors wanted a democracy, not a republic.
To deconstruct Professor Corwin's analysis somewhat, the equality-driven followers of Thomas Jefferson believed the insurmountable obstacle for uniting sovereign states is that they are sovereign, and won't give it up. The merit-driven followers of Alexander Hamilton, Robert Morris and George Washington bitterly resisted; in business and in war you need the best leaders to rise to power. The function of common men is to select the best among themselves to be leaders. Only James Madison seems to have grasped that ideal government might tend more toward a republic for purposes of the enumerated federal powers plus enumerated powers specifically denied to the states. For lesser issues, perhaps a purer democracy would be just as workable. However, in operation it took scarcely a year to discover that the common man would not automatically select the best man he knew to be his representative. In fact, there exists a considerable populist sentiment, that wealth and success outside government are actually disqualifications for office. To some extent, this reverse social Darwinism is grounded in an unwillingness of the upper class to serve in government, perhaps because service to the country interferes with the lifestyle of unrestrained power and wealth which other occupations allow, but is forbidden to public servants. In any event, we persist in the fruitless argument whether America is a democracy or a republic; it was designed to be a mixture of both. Within the time of the first presidency the unattractive realities of mixing human nature with elective politics transformed the meanings of the Constitutional document to something that was never written there, and other nations have largely failed to grasp. It apparently also worked a major transformation in its main author. James Madison first quarreled with his ally, Alexander Hamilton, and joined forces with the Constitution-doubter Thomas Jefferson. His mentor and idol, George Washington, essentially never spoke to him again.
States rights no longer confronts America directly, because the Founding Fathers managed to get around it until the Civil War, and then the Fourteenth Amendment enabled the federal judiciary to attenuate state sovereignty somewhat further without eliminating the architecture of a federation of states. In other words, in two main steps we deprived the states of some sovereignty, but no more than absolutely necessary, and we took more than a century to do it. The European Union currently faces the same obstacle; this is how we solved it. If they can get the same result in some other peaceful way, good luck to them. Our framers used the language "Congress may...or Congress may not..." They only dared to strip state legislaures of a few powers, because they needed the legislatures to ratify the Constitution, a gun you can only fire once. Thus, they forbade states the right to issue paper money, the power to interfere in private contracts, and such, as enumerated in Article I, Section X , where the operative phrase is "The states are forbidden to..". The framers were willing to strip the unformed Congress of many more specific powers than the all-too-existing states; the Constitution can be read as a proclamation of the powers which any central government simply must possess. There might be other desirable powers, but here is the minimum. After eighty years, individual Southern states asserted their unlimited powers extended to nullification and secession, and because of a perceived need to preserve slavery would not back down. The Constitutional consequence of this national tragedy was the Due Process section of the Fourteenth Amendment, which has since been purported by the Supreme Court to mean that whatever the federal government may not do, the states may not do, either. However, Due Process traces back to the Magna Carta, and has been so tormented by interpretation that for the purpose stated, it is growing somewhat too elusive to remain useful. For historical reasons, we never gave a fair trial to the original proposal to address the federal/state dilemma. The Constitutional Convention was held in confidence, many delegates changed their minds along the way, and many ideas were more perceived than enunciated. It is plausible that the original strategy originated with Madison's teachers and emerged from many discussions, but there were several delegates in attendance with the sophistication to originate it. In a convention of egotists, there were even a few who would put their ideas in someone else's mouth.
The concept of how to curtail power in a non-violent way, can be called Regulatory Competition. Mitt Romney seemingly plans to promote the idea as a central feature of his political run for President of the United States, using a variant he has developed with Glenn Hubbard, the Dean of the Columbia University School of Business. The idea does still work reasonably well with state taxes and corporate regulation. If a state raises a tax, estate tax for example, in a burdensome way, people will flee to a state with more reasonable taxation. Corporations have learned how to shift legal headquarters to Delaware and other states which court them, and in really desperate cases will move factories or whole businesses. There is little doubt this discipline is effective, and little doubt that some cities and states have been punished severely for encouraging an anti-business environment. Whether the Fourteenth Amendment could be cleverly amended to expand this competitive effect without reintroducing segregation or the like, has not been seriously considered, but perhaps it should be. There are however not too many alternatives to consider.
As far as advising our European friends is concerned, it would be important to point out that the original version of Regulatory Competition completely depends for its effectiveness on freedom to flee to some other state within the union. A common language is a big help to unity, but ability to move residence is essential, so for practical purposes both a common language and freedom of migration are required. Underlying such concessions is a sense of tolerance of cultural differences. That is unfortunately where most such proposed unions have either resorted to violence, or failed to unite. And of course, the power which might otherwise be abused, must then be shifted from the federal, back to a state level. What surfaces is a sort of one-way street. It remains far easier to devolve into little statelets, than to unite for the benefits of scale. A working majority under the likes of Thomas Jefferson might have been assembled in the Nineteenth century but was held back by coping with the expanding frontier. During the Twentieth century it would have been held back by the need to deal with world power. The Second Tea Party seems to have some inclination along these lines, but it remains to be seen whether some overwhelming need for world power will once more overcome the obvious national ambivalence about it.
The revised proposal for regulatory competition takes the proposal to a different level, possibly a more workable one. Workers in the United States can freely move from one state to another, but are restrained by national laws from equally free movement between nations. Removing that barrier makes the European Union attractive, although it inflames local nationalism. Since it seems more palatable to allow currency to move, perhaps a little tinkering would be sufficient to permit uniform monetary rules to be the hammer which forces nations into permitting free trade on a global scale. The people themselves can remain at home in their national costumes, perhaps perfecting their religions in more churches, and language skills in more schools. Meanwhile the insight of Adam Smith would prevail for the long-term prosperity of everyone. Each party in a transaction feels enriched by it, the seller preferring to have the money, and the buyer preferring to own the goods. Multiplied a trillion-fold, these improvements in everyone's condition result in the steady enrichment of all.
|President James Madison|
JAMES Madison, Washington's floor manager at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, stated the main necessity for holding the Convention at all arose from selfish and untrustworthy human nature. In the theology of the time, mankind was stained with original sin. Particularly in France however, many 18th century romanticists responded to the Enlightenment by defiantly declaring human nature is born pure in heart. In their view, current evils grow from the pollution of civilization, without which it might be possible to have no government at all. At its root, this romanticism was an outcry against progress and civilization, blaming the world's troubles on the Industrial Revolution, so to speak. From Madison's skeptical viewpoint, the most awkward feature of the Romantic Period was its adoption by his Francophile friend and neighbor, Thomas Jefferson, current American ambassador to France. Madison recognized that Jefferson and Patrick Henry were prepared to assail any attempt to add power to a central government, particularly if it weakened the power of Virginia. As indeed they promptly came forward to do.
|Treaty of Paris|
After fighting an eight-year war for freedom, American belief was wide-spread that it was time to draw back from such anarchy. But there was wide-spread suspicion in every other direction, too. England seemed to concede, not defeat but only current military overstretch, possibly displaying reluctance to see its former colonies with full sovereignty. George III might wait for America to weaken itself and then try to take them back. Britain almost couldn't do anything right; it was also possibly up to no good when the Treaty of Paris astonishingly conceded land to the Mississippi instead of stopping at the Appalachians. Even our ally France nursed regrets for its somewhat older concessions after the French and Indian War. If even the two mightiest nations of Europe could not maintain order in the vast North American wilderness, perhaps they felt the inexperienced colonies would soon collapse from the effort. Further intra-European wars seemed likely, and could soon spread from Europe to the Western hemisphere. The guillotine was bad enough, Bonaparte would be worse. Our governance as a league of states was in fact, only a league of armies. The Articles of Confederation would not quell inter-state rivalries in peacetime, as only four years (1783-87) experience after the Treaty of Paris were clearly foreshadowing. It was time we listened to Benjamin Franklin, who had been arguing since the Albany Conference of 1745 for unification of the colonies, and to Robert Morris who had been arguing for a written constitution since 1776, a bicameral legislature since 1781, government by professional departments instead of congressional committees, and the ability to levy national taxes -- since at least 1778. Professor Witherspoon of Princeton had provided some ideas about how to make these proposals self-enforcing, Washington was firmly behind a Republican system and opposed to a monarchy. On the other hand, everyone knew that under the Articles of Confederation the thirteen States had often refused to pay their share, abused their ability to deal independently with foreigners, dealt unfairly with their neighbors, and capriciously mistreated their own citizens. It was time to act boldly. With a blue-ribbon convention of national heroes behind these simple ideas, surely it would be possible to convince the sovereign state legislatures to dethrone themselves.
Two men quietly applied even deeper thinking than that; Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, and John Marshall of Virginia. Both of them had served in state legislatures, both were dismayed by the experience. Franklin also had a long period of close-up observation of the British Parliament, suffering personal abuse there, and had reason to reflect on the earlier abuses by that Parliament under Cromwell during the English Civil War. Certain bad tendencies seemed universal in legislative bodies. Although John Marshall was not a member of the Virginia Constitutional delegation in 1787, he was active in the politics of the group it represented back home. Both Marshall and Franklin had reason to be uneasy about misbehavior in representative bodies, whether called legislatures, congresses, or parliaments. When people said states misbehaved under the Confederation arrangement, they really meant legislatures misbehaved. Franklin did what he could within the Convention to curb this observed behavior by enumerating limited powers, and endorsing power balanced against power. When he had nudged it as far as he could, he wearily agreed to give the product a try. Franklin did not trust Utopias, but he had lived among Quakers for years, observing one Utopian society which seemed to endure without resorting to tyranny.
The Constitutional provisions in Article I, Section X became the heart of what the 1787 Convention wanted to change about the relationship of the national and state governments.
States are forbidden to ...
"emit bills of credit, make anything but gold or silver a legal tender in payment of debts, pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts."
This brief clause is almost a presentment of what state legislatures were doing, which serious patriots regarded as wholly unacceptable. Failure of states to abide by the terms of international treaties must be included in such a summary, although the new Constitution went beyond the powers of states by locating treaties beyond the power of even Congress to change, once ratified. Some observers in fact feel that within the First Article clause, protecting the sanctity of contracts was really the nut of the matter. In one way or another, most states seemed to resort to paying their debts with inflation, somehow failing to recognize that borrowing never pays debts, it only postpones them. The great bulk of this new nation's business was to be conducted as voluntary agreements between two contracting parties. The State -- and the states -- were to stay out of the private sector, except as referee, to see that both sides kept their agreements. As a footnote, the matter of government intervention in private affairs was to rise again in the behavior of the Executive branch in the 1937 Court Packing uproar, and in the 2009 health insurance legislation. Some critics therefore have discomfort that the heaviest Constitutional weight was placed by the Founding Fathers on protecting private property. Are not other issues more important, they ask, like life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? The Founders, of course, were here not ranking benevolences by value; they were stating principal urgencies for convening the meeting. In a strange unintended way, they here stumbled on the right to property as the foundation for all other rights. But John Marshall understood it was true, and was to spend thirty years hammering it into place. People broke individual promises by defaulting on debts; they did the same collectively as governments, using inflation.
|It's Only Paper|
The Economist, printed in London, refers to the United States in its October 17, 2011 edition as the "World's largest currency union", but goes on to state it only became a true currency union in the Presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. That's sort of the case, even though most people suppose Alexander Hamilton unified American monetary affairs with the Compromise of 1790 which among other things traded the nation's capital away from Philadelphia. No, Hamilton only unified the Revolutionary War debts, which to be sure, at that time were the main debts of the new nation. In time, the country and the economy grew in size until our currency was no longer unified, because the individual states and banks were legally free to issue their own money. Nicholas Biddle of the Second National Bank had an irritating habit of buying up the circulating currency of a weak bank, and presenting it as a bagful to the teller's window. If the bank was really overextended, it then went bankrupt, and other marginal currency-issuers could observe a bitter stress test about printing unreserved paper money. According to The Economist, the main stabilizer was not migration of money, but migration of workers. Unemployed people by the many thousand would move to a state or territory with a labor shortage, a solution made practical by the extremely low cost of real estate. In Europe, a far more practical adjustment remains the moving of funds from one state to another, although there is today enough migration across the Mediterranean to demonstrate how disruptive it is to mix extremes of unwelcome language, religion and culture. In comparing the American and European experiences we thus have two quite different systems to compare, although distinctive conditions often bring out the main issues. The problem of maintaining a common currency union for example is hard enough, while the Europeans have the similar but not identical problem of devising a stable one from a large number of differing ones.
After three hundred years of fumbling America has perhaps muddled through to a currency union that works. Resting on the fact that most Americans are either debtors or creditors, and the rest mostly don't care, the quantity and value of American dollars since 1913 have been negotiated between banking and the U.S. Treasury with the Federal Reserve as umpire. During that last century we have endured two major depressions and a dozen recessions, abandoned the gold standard, and fought a number of wars; but the American currency union has never given serious signs of weakness. It would appear that the main problems with currency unions appear at the beginning, in putting them together. After the transition, things appear to get easier. Bank profits are improved by higher interest rates, while all governments, perpetually in debt, want lower ones. Ultimately of course the real tension is between the creditors and debtors, but banks and Treasury seem adequate surrogates. Most creditors place trust in the incentives of banks to prevail, debtors trust government; both sides should have learned trickiness in endless negotiations is futile. What was once a battlefield, is now mostly peaceful; these people actually respect each other. Many people may occasionally dislike an outcome, but all acknowledge the tension produces legitimate compromise.
|Match Wits with Ben Franklin|
Aside from some "don't ask, don't tell" mystery that somehow compels assent by regions of the country who feel betrayed by agreements their representatives have made, negotiating postures are pretty simple and clear. It is safely assumed the government wants to inflate; all governments have done so for thousands of years. Therefore, the basic Federal Reserve policy of targeting interest rates to restrain inflation is probably a concession to banks. Banks would mostly want the highest rate that does not cause a recession. Debtors do not mind lower rates leading to just a little inflation, hoping to pay off their debts later with cheaper money. Government, acting as agent for debtors, additionally knows that rampant inflation loses elections and occasionally, as in inter-war Germany and Austria, destroys the middle class. So, with everyone else resisting inflation, debtors must be satisfied with 2% annual inflation. That's arbitrary, reflecting its origin in the haggling process. Inflation-targeting plus two percent; that's the system.
If only there weren't all those other countries in the world. If they inflate or deflate, we could just float our currency exchange rate to maintain international trade; that isn't so bad, although frequent readjustment of prices is a costly nuisance. But if some country freezes its currency at an unrealistic price, speculators will move money around to take advantage. Enter Gresham's Law (commonly expressed as "Bad money drives out the Good".) Gresham's original phrasing is actually more apt: "When two currencies of unequal value circulate together, the good currency quickly disappears." So, when truant governments cheat on currency values, well-behaved countries find their own currency getting hoarded. Potentially, that leads to currency shortages, as happened to Argentina when Brazil devalued in 1999. So, countries running an honest currency nevertheless feel pressure to print more; Brazil "exported its inflation" to Argentina. Plenty of wars have been started for less provocation. When something causes that extra money to come out of hiding, there will be spreading inflation, notwithstanding attempts to isolate foreign inflation by the central banks of more responsible nations. Furthermore, runaway inflation can unsettle governments, as it did in the Argentina example, going from one extreme to the opposite. There is thus wide-spread sympathy for currency unions, even though locally independent currencies can sometimes better adjust to local commotions, typically by devaluing the currency and then rejoining the currency union at a more realistic price. The Federal Reserve in our case would be forced to raise interest rates sky high, promptly triggering housing and stock market crashes. So the point returns; if our Federal Reserve system works so well, why can't everybody do the same thing on an international level. In fact, what's the matter with having one big world currency?
Maybe, some say, we could have a World Reserve Bank, issuing a common international currency. What we now have in place is U.S. money serving as a Reserve Currency for the world. The force behind this system is again Gresham's Law, that since we have the strongest currency in the world, when it circulates in other countries in the company of weaker local currencies, it quickly "disappears". That is, it is hoarded out of sight until nothing but local money remains visible. Under these circumstances, only the United States with the world's Reserve currency is able to print money without creating inflation. Unfortunately, that implies that if it should ever weaken, it will quickly reappear and flood the host country with inflation, whereupon the host government will ship it all back to enjoy your own inflation, thank you. Thus, being the reserve currency for the whole world allows you to have some inflation and ship it abroad, but if it ever comes back home, there could be a painful disruption. The last time this happened was when the British Pound surrendered the reserve role to the American dollar. It was a bad time for the British economy.
The question periodically arises whether it might be better to use a "basket" of currencies as the reserve against temporary monetary shortages, with the United States trading away some of its free ride on inflation in return for reducing the risk of someday getting it all back at once.
Using a basket of everybody's money as a pool of international reserves might smooth out the tidal waves, but it probably would not create the same stability from tempests we enjoy with the Federal Reserve. If you regard a country's money supply as one big short-term bond, then a basket of currencies is a basket of bonds, issued by a world full of debtors. In that situation, pressure for world-wide inflation is inevitable. In a world with nationalized banks and/or subsidized banking systems, it is hard to imagine any international banking voice without a strong political component. Mandatory contributions of gold bullion might be considered, but it is hard to think of any adequate substitute for the flexibility of adversary tension between permanent creditors and permanent debtors. The situation is not permanently hopeless however, just remote. The enduring risk is that some nations always have more to lose from a collapse of trade than others. Continuing improvement in world economic conditions may one day make a unified world currency feasible. As St. Augustine famously said, "Make me chaste, but not yet."
|Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution, David Waldstreicher ISBN-13: 978-0809083152||Amazon|
Philadelphia had the recent pleasure of a visit by Christian Noyer, the Governor of the Banque de France, offering to a Federal Reserve Bank audience a view from inside the Eurosystem's monetary policy. Mr. Noyer was a designer of the Euro, or common currency of Europe. A charming and polished man of education, he brought along a document which hangs in his office, dated June 5, 1779, signed by John Jay on behalf of the Continental Congress, sent to Benjamin Franklin to give to Caron de Beaumarchais. Since Independence Hall is visible from the upper windows of the building where he was speaking, it was a charming touch.
|European Central Bank|
The European financial system consists of one monetary policy, set by the European Central Bank, but twelve (soon to be twenty-five) fiscal policies, set by the various governments. This was once thought to represent a major difference from the American Federal Reserve, but in fact it hardly matters. Our fifty component states are not permitted to run deficits, but our federal government runs deficits, plenty of them, and it turns out to make little practical difference if a Central Bank must float bonds to pay for a deficit arriving in one envelope or twelve. What matters is the size of the total. From that starting point, the central bank struggles to modify matters to restrain inflation, or combat unemployment. The main tool at the bank's disposal relates to the fact that governments no longer fear to print more money than they can redeem in gold. They print money, all right, but the spigot is now turned down when inflation begins to appear. In theory, at least, inflation is not possible if the central bank is able to maintain this policy. Of course, if money created in the past comes flooding in from abroad or out of mattresses, there might be a problem. Central bankers seem like terribly powerful people, until you count up the people they can't control. The first are the politicians who create those deficits.
European politicians believe their constituents prize security above all else, a condition known as socialism. High taxes, high unemployment, and slow economic growth are considered more tolerable in Europe than sacrificing pensions, health care, and other features of the social safety net; out of this come government deficits, then maybe inflation. The central bank is told to make the best of it.
Recently, however, long-term interest rates have failed to rise in response to rising deficits, and speculation abounds as to why that should be so. It creates uneasiness to hear that the finances of the world are simply a "conundrum". And finally, foreigners will flee from an inflated currency, eventually triggering a devaluation. A few years ago, Argentina refused to devalue, but the result was a devastating recession when their foreign trading partners refused to deal with an unrealistic currency.
A government which refuses to respond to these "signals" from the bond market and foreigners, will be forced to take some undesirable actions. In Europe, it is to oppose globalization of the economy, thereby hurting everybody but especially poor nations. And the internal European unemployment is shifted as much as possible onto the backs of immigrants, even migrants from within the European community. Take that far enough, and you get serious threats to world peace. Even within the European community, many of the policies which protect the welfare state will consciously injure their own economic growth. Reform is resisted.
Many needed reforms are obvious to policy makers in Europe, and the American example would often seem to be convincing. But it isn't, because Europeans terrified of losing their welfare state recognize that the American model includes a large amount of contempt for socialism, no matter how otherwise successful it is. The interesting thing has been that the Scandanavian countries have an equally extensive welfare safety net, but have nevertheless prospered by adopting free-market reforms. There are signs that this experience is beginning to convince Europeans it is possible to work their way out of the dilemmas.
After his talk, which avoided mention of many of these concerns in the mind of his audience, Governor Noyer was even more charming in cocktail-party mode, but one thing made his face turn beet red. When asked what the John Jay letter was all about, he had to admit he hadn't the foggiest. It was just something hanging on his wall that seemed appropriate for a trip to Philadelphia.
|George W Bush|
My Quaker Friends are comfortable with the firm position that no war can be justified. This sometimes leads to feeling it's unnecessary even to consider the justifications or the mitigating circumstances of any war, since nothing can be said which will lessen their opposition. My Democrat friends seem to have an equally closed mind, one which leads them to emotional denunciations of George Bush which I know cannot be completely reasonable. However, George Bush and I went to the same sort of schools, feel passionately about the same sort of libertarian economics. I like his father very much, even though our association in the same college class was very brief. In short, I want to give this man every benefit of doubt and fairness, even in the face of what I must acknowledge to Quakers and Democrats is a glum recognition of the strength of their strongest argument. I don't like wars, I don't like political spin. But it is important to me to feel I am doing my own thinking, so I resolved to make as good a case for W as I possibly could. After that, perhaps I could take time to see how well I had convinced myself.
We frequently hear that America is the only superpower in the world; our president is the most powerful man alive. I suspect George Bush believes that, too. His formulation is likely to be that he has found himself the Chief Executive, the CEO, of the world. His training and background tell him how to manage a huge enterprise: delegate authority. That is, assign general goals to subordinates. Prior to 1918, an American president would assign foreign affairs to his State Department.
Our involvement in several cataclysmic wars made clear that large portions of the world would not leave us alone, nor respond to the persuasiveness of diplomats, either. Certain governments at certain times, would have to be assigned to the Department of Defense. This technique worked even better than we expected; Germany, Japan, and Italy became our most effective allies.
The rest of the non-American World was turned over to the multi-national corporations. More accurately, perhaps, the multinationals took the rest of the world away from the State Department and proceeded to subdue a great deal of it. South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Poland, the Baltic states, Hungary, India, the Czech Republic seemed to do it eagerly, China did it in its own way, and much of the rest did it grudgingly. Russia and mainland China, along with Canada and Mexico, are special cases. Perhaps an interdisciplinary approach needs to be devised for them.
But by the time the younger Bush President came to power, it had become clear that none of our approaches, diplomatic, military or economic, would make much difference to a large subcivilized part of the world. Africa and vast stretches of Central Asia were just about the same as they were in 1900. Like South America, it looked as though they could be safely ignored -- until the events of September 11 showed that they could not be. Furthermore, it was clear to the American government that this disaffected region not only hated us, but had the capability of making atom bombs, and the oil revenues to finance a very destructive war against civilization. In Texas parlance, it's them or us.
The largely marginalized State Department quite properly responded to the enraged vigilante police action by protesting that you can't intimidate millions of people who essentially have nothing to lose. The diplomatic corps has long been a creature of a handful of universities who were once themselves captured by sit-ins and more recently by tenure.
|Peace Treaty of Westphalia 1648|
Europeans, long accustomed to providing Americans with cultural models, sometimes have a little trouble acknowledging the emerging European Union is based on the American design of 1787 Philadelphia. So perhaps it is tactless to emphasize they might encounter some of the same problems. The success of our design is a good reason to imitate it, and may, in fact, be a chief reason to boast about it. But look at it another way. Since we are uncertain why many provisions work so well, we are reluctant to change them; but the proud Europeans cannot be expected to adopt them for a vague reason like that. The main point is to maintain the right degree of vigilance and flexibility, a difficult measurement to make or to transfer to different circumstances. Our Constitution is more right than wrong, so it was intentionally made hard to change. Technically the Constitution has been amended twenty-seven times. Omitting the Bill of Rights, minor technical changes leave us with only five substantial amendments in two centuries, mostly enlargements of the voting franchise. But notice on top of a small base, we have built a legal structure of 100,000 pages of Federal statutes, almost a million pages of regulations, and at least double that number of state laws. Our legal system has many flaws, but smaller ones are easier to change. The great danger for Europeans lies in taking a similarly huge body of multi-nation statutes, then attempting to cram them into a constitution which by definition has been made hard to change. James Madison was not in a position to see this point. Looking for it in The Federalist Papers is futile, because they were written to persuade New York to ratify the Constitution, and contain a moderate amount of slant. Add to all that a recognition that the U.S. Supreme Court makes a hundred little amendments every year. It follows it would be bold indeed to list a handful of examples of what the Europeans should avoid at all costs, or omit at their peril. One point seems undeniable, consolidating a number of former colonies is easier than consolidating sovereign nations. Nations start with more sovereignty, so they individually have more power to lose in a consolidation.
The success of our design is a good reason to imitate it, and may in fact be the chief reason to boast of it.
The people in power in the individual nations of Europe, and the political factions which elected them, don't really want to give up power to a central government in Strasbourg and Brussels. They wouldn't be human if they did. Much the same reluctance inspired our thirteen colonies in the Eighteenth Century, and we circumvented it by excluding state officials from the ratifying conventions. Imagine telling that to the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Having multiple sovereignties breeds jealousies, particularly when the issue is governance. Our ratifying process was rancorous, and echoes of it still reverberate. If transitions are too rapid, even from a bad system to a good one, changes can prove disruptive. For ousted incumbents, all transitions are too rapid. The Europeans additionally have a big problem we didn't have, of multiple languages, so harmony will be slower to arrive -- try to imagine a common market in the Tower of Babel. By lacking multiple languages to rally around, we stumbled into a two-party system, which is actually a big improvement over more-or-less proportional representation by multiple parties. Without having any foresight on the issue, we established a system in which "deals" are made internally and voluntarily, between the extremists within each of the two major parties before the November elections, because by then the central issue has become whether the party might not win with a particular candidate standing on a particular platform. The policy positions of the nominees of both major parties draw closer together, and we don't get a revolution when one of them does win, even by a single hanging chad or questionable mortgage. Unfortunately the candidates are usually so close to the haphazard process of pre-election compromise that they often consider it less binding than the public does. But by major contrast, in an overtly multi-party system a coalition is formed after the election is over, so the "deals" between splinter parties must also be made after the election is over; voters are completely cut out of the most important decision-making. Splinter parties are an easy recourse for nations with many minorities, and are to be avoided at all costs. If a unified nation really cannot be constructed without such recourse, perhaps they would be better off with a King. Since political parties were not mentioned in the American Constitution, this advantage of a two-party system has never been widely debated.
Our experience teaches one more important principle, unwritten in the Constitution. The outstanding message of the American experience from 1787 to 1850, especially the twenty year period after Washington's presidency (and quite unforeseen by the Founding Fathers), is that no party in power can see any merit to the rights of the minority until it has itself spent some time out of power. Nor can any party of complainers and reformers see any merit in prudent caution until it has itself spend some time wielding power. Let's suggest a rule to the Europeans: every political faction is untrustworthy until it has spent two terms in office, and then two terms out of office. It would appear it takes even longer for political parties to mature than it does for governments. We achieved this hat trick by starting out with an Electoral College that didn't work very well, most particularly in the tied election of 1800. Once the Electoral College served its purpose of effecting compromise at the Constitutional Convention, we have largely ignored it as a result of the 1800 fiasco. Perhaps another approach is to change it in stages, considering the Articles of Confederation as a preliminary step to enacting a Constitution, as it were. Unfortunately, most European nations can point to several constitutions in their past, without significant progress toward continental unity. It even seems likely the main problem is not in the Constitution at all, but in wider differences between components at the outset. And a longer history of struggles in the past, which we forgot when we crossed the ocean because so few wanted to repeat the stormy voyage.
Maybe even that assessment is too generous to our own history; after all, in 1860 we had our Civil War. You'd certainly hate to think it was essential to have one of those, until you reflect that Europe really has had four or five major wars during the past two hundred years. Could it actually be true that peaceful union leads to further peace? George Washington denounced standing armies, while Dwight Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex. Perhaps both of them were warning that war-like behavior leads more quickly to war, by eliminating preliminary steps.
|The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787||Farrand's Records|
|Chart of the Thirteen Original Colonies||American History|
|U.S. Constitution||Legal Encyclopedia|
We must be grateful to the distinguished litigator, Tom Monteverde, for bringing up the topic of the importance of the jury in American history. Juries seldom realize how much power they can have if they unite on a common purpose. In fact, juries have the implicit right to veto almost anything the rest of government does, by rendering it unenforceable.
The right to a jury trial originated in the Magna Carta in 1215, but a jury's essentially unlimited power was established four centuries later by Quakers. This legal revolution grew out of the 1670 Hay-market case, where the defendant was William Penn. Penn was accused of the awesome crime of preaching Quakerism to an unlawful assembly, and while he freely admitted his guilt he challenged the righteousness of such a law. The jury refused to convict him. The judge thus faced a defendant who said he was guilty and a jury that said he wasn't. So, the exasperated judge responded -- by putting the jury in jail without food.
The juror Edward Bushell appealed to the Court of Common Pleas, where the problem took on new dimensions. The Justices certainly didn't want juries flouting the law, but nevertheless couldn't condone a jury being punished for its verdict. Chief Justice Vaughn decided that intimidating a jury was worse than extending its powers, so the verdict of Not Guilty was upheld, and Penn was set free. Essentially, Vaughn agreed that any jury that couldn't acquit was not really a jury. In this way, the legal principle of Jury Nullification of a Law was created. A verdict of not guilty couldn't make William Penn innocent, because he pleaded guilty. A verdict of not guilty, under these circumstances, meant the law had been rejected. Jury nullification thus got to be part of English Common Law, hence ultimately part of the American judicial system.
This piece of common law was a pointed restatement of just who was entitled to make laws in a nation, whether or not nominally it was ruled by a king, or a congress. Repeated British evasion of the principles of jury trial became an important reason the American colonists eventually went to war for independence. The 1735 trial of Peter Zenger was an instance where Andrew Hamilton, the original "Philadelphia Lawyer", convinced a jury that a British law against newspapers criticizing public officials for improper conduct was too outrageous to deserve enforcement in their court. In that case, defiance became even more likely when the judge instructed the annoyed jury that "the truth is no defense". Benjamin Franklin's Pennsylvania Gazette was here quick to come to the side of jury nullification, saying, "If it is not the law, it ought to be law, and will always be law wherever justice prevails."
The Zenger case is often stated to be the origin of the Freedom of the Press in our Constitution fifty years later, but in fact the First Amendment merely provides that Congress shall pass no laws like that. Hamilton had persuaded the Zenger jury they already had the power to stop enforcement of such tyranny, and the First Amendment could be seen as trying to prevent enactment of laws that foreseeably incite a jury to revolt.
The Navigation Acts of the British government, for example, were predictably offensive to the American colonists, whose randomly chosen representatives on juries then rendered unenforceable with their wide-spread refusal to convict. This in turn provoked the British ministry. John Adams made a particularly famous defense of John Hancock who was being punished with confiscation of his ship and a fine of triple the cargo's value. Adams was later singled out as the only named American rebel the British refused to exempt from hanging if they caught him. As everyone knows, Hancock was the first to step up and sign the Declaration of Independence, because by 1776 there was widespread colonial outrage over the British strategem of transferring cases to the (non-jury) Admiralty Court. Many colonists who privately regarded Hancock as a smuggler were roused to rebellion by the British government thus denying a defendant his right to a jury trial, especially by a jury almost certain not to convict him. To taxation without representation was added the obscenity of enforcement without due process. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the newly created United States, ruled in 1794 that "The Jury has the right to determine the law as well as the facts." And Thomas Jefferson built a whole political party on the right of common people to overturn their government, somewhat softening it is true when he saw where the French Revolution was going. Jury Nullification then lay fairly dormant for fifty years. But since the founding of the Republic and the reputation of many of the most prominent founders was based on it, there was scarcely need for emphasis.
And then, the Fugitive Slave Law " of 1850 began to sink in. It became evident that juries in the Northern states would routinely refuse to convict anyone under that law, or under the Dred Scott decision, or any other similar mandate of any branch of government. In effect, Northern juries threw down the gauntlet that if you wanted to preserve the right of trial by jury, you had better stop prosecuting those who flouted the Fugitive Slave law. In even broader terms, if you want to preserve a national government, you better be cautious about strong arming any impassioned local consensus. A rough translation of that in detail was that no filibuster, no log-rolling, no compromises, no oratory, no threats or other maneuvers in Congress were going to compel Northern juries to enforce slavery within their boundaries of control. All statutes lose some of their majesty when the congressional voting process is intensely examined, and public scrutiny of this law's passage had been particularly searching. Even if Southern congressmen were successful in passing such laws, it wasn't going to have any effect around here. The leaders of Southern states quickly got a related message, and their own translation of it was, we have got to declare our independence from this system of government that won't enforce its own laws. If juries can nullify, then states can nullify, and national union was coming to an end. Both sides disagreed so strongly on one issue they were willing, for the second time, to risk war for it.
Ku Klax Klan
The idea should be resisted that Jury Nullification is always a good thing. After the Civil War, many of the activities of the Ku Klux Klan were tolerated by sympathetic juries. Many lynch mobs of the Wild Wild West were encouraged in the name of law and order. Prohibition of alcohol by the Volstead Act was imposed on one part of society by another, and Jury Nullification effectively endorsed rum-running, racketeering, and organized crime. The use of marijuana and abortion are two further examples where disagreement is so strong that compromise eludes us. What is at stake here is protecting the rights of a minority, within a society run by majority. If minority belief is strong enough, jury nullification issues an unmistakable proclamation: to proceed farther, means War.
|Oliver Wendell Holmes|
That's a somewhat strange outcome for a process started by pacifist Quakers, so the search goes on for a better idea. Distinguished jurists differ on whether to leave things as they are. In a famous exchange, Oliver Wendell Holmes once had dinner with Judge Learned Hand, who on parting extended a lawyer jocularity, "Do justice, Sir, do justice." To which, Holmes then made the somewhat surly response, "That is not my job. My job is to apply the law."
Thus lacking any better approach, it is hard to blame the US Supreme Court for deciding this was something best left unmentioned any more than absolutely necessary. The signal which Justice Harlan gave in the majority opinion on the 1895 Sparf case was the very narrow ruling that a case may not be appealed, solely on the basis that the trial jury was not informed of its right to nullify the law in question. Encouraged by this vague hint, what has evolved has been a growing requirement that incoming jurors take an oath "to uphold the law", officers of the court (ie lawyers)are discouraged from informing a jury of its true power to nullify laws, and Judges are required to inform the jury in their charge that they are to "take the law as the judge lays it down" (ie leave appeals to higher courts). If a jury feel so strongly that it then persists in spite of those restraints, well, you apparently can't stop them. Nobody thinks this is a perfect solution, and aggrieved defendants like the Vietnam War protesters are quite vocal in their belief that the U.S. Supreme Court finally emerged with a visibly asinine principle: a jury does indeed have the right to nullify, but only as long as that jury is unaware it has that right. That's almost an open invitation to perjury if accurate; but while it's not precisely accurate, it comes close to being substantially true.
That's where matters stand, and apparently will stand, until someone finds better arguments than those of Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Andrew Hamilton -- and William Penn.
The Federalist Papers were written by three founding fathers after the Constitution had been completed and adopted by the Convention. Detecting hesitation in New York, the aim was for publication in New York newspapers to persuade that wavering State to ratify the proposal. It is natural that The Federalist was composed of arguments most persuasive to New York, putting less stress on matters of concern to other national regions. This narrow focus may explain the close cooperation of Hamilton and Madison, who must surely have suppressed some latent concerns in order to present a unified position. In view of how much emphasis the courts have placed on the original intent of almost every word in the Constitution, it seems a pity that no one has attempted to reconcile the words of the principal explanatory documents with the hostile disagreements of their two main authors, almost as soon as the Constitution came into action. Perhaps the psychological hangups would be more convincingly dissected by playwrights and poets, than historians.
John Jay wrote five of the essays, mostly concerned with foreign relations; his presence here highlights the historical likelihood that Jay might have been the one who first voiced the idea of replacing the Articles of Confederation. At least, he seems to have been first to carry the idea of a general convention for that purpose to George Washington (in a March 1786 letter). The remaining essays of The Federalist were written under the pen name of Publius by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, both of whom had a strong enough hand in crafting the Constitution, but who quickly became absolutely dominant figures in the two central political factions after the Constitution was actually in operation. And their eagerness to be central is itself telling. They were passing from a stage of pleasing George Washington with his favorite project, into furthering a platform for launching their own emerging agendas. It is true that Madison's Federalist essays were mainly concerned with relations between the several states, while Hamilton concentrated on the powers of the various branches of government. As matters evolved, Hamilton soon displayed a sharper focus on building a powerful nation; Madison scarcely looked beyond the strategies of internal political power except to see clearly that Hamilton was going to get in the way. These two areas are not necessarily incompatible. But it is nevertheless striking that two such relentlessly driven men could work together to achieve the same set of rules for the game they were about to play so unflinchingly. Thomas Jefferson had been in France during the Constitutional Convention. It was he who was most dissatisfied with the resulting concentration of power in the Executive Branch, but Madison eagerly became the most active agent for forming the anti Federalist party, with all its hints that Washington was too senile to know the difference between a President and a King. Washington abruptly cut him off and never spoke to Madison after the drift of his opinions became undeniable. Today, it is common to slur politicians for pandering to lobbyists and special interests, but that presents only weak competition with the personal forces shaping leadership opinion, chief among them being loyalty to, and perceived disloyalty from, close political associates.
As a curious thing, both Hamilton and Madison were short and elfin, and both relied for influence heavily on their ability to influence the mind of
George Washington, who projected the power and manner of a large formidable athlete. Washington had no strong inclination to run things and, once elected, no particular agenda except to preside in a way that would meet general approval. He had mainly wanted a new form of government so the country could defend itself, and pay its soldiers. Madison was a scholar of political history and a master manipulator of legislative bodies, while Hamilton's role was to supply practically unlimited administrative energy. Washington was good at positioning himself as the decider of everything important; somehow, everybody needed his approval. On the other hand, both Madison and Hamilton were immensely ambitious and needed Washington's approval. This system of puppy dogs bringing the Master a bone worked for a long while, and then it stopped working. Washington was very displeased.
The difference between these two short men immediately appeared in the way they chose a role to play. Madison the Virginian chose to dominate the legislative process as the leader of the largest state delegation within the
House of Representatives, in those days the dominant legislative chamber. Hamilton sought to be Secretary of the Treasury, in those days the largest and most powerful department of the executive branch. It's now a familiar pattern: one wanted to form policy through dominating the board of directors, while the manager wanted to run things his way, even if that led in a different direction. Both of them knew they were setting the pattern for the future, and each of them pushed his ideas as far as they would go. Essentially, this could go on until Washington roused himself.
After a short time in office, Hamilton wrote four historic papers about two general goals: a modern financial system, and a modern economy. For the first goal, he wanted a dominant national currency with a mint to produce it and a bank to control it. Second, he also wanted the country to switch from an agricultural base to a manufacturing one. You could even say he really wanted only one thing, a national switch to manufacturing, with the necessary financial apparatus to support it. Essentially, Hamilton was the first influential American to recognize the power of the Industrial Revolution which began in England at much the same time as the American Revolution. Hamilton was swept up in dreams of its potential for America, and while puzzled -- as we continue to be today -- about some of its sources, became convinced that the secrets lay in the economic theories of
David Hume and Adam Smith in Scotland, and of Necker in France. Impetuous Hamilton saw that Time was the essence of opportunity; we quickly needed to gather the war debts of the various states into the national treasury, we quickly needed a bank to hold them, and a mint to make more money quickly as liquidity was needed. It seemed childishly obvious to an impatient Hamilton that manufacturing had a larger profit margin than agricultural products did; it was obvious, absolutely obvious, that this approach would inspire huge wealth for the new nation.
Well, to someone like Madison who was incredulous that any gentleman would think manufacturing was a respectable way of life, what was truly obvious was that Hamilton must be grabbing control of the nation's money to put it all under his own control. He must want to be king; we had just got rid of kings. Furthermore, Hamilton was all over the place with schemes and deals; you can't trust such a person. In fact, it takes a schemer to know another schemer at sight, even when the nature of the scheme was unclear. Madison and Jefferson couldn't understand how anyone could look at the vast expanses of open continent stretching to the Pacific without recognizing in this must lie the nation's true destiny. Why would you fiddle with pots and pans when with the same effort and daring you could rule a plantation and watch it bloom? If anyone had used modern business jargon like "Win, win strategy", the Virginian might well have snorted back, "When you say that to me, friend, smile."
|Nobelist Lawrence Klein|
THE Global Interdependence Center (GIC), founded by Nobelist Lawrence Klein in 1976, brings noted foreign financiers to address Philadelphians interested in finance, and takes those Philadelphians abroad to return the visits. It's a gracious, entertaining, and highly stimulating travel club of very nice folks. Its 25th Annual Monetary and Trade Conference (in 2001) was especially exhilarating. Christian Noyer, President of the Banque de France, gave a description of the rationale and direction of the European common currency. Since he was the Euro's driving force right from the beginning, the experience of hearing him was pretty much like hearing Alexander Hamilton tell the story of the founding of the American banking system. Such a notable event needs to be reported.
Christian Noyer urged that the central concept of the European Union is deliberate, voluntary surrender of national sovereignty -- for a mutually beneficial purpose. The declared purpose of limited surrender of national control of the currency is economic; price stability, lower interest rates, the stimulation of international trade by lowering transaction costs. But the unstated, grander, purpose is the elimination of war. Because the limited technical purpose has been achieved in almost all areas, the grander purpose of eliminating war has not been an accident. With this simple, even humble, declaration it immediately becomes possible for a mildly irritated American audience to understand that European reluctance to become our active military ally grows out of a highly commendable set of motives, and widely differing historical experiences.
As things worked out, the new nations who have recently joined the Union ("The U") are anxious to modernize, because the people of those nations demand modernization and their leaders must agree to achieve it. Inflation, that hitherto inevitable fund-raiser for national goverments, must be eliminated in order to join, and stays eliminated because the other members of The U will not tolerate it in a partner. In his curious way, "price stability" has placed the Union on the side of the people against the locally powerful, although it would be untactful to emphasize it. From the elimination of inflation comes lower interest rates, and from that, a stable currency. From that comes economic growth, for which the political lingo seems to be "modernity". As a consequence of this undeniable success, all nations in the area want to join the Union, and none wants to leave it. If that prevailing attitude doesn't lead to the elimination of what might then be a civil war, it's hard to know what will eliminate it. The marvel of all this skillful analysis is how natural, soft and modest it sounded, feeling like an old soft shoe. Eventual political unification is clearly an old dream in Noyer's head, but for now he seems content with the vindication that it is possible to have a currency without having a country control it. It seems to be a steamroller of economic logic, flattening out the pretenses of merely political power.
No less an economist than Martin Feldstein has written that stable unified currency is doomed in the European context of widely diverse labor markets; Noyer seems pleasantly serene in the face of this argument. He wouldn't say so, of course, but some in the audience got the idea that Noyer probably believes the power of this cooperative idea will eventually discipline the unions the way it disciplined the politicians. One certainly hopes so, for the sake of this smooth, likeable French aristocrat.
For example, the north European states, Germans in particular, must resign themselves to subsidizing the Mediterranean nations for years to come, working a hard work ethic while they watch their wards live an easier one. But it can be accomplished; New England has been subsidizing Mississippi for more than a century, and Appalachia has been fighting the rest of the country's wars for them since 1960. Lincoln for example, was an ardent Whig, which in those days meant an advocate of helping commerce by the intervention of government. That is essentially a 17th Century French idea, said to originate with Cardinal Mazarin and Jean-Baptiste Colbert. Whether it is useful to continue the same idea for four later centuries is an emotional issue in a class with our own reluctance to change a word of the Constitution. There is even a shadow of present concern that Americans will have so forgotten the lessons of free interstate commerce that they might somehow surrender it for some other blandishment. Certainly, free international trade has its enemies. The abolition of slavery was of course an overdue achievement, too, but perhaps our long slog toward equal rights has allowed this second crusade to overshadow the history of what really was the main one. In case anyone feels impelled to start a quarrel about this viewpoint, let me remind him that Quakers started the abolition movement, right here in Philadelphia, and have nothing to apologize about, for maintaining the Union was a more important justification for Civil War than was abolition of slavery.
With the American Civil War repeatedly reminding us how dangerous it can be for even unified nations to disagree about vital regional issues, it is useful to review such an American inter-state friction even closer to the time of unification, namely the repayment of Revolutionary War debts. Here, the American post-unification memories were still about the same as pre-unification. Essentially, only the legal documents had changed very much. Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton was trying to arrange equitable federal assumption of all thirteen state war debts, after Virginia had already paid off its bonds and obviously had thus given up the leverage of refusing to pay them. Virginia at that time was the largest of the component states, and because George Washington was President, Virginia was politically very powerful. But submerged within the now more powerful national government and subject to its rules, Virginians were now in quite a new position. Because Hamilton was trying to establish a good international credit reputation for the new national government, and because he wanted to acquire a creditor's power over all the states, he was anxious for the federal government to assume all state debts. Naturally, Virginians believed they would not have paid off the bonds if they had known this was coming. That's different in this case from knowing the rules before they acted. Imaginative alternatives were limited because the recent war had left no money in any treasury, or even likelihood that foreigners would extend credit. Because the Europeans chose to create monetary union as a step toward political union, the problem confronted European negotiators who were still positioned on behalf of independent sovereign states. The Greek government was skirting close to default on its bonds, whereas in the other case the
The solution reached was to mollify Virginia with a political plum, the location of the Nation's capital named Washington across the Potomac from George Washington's home, potentially directing the flow of Atlantic trade to the Potomac and to Virginia. Philadelphia was intensely displeased, and there are remarkably few statues and mementos to Virginia patriots to be found in that city, even today. However, the political maneuver remains as a classic; when negotiations reach an impasse on some central issue, try to balance the political debt with arrangements which have little to do with the issues at hand. In the case of the European Union, the Greeks have no money, and probably can never repay the present bailouts, let alone any extra future indebtedness. Because of the recent international recession, other sources of funds from unrelated nations may well be unavailable. Argentina has recently nationalized a huge Spanish oil developer operating on Argentine property, so there is a question whether the Spanish banking system is affected in some way that will further strain the Greek default, and thus further drying up sources of European credit. China is beginning to show signs of the Liquidity Trap, where ample funds are available in its banks but no one wishes to borrow money to build facilities, to produce goods, which the Chinese may not be able to sell. So, there are signs available to even the casual observer that it may simply not be possible to find the money to finance another Greek bailout, except to go back to the Germans. Since Adolph Hitler within recent memory had come close to conquering all of Europe militarily, there is understandable reluctance to appeal to Germany to become the rescuer of Europe, financially. The situation thus comes close to crying out for a solution that benefits some rescuer other than Germany, or which benefits Germany in some way that is not monetary. Like it or not, Germany has already rescued East Germany once, Greece at least twice, and can expect several more decades of subsidizing its less provident fellow Europeans. It is getting to be time for the rest of Europe to express its gratitude in some tangible, visible way.
It is difficult to have a coherent view of the mind of John Dickinson. Seriously offended by the Townshend Acts, he rightly perceived them to be the work of a few malignant personalities in British high places who would mostly soon be replaced. Later on, he refused to be troubled by the inconsequential Tea Act, which he appraised as a face-saving gesture of reconciliation, but more recent historical information demonstrates was more likely aimed at avoiding an unrelated vote of no-confidence in Parliament. Unfortunately, Dickinson was too remote from these events, and additionally could not comprehend reckless hotheads among his own neighbors. Reckless hotheads in turn seldom comprehend the measured meekness of Quakers. In any event, although Dickinson played a major role in the Declaration of Independence, he refused to sign it when the time came, evidently sensing an opportunity to separate the three lower counties from Pennsylvania and its Proprietors. A few months later when the British actually invaded the new State of Delaware on the way to capturing Philadelphia by way of Chesapeake Bay, Dickinson enlisted as a common soldier and fought at the Battle of Brandywine. Obviously, he was seriously conflicted.
|John Dickinson's Farmhouse|
Dickinson had become internationally famous for twelve letters he had meant to publish anonymously. The Letters From a Pennsylvania Farmer were written about 1768 out of resistance to the Townshend Acts. Because the three counties which were to become the State of Delaware were then still part of Pennsylvania, many school children have become understandably confused about the actual location of the man who became governor of both states, simultaneously.
The causes of the separation of the two colonies are still a little vague. Delaware schoolchildren are taught the two states separated, but often report they didn't retain much information about why it happened. The Dutch and Swedes who originally settled southern Delaware were not sympathetic with Quaker rule, which could be seen as a reaction to their living here for generations as Dutchmen before William Penn arrived, but then saw the colony sold out from under them. As a further conjecture, there might have been friction with the Quakers over slavery, similar to hostility of other Dutch settlers in northern New Jersey when William Penn purchased that area. This pro-slavery attitude resurfaced in both areas during the Civil War. One alternative theory which has considerable currency in Delaware is local dissension about Quaker pacifism during the Revolutionary War. On a recent visit to Dickinson's home outside Dover, a school teacher was overheard to instruct his flock that the Dutch Delawarians wanted to fight the British King, but the Quakers wouldn't give them guns. "We value peace above our own safety," was the unsatisfying response they received from the Pennsylvania Assembly. But that line of reasoning bumps up against Dickinson's role in local affairs, his ambiguity over the Declaration, and his vacillation in warfare. One would suppose the simultaneous Governor of both states would play a major role in the separation of the two.
|over Air Force Base|
Dickinson's plantation, quite elaborately restored and displayed, is tucked behind the Dover Air Force Base. Perhaps all that aircraft noise will discourage subdevelopment in the area of Dickinson's plantation and the rural atmosphere may persist for years. At the time of the Cuban missile crisis, your correspondent happened to be driving past, observing the sky filled with bombers, just circling and circling until the diplomats settled matters. Since eight-engine bombers are seldom seen around Dover, it has always been my presumption that they came from elsewhere to be refueled at Dover; but that's just a presumption. One of the pilots later told me he was carrying nuclear "eggs" and was completely prepared to take a long trip to deliver them.
To get back to Dickinson's wavering about the Declaration, maybe there was a good reason to waver. Joseph J. Ellis (in His Excellency, George Washington) relates that after the devastating British defeat at the Battle of Saratoga, Lord North made an offer to settle the war on American terms. In a proposal patterned after the concepts of the separatists in Ireland, America could have its own parliament as long as it maintained trade relationships with England. As an opening offer, that comes pretty close to what the colonists had been demanding. Gouverneur Morris was active in disdaining this offer, although it is unclear whether he was acting alone or as the agent of others. The offer came too late to be accepted, but it might have shortened the war by six years, and we might now have a picture of the Queen on our postage stamps.
|His Excellency: George Washington: Joseph J. Ellis: ISBN-13: 978-1400032532||Amazon|
|Letters From A Farmer In Pennsylvania To The Inhabitants Of The British Colonies (1903): John Dickinson: ISBN-13: 978-1163969533||Amazon|
A journalist, John Ghazvinian, recently toured the many countries of Africa, wrote a book about it and carried his message to the Right Angle Club of Philadelphia. Philadelphia does not think of itself as particularly involved in oil matters, or African ones. But the fact is the refineries on the Schuylkill down by the airport generate two thirds of the gasoline now used on the East Coast, and right now it mostly comes from Nigeria. There was a time when the crude oil coming to Philadelphia came from Venezuela, but politics are a little unpleasant there at present, and anyway Venezuelan oil is heavy and full of acids. The refineries which specialize in that kind of heavy oil are on the Gulf Coast. Long before the Venezuelan era, the Philadelphia refineries were constructed to refine crude oil from upstate Pennsylvania. They were once the main source of dominance of the Pennsylvania Railroad, because oil refining from Bradford County gave the Pennsy a return freight, whereas the competitive railroads running out of New York and Baltimore had to return from the West without cargo.
There are 54 countries on the continent of Africa, quite different from each other in character. One dominant characteristic of Africa is its lack of natural ports, and even the Mediterranean ports are cut off from the rest of the continent by the huge transcontinental stripe of Sahara desert. Major wars and famines, monstrous genocides, unspeakable cruelty and poverty go on there without much notice by the rest of the world.
The largest country in Africa is Nigeria. Anyone with even minor dealings with Nigeria soon sees that corruption and dishonesty pass all Western imagination, and they have serious tribal warfare as well. The discovery of large deposits of oil in the region faced the international oil companies with a rather serious difficulty. For instance, Shell Oil has had over 200 employees kidnapped for ransom, and is seriously contemplating abandoning its whole venture. At the moment, corruption is coped with by constructing oil wells a hundred miles out in the ocean.It's almost true that the huge tanker ships make from Philadelphia and return, without the crew talking to any natives of Africa.
They have oil in the South of Sudan, so we may hear more of it. Chad has poverty and oil, and civil war. They have a big Exxon facility, but there isn't a single gasoline station in Chad. At the moment, Angola has paused in its enormous civil war, which killed millions, and Chevron will surely encounter unrest before it is done. Gabon appears to be extremely prosperous, from oil money of course, but they are being ravaged by the Dutch Disease, of which more later.
|Mbasogo and Jintao|
President of Equatorial New Guinea got his job by shooting his uncle. But don't feel too sorry for the uncle, who used to have an annual Christmas morning celebration, consisting of herding his enemies into a football stadium, and shooting them for the edification and entertainment of the populace. After listening to Mr. Ghazvinian, it seems small wonder that so few American tourists, or journalists, or even missionaries, manage to complete extensive African excursions. As everyone notices, if you don't have journalists, there is never any news.
Let's turn to the Dutch disease,
of which Africa currently displays many examples likely to torment economics students for decades after Africa eventually rivals Houston. Let's start with David Ricardo, who electified the Nineteenth Century world of economics with his principle of comparative advantage. Ricardo pointed to the obvious truth that always and everywhere a nation does best for itself by identifying its best economic feature and then sticking to it. If every country wakes up and does that, every country must then trade with its neighbors for other things it isn't so suited to make. Consequently, tariffs and trade barriers are a hindrance for everyone, in time impoverishing all nations in the cycle, whatever short-run advantages of tariffs may seem enticing.
|North Sea Gas|
So far as I know, Ricardo was quite right, but someone had better hurry up and reconcile his underlying premise of comparative advantage with the Dutch Disease. The Dutch disease was identified and named by an anonymous writer for the London Economist about thirty years ago. Noticing that the Netherlands experienced a marked worsening of its general economy after the discovery of North Sea gas deposits, the observer for the magazine concluded that sudden accumulation of wealth in the gas industry led to a rise in the value of the Dutch currency, soon making it impossible for non-gas industries to export, unable to compete at home with now-cheaper foreign imports. Naturally, investors rushed to invest in gas, sold their holdings in other industries, and Holland was propelled in the direction of a one-industry economy, quite at the mercy of fluctuating prices of gas. Thus was the Dutch Disease born, and Ricardo's principle of comparative advantage exposed to quite a severe challenge from which it has not completely recovered. This is important, so how about a simpler description: When gold is discovered, people drop tools to have a gold rush. Wealth lost from dropping tools is greater than wealth gained from the gold.
Fear of the Dutch disorder seems to be the reason why the Chinese are buying our Treasury Bonds, the Japanese engaging in the astonishing "carry trade," and the Arabs buying American private equity funds. The common strand through all these schemes is this: By sending their bonanza savings abroad, they "sterilize" them from their tendency to force their currency upwards. They are exporting inflation, but also endangering their own struggling non-bonanza industries, which are the main hope for diversifying their economies and getting rid of the Dutch effect. Somewhere during this balancing act, politicians get involved, and make things worse. So they call in their generals and admirals, to explore solutions we prefer they were not in a position to explore. Simpler description: When you discover oil, inflation soon follows. And all too often, revolution follows that.
The 1787 the American Constitution unknowingly cured thirteen cases of the Dutch Disease, by imposing absolute freedom of interstate commerce. After eighty years, the benefits of this national union would persuade the North to bleed and die for it. Although the Confederacy thought they were fighting for their way of life, meaning slavery, even the Southerners today recognize they are better off in a Union. Unfortunately today, the European nations are still having a hard time believing the benefits of union could possibly outweigh their allegiances to language, religion, and the wartime sacrifices of their ancestors. They are very wrong, but we are wrong to sneer at them. Except for maybe Switzerland, it is difficult to name another instance in all of history where several independent states gave up local sovereignty for the benefits of a diversified economy with local pockets of comparative advantage. Let's restate it again: the Dutch disease is a result of sudden single-industry prosperity in a country too small to control it.
By the way, what eventually happened to the Dutch? It seems likely that absorption of little Holland into the European Common Market helped dilute the corrupting effect of gas prosperity. It suggests the possibility that Dutch can be reconciled with Ricardo through the common denominator of reduced national barriers to trade and currency-- reduced sovereignty in a milder form. But it's a hard slog. Maybe we could envision annexing Alberta to soften the commotion of oil tar, but it takes a lot of imagination to see the amalgamation of China and India, any time soon. There may thus be nations too big to merge, but nevertheless it would probably be less destabilizing to merge with all of Canada than just with Alberta if you overlook the obvious fact that it is easier to persuade a small country than a big one. Just kidding for the sake of example, of course, since Canada shows no interest in the idea.
Meanwhile, take a look backward from the highway overpass the next time you travel to the Philadelphia Airport. There's a lot more going on in those refineries than just black liquid flowing into steel pipes.
|The Four Horseman|
Catastrophes seem to have fashions. There was a time when the four horsemen of the apocholypse -- pestilence, war, famine and death -- rounded up the main things to keep you awake with worry. Perhaps it is too soon to gloat, but pestilence and famine seem tamed, even ready to be "put down". War remains a serious cause for concern, but a case can be made that two economic disasters, inflation and recession, have moved up to dominate our nightmares. Indeed, it is the Summer of Love in 1967 which seems to mark the watershed moment, when basic survival stopped being the main risk in life, supplanted by threats to existence that are largely self-inflicted. The first warning of this sea-change appeared in the fall of 1929, when it seemed to be deflation, unemployment and all the other havoc of economic recession that caused wars, famines and pestilences. The 1929 crash did not send a fully readable message however, because it was so one-sided. It took another 37 years for the world generally to appreciate there was an opposite side to it; inflation was just as bad as recession, and both problems were largely man-made. One person gets most of the blame for the distorted emphasis. John Maynard Keynes, later Lord Keynes, was the prophet who seemed to save the world with the doctrine that the deflation emergency was so dire that civilization could not afford to worry about the long-term drawbacks of deliberate inflation. He persuaded world leaders to inflate the currency before civilization disappeared. After all, in the long run we are all dead.
There's an irony that Franklin Roosevelt was a hobbyist who collected postage stamps, because stamp collectors were about the only Americans who were dimly aware that Germany and Austria had hyper-inflation as a main curse. Austrian postage for billions of marks gradually filtered into our collections of odd foreign stamps, arousing mild international curiosity. But Friedrich August von Hayek was living in the midst of it, painfully aware of its pain and chaos. It became the central focus of the life of an aristocratic decorated war veteran who became a distinguished economist, eventually winning a Nobel Prize. What caused inflation? Why didn't it stop? Why was it so destructive? How can inflation be prevented? How could Maynard Keynes possibly urge the leaders of nations to inflate their currency deliberately?
As a scholar in the dismal days of world depression, Hayek had a hard time, living for long periods on the charity of a few philanthropists who recognized his talents. He is best known for his scorching analysis of collectivism, a craze which swept through academic and political leadership, particularly in Europe, and his persuasive views probably constitute the main intellectual force which ultimately ended the Cold War. It is seriously stated that personal animosity by Socialist-leaning academics materially injured his academic career, although it probably gave him more time, and motive, for serious writing. Inflation and political collectivism do not seem tightly connected, but it is easy to observe that command economies do inevitably clash with private property and market decisions. For the present, it seems useful to set aside Hayek's monumental political achievement of discrediting Communism, and focus on his penetrating view of inflation.
|August von Hayek|
You can almost watch his mind at work. If you give long hard consideration to the topic of inflation, you have to conclude that there seems no reason for it to be a bad thing. It may take a little time, but the price of everything will eventually read just to a new higher level, and relationships will go on undisturbed. At first glance,
You can almost watch his mind at work. If you give long hard consideration to the topic of inflation, you have to conclude that there seems no reason for it to be a bad thing. It may take a little time, but the price of everything will eventually read just to a new higher level, and relationships will go on undisturbed. At first glance,
inflation is just a harmless numbers game. You can understand the power of inflation; everybody likes a little of it for his own personal benefit. If everybody enjoys a little of it in his own sphere, then the whole world is pushed to a higher numerical level.
After long consideration, Hayek came to see that the disruptions of inflation are caused by the uneven speed of penetration throughout an economy or nation. If the price of oil goes up, the price of transportation goes up, then the price of home heating. But those who take the train or who heat their homes with coal are not affected so soon. Mortgages carry a fixed interest rate for thirty years, until the unwisdom of such agreements becomes clear; but it takes time. The process of inflation creates winners and losers, and disruption in the culture of payments. The speed of payment is itself a factor in the virtual size of the monetary pool. In the long run we're all dead and it all settles out, unless we set in motion a universal scramble to get out the door before others get there. Inflation is just as much an evil as collectivism, and somehow the two are usually seen together. The Road to Serfdom sits on the shelf, right next to The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle, and Other Essays .
Events at the time of the introduction of the Clinton Health Plan to Congress were a confused jumble, but one vignette stands out in my memory. The five hundred or so members of the secret work group were all invited to the White House for a big party, with saxaphones and all. On a television interview at home in Minnesota, Paul Ellwood said he wasn't going to the party. Indeed, he looked rather morose and had little to say. It is clear he had advance notice, before the plan even reached Congress, that things were not going the way he wanted. Since the public, even Congressional leaders, were still unclear just what was to be proposed, Ellwood's dejection, or rejection, did not come from them. No one has said so, but it must be presumed the rejection came from his sponsors, the business leaders. Business, in short, had pulled out; responsibility probably lies with no more than half a dozen CEOs who continue to be anonymous fifteen years later.
At that confused time, the reasoning of the masterminds was obscure. Perhaps they decided HMOs were no good; perhaps an outrageous political demand had been linked to the proposal; or there was to be too much political control, too little business control; or perhaps government costs had been shifted onto the backs of employers; perhaps the whole idea sounded too leftist to be comfortable. And perhaps a lot of other things, who knows. Even today, no one has written a book or even listed a few plain sentences of reminiscence.
What is known is that major business employers immediately launched a nation wide initiative to go ahead with a strong push to convert employer-based plans from fee-for-service to managed care HMOs. This was to be the way employers handled health care they were paying for; the government could do as it liked. It must be admitted it was a bold stroke, quite effectively handled. When you consider the rather uncertain legal right they had to impose a system of health care on their employees, it took more audacity to go ahead than you would suppose they could summon. It was a gamble that the Clinton White House would lack the courage to challenge a private initiative to go ahead with what they had so publicly endorsed, and that providers would be so surprised by the concerted coup that they would hold back legal challenge until evidence of antitrust or conspiracy emerged. It was a sort of Battle of the Bulge in reverse, and it might well have been hugely successful except for one thing they did not anticipate. Their employees almost universally hated HMOs when they tried them out. No one likes to be hustled into something he doesn't understand, no one likes to change doctors, no one like to be told he can't have what he expects to have. Employers expected resistance of this sort, but it simply had to be done to save the fiscal health of the business. Unfortunately, what emerged was that it didn't save much more money than its own extra cost to administer. The hard reality of business life is you regularly have to bully people in order to make any money. But bullying people without making any money is a quick route to dismissal. No wonder there have been no memoirs written.
A quick re-appraisal of the Clinton Health Plan was that the two systems, Medicare for people over sixty-five and employer-based for people under sixty-five, were to be merged into a single system for efficiency and better control. There were to be local, regional, and national governance bodies; evidently the purpose of the National Business Coalitions for Health was to supply a unified business hierarchy to match it up and down the line. Hated politicians, hated bureaucrats and hated unions could be counted on to apply strong pressures; business would have to remain well informed, sternly disciplined, and speak with a single voice for any hope of surviving in such an environment. It is my surmise that such a prospect seemed to guarantee failure for business. No, we're sorry, Business would draw a bright line at age sixty-five, and run its own show where it ruled the roost.
The United States government issues lots of different currencies. We issue ones, and twos and fives and tens and twenties. If you need more one dollar bills, you can walk into any candy shop with a five and the shopkeeper will more or less cheerfully make the exchange without charge. But if you want to change the same five dollar bill for euros, yen or drachma, you need to find an agent in a kiosk and pay a fee of about 3%. The booth or shop of the international money changer will have some sort of electronic means to tell what the rate of exchange might be at any given moment. To extend this idea, if the people at the mint run short of ones, they just print some more, meanwhile removing a comparable number of surplus fives from circulation. No matter how extreme the imbalance, it does not affect the price of dollar bills. That's more or less the idea behind the common currency in Europe, and a major success. All countries of Europe want to join, nobody wants to leave.
But some things are lost in this obvious simplification of financial transactions; it has enemies. For one thing, the Federal Reserve or other central banker can change interest rates instantly, but the rest of the economy has a certain amount of inertia. For example, banks typically deal in 90 day Treasury bills, so it takes them a month or two to catch up with the Federal Reserve as the old bills mature; in the meantime they lose money. Almost all businesses have even longer lags than that. So during the lag periods the national economy experiences inflation or deflation, which may represent the national interest at the moment, but in time things catch up and rebalance about the way they were before the central bank acted. Except for taxes, that is, and this specific attrition is one of the main arguments for eliminating the capital gains tax, or extending special allowances for banks and others who have short-term gains on price changes without effect on underlying values. The matter gets mixed up in domestic politics. Incumbents long for short-term inflation, nonincumbent challengers denounce it. Everybody welcomes a "strong" currency, everyone recognizes that a weak currency sounds pretty bad. Few however could defend their opinion. The people who benefit are the ones who can move fast, because there's usually a brief flurry of inflation or deflation, and then things go backward. People who can move huge amounts of money quickly are apt to make big mistakes in their hurry.
And so it is in the eyes of foreigners. Right now, the American tourist to Paris confronts a taxi charge of $120 for a twenty-minute ride from the airport to the downtown. Everything else, from thirty dollar continental breakfast to two hundred dollar dinners, seems comparably overpriced. Tourists with sticker shock return home to tell their friends all about it, just before the November elections. No doubt it has an opposite effect on Parisian shopkeepers and their acquaintances. But the tourist trade is comparatively minor, compared with major industries. Airbus was once giving Boeing a serious competitive race for airliners, but now Airbus is contemplating possible bankruptcy if currencies do not soon readjust, and Boeing is laughing all the way to the bank. Stop a minute and consider what happens when you buy and sell a whole company. Now it's the reverse, and a group of European investors are considering buying Anheuser Busch, the largest American brewery. The producer of Budweiser beer seems extremely cheap to Europeans, just as the beer itself is cheap for European beer drinkers. And then just consider a personal note: the wife of Senator McCain, running for President, owns a huge chunk of Budweiser distribution. The pillow talk in that family is likely to focus on the unfairness of hostile foreign take-overs.
So, all in all, tinkering with the currency as a direct or indirect consequence of a banking crisis caused by overbuilding houses in the sun belt, has potentially fearsome consequences. They must be added to effects on commodity prices, and revolutions in the banking system. Those two issues are next to be considered.
|Prime Minister Gordon Brown|
WITH voters watching three weeks before the 2008 American presidential election day, finance ministers and their political masters met to decide a basic question: dare they risk disaster to save the existing system, or play it safe by sacrificing small banks to rescue big ones? That is, guess if the situation is so bad only strong rowers can be allowed in the lifeboat, or whether things are really manageable enough to try to save everybody but at the risk of worse consequences for failure. For example the credit default swap mystery; there are $60 trillion notional value insurance policies in existence to cover $20 trillion of bonds. Is that massive double-counting, or an actual disaster so severe it makes every other consideration trivial? Answer quick, please, the ship looks like it might sink. At first it seemed strange a Labor government in England would propose saving only the strong, until you realize that Prime Minister Brown is protected from his Left, while the Democrats in America want to use a fairness argument to win their election. A Republican lame-duck president must do the deciding, a man who has been shown to be both a tough politician and a fearless gambler; playing things safe is not his style. The Dow Jones average soared a thousand points in a day's trading on the prayer that things were finally under control. But take a look around.
On the other hand, little Hungary has a negligible banking system, so Hungarians commonly borrow money from foreign banks. The national currency devalued by half in this crisis, so most Hungarian mortgages doubled in price. Reserve systems based on national governments suddenly look obsolete.
Try another approach. Little Ireland went ahead and guaranteed all deposits in its financial institutions. Money from England and the rest of Europe immediately poured in to enjoy that guarantee, forcing other grumpy nations to match the unwise Irish offer. There's a sense that nations are losing control of their affairs.
Europe consists of 27 nations, of which fifteen are in the Euro zone. There's a common currency and a constrained central bank, but can this gaggle of geese possibly agree on concerted action in this crisis? America was once in this situation under the Articles of Confederation, but even after almost losing the Revolutionary War, George Washington was nearly unable to get the colonies to form a union. Even after this experience, the Southern Confederate States later adopted the same system of a central currency without a central government and really did lose their war.
Are we to infer from Prime Minister Brown's attitude toward banks that he might soon suggest ditching little nations in order to save bigger ones?
GEORGE Washington was a far more complex person than most people suppose, and he wanted it that way. He was born to be a tall imposing athlete, eventually a bold and dashing soldier. On top of that framework, he carefully constructed a public image of himself as aloof, selfless, inflexibly committed to keeping his word. Parson Weems the biographer may have overdone the image a little, but Washington gave Weems plenty to work with and undoubtedly would have enjoyed overhearing the stories of the cherry tree and tossing the coin across an impossibly wide Potomac. Washington had a bad temper, and could remember a grievance for life. He married up, to the richest woman in Virginia.
Growing up along the wide Potomac River, Washington early conceived a life-long ambition to convert the Potomac into America's main highway to the Mississippi. He did indeed live to watch the nation's new capital start to move into the Potomac swamps across from his Mount Vernon mansion, in a city named for him. For now, retiring from military command with great fanfare and farewells after the Revolution, he returned to private life on this Virginia farm. He made an important political mistake along this path, by vowing in public never to return to public life. During the years after the Revolution but before the new Constitution, his attention quickly returned to building canals along the Potomac River, deepening it for transportation, and connecting its headwaters over a portage in Pennsylvania to the headwaters of the Monongahela River -- hence to the Ohio, then the Mississippi, or up the Allegheny River to the Great Lakes. He personally owned 40,000 acres along this river path to the center of North America. The occasion for a national constitutional convention grew out of a meeting with Maryland to reach agreement about this Potomac vision, which was being blocked by commercial interests in Baltimore. Ultimately, Baltimore won the commercial race; so it was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which captured the early commerce to the west. Washington also made deals, ultimately to Baltimore's benefit, with the James River interests, to give them a share of the development of Chesapeake Bay trade. As a young man, George Washington had acted as a surveyor for most of this region, and as a young soldier had explored the Indian trade to Pittsburgh, actually starting the French and Indian War during this trip. He was to march it again later with Braddock's army. All the while, Washington dreamed of the day. There were competitors; Philadelphia and New York had similar aspirations for their rivers. Take a look at a globe, or Google Earth. Comparatively few of the earth's rivers drain to far western beaches. Even today, long-term victory in worldwide water transportation will likely go to one of many eastern rivers linking up with one of the few western ones. The ultimate world-wide goal has yet to be fulfilled for what continues to be the cheapest of all bulk transportation methods.
Washington at age 54 was already richer than most people need to be; a lot of this Potomac dream was a residual of boyhood ambitions enduring into middle age. In a sense, he had an ambition to make his boyhood home the future center of the universe. Although much of his stock in these real estate enterprises resulted in very little extra wealth, he demonstrated his mixture of public spirit combined with ambition by donating the stock in one of the companies to a future national university, to be located across the river near Georgetown. Since that didn't work out, he later placed the nation's capital there. He had consistently been a far bolder dreamer than Cincinnatus, humble Roman citizen soldier returning to his farm from the wars.
Washington more or less gave up this Potomac ambition for a loftier one. During the Revolution, he had suffered the most infuriating abuse of himself and his soldiers from the state legislatures. Their urgent demands for victories were seldom matched with resources. The Continental Congress representing those state governments in a weak confederation that could not feed and pay its own troops, seemed little better. He could be a mean man to cross, but perhaps with General Cromwell in mind, Washington possessed the firmest and most sincere belief in the proper subservience of military to civilian control. These conflicting feelings resulted in earnest obedience to a group of politicians he surely distrusted. This could not be described as hypocrisy; he respected their rank even though he suffered from their behavior. When Congress paid the troops in worthless currency which they promised to redeem after the war, it became clear that either lack of moral fiber or their system of governance led the states and the congress in the direction of dishonoring their debt to the soldiers. This was a dreadful system, which led to death and suffering among the loyal troops, forcing the General into the humiliating position of assuring the troops Congress would stand by them, while he privately doubted any chance of it. Washington did not easily forgive or forget. Here was a paltry outcome for eight years of war and suffering; this system of organized dishonor must be improved.
He went about achieving his goal in a way that would not occur to most people. He chose a young ambitious agent, James Madison, who had caught his attention in the Virginia legislature, in the Continental Congress, and in the negotiations with Maryland over the development of the Potomac. Washington schemed with the young man for weeks on end about ways and means, opportunities, dangers and potential enemies. Perhaps he failed to notice some ways where he and Madison fundamentally differed. Madison himself might not have recognized that his years at Princeton in the Quaker state of New Jersey had exposed him to novel ideas like separation of church and state, which were instantly appealing to the two Virginia Episcopalian religious doubters. Many people he admired, Patrick Henry in particular, wanted government to be as weak and ineffective as possible. Unfortunately, when Madison's turn later came for assuming the Presidency, he went along with reliance on diplomacy and persuasion until it almost cost America the War of 1812. Acting as Washington's agent in 1788, Madison was assigned to win over the Virginia legislature, make alliances with other states in Congress, identify friends and enemies, make deals. He performed as brilliantly as he would at the Constitutional Convention, so the basic conflict between the soldier President and his politician assistant was glossed over. As long as the original relationship held together, Washington felt it was useful to remain above and aloof, publicly wavering whether this was all a good idea, but fiercely determined to have a nation he could be proud of. There was to be a Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, but while Washington was invited, he let it be known he was uncertain whether he should accept the invitation. What he really meant was he would preserve his political credibility for a different approach if this one failed. Considered from Madison's viewpoint however, this clearly meant Washington would dump him if things went badly. Meanwhile, the unknown young Madison on several occasions came to Mount Vernon for three days at a time to talk strategy and give the famous General all the scoop. Today, we would describe Madison as a nerd. The aristocratic Gouverneur Morris never thought much of him. Washington needed him, but there is no evidence he thought of him other than as a glorified butler. Little Madison was awkward among the ladies, a problem inconceivable to either Washington or Morris. But that little mind was surely working, all the time.
Madison was in fact a brilliant politician, a dissembler in a different way, but a severe contrast with his mentor. To begin with, he was a scholar. Both as an undergraduate at Princeton and a graduate student working directly with the great Witherspoon himself, Madison was deeply learned in the history of classical republics. He spent an extra year at Princeton, just to be able to study ancient Hebrew with Witherspoon. But he was innately skilled in the darker arts of politics. When votes were needed, he had a way of persuading three or four other members to vote for a measure, while Madison himself would then vote against it to preserve influence with opponents for later skirmishes. In fact, as matters later turned out, it becomes a little uncertain just how convinced Madison was that Washington's strong central government was a totally good idea. Before and after 1787 Madison expressed conviction that real sovereignty originated in the states, just as the Articles declared. That was a little too fancy for practical men of affairs, who were uncomfortable to discover how literal Madison was after his break with the Federalists. Twenty years younger than the General. he prospered in the image of being personally close to the titan, and he certainly enjoyed the game of politics. The new Constitution was going to be an improvement over the Articles of Confederation, but Madison did not burn for long with indignation about injustice to the troops, or disdain for nasty little politicians in the state legislatures. These were problems to be solved, not offenses to be punished. The new Constitution was a project where he could advance his career, skillfully demonstrating his prowess at negotiation and manipulation. This is not to say he did not believe in his project, but rather to suspect that he was a blank slate on which he allowed Washington to write, and later allowed others to over-write. He was eventually to modify his opinions as a result of new associations and partners, and since he succeeded Jefferson as President, it was personally useful to adjust his viewpoints to his timing. What would never change was that he was an artful politician, while Washington hated, absolutely hated, partisan politics.
This is not just an emotional division between two particular Virginia plantation owners, but an enduring thread running through all elective politics. Washington set the style for generations of citizen leaders in America. In his mind, a person of honor distinguishes himself in some way before he enters public office, so on the basis of that honorable image, presents himself to voters for public office, and naturally is elected to represent their interests. He is expected to compromise where compromise is honorable and publicly acknowledged, in order to achieve one desirable outcome in concert with other outcomes, in some ways inconsistent but still honorable in combination. He reliably will not vote for either issues or candidates in return for some personal consideration other than the worth of the issue or the candidate, with the possible exception of yielding to the clear preferences of his local district. Such a person is not a member of a political organization very long before he encounters another group of colleagues -- who regularly swap votes for personal advantage, join a group who agree to vote as a unit no matter what the merits, and recognize the frequent necessity to talk one way while secretly voting another. The first sort of politician is usually an amateur, the second type is typically a professional politician. Although it seems a violation of ethics and common public welfare, the fact is the professional vote-swapper almost always beats the sappy amateur. The response during the Eighteenth Century was for idealists to condemn and attempt to abolish partisanship and political parties. The American Constitution does not make provision for political parties and other forms of vote-swapping or even anticipate their emergence. Although Madison ignited the process in the United States, Jefferson really organized it; every recent politician except Adlai Stevenson has openly participated in a version of it. That the Constitution has still not been amended to provide for parties seems to reflect a persisting nostalgic hope that somehow we can return to Washington's stance.
Washington's conception of open representative politics was not entirely perfect, either. In order to maintain an image of impartiality, Washington and his imitators isolated themselves in a cloak, holding back their true opinions in a sphinx-like way that hampered negotiation. Unwillingness to be seen swapping votes can lead to unwillingness to compromise, and in the final analysis the difference is one of degree. However, the over-riding issue is that each representative or Senator is equal to every other one. When vote-swapping gets started, it leads to placing power over supposed equals in the hands of the more powerful manipulators, masquerading as political leaders. Ultimately, it leads to the adoption of house rules on the very first day of a session which force lesser members to surrender their votes to a speaker or minority leader or committee chairman, when the theory is that there is no such thing as a lesser member. The claim of a party-line politician is that he obeys the will of the party caucus; the reality is usually that he obeys the will of some tough, self-advancing party leader. The final reality is that most legislatures must now deal with thousands of bills per session, leading to the necessity of appointing someone to set priorities, which in turn leads to the power of party leaders over their grudging servants. These various subversions of the equal rights of elected representatives can lead to such discrediting of the system that honorable people may refuse to stand for office, leaving foxes in charge of the hen house. Benjamin Franklin, who was to play an invisibly controlling role in the impending Constitutional Convention, had his own way of coping with the political environment. "Never ask, never refuse, never resign."
It may seem a startling focus for a famous war hero, but one of the most important precedents George Washington wanted to establish as America's first president, was that he was determined not to die while in office. His original intention was to serve only one four-year term as president, only accepting a second term with considerable concern that it would increase his chances of dying in office. His reasons are perhaps not totally clear, since he repeatedly stated his concern that he had promised the American public that he would retire from public office when he resigned his commission as General, and was determined to seem a man of his word. While this sounds a little off-key to modern ears, it must be remembered his resignation as General had caused an international stir, even prompting King George III to exclaim that this must be the greatest man who ever lived. Washington may have sincerely thought he was following the pattern of Cincinnatus, the Roman citizen soldier who declined further public life in order to return to his farm. But in retrospect we can see that for a thousand years before Washington's military resignation it was essentially unheard of for a leader with major power to be removed by any means except death. Regardless of where he might have got the idea, Washington was consciously trying to establish a tradition of public service by those who were natural leaders, dutifully responding to the need of the nation, and stepping down when the service was completed. It was an important day for him and for the nation, when he stood before John Adams in 1796, honorably and humbly turning over supreme power to a successor who had been chosen, by others, in a lawful way. Peaceful succession is part of the original intent of the founder of the Constitution, if anything is.
Some have written that Washington was not our first president, but our eleventh if one counts those elected the presiding officers of the Continental Congress, under the Articles of Confederation. But none of them could be said to be the head of state, and absolutely none of them could be confident the public would re-elect them indefinitely. Washington was not so much aiming for a two-term limit as he was setting a pattern for returning the choice to the people after a stated term, and deploring anyone who sought unlimited power for its own sake. The office should seek the man, not the man seek the office, and even if the public got carried away by adulation, the man should in good time step aside. For over a century the two-term tradition was later unchallenged, until Franklin Roosevelt succumbed to exactly the temptations that Washington foresaw. We have seldom amended the Constitution, but after Roosevelt it was soon amended to emphasize what so many had previously considered it unnecessary to state.
The idea of a fixed term of office has had an unexpected calming effect on partisanship in America. In parliamentary systems like the British, a prime minister answers weekly questions from his opposition, with full realization that he can be dismissed from office at any moment he angers a majority into a vote of no-confidence. Under the American Constitution, a recent election mandate eats into the stated time in office, making it progressively less rewarding to evict the officer for the residual time before another election does it automatically. America does indeed have an impeachment process, but in fact it has been rarely employed. In America, if someone is elected for a specific term, it is almost certain he will serve out the full term. There are times when partisanship seems unlimited, but in fact we probably have less of it than if we encouraged partisan outcry to go on to evicting an incumbent from office.
Washington was not so successful in promoting another component of his ideal statesman. In his view, a district would naturally select the most prominent citizen available to represent the district, since that person would do it more ably than anyone else and give up the office when duty was completed; that was behind the stated ideal of republican government. Madison was for a time persuaded that such choices should be filtered a second time, with the House of Representatives electing Senators from its midst, but that failed to win approval. In the Eighteenth century the concept of professional bureaucrats and professional politicians had not yet taken hold. In its place was the fear of "ambitious" leaders, who would be held in check by a tradition of underpaying elected representatives, or even of gentlemen of means who would refuse to accept any pay for doing their duty. It proved unanswerable when ambitious men assailed this republican concept by protesting the establishment of aristocracies, oligarchies and failure of the upper class to understand the needs and anxieties of the common man. This viewpoint eventually replaced the "natural" local leaders with those who had experienced life in a log cabin, or endured the purifying experiences of other hardships. The original idea of the founders was to elect leaders who could not be bought; ambitious men could be bought. When political parties made their appearance, a new thought appeared; perhaps ambitious men could be controlled.
As the practical realities of politics in action began to surface, members of elected bodies with varying degrees of ambition and altruism sought refuge from pressures being applied to them. After all, one of the undeniable implications of the Constitution was that every single member of an elected body had just as much power and rights as every other one. Out of this tension emerged the seniority system, another unwritten rule with the power of reality forging it into an implicit rule. In time, everyone would achieve seniority at the same point in his career, and hence the procedural powers necessary to running the place could be assigned with lessened fear of improper pressure. Newcomers regularly complain about the seniority system but eventually yield to it as the least worst accommodation to necessity. But even minor imperfections will be exploited if a system endures long enough. In this case, political parties in the home states are persuaded that the fruits of seniority might be disproportionately available to them if they elect young candidates and keep them in office indefinitely. Eventually such stalwarts can rise to positions that allow them to reward the home district. This has the interesting consequence of creating political families, whose senior representative acquires the power to select his son or grandson to take his place in the rising chain of command. That's not as bad as an inherited aristocracy, perhaps, but it has several similarities.
|George Washington Taking Oath|
On the eve of the Constitutional Convention, the nation was unhappy, confused, and dissatisfied; this wasn't what a victory was supposed to feel like. George Washington wanted a country to be proud of, big enough to discourage enemies, otherwise free of policing, regulation, or monarchy. Eight years of war had taught him it wasn't easy to have both liberty and discipline at the same time. Perhaps America was more unusually blessed, however, defended from invasion by oceans and wilderness, and from greed by a continent of natural resources. If order and justice could be organized, perhaps this by itself would enlist the loyalty of that mixture of classes and nationalities then flocking to our shores. Several important writers were having strong influence on the era we now call the Enlightenment; David Hume and Adam Smith in Scotland, Edward Gibbon in England, Voltaire and Diderot in France, even Catherine the Great of Russia, with a thousand others including Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris. Although Washington probably hadn't read them, Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations showed unvarnished new ways of looking at commerce and politics, while Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire showed what could happen if idealism gets neglected. Both books were published in the portentous year of 1776, describing many difficulties, but always suggesting problems could somehow be solved. There were plenty of ideas in circulation, but there was no plan.
It must have become obvious to Washington well before the Battle of Yorktown, that the Revolutionary War would not leave us with our problems solved. There was one brief moment as the British Army was withdrawing from Philadelphia in 1778 which seemingly justified boasts our troops had licked 'em. Just after the surrender of a whole British Army at the Battle of Saratoga, the British were also retreating from Philadelphia, and the Lord North offered generous peace terms through the Earl of Carlisle. No doubt the British public was restless after the Burgoyne defeat and the French alliance with America. Because the Carlisle episode is much more familiar in England than in America, perhaps it was a feint or a maneuver to embarrass the Earl of Carlisle, or possibly just an exploration of the true state of affairs which were rumored about across a wide ocean. At any event, Gouverneur Morris was the visible American actor in this puzzling episode, but he must have been acting in concert with others. Lord North offered to give us our own elected parliament within a commonwealth; taxation with representation, no less. Morris seems to have dismissed this offer with contempt. But six more years of devastation ensued, surely convincing Washington that bitter defeat was still possible. That reality was concealed behind the graciousness of the French in allowing us to claim American troops had defeated the British at Yorktown. In fact, the preponderance of troop casualties, naval vessels and strategy had been French. The money had been mostly French as well. If that debt nearly bankrupted France, what might it have done to America?
Washington had been an outstanding athlete, soldier and farmer, but his many travels about the colonies convinced him something more than leadership was needed. And even warned him more was needed than a confederation so big others would leave it alone. National disorganization was just as bad after the Revolution as before. By 1787, Washington concluded the states just would not surrender power to a central national government unless the people forced them to give it up. Dire military predicaments were not guaranteed to transform flight into resolution. Peacetime also demonstrated another discouraging truth: meaningful improvement of the existing order meant the whole previous leadership class could be out of a job watching others make a botch of it, because unfortunately peace attracts mediocrity to political office. Prominent men in the community gathered in a Constitutional Convention recognized the advantages of Union, and peaceful ways to maintain it. But after that transient moment when the memory of war was fresh, politics could return to the mediocrities of a political class. That's not exactly what is now meant by "We, the People", but it might have to serve. In Washington's view, the voice of the people usually echoed along the lines of: Tell us what good it would do to upset the Articles of Confederation, otherwise leave them alone. If you propose the general shape of a new central government, first tell us what it can do better than the states. And then show us how to make dubious state politicians agree to it. The accents of hesitation and defeat echo.
The hideous French Revolution was soon to demonstrate how unwise it was to look for short-cuts; we needed a republic, not a stampeded democracy. George Washington was unsure just what was needed, but he knew a few basic things with certainty. America needed a bargain which everyone was expected to keep. Amendment should be provided for, but make it it difficult.
In politics, there are no permanent friends, no permanent enemies, only accommodations.
Regardless of who coined the adage, it is difficult to imagine either stone-faced George Washington listening with any approval, or politician James Madison displaying the least surprise. The only American scholar of politics and political history available to Washington, Madison eventually evolved into a total politician. The evolution in the underlying core beliefs of these two men, in opposite directions, seems to explain the slow transformation of their Virginia plantation friendship into outright hostility. On one level, their disagreements may be seen as responses to their new roles: Washington created and moulded the executive department, and while he helped him do it, Madison himself migrated into the role of leader of Congress. Once there, he was not strong enough to escape the collective power of Congress to mould its leaders into servants, a situation that was not corrected until Henry Clay over-corrected it in the opposite direction. On another level it is possible to view the two Virginians as having differing reactions to the oncoming Industrial Revolution.
Although both were Virginia plantation owners, General Washington's wartime experience was that his own solitary opinion, right or wrong, would ultimately be all that mattered. All that advice he got was simply information-gathering. On the other hand, while the leader of the legislative branch was often able to change legislative opinion, he would be ultimately forced to accept the collective opinion of Congress, or resign his leadership of it. That was also true of the Chief Executive Officer, but several steps removed from Congressional decisions, and of the opinion he must finally accept their final wishes if they seemed to represent the will of the people who voted them into office. Of the two, he was better able to understand what Hamilton was talking about, better able to appreciate that the strength of a nation has an economic base as well as a military one. The mythology of the era has Alexander Hamilton in combat with James Madison, with Washington in the middle but eventually siding with Hamilton. That's true enough, but the greater truth is that these individuals were cast as the symbols of the changing beliefs of the country. It must be conjectured the high adventure of creating a new form of government held the three together, even as many things turned out to be unanticipated. Washington seems more dismayed by gradually perceiving some unwelcome imperatives of the Constitution, while Madison simply set about to make the most of them. Washington believed in character, a personality based on steadfastness, courage and determination. Adaptability, yes, pliability, no.
The official organizing principle of every legislature, congress, or parliament is that each member has one vote and therefore is the equal of every other member. Washington understood leaders would emerge, able to persuade others. What he did not anticipate was that some would scheme to acquire the power to compel obedience. Unofficial ways to acquire power over colleagues differ among legislatures, but have certain recurring features.
The press of business usually requires a division of labor into committees, who soon acquire special expertise. A chairman is selected to handle routine matters, and to negotiate compromises with overlapping committees; the chairman acquires power. Members differ in their degree of interest in almost any topic; those who have little interest in a particular outcome have an opportunity to trade their vote for assistance on some other matter of much greater concern to them; why not? From this evolves the strategy of striving to discover what each voter secretly wants most of all; offering assistance on that favorite topic is the first step in enlisting later support on some other issue. If he wants your help badly enough, he may even vote against something else he really favors. If he wants to be chairman of a committee important to his interest, it may even be possible to force him to vote for something he privately hates. Vote-swapping is the fundamental currency of legislative trading, and it is sometimes a loathsome business. But just try to imagine George Washington swapping votes to become chairman of a committee, or to enact an appropriation; it couldn't happen.
One suspects it did happen, at least once. Washington badly wanted the nation's capitol to be across the Potomac river from his plantation. Indeed, he wanted the Potomac River to be the main commercial highway of the nation to the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. He never said he wanted the nation's capital to be named after him, but he did not object a great deal, either. When there was quibbling about the location of the White House, the old surveyor went there himself and laid it out with a surveyor's transit. Washington wanted Virginia to be the biggest most important state in the union; four of the first five presidents were Virginians. And so, when Hamilton and Jefferson negotiated the Compromise of 1790, everyone knew what Washington's feelings were. The revolutionary debts of Virginia became federal debts, in return for relocating the capital from the banks of the Delaware to the banks of the Potomac. Robert Morris was fit to be tied. Washington stood aloof and uninvolved. Anyone who has ever been involved in one of these compromises knows that some participants see nothing wrong with it, while others hate themselves forever, for having had anything to do with it. In fact, the legislators most offended by vote-swapping are the ones who once somehow got unwillingly dragged into it, and never entirely forgave themselves. Natural politicians like Madison, however, are irked by those who criticize such a natural and effective process, whose successes are everywhere to be listed. While no one can read the minds of these two founding fathers, there seems little doubt they were on different sides of this enduring division in the personality types of people in public office, and therefore headed for a collision whenever a sufficiently major issue arose.
The genius of the evolving American form of government was to leave land ownership in private hands, while creating a new power center in banking and finance.
The issue was major, all right. It was the question of whether this proud new nation was going to join the Industrial Revolution, with all its smoke and crowding, greed and striving. Or whether it was going to sweep majestically along with the romantic movement of the day, the happy farmer and the noble savage, spreading out on a bountiful endless continent. To some extent, this was an echo of the French Revolution which so enthralled Madison's best friend Thomas Jefferson, drawing the conflict between England and France into our own rather recent revolution. Great Britain was a century ahead of France in the Industrial Revolution, which originated north of Manchester where William Penn's Quakers came from. Yes, factories were sort of polluting and crowded, certainly enough to get Marx and Engels excited. But there was another undeniable truth: England soon got richer, acquired a world empire, had a bigger navy, and was soon to beat Napoleon at Waterloo. It was rather easy to prove to George Washington that an economically stronger nation was likely to be militarily stronger as well. Eventually, the point would even be forcibly brought home to Robert E. Lee. American tourists in Europe today echo the sentiment when they chose a vacation itinerary: no churches, and no museums, please. But to be fair to the Virginians, the point was not at all obvious in 1790. Virginia owned what are now three states, and held significant claims to what are now five more. Why would Virginians have any interest in dirty factories or the grubby strivings of immigrant merchants?
Still another historical curiosity emerges from the twenty-five years of Philadelphia as the new nation's capital, which is really our national epic poem, waiting for its Homer to compose it. Just about everybody at the Convention agreed the national government had to be strengthened; the state legislatures were going to ruin us. Madison, representing the views of the landowner aristocracy, was also afraid the national government could get too strong and ruin them by disturbing private property ownership. Hamilton didn't care about land, he cared about money; he wouldn't mind a King if one was necessary to get things done. It should be remembered that feudalism was largely based on the king's right to reassign land ownership in return for military support. The genius of the evolving American form of government was to leave land ownership in private hands, while creating a new power center in banking and finance. So it eventually evolved that Madison and his friends from Appalachia wanted to limit the powers of the national government strictly to those few areas where we needed it strong; enumerated powers were the result. The Federalists following Hamilton, stretched enumerated power as far as it would reach with extra "implied" powers, together with their "emanations and penumbras". If you were to defend the nation, you needed a navy; eventually, it would be implied you needed an air force, maybe atom bombs. Increasing Federalism was the driving force of the Republican Party down to the time of Franklin Roosevelt, indeed down to the moment when the Philadelphian Owen Roberts tipped the Supreme Court majority in favor of eliminating "the commerce clause". Since that time, the Republican descendants of Alexander Hamilton have sought to shrink and restrain federal powers and bureaucracy, while the political descendants of James Madison have sought to populate Virginia with civil servants up to and beyond the Piedmont. Both Madison and Hamilton must be turning in the grave about the way this topic evolved. But the power being struggled for is all commercial power; ownership control of land remains off the political table. Perhaps the day will come when fresh land no longer seems unlimited, making monopoly control of it seem more threatening. More likely, agricultural economy will nearly vanish, taking its power struggles along with it. The paradox emerges that increased productivity will likely shrivel the importance of manufacturing as well, leaving both farm and factory as relics of the past. The test of a constitution is how well it adapts to an unknown future.
The colony of New Caesaria (Jersey) had two provinces, East and West Jersey, because the Stuart kings of England had given the colony to two of their friends, Sir George Carteret and John, Lord Berkeley, to split between them. Both provinces soon fell under the control of William Penn but it took a little longer to acquire the Berkeley part, so the Proprietorship of East Jersey was the oldest corporation in America until it dissolved in 1998.
|Apology for the True Christian Divinity|
It would appear that Penn intended West Jersey to be a refuge for English Quakers, and East Jersey was to be the home of Scots Quakers. Twenty of the original twenty four proprietors were Quakers, at least half of them Scottish. Early governorship of East Jersey was assumed by Robert Barclay, laird of Urie, who was certainly Scottish enough for the purpose, and also a famous Quaker theologian. Even today, his Apology for the True Christian Divinity is regarded as the best statement of the original Quaker principles. However, Barclay remained in England, and his deputies proved to be somewhat more Scottish than Quaker. Eighteenth century Scots were notoriously combative, and soon engaged in serious disputes with the local Puritans who had earlier migrated into East Jersey from Connecticut with the encouragement of Carteret. This enclave of aggressive Puritans probably provided the path of migration for the Connecticut settlers who invaded Pennsylvania in the Pennamite Wars, so the hostility between Puritans and Quakers was soon established. The Dutch settlers in the region were also combative, so the eastern province of Penn's peaceful experiment in religious tolerance started off early with considerable unrest. Of these groups, the Scots became dominant, even referring to the region as New Scotland. To look ahead to the time of the Revolution, most of the East Jersey leadership was in the hands of Proprietors of Scottish derivation, with at least the advantage that these were likely to have been very vigilant in seeing Proprietor rights originally conferred by the British King, continue to be honored by the new American republic.
East Jersey was probably already the most diverse place in the colonies when loyalists and revolutionaries took opposite sides in the bitter eight-year war over English rule, with hatred further inflamed when the victors in the Revolution divvied up the properties of loyalists who had fled. Earlier conflict was created by management blunders of the Proprietary leadership itself. Instead of surveying and mapping before they sold off defined property, like every other real estate development corporation, the East Jersey Proprietors adopted the bizarre practice of selling plots of land first, and then telling the purchaser to select its location. In the early years it is true that good farm land was abundant, but inevitably two or more purchasers would occasionally choose overlapping plots of land. The Proprietors were astonishingly indifferent to the resulting uproar, telling the purchasers that this was their problem. The outcome of all this friction was that settlers petitioned London for relief, and in 1703 Queen Anne took governing powers away from both the East and West proprietorships and unified the two provinces into a single crown colony. The Queen obviously nursed the hope that South Jersey would impose a civilizing influence on the North, but immigration patterns determined a somewhat opposite outcome. Both proprietorships, however, were allowed to continue full ownership rights to any remaining undeeded property.
In later years, the East Jersey Proprietors created more unnecessary problems by attempting to confiscate and re-sell pieces of land whose surveys were faulty, sometimes of property occupied with houses for as much as fifty years. This East Jersey proprietorship, in short, did not enjoy either a low profile or the same level of benevolent acceptance prevailing in the West Jersey province. A climate of scepticism developed that easily turned any management misjudgment into a confrontation.
|New Jersey Line|
The East Jersey proprietorship operated by taking title to unclaimed land, and then reselling it. In what seemed like a minor difference, the West Jersey group never took title itself, but merely charged a fee for surveying and managing the sale of unclaimed land. The upshot of this distinction was that the East Jersey group got into many lawsuits over disputed ownership, which the West Jersey Proprietorship largely escaped. The nature of unclaimed land in New Jersey is for ocean currents to throw up new islands in the bays between the barrier islands and the mainland, or pile up new swamp land along the banks of the Hudson and Delaware Rivers. Such marshy and mosquito-infested land may have little value to a farmer, but lately has become highly prized by environmentalists, who supply class-action lawyers with that nebulous legal concept of "standing". The posture of the West Jersey Proprietors is to be happy to survey and convey clear title to a particular property for a fee, but a buyer must come to them with that request. The East Jersey method put its proprietors in repeated conflict over possession and title, with idealists enjoying free legal encouragement from contingent-fee lawyers. By 1998, the Proprietors of East Jersey had endured all they could stand. Selling their remaining rights to the State for a nominal sum, they turned over their historic documents to the state archives. The plaintiff lawyers could sue the state for the swamps if they chose to, but the East Jersey Proprietors had just had enough.
The only clear thing about all of this is that the Proprietors of West Jersey now stand unchallenged as the oldest stockholder corporation in America. It's not certain just what this title is worth, but at least it is awfully hard to improve on it.
Americans are rightly proud of their Constitution, an achievement no one seems able to match. It's rude to point it out, but some Americans are just a little condescending about Europe's protracted examination of a federal union, and the World's plain inability to design a United Nations Charter that everyone can warm to.
|Charles de Gaulle|
But just a minute, look at the centuries of history we have compiled. After eighty years, the American union broke apart in the bloodiest war in our history, proportional to the population at the time. After another century it was safe to suppose we were past that episode, at least mostly.
And if you were an elected representative of one of the European states, charged with assuring a fair result for your constituents, you would have to warn them of something America seems to demonstrate. The new federal government at first had to be deferential to the various states, in order to persuade them to ratify the document. It wasn't an easy sell, and a promise had to be made and reiterated that every single power being surrendered was absolutely necessary for the common welfare of all. And it was necessary to repeat the promise in the Tenth Amendment, that nothing more was being given, nothing up our sleeve. The Eleventh Amendment which followed soon afterward, could even be described as a test of sincerity. The states demanded something they really should have been ashamed to ask for, but it was given to them as a demonstration who was still boss. The Federalist party soon broke apart, and had to become craven, only persisting in the assertion of powers it was absolutely clear states needed to give up.
But soon after that, the federal government has never ceased to nibble away at the cheese. Step by step, gradually but relentlessly, power has shifted from state capitals to the District of Columbia. It is now possible to say without serious contradiction that state legislatures really don't have much to do of any importance. Is that the lesson European officials are learning from our history?
Maybe not, but Charles de Gaulle once made a wisecrack suggesting another answer. He wanted to go to Heaven, he said. He really did. But he was definitely in no hurry to get there.
|Edmond S. Morgan|
Edmond S. Morgan spent an academic lifetime collecting and organizing the many volumes of what Benjamin Franklin wrote, and what he has been quoted as saying. Professor Morgan knows more than anyone else will ever know about what Franklin wrote down and signed his name to. Obviously, these records of a long and remarkable career are filled with instances of some of the very wisest, most penetrating observations about earth-shaking events. Although his writings are almost always charming and witty, succinct and penetrating , some of his proposals and comments about important matters could, however, be contradictory and sometimes half-baked. It's sometimes hard to admit that.
It's difficult to make entire sense of his attitude toward royalty, for example. For years during the time he represented the colonies at the Court, it would seem his vision of the future was that of multiple parliaments, held together by a common loyalty to the King. The concept is somewhat akin to the devolution movement now rumbling around the United Kingdom. It's hard to reconcile that proposal with some of the activities of George III that Franklin was in a position to watch, and it seems a little dubious for him to believe the major errors of the British government were to be mainly blamed on a handful of evil ministers misguiding the monarch. And harder still to reconcile this loyalty to the throne with his indifference or resistance to the American republic having a strong presidency at the later Constitutional Convention -- when his opinion might have made a major difference if it had been sensible. Some of these ideas may be remnants of poorly digested attitudes about the earlier English Civil War, or reactions to the behavior of Cromwell. Franklin spent years watching the British Parliament in action, and much time lobbying its members in proposed deals and arrangements. It's easy to see how he might have been disillusioned at times, but it's very hard to see the sense of his conclusion that the Parliament was an impediment to ideal relations between the sainted King and his obedient subjects. Since Franklin was not writing rebuttals to himself for saying contradictory things several years earlier, it is very hard to know what he really thought when you bring all these writings together; and unwise to be too certain what it tells us about Franklin.
|British Ministries Symbol|
There is one thread which weaves for many decades among Franklin's writings, probably coming close to reflecting a hardened, considered, position. As a young man he could easily observe American population and wealth growing much faster than growth in the mother country, projecting forward to the firm belief that America would in time eclipse England. Today we see this as common sense, but in the Eighteenth century population growth was believed to be secondary to economic growth. Some of the seemingly selfish and detestable mercantile policies of the British ministries were based on a sincere belief in this incorrect view of population. Since Franklin saw it was wrong, it is regrettable that he failed to take the approach of discrediting the theory rather than assailing those who mistakenly believed in it.
Taken all together, his 1767 letter to Lord Kames seems to represent Franklin's core position. Closer political union based on equality would actually benefit Britain more than it would America by preserving for Britain an equal place in an empire that must soon be principally American. America had resources far outweighing what British Isles possessed. It was bound to "become a great country, populous and mighty; and will in less time than is generally conceived be able to shake off any Shackles that may be imposed on her, and perhaps place them on the Imposers. In the mean Time, every act of Oppression will sour their Tempers... and hasten their final Revolt."
We now see that as very perceptive, although events diverted matters in other directions for two centuries before returning to the essential truth. The Industrial Revolution was England's achievement before it became the world's. And the Industrial Revolution, not the American one, was central to the British conquests which positioned the Empire for far greater growth than Franklin could foretell. He thought America would overtake England in less than a century, but in fact it took two centuries. This is one of those arguments where both sides are proven right, but at different times.
|Benjamin Franklin Discovers Electricity|
But while some other false starts about governmental design can perhaps be defended by signed correspondence at the time, they leave behind the embarrassing opinion that it was a good thing he occasionally got distracted by electricity experiments and flirtations with lady friends. And thus, sustained defeat of his silly 1752 proposal to displace the Pennsylvania Proprietorship with a Royal colony, and the equally ill-judged 1787 scheme to replace the American presidency with a debating club. Franklin was a statesman without equal, but no unedited lifetime correspondence can withstand scrutiny as a coherent political theory.
The Sunday, April 11, 2010 Philadelphia Inquirer contained an eighteen-page statistical summary of the schools within the eight-county area around Philadelphia. The New Jersey school districts, but not the Pennsylvania ones, report per-pupil spending right next to the proportion contributed by state government. If you know something about the sociology of New Jersey, you form some conclusions about state school aid which probably apply to all states, while confessing they only provably apply to New Jersey. Let's therefore say, it only provably applies to New Jersey that you spend more for schools if you are spending someone else's money.
In the welter of numbers supplied by this statistical report, it seems useful to focus on the strip of school districts along Haddon Avenue, starting from the place where the retreating British soldiers once ferried from Philadelphia to Camden (in 1778, of course.) Haddon Avenue extends directly East until it strikes King's Highway, where the British then turned North to scuttle toward the safety of their navy at New Brunswick. We are thus talking about the school districts of Camden, Collingswood, Haddon Township, Haddonfield and Cherry Hill, with Haddon Heights and Pemberton thrown in because of special features they illustrate.
Pemberton Township in Burlington County spends the largest amount of per-pupil school money in South Jersey, $18,970. It jumps right out at you that 82% of that money is contributed to the school district by the state government. Starting back at the Delaware River, 99% nonwhite Camden gets 88% of its school money from the state, and has the second-highest spending of $16,131 per pupil. Moving along the path of the British soldiers, the next town after Camden on Haddon Avenue is Collingswood, spending $14,262. Next comes Haddon Township, spending $13,243. It thus seems to prove that the further you get from the Delaware River, the less you spend on education, because next in order comes Haddonfield, with spending of $12,273. But not quite, because Cherry Hill increases a little to $12, 914. The percentage of state funds follows a parallel sequence from Collingswood to Haddonfield (36%, 31%, 6%) and then rises slightly to 11% in Cherry Hill. For comparison, nearby Haddon Heights spends $13,449, of which 10% derives from state government. And just in case you think there is a racial implication, nearby Gloucester City is 84% white, and gets 82% of the $16,046 it spends on schools, from the rest of the state by way of state contributions. However, these numbers also allow you to calculate how much the local districts spent of their own money. It turns out it is just the reverse. The more state aid a district gets, the less it spends, itself. The more state aid it gets, the more it spends, period.
The conclusion seems to emerge that an education assistance program designed to achieve equality, actually stimulates appreciably more spending in poor districts than in prosperous ones; at least so far, poor educational quality in poor districts is acknowledged to remain poor. There are some people who might say these statistics suggest a racial correlation, but some others could say the correlation is with distance from Philadelphia, while others would associate factors undisplayed in the statistics. Because there are more non-teachers than teachers employed by the schools, it is not certain that extra money going to schools will improve the teaching. Nevertheless, what is not demonstrated at all is a tendency for better education to be found where school money is most liberally applied. At least, it is safe to say that anyone who claims the quality of education parallels these spending patterns in New Jersey, would be laughed at.
Of course it is true that prevailing opinions about the local quality of education are as biased as the opinions about the local football teams, or the differing quality of tomato pies. That's partly because prevailing opinion of the school system has a strong effect on local real estate values, one of the main concerns of real estate agents. My neighborhood in Haddonfield is very close and sociable, so it's been confided that three empty-nest neighbors have sold their Haddonfield houses and moved to Haddon Heights to save money on taxes. When people make decisions like that, they generally know what they are doing. Available data, however, can be misleading to others because total school spending including subsidies does not reflect local property taxes, while local spending does. Empty-nesters are also very likely downsizing to less expensive homes, where of course the taxes seem lower, and are also moving to districts which have fewer children per house. Where that isn't the case in the school districts from which they flee, subsidies are extracted from state income and sales taxes, which move from district to district, right along with empty-nesters who move. For those with children attending public schools, emphasis in these considerations is somewhat different.
The voters have no idea how "equal" became "more" money for education. A fair conjecture would be that the poorer districts kept pressing the legislature for more as a matter of "fairness", leaving the more prosperous districts to shout "outrage", but less effectively. By voting down a majority of local school budgets both groups are shouting, all right, although it would be more effective to shout at their representatives in Trenton. Especially in a census year, when gerrymandering is on every agenda.
One of the central attractions of Roman citizenship was the set of rights afforded the citizens, and definitely not afforded to other people. St. Paul made good use of the rights of a Roman citizen, available to those who could announce civis Romani sum . These were, however, the gift of the Roman Senate, which for a long time Emperors feared to tamper with.
Chip Kelly of the Right Angle Club points out that Hammurabi intended the right of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye as a limitation of rights. If someone offended you or your family, you were definitely not entitled to overreact by massacring his whole tribe, but limited to exact equality of the punishment to fit the crime. An eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth -- and no more.
Somewhere, there may be a reasoned argument for natural rights or divine rights, but outside the French Revolution it is a little hard to find anything but legal rights, as consistent rights which society in general has decided to give you. That's somehow related to the concept of extending those rights to everyone, which everyone would want to have for himself. Anything more restricted than that is not a human right, it is political favoritism.
|Magna Charta: PartI Romance Part II Pedigrees||Amazon|
EVERYONE might profit from reading Plato on the subject of republics, not to mention reading James Madison. Both The Republic and The Federalist were conjuring republics they proposed, not ones they had experienced. After Madison did get hands-on experience he had such radical changes of opinion his friend George Washington essentially never spoke to him again. Not only in republics of course, does reality prove different from founding theory. It might seem more measured to say of republics that two centuries of their reality proves to be such an extension of theory, it effectively departs from it. In essence, the republican idea is to limit the voters to one periodic review of their representative's term of office overall, not in ongoing picky detail which would hamper him. This definition contrasts republics with democracies, and implies the reason to favor republics. The elected representative is given full power to act during his term in office, but must eventually face the voters for an accounting at the fixed time for re-election. Plato and Madison were right about extending latitude to one's chosen representative, but they failed to predict how effectively that latitude might be stolen by the legislative body itself, and controlled by rules and leadership which skirt ratification by the general public outside their chamber, in any district. The Romans, of course, did know what they were talking about, but history has tended to ascribe Roman difficulties -- assassinations, for example -- to flaws in Roman character rather than in construction of the Roman Republic. After describing some problems history has revealed about our own system, this essay is written to propose a solution. A second essay follows, to defend that solution.
|Joseph L Bristow|
The differences between House and Senate in the original U.S. Constitution were three, but since the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913, there are now only two. Originally, Senators were selected by the states they came from, mostly by the legislatures. A century of experience demonstrated the result was cronyism, members of the legislature using senatorial appointments as bargaining chips and for the most part limiting the choice to one of their own members. The provision probably did attract a higher grade of legislator overall, encouraging those primarily ambitious to be U.S. senators to have a try-out in the minor leagues first. It did give the State government serious power to punish a U.S. senator who failed to please the home state. And this selection process made it simpler and cheaper to run for the job as U.S. senator. This feature encouraged candidates with competing career choices, otherwise discouraged by the expense and unpleasantness of candidacy, to step forward. But by 1913 all this was seen as a way for cronyism to dominate the process, swapping appointments for favors, or even more tangible bribes. From the distance of another century it can be seen that the steadily declining power of state legislatures was matched by a declining quality of their elected membership, leading to a rising level of sordidness in their foibles. Hapless amateurs were largely supplanted by career politicians. After the Civil War "states rights" stirred up memories of secession and led to deliberate weakening of the states' role. Whatever the reasoning, the mentality of Progressivism was sweeping the country in 1913, and popular election of senators was deemed a Good Thing, swept in to general satisfaction. Doubt about whether it all made as much difference as claimed lies in the reality that from 1913 to 2010, one quarter (182) of all Senators have first arrived in the Senate through appointment by a Governor to fill an unexpired vacancy. Many of these vacancies have of course been contrived for the purpose.
The relative power of a senator and a representative lies in the size of the population who vote for them, and the frequency with which they must endure that unpleasantness. Members of the House are elected for two years and members of the Senate are elected for six; the voting constituency of 100 Senators is generally much larger than that of 532 Representatives, so because the population grows faster than the number of states, the representation discrepancy also grows. The frequency of running for reelection seems to be so irksome that whenever a senate seat falls vacant, some sitting Congressman from that state is almost certain to try to switch. Of course it is true that with only a quarter as many senators as congressmen, the power of each vote is weightier. To the extent that committee memberships represent special insider power, a senator does belong to more committees, but is more severely stretched to attend them all. Each senator's vote does have greater scarcity value, but a Representative who tends to business is more likely to know what he is talking about, hence better able to be influential in the committees where most matters are really decided. The limits of merit promotion in both houses of congress lies in the differing power of various committees, while the favor of appointment remains within the iron control of caucus leadership. In public, senators seem generally more polished and experienced in public persuasion. The persuasion that counts however is of gaining the respect of colleagues in your own legislative body, always restrained by the power of leadership to coerce conformity. Public persuasiveness by contrast is often little more than glibness, reflecting greater experience with dodging an issue to conceal a lack of depth in it. Almost all senators aspire to the presidency, although few achieve it. No Congressman has been elected President since Warren Harding; indeed, few Congressmen even dare to seek nomination. The appointment of Gerald Ford was a special situation. However, it is worth pondering that during the early days of the republic, the House of Representatives was considered much more prestigious than the Senate, and that curiosity continues to raise an important question just why it is now reversed.
The differences in prestige between the House and the Senate cannot be ascribed to the comparatively minor differences in their Constitutional definition, the size of their district and the frequency of election. Otherwise, we could immediately improve the quality of congressmen by reducing the limit of their number and frequency of re-election, which scarcely anyone has proposed. The more likely source of the problem can be found in the differing rules of procedure which each body has adopted; and reaffirms at the opening of each term. Various strategies of committee assignment and seniority have adapted to the reality that newly elected politicians rarely have any skills other than the ability to get elected. But almost everyone can learn, given enough time being exposed to a topic. A seniority system can occasionally lead to someone who is hopeless, gradually floating into a position where he can do great harm. Provision must be made for graceful exceptions to the seniority rule, usually by excluding a member from important committees until he has demonstrated some competence, less often by later dropping someone who has age- or alcohol-diminished faculties. Underlying this approach is a contempt bred of experience for the wisdom of the voters, back there in the district, whereas the leaders of the fraternity can protect the nation by judiciously devised rules. Sometimes it is unfortunately necessary to be a little hard boiled.
|Martin Van Buren|
So far so good. When Jefferson and Martin Van Buren invented political parties, the bodies of Congress responded by inventing caucuses. George Washington was not a learned man, but he knew he hated this system. James Madison probably feared political parties more than he hated them, so he incurred Washington's permanent displeasure by getting good at manipulating what he saw as the winning strategy. Van Buren's fate was more ironic; after inventing many of the unpleasant little strategies of modern politics, he was defeated by William Henry Harrison in the "log cabin" election of 1840. Harrison hadn't been born in a log cabin at all, he was born in a Virginia mansion, hee, hee, hee. George Washington wouldn't have chuckled at that one, he would have been livid.
Party caucuses have only one central feature, which is vote-swapping. Many of the strategies of this unattractive behavior were outlined in elegant detail by Pliny the Younger, in the Roman Senate, and James Madison the student of government had sought to avoid them. When he decided it was hopeless, he joined them and got good at it. In retrospect, the premier example of vote-swapping was the trade which Madison and Hamilton made, placing the nation's capital in Virginia/Maryland instead of Philadelphia, in return for federally redeeming the Revolutionary debts for all 13 states, when Virginians had already paid theirs off. Philadelphia had essentially nothing to say about it. Pliny had cautioned and subsequent practitioners have followed the advice to cover your tracks by swapping votes for an issue seemingly unrelated to the one in dispute. That's about all there is to vote-swapping, find out what the guy wants badly enough, and trade him something for it. It follows that it's wise to give off the appearance that you don't want much of anything. A corollary is that political caucuses try to conduct even innocent or public-spirited discussions in secret, making public only what is expedient to be made public. And a further corollary: some members of a caucus are from totally "safe" districts. Occasionally their votes can safely be traded for something the opposing party wants but the caucus feels necessary to claim to oppose. When a caucus wants something badly enough to trade it for something else, but is three or four votes short, the opposing caucus may trade the four votes from safe districts while violently denouncing the dirty turncoats. All this is known as party loyalty. When things are particularly tough, party loyalty can be enforced by finding out what you want badly, and taking it away from you. When these whips are applied to you, a grievance develops. Fine, what do you want to trade in return for vengeance? Many of these refinements seem to come, not from Rome, but from Sicily.
As was stated at the beginning, the purpose of this essay is not to rail at Congressional corruption, but to counteract it to some degree. Since the worst features of this system require secrecy and public duplicity to be effective, the best remedy is sunshine. Not about what Roosevelt did in his third term, but about what your local congressman might do next week, and his fear you will find out. His fear that a blogger will tip off the local newspaper or radio station, encouraging someone else with ambition to file for election against you. And his fear that when he asks someone for a campaign contribution, that person will bring up the topic in question. His fear that the local political boss will decide he can't win.
This was more or less the system which the founding fathers, James Madison chief among them, envisioned for this shining city on a hill. And which two centuries of rather clever schemers have gradually eroded. The highly desirable feature of a republic is that the elected person is free to represent his own interpretation of what is best for his district or, failing that, what is best for the nation. The elected representative is encouraged to risk defeat in the next election, if in his judgment what is good for the district is bad for the nation. But he is not a suicide bomber, if his vote will make little difference in the outcome he can be forgiven for taking cover. One would wish that fewer of them would speak one way and vote in the opposite direction, but that can be forgiven if someone back home in the district is keeping score and letting others know of it. The fundamental principle of a republic as distinguished from a pure democracy is that a representative, while free to act during his term in offfice, remains obliged to face the voters at the appointed time. Our system has come to exaggerate the actual extent of freedom to use judgment, because the freedom has been stolen by party leaders through the application of schemes too devious to detail. But the freedom is fundamentally a good thing. What has come to be so lacking is the idea of facing an informed electorate in making a choice between you and an informed opponent. The public, it must be feared, doesn't know beans.
And so the proposal for fixing this mess is difficult, but it can be stated simply. The recent economic boom created nearly a thousand billionaires; maybe four hundred would be a number that would escape challenge. If only fifty of them would endow think tanks in all fifty state capitals, and the fifty-first would endow an organization dedicated to making their research available to the public, then perhaps another fifty would be prompted to create a second think tank in each state capital on the opposite political side. Two polarized think tanks in each state capital, just imagine it. As things now stand, it would be a sufficient first step if that happened in only one state, and the rest of the country could watch what happens.
When George Washington was circling around Trenton to attack it on Christmas, a narrow spot up-river with a dozen houses on either side was called Coryell's Crossing or Ferry. That's now Coryell Street in Lambertville, linked to the other side of the river at New Hope, after first crossing a narrow wooden bridge to Lewis Island, the center of shad fishing, or at least shad fishing culture.
The Lewis family still has a house on Lewes Island, and they know a lot about shad fishing, entertaining hundreds of visitors to the shad festival in the last week of April. The river is cleaning up its pollution, the shad are coming back, but they unfortunately took a vacation in 2006. At the promised hour, a boatload of men with large deltoids attached one end of a drag net to the shore, rowed to the middle of the river, floated downstream and towed the other end of the net back to the shore. The original anchor end of the net was then lifted and carried downstream to make a loop around the tip of Lewis Island, and then both ends were pulled in to capture the fish. There were fifty or so fish in the net, but only two shad of adequate size; since it was Sunday, the fish were all thrown back.
|Map of Lewes Island|
But it was a nice day, and fun, and the nice Lewis lady who explained things knew a lot. Remember, the center of the river is a border separating two states. You would have to have a fishing license in both states to cross the center of the river with your net; game wardens can come upon you quickly with a power boat. But the nature of fishing with a drag net from the shore makes it quite practical to stop in the middle, where shotguns from the other side are unlikely to reach you. An even more persuasive force for law and order is provided by the fish. Fish like to feed when the sky is overcast, so there is a tendency on a North-South river for the fish to be on the Pennsylvania (West) side of the river in the morning, and the New Jersey (East) side in the evening. During the 19th Century when shad were abundant, work schedules at the local mills and factories were arranged to give the New Jersey workers time off to fish in the afternoon, while Pennsylvania employers delayed the starting time at their factories until morning fishing was over.
Somehow, underneath this tradition one senses a local Quaker somewhere with a scheme to maintain the peace without using force. Right now, there aren't enough fish to justify either strategem or force, but one can hope.
|Senator Joe Sestak|
Former Congressman Joe Sestak visited the Franklin Inn Club recently, describing his experiences with the Tea Party movement. Since Senator Patrick Toomey, the man who defeated him in the 2010 election, is mostly a Libertarian, and Senator Arlen Specter who also lost has switched parties twice, all three candidates in the Pennsylvania senatorial election displayed major independence from party dominance, although in different ways. Ordinarily, gerrymandering and political machine politics result in a great many "safe" seats, where a representative or a Senator has more to fear from rivals in his own party than from his opposition in the other party; this year, things seem to be changing in our area. Pennsylvania is somehow in the vanguard of a major national shift in party politics, although it is unclear whether a third party is about to emerge, or whether the nature of the two party system is about to change in some other way.
For his part, Joe Sestak (formerly D. Representative from Delaware County) had won the Democratic senatorial nomination against the wishes of the party leaders, who had previously promised the nomination to incumbent Senator Specter in reward for Specter's switching from the Republican to Democratic party. For Vice-Admiral Sestak, USN (ret.) it naturally stings a little that he won the nomination without leadership support, but still came reasonably close to winning the general election without much enthusiasm within his party. He clearly believes he would have beaten Toomey if the party leaders had supported him. It rather looks as though the Democratic party leadership would rather lose the election to the Republicans than lose control of nominations, which are their real source of power. Controlling nominations is largely a process of persuading unwelcome contenders to drop out of the contest. Sestak is therefore making a large number of thank-you visits after the election, and clearly has his ears open for signs of what the wandering electorate might think of his future candidacy.
|Senator Patrick Toomey|
America clearly prefers a two-party system to both the dictatorial tendencies of a one-party system, as well as to European multi-party arrangements, such as run-offs or coalitions. A two-party system blunts the edges of extreme partisanship, eventually moving toward moderate candidates in the middle, in order to win a winner-take-all election. Therefore, our winner-take-all rules are the enforcement mechanism for a two-party system. Our deals and bargains are made in advance of the election, where the public can express an opinion. In multi-party systems the deals are made after the election where the public can't see what's going on, and such arrangements are historically unstable, sometimes resulting in a victory by a minority fringe with violently unpopular policies. In our system, a new third-party mainly serves as a mechanism for breaking up one of the major parties, to reformulate it as a two-party system with different composition. Proportional representation is defended by European politicians as something which promotes "fairness". Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to find anything in politics anywhere which is sincerely devoted to fairness.
Going far back in history one of the great theorists of legislative politics was the Roman Senator Pliny the Younger, who wrote books in Latin about how to manipulate a voting system. For him, parties were only temporary working arrangements about individual issues, a situation where he recommended "insincere voting" as a method for winning a vote even if you lacked a majority in favor of it. Over the centuries, other forms of party coalitions have emerged in nations attempting to make democracy workable. Indeed, a "republic" itself can be seen as a mechanism devised for retaining popular control in an electorate grown too large for the chaos and unworkability of pure town hall democracy. A republic is a democracy which has been somewhat modified to make it workable. Our founding fathers knew this from personal experience, and never really considered pure democracy even in the Eighteenth century.
The two main actors in shaping the American Republic were George Washington and James Madison. Madison was young, scholarly and largely unknown; Washington was old, famous, and insecure about his lack of academic political education. Both of them knew very well that if Washington really wanted something he was going to have it; what mainly restrained him was fear of looking foolish. But he hated partisanship and conniving, partly as a result of having been the victim of General Mifflin and the Conway Cabal. Washington hated political parties and anything resembling them; Madison was young and uncertain, and briefly surrendered the point. It took about two years of real-life governing for Madison to conclude that political parties were absolutely essential to getting something accomplished. In this he experienced for the first time those unwelcome "pressures from the home state", with Thomas Jefferson determined to thwart Alexander Hamilton, and Patrick Henry thundering and denouncing any hesitation in going for the jugular vein of opponents. Madison was deeply concerned with making his new nation a success, and eventually joined Jefferson in the Virginia policy of opposing banks, cities and manufacturing. When Washington saw that Madison was committed to this course, he never spoke to him again. For Washington, honesty was always the best policy, and personal honor is never regained once it is lost. The compromise of 1790 was particularly vexing to their relationship, when Washington's honor and personal finances were used as bargaining chips for moving the nation's capital opposite Mount Vernon on the Potomac River, in return for placating Hamilton and Robert Morris with the assumption of state revolutionary war debts.
|Henry Clay 1811|
Legislative partisan politics took a violent turn in 1811, when 34-year old Henry Clay was elected to his first term as member of the House of Representatives. The Senate was less prestigious than the House in those days, and Clay had spent his time as a senator studying the landscape of the House, before he made his big move upward. Up until that moment, the role of Speaker was that of mediator and administrator of the rules, partisanship was considered a shameful thing in a Speaker. Young Clay was elected Speaker on the first day of the first session after he moved to the House as a member. Seniority was brushed aside, and this newcomer took over. It takes only a moment's reflection to surmise that a lot of politics had taken place before the House convened. Not only that, but Clay immediately added the power of the Speaker to appoint committee chairmen, to the invisible powers of majority leader. The office of majority leader had not yet been created, but it was not long in emerging that anyone who could assemble enough votes for Speaker was also able to make highly partisan choices for Committee Chairs. Eventually, the seniority system was imposed in part as a reaction to perceived abuses of Speaker power. It is worth a digression to reflect on the role of any seniority system, which as it is clearly seen in labor-management industrial relations, serves to deprive management of promotion power, usually substituting seniority for selection by merit. In the case of the Speaker, the seniority system catapults the power of the Speaker over that of every member of his caucus. To rise in a seniority system for committee chairmen, a member must first be appointed to a desirable committee -- by the Speaker, or by his instructed favorites on the appointment committee. It puts in the hands of the Speaker or his agents the power to humiliate a member by ignoring his seniority; the other members know immediately what that means. To understand the power of this threat, reflect on Woodrow Wilson's famous observation that "Congress in committee, is Congress at work."
Soon after Henry Clay made his dramatic moves, Martin van Buren extended the idea of partisan party politics to the actual election of Congressmen. Much of the whoopla and deceptiveness of subsequent campaigns was invented by Andrew Jackson's vice president. And that included their own deal, in which van Buren worked for Jackson's election in return for a promise that he would be the successor President. After that came the election of 1848, in which William Henry Harrison was elected as a man born in a log cabin. When, in fact he had been born in one of the largest mansions in Virginia. That had been approximately George Washington's residence description, too, but it is hard to see Old Stone Face lowering himself to accept any office unless it was offered unanimously.
Compare that with the campaign financing episode which created the urban political machine. The Philadelphia traction king Wm. L. Elkins was narrowly concerned with building street car lines along with his business associate P.A.B. Widener; Widener had been a city politician before he got into street cars. One or the other of these two approached the Mayor of Philadelphia with the complaint that it interfered with building street car lines to have to bribe every bartender on every street corner. So he made a proposal. It wasn't the money that bothered him, because he could just raise trolley fares to cover it, it was the protracted delays. So, how would it be if the trolley company just delivered a big lump-sum bribe to the mayor. That would give enormous political power to the party boss through the power to distribute or withhold the boodle to party workers. And it would save the trolley company lots of time, while not costing any more than the "retail graft" system. Since then, just about every urban political machine in the country has been largely financed through the macing of utilities.
The downward trend of serial modifications to the Philadelphia Constitution of 1787, should be clear enough without further illustration. If the Tea Parties aren't mad about it, they should be. More likely, however, they are mainly mad about the modern pinacle of sly tinkerings, plainly displayed on TV during the enactment of the Obama Health Bill. The point was repeated for emphasis in the Dodd-Frank financial bill, in case it is ever claimed to have been accidental. In both cases, 2000 page bills were prepared out of sight, and thrust before the Congress with orders to enact them in four hours. If that's representative government, perhaps we ought to go back to having a King.
Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer under King George III in 1766-67, had a reputation for abrasively witty behavior, in addition to which he did carry a grudge against American colonial legislatures for circumventing his directives when earlier he had been in charge of Colonial Affairs. His most despised action against the Colonies, the Stamp Act, seems to have been only a small part of a political maneuver to frustrate an opposition vote of no confidence. The vote had taken the form of lowering the homeland land tax from four to three shillings (an action understood to be a vote of no confidence because it unbalanced the budget, which he then re-balanced by raising the money in the colonies.) The novelist Tobias Smollett, subsequently produced a scathing depiction of Townshend's heedless arrogance in Humphry Clinker, but at least in the case of the Stamp Act, its sting was more in its heedlessness of the colonies than vengeance against them. One can easily imagine the loathing this rich dandy would inspire in sobersides like George Washington and John Adams. After Townshend was elevated in the British cabinet, almost anything became a possibility, but it was a fair guess he might continue to satisfy old scores with the colonies. When King George's mother began urging the young monarch to act like a real king, Townshend was available to help. On the other hand the Whig party in Parliament had significant sympathy with the colonial position, as a spill-over from their main uproar about John Wilkes which need not concern us here. Vengefulness against the colonies was not widespread in the British government at the time, but colonists could easily believe any Ministry which appointed the likes of Townshend might well abuse power in other ways, before such time as the King or a more civilized Ministry could arrive on the scene to set things right. It was vexing that a man so heedless as Townshend could also carry so many grudges. Things did ease when Townshend suddenly died of an "untended fever", in 1767.
Whatever the intent of those Townshend Acts, one clear message did stand out: paper money was forbidden in the colonies. Virginia cavaliers might be more upset by the 1763 restraints on moving into the Ohio territories, and New England shippers might be most irritated by limits on manufactures in the colonies. But prohibiting paper money seriously damaged all colonial trade. Some merchants protested vigorously, some resorted to smuggling, and others, chiefly Robert Morris, devised clever work-arounds for the problems which had been created. Paper currency might be vexingly easy to counterfeit, but it was safer to ship than gold coins. In dangerous ocean voyages the underlying gold (which the paper money represents) remains in the vaults of the issuer even if the paper representing it is lost at sea. Theft becomes more complicated when money is transported by remittances or promissory notes, so a merchant like Morris would quickly recognize debt paper (essentially, remittance contracts acknowledging the existence of debt) as a way to circumvent such inconveniences. In a few months we would be at war with England, where adversaries blocking each other's currency would be routine. By that time, Morris had perfected other systems of coping with the money problem. In simplified form, a shipload of flour would be sent abroad and sold, the proceeds of which were then used to buy gunpowder for a return voyage; as long as the two transactions were combined, actual paper money was not needed. Another feature is more sophisticated; by keeping this trade going, short-term loans for one leg of the trip could be transformed into long-term loans for many voyages. Long-term loans pay higher rates of interest than short-term loans; it would nowadays be referred to as "riding the yield curve." This system is currently in wide use for globalized trade, and Lehman Brothers was the main banker for it in 2008. And as a final strategy, having half the round-trip voyage transport innocent cargoes, the merchant could increase personal profits legitimately, while cloaking the existence of the underlying gun running on the opposite leg of the voyage. If the ship is sunk, it can then be difficult to say whether the loss of such a ship was military or commercial, insurable or uninsurable. In the case of a tobacco cargo, the value at the time of departure might well be different from the value later. Robert Morris became known as a genius in this sort of trade manipulation, and later his enemies were never able to prove it was illegal. Ultimately, a ship captain always has the option of moving his cargo to a different port.
Other colonists surely responded to a shortage of currency in similar resourceful ways, including barter and the Quaker system of maintaining individual account books on both sides of the transaction, and "squaring up" the balances later but eliminating many transaction steps. Wooden chairs were also a common substitute as a medium of exchange. But "Old Square-toes," Thomas Willing, experienced in currency difficulties, and his bold, reckless younger partner Morris displayed the greatest readiness to respond to opportunity. Credit and short-term paper were fundamentally promises to repay at a certain time, commonly with a front-end discount taking the place of interest payment. The amount of discount varied with the risk, both of disruption by the authorities, and the risk of default by the debtor. This discount system was rough and approximate, but it served. Quite accustomed to borrowing through an intermediary, who would then be directed to repay some foreign creditor, Morris and Willing added the innovation of issuing promissory notes and selling the contract itself to the public at a profit. Thus, written contracts would effectively serve as money. A cargo of flour or tobacco represented value, but that value need only be transformed into cash when it was safe and convenient to do so.
The Morris-Willing team had already displayed its inventiveness by starting a maritime insurance company, thereby adding to their reputation for meeting extensive obligations; they established an outstanding credit rating. Although primarily in the shipping trade, the firm was also involved in trade with the Indians. There, they invented the entirely novel idea of selling their notes to the public, essentially becoming underwriters for the risk of the notes, quite like the way insurance underwriters assumed the risk of a ship sinking. Their reputation for ingenuity in working around obstacles was growing, as well as their credibility for prompt and reliable repayment. In modern parlance, they established an enviable "track record." A creditor is only interested in whether he will be repaid; satisfied of that, he doesn't care how rich or how poor you are. The profits from complex trading were regularly plowed back into the business; one observer estimated Robert Morris's cash assets at the start of the Revolution were no greater than those of a prosperous blacksmith. It didn't matter; he had credit.
In the event, this prohibition of colonial paper money did not last very long, so profits from it were not immense. But ideas had been tested which seemed to work. Today, transactions devised at Willing and Morris are variously known as commercial credit, financial underwriting, and casualty insurance. In 1776, Robert Morris would be 42 years old.
WITH British troops in the process of disembarking at New Brunswick, apparently intent on hanging rebels, Robert Morris and John Dickinson annoyed everybody by refusing to sign the Declaration of Independence. Both were fully engaged in the Revolution after the fighting finally got started, and Morris signed up in August, 1776. Dickinson had some further reasons of his own, but Morris explained his position quite succinctly. He didn't mind being a British subject, he didn't want a new King, what he wanted was Constitutional Liberty. There is no record of his being directly confronted about this later, and thus no detailed explanation. But whatever did he mean?
|Iliad and the Odyssey|
Morris was of course very bright, even brilliant as a businessman. He had an astonishing memory for detail, and was capable of holding his own counsel. He was a person of great daring, and prodigious amounts of work. But there is very little evidence that he thought it was useful to be mysterious, or deep. So why not take him at his word, which was essentially that what mattered in a government was whether it kept its promises and allowed its citizens all possible Liberty. It did not matter whether the government had a king, or seldom mattered much who that king was. What mattered was whether it kept its promises, and for that a Constitution is useful. There is no great pleasure in being capricious and arbitrary, so a king who leaves the citizens alone is mostly the best you can ask for. It does, however, help considerably if the rules are fair, clear, and binding. Beyond that, it is unwise to go about toppling governments in the vain hope that a new one is somehow better than the old one. This is putting words into his mouth, to be sure. What he did say was he saw no advantage to getting a new government when what we wanted was Constitutional Liberty. Eleven years later, he was a personal friend of just about everyone with the power to design a new government. Washington lived in his house, or in one next door. Ben Franklin was a business partner. Gouverneur Morris was his lawyer and partner. Just about everybody else who mattered was meeting with him in secrecy for months at a time, in the Pennsylvania Statehouse. And so on.
An essential part of this puzzle of Morris' role could be that the American Constitution was very close to unique in being written out as a document, like a commercial contract. The British Constitution was unwritten at the time, and continues to be unwritten today. Many other members of the British Commonwealth operate without a written constitution. And in fact, what passed as constitutions for thousands of years have been unwritten; it was the written American one which was the novelty, not the other way around. It may stretch matters a little to describe the Iliad and the Odyssey as constitutions, but they do in fact describe the system of governance of the Ancient Greeks, clarifying many axioms of their culture for which they were willing to fight and die. We are able to understand the rules for Greeks to live by from reading Homer, almost surely better than we understand the rules of American culture by reading The Federalist Papers. Modern students of geometry, for another example, are taught that all the rules of Euclidian geometry are based on a few axioms stated at its beginning. Change one of those axioms, and you make mathematics unrecognizable. Even Newton's Principia are now seen by mathematicians to be rules which apply only to our universe for certain. There may exist many other universes to which they do not apply. Axioms are themselves mostly regarded as unprovable assumptions. A Constitution therefore is regarded in modern times to be much the same thing as a set of mathematical axioms. With one new exception: they are written out on a piece of paper for all to see and agree to -- just like a commercial contract. It would not be surprising to discover that America's great merchant trader, Robert Morris, was horrified at the idea of depending on Vestal Virgins or Judges, or Kings, for their recollection of what the contract says. It therefore seems quite natural for a maritime merchant to be agitated by having the rules of British society depend on what King George III chose to emphasize or ignore. Write it down, negotiate it, then tell us what you want so we can agree to it; that's a proper way to define Constitutional Liberty and limit disputes. International maritime trade could not be conducted in any other way, because sea captains who feel abused in a foreign port can abruptly up-anchor and sail away, never to return to that port again until or unless local rules are clarified.
Unless someone discovers some relevant documents in a trunk in the attic, that's about the best conjecture to be made about the American novelty of a written constitution, and its transformative effect on the legal system of all other nations which have one. It would still be nice to know, for certain, whose idea it was.
UNDER the Articles of Confederation, America had a President who presided, but there was no executive branch for him to do anything administrative. The day to day business of the nation was conducted by committees of Congress, who mainly contracted out the actual work. Evidently, Robert Morris the businessman had observed this system with displeasure, because it only took him a few days to replace it with departmental employees, reporting to him. The affairs of the nation were evidently in such disarray that there is scarcely any recorded resistance to this astonishing re-arrangement, probably viewed as only one of a series of brisk actions by this foremost businessman of the nation, acting in an emergency and to some extent using his own money. Furthermore, the immediate administrative improvement was apparently so obvious to everyone that the system continued after Morris left office, and was absorbed into the 1787 Constitution without much recorded debate. Without dissent, as we say, the bureaucracy had been created. As the press of business steadily increased the bureaucracy, from a handful of employees to many millions of them, a fourth branch of government was created without any Constitutional mission statement, not one single word. Following directions set by early America's preeminent no-nonsense businessman, control of the bureaucracy was placed within the Executive branch, in time largely located within the District of Columbia, and governed by rules made by the Civil Service Commission. Sometimes this fourth and largest branch of government skirts dangerously close to encouraging insubordination to their politically appointed superiors.
For some reason, the State Department is particularly suspected of such "Yes, Minister" behavior. Increasingly, government subcontractors are relied upon ("privatization"), as growth of public sector work forces a return to the subcontractor approach of two centuries earlier; such subcontractors increasingly find the bureaucracy assumes the role of a second Board of Directors. And for the same reason as before: the work of the central government keeps increasing. At a state and local level, an uncomfortable amount of political funding can be traced to utilities and other corporations who have been awarded legal monopolies, uncomfortably like the mercantilism which our colonist ancestors had found so repugnant to deal with. In the 21st Century we are finally approaching the point where we can foresee the number of people working for some level of government becoming greater than the number of voting citizens, and therefore able to control their income and the nature of their work. When the bureaucracy begins to exert political election power over its elected superiors, elected politicians are almost certain to rebel at what they will surely see as going a step too far. However, on the topic of salary and work environment, they are likely to become allies. Public discontent is already echoed in the growing political movement to limit or shrink the size of government; it would be well to examine and pilot test alternative options, before this one gets us into trouble.
In retrospect, this was one of many features of creating the three branches of government where broader implications went unnoticed in 1787. The British government had three branches, King, Parliament and Judiciary. To create a government consisting of a President, a Congress, and a Judiciary did not then seem like much of a departure. However, the Revolution deposed the King and made the people sovereign. When the real implications of that breezy slogan had to be translated into legislative language serious implications emerged, unexpected then, and now hard to change.
Although Alexander Hamilton's arresting slogan that "A national debt is a national treasure" has diverted attention to the underlying idea toward him, Robert Morris had introduced and argued for the same insight in the preamble to his 1785 "Statement of Accounts". The key sentence was,"The payment of debts may indeed be expensive, but it is infinitely more expensive to withhold payment." This fatherly-sounding advice was surely a distillation of a long life as a merchant, and the gist of it may have been passed down to him as an apprentice. Failure to pay your debts promptly and cheerfully results in the world assigning a higher interest rate to your future credit; it is not long before compounded interest begins to drag you down. It doesn't exactly say that, but that's what it means.
Another way of looking at this folk wisdom is that it leads to a simplified method of organizing the finances of an organization. Because higher rates of interest are demanded of long-term borrowing than short-term, it becomes efficient to segregate them. That is, to establish a cash account for every-day transactions, and a separate bond account for long term, or capital, debt. As bills arrive, they need only be verified for accuracy and sent for payment from either a cash account or a capital account. The original responsibility for agreeing to such debts lies with top management, not the treasurer. The job of the treasurer's office is to pay legitimate bills as quickly and cheerfully as possible, ignoring any imprudence of earlier agreeing to them; rewards will come from lower interest charges and improved credit rating. An unexpected benefit of thus organizing institutions and governments is to make the accounting profession possible. Accountants perform the same function in every business, whether the business is selling battleships, or parsnips. The accounting profession made itself computer-ready, two hundred years before the computer was invented.
In the same document, the retiring national Financier was advising the wisdom of "funding" the war debts, which were largely owed to France, with whom relations were rapidly souring. Lump them all together into a fund, issue bonds and sell them as representations of the nation's capital at the time of issue. Disregard what the money was used for, by either the debtor or the creditor. In spite of appearances, money sequestered in a fund for later payment, belongs to the creditor the moment it is promised, not the moment it is transferred. Morris and Hamilton discovered that the fund itself had the property of a bank, in creating money. As long as the creditor did not cash your bonds, he could use them as money, in effect doubling the amount of money you yourself can spend. It was this discovery which so exhilarated Alexander Hamilton, causing him to over-praise the methodology to an already suspicious Congress. Tending toward the teachings of Shakespeare's Polonius, Hamilton's excitable manner caused them to remember, neither a borrower nor a lender be. But Congress was eventually persuaded. The federal government lumped the states' debts together in an "assumption of debts" , consolidated all these various little debts into a single "funded debt", and made the deal work with changing the "residency" of the nation's capital from Philadelphia to the banks of the Potomac. It was called the Great Compromise of 1790.
Morris well understood that a funded system requires some final payor of last resort. Such a payor need set aside only a small portion of the debt for dire contingencies, but his name gets first attention on the list presented to prospective creditors. In 1778 Morris had offered his own personal wealth as that last resort, which the public at the time trusted far more than the Treasury of the United States. Over the next twenty years he came to realize that the last resort of established nations, no matter what the paper said, was the aggregate underlying wealth of the whole nation. With a vast continent stretching to the West, and countless immigrants clamoring to join from the East, the wealth supporting the debt of the United States in 1790 seemed endless. After two hundred years we have finally begun to accumulate a national debt which equals our Gross Domestic Product, and have only begun to pull back as we observe what happens to other nations who got to that point sooner. Let's hope devising an automatic check and balance does not require a second Robert Morris. Men like him can be hard to find, so limit your debts -- or your nation's debts -- to sixty percent of your assets. Financial geniuses are invited to devise a better debt limit, if they can.
THE British may well have been high-handed with their American colonies, but they were precise while enacting the Prohibitory Act of December 1775 about why they would attack militarily in 1776. Their American subjects had formed a rebel government in 1775 called the Continental Congress, which then dispatched an Army under George Washington to wage war against British forces in Boston; and then showed no signs of disbanding. What could you call that, except an armed mutiny?
|Articles of Confederation|
The American colonists naturally had a different viewpoint. They needed a government of some sort if war came, preferring not to be hanged for treason in defense of their rights. Their primary grievance was taxation without representation. Beyond that, many colonists were resistant to more than temporary independence from Britain. The most common goal of American moderates was a variant of commonwealth similar to that being discussed for Ireland. After the British navy actually attacked however, government essentials quickly condensed to a compact among thirteen tribes to fight for their lives against a common enemy. A document describing what was contemplated for the far future was now less essential. Serious discussion bogged down in meaningless disputes between conservatives who wanted a strong central government, and radicals who argued for states' rights, neither of which was realistic with British soldiers marauding the land. Although John Dickinson produced a workmanlike document in 1777 called the Articles of Confederation, it was weakened and not closely followed; formal ratification drifted during the first four years of the war. The chaotic situation also provided a pretext for some of the colonies to contribute less money or troops than their representatives promised. However, after five years of bloody warfare an unratified Constitution became increasingly hard to justify, its disadvantages eventually outweighing any argument in favor. Robert Morris decided the Articles needed to be ratified, as a sign of sufficient unity to justify loans to them.
Morris at that time was called the Financier, a poorly defined office which in his aggressive hands meant Morris was effectively running the country. His position put him in the center of unenforceable promises of aid from the thirteen states, justified to him in all the contradictory ways of beleaguered debtors. Morris was enough of a businessman to know that hard-pressed debtors frequently offer weak excuses. So, whether he felt he was thwarting phony evasions, or really believed the states had legal concerns, he pressed ahead vigorously for ratification of the Articles of Confederation. This was soon accomplished in 1781, but unfortunately it made little difference. However, it can be safely surmised this experience hardened his long-expressed conviction that every federal government must at a minimum have realistic power to collect taxes to service its debts. But to accomplish that now required those ratified Articles must be amended or replaced; he had made everything more difficult. It would now be six more years before the "perpetual" Articles could be unraveled, in the form of a new Constitution. That did provide for federal taxation, and while going about it was made considerably easier to amend, than by unanimous consent of all the states. There remained also the awkwardness of that term "Perpetual". The whole experience was exasperating, but it surely left him and others determined not to be dissuaded by fine points of legal language in the Articles.
Any perpetual agreement never to allow amendment (except by unanimous consent) is visibly unwise, but that was what confronted those who now proposed to amend the Articles. At the least, it pushed the decision in favor of replacing the whole document. It was easier to brush aside a perpetual legal document, as unreasonable, than to argue that obtaining thirteen votes was impossible. George Washington had spent a lifetime constructing a reputation for always keeping his word. If even Washington could agree the situation was unreasonable, the public was of a mind to accept that absolutely anyone should agree. Anyway, the reasoning behind the language in the first place was that thirteen former colonies were joining together for a larger Union which would continue after the Revolution. It was the Union which was meant to be perpetual, not the Articles. Curiously, this change also made it easier to expand the union; imagine the difficulty of obtaining unanimous votes from fifty constituent states. There almost seems to be an ominous political axiom buried in this situation: as the number of voters grows, the majority margin must narrow if deadlock is to be avoided.
|Treaty of Paris 1783|
The Revolutionary War, begun in 1775, continued from 1781 (Yorktown) to 1783. Even during four succeeding years of peaceful governance under the Articles, from the Treaty of Paris (1783) to the Constitutional Convention (1787), not a great deal happened. But a few things did come up to test the Articles. The small war between Connecticut and Pennsylvania was settled by the Decision of Trenton, although state boundaries became largely formalities after the country was unified by Article IV of the Constitution. The Northwest Ordinance was passed. And the Constitutional Convention was agreed to. Several flags were tested and adopted. Robert Morris had swept aside the habit of micro-managing the country by Congressional Committee, delegating government departments to a bureaucracy in the process. Of all these activities, the most important was the Northwest Ordinance, which demonstrated that important governmental innovations could actually be accomplished under the Articles.
Democracies all like to talk too much. Their constitutions typically run to hundreds of micro-managing pages, and get everyone confused, unless they are unwritten, which is really confusing. It's hard to remember, but the Articles were the first written constitution, and to this day no member nation of the British Commonwealth has a written constitution. By giving things a trial run in the Articles of Confederation, we learned what is important and wrote it down. The second time around, tested in war and in peace, we made important revisions. By the time of the Civil War, we had a written governing document that men would die for, because they understood it and approved.
SEVERAL years ago, I attended a public meeting at the Federal Reserve, surrounded by well-dressed strangers. At a contentious moment in the discussion, the man next to me rose and announced he was the Finance Minister of a large European nation and had a prediction to make. Within twenty years, he believed, there would only be three economically functioning nations in the world: America, India, and China. Since he was sitting next to me, I asked him the obvious question: what about Europe, what about Japan? He shrugged me off, as if the question was too stupid to answer. As things have turned out, maybe it was.
|13th Century Magna Carta|
NATIONAL constitutions are mainly an outgrowth of the 18th Century Enlightenment, even though similar features are to be found among ancient legal codes. Those who trace the origins of the American constitution to the 13th Century Magna Carta will usually point to a central sentence of clause 39:
No free man shall be arrested, or imprisoned, or deprived of his property, or outlawed, or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor shall we go against him or send against him, unless by legal judgement of his peers, or by the law of the land.
That's a pretty good beginning, a good example of a needed legal principle, but unrecognizeable as what we would today call a Constitution. It states what a government may not do, but does not define the nature of a government which does the job best. Nor do even the many Enlightenment philosophers of government take that final step of outlining where their notions should take us, until the American Constitution had been written and defended in the Federalist papers. Nowhere among the writings of Montesquieu (The Spirit of the Laws, 1748), Catherine the Great (Nakaz, Instructions to the All-Russian Legislative Commission, 1767), Diderot (Observations About Nakaz, 1774), James Madison (1787), John Dickinson(1763) or Gouverneur Morris(1787) can there be found much tightly described definition of a constitution. Certainly there is no definition within the writings of Adam Smith, if we look for rule-making among Enlightenment thinkers whose ideas were influential on the 1787 Philadelphia document. The American constitution was the product of many minds, before and after 1787. The outlines of its final form converged, and emerged, from the Constitutional Convention of the summer of 1787, with Gouverneur Morris as the penman of record. To him we certainly owe its succinctness, which is a main source of affection for the document. That probably understates matters; in his diary of the secret meetings, James Madison records that Gouverneur Morris rose to speak about 170 times, more than any other delegate. Lots of thought and debate; ultimately, few words.
|Sir Francis Bacon|
The Elizabethan Sir Francis Bacon has the greatest claim on devising a theory of law and law-making in the Anglosphere tradition. But his elegant modification of Galileo's scientific method, the English Common Law, is more a methodology for creating good laws than an outline of a nation's legal principles. Anyway, tracing the American Constitution back to an underlying British one tends to stumble when the British Constitution fails to meet a definition which would include our own. The British Constitution is said to be "unwritten" to the degree it is a consensus of revered documents. It can be amended by Parliament at will, has a variable history of defining just who is covered by it, and in order to define constitutional principles seems to rely on sentences extracted from difficult context. If the two constitutions had been written and compared at the same time, one would say the British had sacrificed coherence out of respect for tradition. In fairness, some features of the American constitution are also perhaps unnecessary for every constitution, but by surviving as the oldest constitution of the modern form, have become its model. That would be:
A set of principles governing the legitimacy of a nation's laws, and firmly standing above them. It defines its own domain, geographically and by membership of a defined citizenry. Except as otherwise defined, it supersedes all other governance within its domain. It defines and defends its own origins. It includes a description of how to amend it, which is intentionally infrequent and difficult. It goes on to outline the structure of the laws it regulates, with subtle modifications made to channel the type of power structure which will govern.
In the American case, history and culture generated several other instabilities so central they justified heightening the difficulty to amend them to a Constitutional level, thus conferring undisputed dominance over competing principles of governance. That would be:
A separation of government powers weakened all potentially offending branches of government, and thus enhanced citizen liberty. A separation of church from state, for like purpose. A right of citizens to bear arms, to strengthen citizens' defense against internal or external attack, and perhaps also warning that revolt must be possible, even endorsed, as some final extremity of protection for citizen sovereignty.
|Russia's Catherine the Great|
It enhances our comprehension to contrast the outcomes of competing 18th Century implementations of the Constitution idea. Russia's Catherine the Great proposed a constitution steeped in the traditions of the Enlightenment, but ultimately designed to define and strengthen the role of the monarch. Denis Diderot her French protege recoiled at this viewpoint, substituting other views resembling those of Jean Jacob Rousseau. He opened Observations About Nakaz his commentary to the Queen, with the following declaration:
There is no true sovereign except the nation; there can be no true legislator except the people. Whether looking back to the English Civil War, or forward to future disputes between the Executive and Legislative branches, it makes clear the Legislative branch was dominant, with the Executive branch acting as its agent.
With this ringing warcry, the French model nevertheless ushered in the extremes of the Terror, the Guillotine, and the Napoleonic conquests. The consequences of the French constitution undermined world confidence in the benevolence of public opinion, at least deeply confounding those for whom democratic rule was not totally discredited. Once more new life was breathed into allegiance for the monarchy, military rule, and dictatorship. Public opinion, it seemed, was not either invariably benign or comfortably far-seeing. The noble savage, mankind naked of tainted civilization, was not necessarily wise or worthy of trust. Edward Gibbons, the 1776 author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was pointing out where it all might lead, if we completely believed in the collective goodness of the human condition. At the least, the failure of the French Revolution complimented the viewpoint of the Scottish philosopher, Adam Smith, who also in 1776 emphatically urged a switch in that reliance toward a sense of enlightened self-interest, as follows:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
|Terror, the Guillotine,|
It is not surprising that Diderot rejected the Leibniz view of things that "All is for the best, in this best of all possible worlds." And, in view of his dependence on Catherine, not surprising he did not publish his rejection of it until 1823. Thomas Jefferson was in France as ambassador during the time of the American Constitutional Convention, fearing to confront George Washington; and likewise keeping his conflicting views private for several years. Eventually they surfaced in the creation of an anti-Federalist political party along with the conflicts which kept the new nation in a turmoil for the following forty years. It is surely a testimony to the strength of the Constitution's design that the country was able to shift between such extreme governing philosophies but still hold together without changing the governing statement of purpose. Indeed, it is plausible to contend that our two political parties still continuously debate the useful tension between these two differing opinions.
Both sides fighting the Revolutionary War predominantly spoke English as a native language, so it seemed deceptively simple to pick up a little cash for a tidbit of information or two. John Nagy, who has written several books on spies in the Revolution, recently addressed the Right Angle Club about this interesting topic. According to him, Quakers were favorites as spies because they were widely split in their sympathies, and as pacifists were abundant in the civilian societies of the time. Others have commented that the main difference between Conservatives and Free Quakers was that the Free Quakers were mostly of the artisan class and sympathetic to the Revolution, while the Conservatives were mainly of the merchant class, and Tories. But there were many exceptions, and the plain dress Quakers were hard to tell apart and passed freely through the military lines. No doubt many readers will be incensed by such comments, for which we take absolutely no responsibility.
The one main exception to the English-language generalization were the French, who were still smarting from their defeat in the Seven-Years (French and Indian) War. The playwright Beaumarchais was quite active in the French movement to make trouble for the hated English, and seems to have stirred up King Louis XVI to be interested in financing rebel trouble-makers, if not to become active combatants. In any event, a wary King thought it was best to send a spy to look over the situation. As detailed in a little pamphlet called The Spy in Carpenter's Hall the Americans were tipped off about the plot. Accordingly, the spy named Bonvoloir was hidden up on the second floor of Carpenter's Hall, while the colonists put on a belligerent falsified performance on the first floor. It is claimed their performance was a convincing one, having the desired effect of creating a report to the King that the colonists were belligerent, warlike, numerous and united. After the Battles of Trenton and Saratoga, the timing was good for using this sort of report to provoke the King into doing what he was mostly of a mind to do, anyway.
|Johann de Kalb|
The French were unusual in favoring aristocrats as spies, and Johann de Kalb was anther who snooped around, returning later in the form of General de Kalb of military note. The names of British spies, aside from Major Andre, tended to have a Quaker sound to them, like Dunwoody, Cadwalader Jones and the like. It would take deep research to know whether these were Quaker stalwarts or merely black sheep of some family; there is little doubt that sympathies changed with the changing fortunes of battle. Another feature was the careless lying which took place for propaganda purposes. The famous story of Lydia Darragh, a Quaker who allegedly overheard the British officers plotting the surprise attack on Whitemarsh on Decembeer 5, 1777 and walked many miles in the snow to warn Washington -- is apparently a much dressed-up version of what happened. The whole Darragh family was engaged in regular spying, and the evidence is that Lydia's brother William was the one who was the messenger. He apparently carried messages under the cloth covering of the buttons on his coat.
Two types of spying have a greater ring of authenticity. The British needed pilots to guide their ships up the Delaware past fortifications and obstacles. Maps were nice, but it seemed simpler to enlist the efforts of two ladies of easy virtue, Ms. O'Brien and Ms. McCoy, to hang out in taverns and entice local ship pilots to enlist to guide the British ships into Philadelphia. The British spymasters even had the ingenuity to entice a member of the Continental Congress, Joseph Galloway, to turn over the commisary records from which troop strength could be estimated from the food consumed. It is not recorded whether suitable adjustments were made for starving troops, stolen supplies, or fraudulent charges, however.
Two prominent officials were accused of selling out the side, but an accusation of this sort is easily made, hard to prove. When the examples of Benedict Arnold and Peggy Chew can be verified, however, there is always doubt cast on everyone which some will believe. The system of double signatures was used, so there were two co-treasurers of the United States, Joseph Hellegas and George Clymer. Letters have been produced indicating that one or the other sold the commissary records. Hellegas' home is still today the residence outside Pottstown of a prominent Philadelphia surgeon, and his portrait appears on the ten-dollar bill. In so doing, he started a tradition of Secretaries of the Treasury on the ten-dollar bill, presently occupied by Alexander Hamilton. George Clymer, for his part, was a signer of the Constitution and a favorite of George Washington. Are these stories true? Who knows, but in an eight-year war John Nagy has accumulated evidence that there were over five hundred documented spies. The essential question remains one of whether to believe the documents.
"John Marshall's Constitution"
The best way to remind Americans, especially skeptical ones, of the unique value of our Constitution is to ask a question. "Can you name a single other example in all recorded history where thirteen nations peacefully gave up sovereign power to become one unified nation?" No, but it took two hundred years of failures of similar attempts, to demonstrate the American achievement. The U.N. and the European Union are recent examples of other failed attempts to conciliate and unify; the French Revolution was an early botched one. With few exceptions, unions are unified at swords point. This dismal record exists in spite of abundant evidence that most nations are too small to prosper; it seems to be necessary to beat people over the head to make them agree to be prosperous. Even so, ratifying our unification was a close call, hotly resisted by notables like Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson.
Many historians conclude our Constitution was merely lucky, could not have been accepted at any other time, except immediately following a shared revolt against high-handed misrule. During that eight-year war the follies of ruinous inflation, unenforceable contracts, drum-head justice and inability to collect taxes -- the collective anarchies of feeble government -- were everyday observations. America wanted to rid itself of a king, but it was plain that without that remarkable man, George Washington, peace and prosperity were inconceivable. In short, America had just felt the consequences of many choices it would need to avoid, so in 1787 we avoided them. A much-criticized decision was made by the founders to avoid the slavery issue, and a good thing we did. Eighty years later we still had to fight our bloodiest war, just to hold that Union together. The industrialized North did not go to war to free slaves. It fought to preserve a dynamic Union of expanding states. Even The South was not defending slavery so much as struggling to preserve a place in this new world until it could find some plausible way to escape its antiquated life support. That is not easy to do under a system of majority rule.
Although the Constitution enshrines majority rule, the American Union is held together with the glue of decent respect for minority viewpoints. That's fragile glue, indeed. In any unavoidable collision of interests, the main argument for still leaving the Constitution untouched is not respect for Original Intent. It is fear this unique accomplishment will disintegrate if tinkered with.
Three other introductory points need to be made, about John Marshall, about Philadelphia, and about the evolution of common law into statutory law. The Constitution we know did not emerge complete from the 1787 Convention, or even after the first Congress produced the Bill of Rights in 1791. John Marshall, who did complete it, was not even the first Chief Justice. Nevertheless, almost alone he forged national agreement on three essential points: 1. The Constitution is the keystone of our legal system, dominant over other authority. 2. Since the Republic began with a legal blank slate, English Common Law is the default position, but only until the Supreme Court rules on it or Congress asserts a statute. 3. The Supreme Court, and only the Supreme Court, may define what the Constitution means when challenged. These three unwritten axioms seemed so clear and irrefutable when Marshall deployed them, that they still stand -- because they are unchallengeable, not because they were ratified.
Finally, the rest of the nation may not be completely comfortable hearing a Philadelphian declare that our quite singular Constitution could not have emerged from any other city, as well as at any other time. The evidence to support what some may call chauvinism rests on the historically abrupt decline of American civic virtue as soon as the nation's capital moved to less utopian surroundings. Others may well have a different viewpoint, but the opinion remains that the nation survived the chaos from 1800 after the migration of the Capital from Philadelphia, until the end of Civil War -- only because we were protected by thousands of miles of ocean.
BIG nations gobble up small ones, so small ones band together. As George Washington observed, when you are strong the others leave you alone. But other forces sometimes make smallness seem more attractive, especially if the nation is already uniform in religion, language and culture. Nations search for an ideal size for both War and Peace, and discover they praise two incompatible sizes. Both the American Revolution of 1776 and today's struggles of the European Union fit a common formula: banding together for military security, then pulling back from declining Liberty. American experience of a Civil War after eighty years under the Constitution suggests the margin for error is narrow. And enduring; even in the Twenty-first century it is striking that both little Scotland and that little bit of little Belgium that is Flemish seem willing to sacrifice major economic benefits for what seems to outsiders a minor step for Liberty. But the whole point of the Constitutional Convention then seems to emerge: Nine years previously, thirteen separate sovereignties had been more or less hustled into a military alliance by the appearance of a hostile British fleet. That war was now over, the thirteen had grown accustomed to living together, but the Articles of Confederation had not foreseen a large nation clearly enough in 1776. The Articles did not even provide for an executive branch. In the chaotic conditions of 1787, a calmer choice could be made between breaking apart and unifying, for a different set of reasons based on Peace and Prosperity rather than war: Either surrender some aspects of state power to a real union, or let each contentious state confront its future, unsupported. In many ways it was the vision of Liberty which changed between times of peace and times of war. In 1860 the stakes were higher than in 1787 but the issues were mixed. Industrializing states in the northern part viewed the Union as an economic opportunity. Purely agricultural southern American states were not so sure; in the end, preferring the older set of rules, they took their leap. To the amazement of Southern leaders the North was ready to die to preserve that Union, and so the demands of warfare reasserted themselves.
Geography doubtless imposes variable limits for both war and peaceful prosperity, anywhere. Some nations have therefore banded together for military reasons then split apart in local quarrels, more or less regularly. Thirteen American colonies had been afraid to confront Britannia alone, but somewhat overconfidently took on that challenge as a confederation. At the other extreme, little Rhode Island even refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention, fearing big neighbors more than remote British rule. Fortunately, similar possessiveness about local perks was unable to collect enough political power to dominate other states. After a year by the time of the state ratifying conventions, however, it was a closer call. Peace and prosperity: getting bigger discourages predators, but getting smaller offers sole possession of what you have. Since the United States grew in jumps through most of its history, it probably learned intangible things from alternating episodes of being too big and then too small. Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis of the advancing frontier as shaper of culture is not greatly different in the essence of its argument.
When ideas of Union first gained traction, both the thirteen American colonies in the Eighteenth century and the twenty-five nations of the Euro zone in the Twenty First, were dominated by the memory of war. The American objective was the simple one of military parity with a common enemy. The nations of the European Union had a longer view; a seemingly endless cycle of bloody wars sustained their conviction that other wars would inevitably follow unless they did something innovative. National unification on the American model sounded ideal but difficult. Perhaps the habits of cooperation and trade would lead to it. The unexpected decline of the Soviet empire further reduced the fear of war. Pride may also have led to over-reaching; twenty-five is comfortably larger than thirteen, which up to that time was the largest nation merger to survive. But twenty-five is smaller and thus more manageable than the present American fifty. To begin the process with monetary union might produce quick benefits from a source too mysterious to produce much public resistance. Nobody could think of a war started by a monetary dispute.
Of course the Europeans expected difficulties from speaking many languages, but they probably still underestimate how far the legal profession has already gone in confining nuanced words to a single meaning; it is essential to their trade. When many languages split off from a common stem, many unaccepted interpretations re-emerge when they are later re-combined. Even without the nuance problem, translation into many languages is a serious expense, which is at least as burdensome as currency exchanges were among multiple sovereignties. By contrast two centuries earlier, the American revolutionaries shared a single language, but soon found espionage was an unusually serious problem. Even their enemy spoke English, so sometimes improved clarity itself creates unexpected problems. Indeed, in American disputes about Original Intent we repeatedly encounter the tenacity of people believing a document says what they want it to say. Vigorous legal advocates think they are paid to marshall every argument weak or strong. Staying within the English language, the evolution of U.S. Supreme Court interpretations often turns on subtle differences in meaning of simple words. Penumbras and emanations from the word "Privacy" in Roe v. Wade soon force our judges to decide whether abortion within a right of privacy is simply too far from common understanding of English, in a double way. Both in the discovery of a right to privacy within a document which does not use the word, and then in the inclusion of abortion within that, Justice Blackmun clearly overestimated the capacity of excited citizens to be flexible. Much more surely, he would have overestimated public willingness to grasp his meaning in two-step translations of a foreign language. Since this famous decision is destined to stand or fall, depending on public tolerance for such wordplay, having almost every citizen confidently understanding English is at least one advantage. Parenthetically, we will need every advantage possible. The really serious box which Justice Blackmun put us in, was to invent a Constitutional mandate which thus can only be compromised in a Constitutional amendment. In almost every other conflict, the system of checks and balances permits either the Congress or the state legislatures to soften the conflict with conciliatory modification. Constitutional amendment is already difficult to achieve; inflaming the religious passions of the forty-odd bodies who must agree to amendment makes amendment nearly impossible.
By contrast with important language confusions, "hatreds between nations" are often mentioned as an obstacle to unification but the claim seems largely bogus. Argot and slang are commonly invented to conceal the opinions of a minority group. Over thousands of years, this purpose of "jiving" a secret code among conspirators has been perfected exquisitely. It's hard to overcome, easy to teach children. But the memory of actual wars really dies out rather quickly, not least because atrocities are so hideous, mankind wants to forget them. I was seventy years old before someone told me I had ancestors burned at the stake. By whom? By someone who has also been dead for four hundred years, not likely to seem threatening to me. Over the fifty years since the Second World War, I have run into former German and Japanese soldiers; they now seem pretty benign. One American former prisoner of war was forced to stand at attention while his Japanese captor pulled out his gold teeth with pliers; he told this story with a faint smile. It is one of the benevolences of biology that we are born without memories, and a second is the biological impossibility of remembering the feeling of pain without first re-dramatizing the experience for future reference. Once actual onlookers stop grinding the grievance axe, it should be possible to get on with devising a European constitution, provided it contains a meaningful equivalent of our First Amendment.
|Helen of Troy|
It's an important point for a proposal unifying two dozen different priesthoods and a number of nations wholly defined by a single religion. A workable constitution for them must contain a strict separation of church and state, because ballads, epic poems, and traditions are synthetic, quite different from actual experiences. Helen of Troy may or may not have had a face that launched a thousand ships, but Homer's Iliad certainly glorified more hatred than she did; who can say whether the poem portrays the truth? That's the war side of things; the Odyssey is powerful in evoking the special virtues leading to prosperous nationhood. Because you can't argue or reason with epic myth, it is the many exaggerated glorifications and exaggerated condemnations by them which supply endurance to patriotic myths, easily reducing macroeconomists of the European Central Bank to tears of frustration. Because the best of these epics stand alone as powerful literature, their propaganda strength is all the more difficult to deconstruct with mere logic. Quoting Arnold Toynbee, it is not weaknesses, but overextension of their finest qualities, which usually brings nations down.
While true grievances seldom pose obstacles of their own, they do often misdirect political leadership from what is best for their countries. European Unification had a primary goal of eliminating future wars, but its leaders decided the peace goal was achievable only by indirection, and began first with monetary tools for prosperity. That takes a long time; America was still fumbling monetarily until the end of the Civil War. So while starting with small victories seems a plausible route to big victories, in fact it drains much of the idealism out of revolutions by avoiding the cataclysmic issues which justify great sacrifices. Even worse, it here made the financial disaster of the Euro symbolic of tawdry hazards on the road to Prosperity, raising issues of corruption and self advancement, rather than idealistic sacrifice. At least when you struggle for national security, every day you survive is another victory. There is of course no room in past struggles for Americans to gloat over their superior approach to permanent Union. But a defeat is a defeat, and the Euro mess could become a big defeat.
|Congressman Ron Paul|
From a commentator's perspective, currency matters are difficult to understand and explain. For contrast, the Battle of Normandy is thrilling and awe-inspiring; every death is the death of a hero. But rises in productivity and the risk implications of volatility, seem hopelessly confusing to an economics beginner. Worse still, there exists real uncertainty among experts. We now have currency which has no backing in precious metals, and is really just a book entry. That's useful for transactions, less certainly useful for a storehouse of value. Mr. Ron Paul ran for President of the United States challenging the whole Federal Reserve concept, and a possibility must be admitted that his speeches have a grain of truth. We trust our bankers to devise a workable system of exchange without gold and silver, and readily admit that Mr. Bernanke knows more about it than we do. But. But the world economy nearly collapsed utterly a few years ago, and you know, Dr. Ron Paul might just have a valid point or two. Europe has not yet emerged into a fit environment for enjoying a monetary Crusade to a World Without War. For striking contrast, just go to any Civil War movie. And watch those teen aged soldier boys charge up the hill, ready to die for the Union.
|A Study of History Arnold J. Toynbee ISBN-13: 978-0195050806||Amazon|
|The Franklin Institute of Philadelphia|
THE oldest annual awards for scientific achievement, probably the oldest in the world, are the gold medals awarded by the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia for the past 188 years. Nobel Prizes are more famous because they give more money, but that in a way involves another Philadelphia neighborhood achievement, because Nobel's investment managers have run up their remarkable investment record while operating out of Wilmington, Delaware. In the past century one unspoken goal of the Franklin Institute has been to select winners who will later win a Nobel Prize, the actual outcome more than a hundred times. That likelihood is one of the attractions of winning the Philadelphia prize, but in recent years some Nobel awards have acquired the reputation of being politicized, particularly the Peace and Literature prizes. Insiders at the Franklin are positively fierce about avoiding that, so the Franklin Institute prizes have become known for recognizing talent, not merely fame.
|Dr. Jan Gordon, Dr Sean Caroll, and Dr. Cliff Tabin|
Within Philadelphia, the annual awards ceremony is one of the four top social events. The building will seat 800, but reservations are normally all sold out before invitations are even put in the mail. A major source of this recent success is clear; in the past twenty-five years the packed audience is a star in the crown of Dr. Janice Taylor Gordon. This year, she hurried back from a bird-watching trip in Cuba, just in time to busy herself in the ceremonies where she sponsored Dr. Sean Carroll of the Howard Hughes Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, for the Benjamin Franklin medal in the life sciences. Carroll's normal activities are split between awarding $80 million a year of Hughes money for improving pre-college education from offices in Bethesda, Maryland, and directing activities of the Department of Genetics in Madison, Wisconsin. His prize this year has relatively little to do with either job; it's for revolutionizing our way of thinking about evolution and its underlying question, of how genes control body development in the animal kingdom. Evolution and Development are academic terms, familiarly shortened to Evo-Devo.
|Dr. Carroll's Butterflies|
My former medical school classmate Joshua Lederberg, also a resident of Philadelphia, was responsible for modern genetics, demonstrating linkages between the DNA of a cell, and the production of a particular body protein. For a time it looked as though we might confidently say, one gene, one protein, explains most of biochemistry. In the exuberance of the scientific community it even looked as though deciphering the genetic code of 25,000 human genes might explain all inherited diseases, and maybe most diseases had an inherited component if you took note of inherited weaknesses and disease susceptibilities. But that turned out to be pretty over optimistic. Lederberg got into an unfortunate scientific dispute with French scientists about bacterial mating, and now appears to have been wrong about it. But the most severe blow to the one gene, one protein explanation of disease came after the NIH spent a billion dollars on a crash program to map out the entire human genetic code. Unfortunately only a few rare diseases were explained that way, at most perhaps 2%. Furthermore, all the members of the animal kingdom turned out to have pretty much the same genes. Not just monkeys and apes, but sponges and worms were wildly different in outward appearance, but substantially carried the same genes. Even fossils seem to show this has been the case for fifty million years. Obviously animal genes have slowly been added and slowly deleted over the ages, but in the main the DNA (desoxy nucleic acid) complex has remained about the same during modest changes in evolution. Quite obviously, understanding the genome required some major additions to the theory's logic.
In late 1996, three scientists met in Philadelphia for a brain-storming session. Sean Carroll had demonstrated that mutations and perhaps evolution of the wing patterns of butterflies and insects took place during their embryonic development, and seemed to be controlled by the unexplored proteins between active genes. Perhaps, he conjectured, the same was true of the whole animal kingdom. Gathered in the Joseph Leidy laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania, the three scientists from different fields proposed writing a paper about the idea, suggesting how scientists might explore proving it in the difficult circumstances of nine-month human pregnancies, in dinosaurs, in deep-sea fish and many remote corners of the animal kingdom. Filling yellow legal pads with their notes, the paleontologist (fossil expert) Neal Shubin of the University of Pennsylvania, genetic biologist (Sean Carroll of Wisconsin), and Harvard geneticist Cliff Tabin worked out a scientific paper to describe what was known and what had to be learned. The central theme, suggested by Carroll, was that evolution probably takes place in the neighboring regulatory material which controls the stage of life early in the development of the fetus, and these regulatory proteins consist of otherwise inactive residual remnants of ancient animals from which the modern species had evolved. As the fetus unfolds from a fertilized egg into a little baby, its outward form resembles fish, reptiles, etc. And hence we get the little embryonic dance of ancient forms morphing into modern ones. In deference to the skeptics it would have to be admitted that the physical resemblance to adult forms of the ancient animals is a trifle vague.
|Haeckel's drawings of vertebrate embryos, from 1874|
Embryologists have long argued about Ernst Haeckel's incantation that "Ontology recapitulates phylogeny", which is a fancified way of saying approximately the same thing. Darwin's conclusion was more measured than Haeckel's and explanations of the phenomenon had been side-lined for almost two centuries. But it seems to be somewhat true that fossils which paleontologists have been discovering, going back to dinosaurs and beyond, do mimic the stages of embryonic development up to that particular level of evolution, and might even use the same genetic mechanism. The genetic mechanism might evolve, leaving a trail behind of how it got to its then-latest stage. Borrowing the "Cis" prefix ("neighboring") from chemistry, these genetic ghosts have become known as Cis-regulatory proteins as the evidence accumulates of their nature and composition. Growing from the original three scientists huddled in Shubin's Leidy Laboratories in 1996, academic laboratories by the many dozens soon branched out, dispatching paleontologists to collect fossils in the Arctic, post-doctoral trainees to collect weird little animals from the deserts of China, and the caves of Mexico, everywhere confirming Carroll's basic idea. Even certain forms of one-celled animals which occasionally form clumps of multi-celled animals have been examined and found to be responding to a protein produced by neighboring bacteria which induces them to clump -- quite possibly the way multi-cellular life began. Many forms of mutant fish were extracted from caves to study how and why they developed hereditary blindness; the patterns of markings on the wings of butterflies were puzzled over, and the markings on obscure humming birds. The kids in the laboratory are now having all the fun with foreign travel, while the original trio find themselves spending a lot of time approving travel vouchers. Many fossils of animals long extinct have been studied for their evolution from one shape to another, especially in their necks, wings and legs. Some pretty exciting new theories emerged, and are getting pretty well accepted in the scientific world. At times like this, it's lots of fun to be a scientist.
|Thirteen Sovereign States|
In the case of the American Constitution, the initial problem was to induce thirteen sovereign states to surrender their hard-won independence to a voluntary union, without discord. Once the summary document was ratified by the states, designing a host of transition steps became the foremost next problem. A dominant need at that moment was to prevent a victory massacre. The new Union must not humble once-sovereign states into becoming mere minorities, as Montesquieu had predicted was the fate of Republics which grew too large. Nor must the states regret and then revoke their union as Madison feared, after he had been forced to agree to so many compromises. As history unfolded, America soon endured several decades of romantic near-anarchy, followed by a Civil War, two World Wars, many economic and monetary upheavals, and eventually the unknown perils of globalization. When we finally looked around, we found our Constitution had survived two centuries, while everyone else's Republic lasted less than a decade. Some of its many flaws were anticipated by wise debate, others were only corrected when they started to cause trouble. Many tolerable flaws were never corrected.
Great innovations command attention to their theory, but final judgments rest on the outcome.
Benjamin Franklin advised we leave some of the details to later generations, but one would think there are limits to vagueness. The Constitution says very little about the Presidency and the Judicial Branch, nothing at all about the Federal Reserve, or the bureaucracy which has since grown to astounding size in all three branches. Of course the Constitution also says nothing about health care or computers or the environment; perhaps it shouldn't. Gouverneur Morris, who actually edited the language of the Constitution, denounced it utterly during the War of 1812, and probably was already feeling uncomfortable when he refused to participate in The Federalist Papers . Madison's two best friends, John Randolph and George Mason, attended the Convention but refused to sign its conclusions, as Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson almost certainly would also have done. On the other hand, Alexander Hamilton and Robert Morris came to the Convention preferring a King to a President, but in time became enthusiasts for a republic. Just where John Dickinson stood, is very hard to say. Those who wrote the Constitution often showed less veneration for its theory, than subsequent generations have expressed for its results. Understanding very little of why the Constitution works, modern Americans are content that it does so, and are fiercely reluctant about changes. The European Union is now similarly inflexible about the Peace of Westphalia (1648), suggesting that innovative Constitutions may merely amount to courageous anticipations of radically changing circumstances.
|President Franklin Roosevelt|
One cornerstone of the Constitution illustrates a main point. After agreeing on the separation of powers, the Convention further agreed that each separated branch must be able to defend itself. In the case of the states, their power must be carefully reduced, then someone must recognize when to stop. If the states did it themselves, it would be ideal. Therefore, after removing a few powers for exclusive use by the national government, the distinctive features of neighboring states were left to competition between them. More distant states, acting in Congress but motivated to avoid decisions which might end up cramping their own style, could set the limits. The delicate balance of separated powers was severely upset in 1937 by President Franklin Roosevelt, whose Court-packing proposal was a power play to transfer control of commerce from the states to the Executive Branch. In spite of his winning a landslide electoral victory a few months earlier, Roosevelt was humiliated and severely rebuked by overwhelming refusal of Congress to support him in this judicial matter. The proposal to permit him to add more U.S. Supreme Court justices, one by one until he achieved a majority, was never heard again.P
Although some of the same issues were raised by the Obama Presidency seventy years later, other more serious issues about the regulation of interstate commerce have been slowly growing for over a century. Enforcement of rough uniformity between the states rests on the ability of citizens to move their state of residence. If a state raises its taxes disproportionately, or changes its regulation to the dissatisfaction of its residents, the affected residents head toward a more benign state. However, this threat was established in a day when it required a citizen to feel so aggrieved, he might angrily sell his farm and move his family in wagons to a distant region. People who felt as strongly as that, were usually motivated by feelings of religious persecution, since otherwise waiting a year or two for a new election might provide a more practical remedy. However, spanning the nation by railroads in the 19th Century was followed by trucks and autos in the 20th, and then the jet airplane. While moving residence to a different state is still not a trivial decision, it is now far more easily accomplished than in the day of James Madison. A large proportion of the American population can change states in less than an hour if they must, in spite of a myriad of entanglements like driver's licenses, school enrollments and employment contracts. The upshot of this reduction in the transportation penalty is to diminish the power of states to tax and regulate as they please. States rights are weaker, since the states have less popular mandate to resist federal control. It only remains for some state grievance to become great enough to test the present power balance; we will then be able to see how far we have come.
|High Gasoline Taxes of Europe|
Since it was primarily the automobile which challenged states rights and states powers, it is natural to suppose some state politicians have already pondered what to do about the auto. The extraordinarily high gasoline taxes of Europe have been explained away for a century as an effort to reduce state expenditures for highways. But they might easily be motivated by a wish to retard invading armies, or to restrain import imbalances without rude diplomatic conversations. But they also might, might possibly, respond to legislative hostility to the automobile, with its unwelcome threat to hanging on to local populations, banking reserves, and political power.
It helps to remember the British colonies of North America were once a maritime coastal settlement. The thirteen original states had only recently been coastal provinces, well aware of obstructions to trade which nations impose on each other. Consequently, they could readily design effective restraints to mercantilism within the new Union. Two centuries later, repeated interstate quarrels provided fresh viewpoints on old international problems. As globalization currently becomes the central revolution in trade affairs of a changing world, America is no beginner to managing the intrigues of international commerce. Or to conciliating nation states, formerly well served by nation-state principles of the Treaty of Westphalia, but thus all the more reluctant to give some of them up.
BIG nations easily gobble up small ones, so small ones band together. As George Washington famously observed, when you are strong the others leave you alone. But other forces make smallness seem attractive, especially if the nation is already uniform in religion, language and culture. Most nations search for an ideal size for both Peace and Prosperity, and find they need two sizes. Both the American Revolution of 1776 and present struggles of the European Union fit a common formula: banding together for military security, then pulling back for greater independence. American experience of a subsequent Civil War eighty years later suggests the margin for error is narrow.
Geography doubtless imposes limits for both peace and prosperity. Some nations have therefore banded together for military reasons then split apart in local quarrels, more or less regularly. The thirteen American colonies had been afraid to confront Britannia alone, but somewhat overconfidently took on that challenge as a confederation of thirteen. At the other extreme, little Rhode Island even refused to send delegates to the Constitutional Convention, for fear the other twelve would want to share its toll revenues from the coastal road. Similar possessiveness has not yet been reported about the narrow defile through the northern end of the even smaller State of Delaware. At least they are not morally superior in Delaware, which for decades protected its secrets of mushroom cultivation. Everyone wants Peace and Prosperity: getting bigger discourages predators, but getting smaller offers sole possession of whatever you happen to have. Since the United States grew in jumps through most of its history, it probably learned intangible things from alternating episodes of suddenly too big and then gradually too small. Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis of the frontier as shaper of culture gropes for a fairly similar model. Our treatment of minorities is not ideal, but better than most; we can be moderately proud of our business ethic. These are flawed arguments. We did our best, and it somehow worked out.
When ideas of Union first gained traction in two distant continents, both the thirteen American colonies and the twenty-five nations of the Euro zone were afraid of war. The simple American objective was military parity with a common enemy. The nations of the European Union had a longer view; a seemingly endless history of bloody wars sustained their conviction that other wars would inevitably follow unless they did something innovative. National unification on the American model would be ideal, and perhaps the habits of cooperation and trade would lead to it. The unexpected decline of the Soviet empire reduced the immediate threat to peace. Pride may also have led to over-reaching; twenty-five is comfortably larger than thirteen, which up to that time was the largest nation merger to survive. But twenty-five is smaller and thus more manageable than the present American fifty. To begin the difficult process with only monetary union as a start, should produce quick benefits from a source too mysterious to produce much public resistance. Nobody could think of a war started by a monetary dispute.
Of course the Europeans would expect to cope with the difficulties of speaking many languages. The American colonies mostly shared a single language. Even their enemy spoke English. In this particular, the Europeans seem to have underestimated the language-induced difficulties of maintaining a common understanding of what their Constitution meant to people. Indeed in American Judicial disputes about Original Intent, we repeatedly encounter the tenacity of people to believe a document says what they want it to say. Staying within a single English language, the inflammatory evolution of U.S. Supreme Court interpretations often turns on subtle differences in meaning of simple words, since vigorous legal advocates think they are paid to marshall every argument weak or strong. Penumbras and emanations from the word "Privacy" in Roe v. Wade force our judges to decide whether the inclusion of a right to abortion within a right of privacy is simply too far from common understanding of English. Both in the discovery of a right to privacy within a Constitution document which does not use the word, and in the inclusion of abortion within that, Justice Blackmun overestimated the capacity of citizens to understand what they did not want to understand. How much more surely, then, would he have overestimated public willingness to grasp his meaning in two-step translations from a foreign language. Since this famous decision is destined to stand or fall, depending on public tolerance for such wordplay, having almost every citizen confidently understanding English has at least some advantage in persuasion about its wisdom.
By contrast with important language confusions, the "hatreds between nations" so often mentioned as obstacles to unification, seem largely bogus. Argot and slang are commonly invented to conceal the opinions of minority groups. Over thousands of years, this purpose of "jiving" a secret code among conspirators has been perfected exquisitely. It's hard to overcome, easy to teach children. But the memory of actual wars really dies out rather quickly, not least because atrocities are so hideous, mankind wants to forget them. I was seventy years old before someone told me I had ancestors burned at the stake. By whom? By someone who has also been dead for four hundred years, not likely to seem threatening to me. Over the fifty years since the Second World War, I have run into former German and Japanese soldiers; they now seem pretty benign. One American former prisoner of war was forced to stand at attention while his Japanese captor pulled out his gold teeth with pliers; he told this story with a faint smile. It is one of the benevolences of biology that we are born without memories, and a second is the impossibility of remembering the feeling of pain without first dramatizing the experience for future reference. Once actual onlookers stop grinding the grievance axe, it should be possible to get on with devising a European constitution, provided it contains the equivalent of our First Amendment.
|Helen of Troy|
It's an important point for an E.U. proposal unifying two dozen different priesthoods and a number of nations wholly defined by the remit of a single religion. A workable constitution for them must contain a strict separation of church and state, because myths, epic poems, and traditions are synthetic, quite different from actual experiences. Helen of Troy may or may not have had a face that launched a thousand ships, but Homer's Iliad certainly glorified more hatred than she did; who can say whether the poem portrays the truth? That's the war side of things; the Odyssey is powerful in evoking the special virtues leading to prosperous nationhood. Because you can't argue or reason with epic myth, it is the many glorifications and condemnations which supply endurance to patriotic myths, easily reducing macroeconomists of the European Central Bank to tears of frustration. Because the best of these epics stand alone as powerful literature, their propaganda strength is difficult to deconstruct with mere logic. Quoting Arnold Toynbee, it is not weaknesses, but overextension of their finest qualities, which usually brings them down.
While true grievances seldom pose true obstacles on their own, they do often misdirect political leadership from what is best for their countries. European Unification had a primary goal of eliminating future wars, but decided the peace goal was achievable only by indirection, and began first with monetary tools for prosperity. That takes a long time; America was still fumbling monetarily until the Civil War. So while starting with small victories seems a plausible route to big victories, in fact it drains much of the idealism out of revolutions. Even worse, it here made the 2010 financial disaster of the Euro symbolic of hazards on the road to Prosperity, which itself merely seems preliminary to a moderate Peace. At least in a struggle for national security, every day survived is another victory. There is no room in past struggles for Americans to gloat over their superior approach to permanent Union. But a defeat is a defeat, and the Euro mess is a big defeat.
|Congressman Ron Paul|
From a commentator's perspective, currency matters are difficult to understand and explain. For contrast, the Battle of Normandy is thrilling; every death is the death of a hero. But rises in productivity, the risk implications of volatility, even the way the value of bonds goes down while their interest rate rises, seem hopelessly confusing to a beginner. Worse still, there exists real uncertainty. We now have currency which has no backing in precious metals, and is really just a book entry. That's useful for transactions, less certainly useful for a storehouse of value. Mr. Ron Paul is running for President of the United States challenging the whole Federal Reserve concept, and a possibility must be admitted that he has a grain of truth in his speeches. We trust our bankers to devise a workable system of exchange without gold and silver, and readily admit that Mr. Bernanke knows more than we do. But. The world economy nearly collapsed utterly a few years ago, and you know, Mr. Ron Paul might just have a valid point or two. There has not yet emerged any fit environment for enjoying a monetary Crusade to a World Without War. For striking contrast, go to any Civil War movie and watch those teen aged soldier boys charge up the hill, ready to die for the Union.
Although the nations of the world are still a long way from agreement on a United Nations or any other set of supranational rules, a surprising amount of consensus has evolved over the centuries. Using the example of the axioms underlying Euclid's geometry, a few basic assumptions have to be made, which cannot be proven; change one of those axioms, and the whole structure of governance changes.
Boundaries of the state. A group of some sort may form a close association, but unless it stays within stated boundaries, it is a Tribe. At the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, most of the European tribes agreed to stated boundaries, and those boundaries define nations. Unfortunately, former residents of the bounded area may dispute the ownership. Even when there are no known descendants of former residents, the title of current residents ultimately rests on tradition and the threat of force.
Citizenship. Somewhat greater variation is seen in the definition of a citizen, but most nations confer citizenship to children of citizens, to those who were born within the nation's boundaries, and to still others as defined by the rulers of the nation.
Ownership of real estate.
How is the ruler chosen>
Who makes the day to day rules, who enforces them?
Wars, religious conflicts and natural disasters provoke mass emigrations. When emigrants choose a place to go to, they primarily focus on economic betterment. It's true they like to settle among people of the same language and culture, but it must be pointed out that during the first half of the Twentieth century the quotas for Great Britain were frequently unfilled. This sort of observation leads to the conclusion that American immigrants have mostly been poor, and come from poor countries. The first generation clings together in cultural havens, their descendants are motivated to learn to assimilate, to become as rich as the earlier settlers seem to be. The prisons tend to fill with recent immigrants, but the victims of their crimes tend to be other members of their immigrant communities. The pattern has been repeatedly observed in successive waves of different ethnicities. There is always a wave of initial friction; every group seems to get over it, eventually.
|Frederick Jackson Turner|
In America during the Nineteenth century, there was a frontier to welcome newcomers. Usually the first immigrants are single males, so the advancing frontier was a scene of disorder and special attitudes; after women came along to the frontier, things got quieter, but the unattached rowdy males moved onward. According to Frederick Jackson Turner who started the idea, the frontier finally closed at the beginning of the Twentieth century, provoking the cultural upheaval we now call the Progressive Era. In modern Europe, the frontier had long been gone before European integration began its present upsurge, except for the extensive devastation areas caused by World War II. To whatever extent the Frontier Concept eased American resettlement, under-inhabitation is not now an important factor in Europe. Nor is agriculture nearly so important as it once was. The family farm was a nice isolated little unit, able to preserve the cherished traditions, but now an immigrant mostly starts out as a busboy waiter, surrounded by urban bustle. And urban temptations. Assimilation is greatly eased by television; an observant immigrant can learn things we wish he wouldn't, but many immigrants have learned English, bent over an ironing board in the family kitchen. The assimilation of immigrants is certainly quicker than it was, but it is not necessarily much easier.
But by far the greatest social difference between 18th Century immigrant America and Twenty-first Century cross-immigrant Europe, is the set of attitudes and expectations variously called Socialism, or the Welfare State. All of the uproars and crossness associated with the Welfare state are threatening to get much worse, on both continents, because the inciting factors are getting worse. They would be: the astonishing improvement in longevity, and the massive avoidance of the topic until it has almost, we hope not definitely, reached a point where it can destroy the economic system. As a reminder, life expectancy at birth in 1900 was age 47, and now is at least thirty years longer. This incredible benefit to mankind crept up on us through two world wars and many smaller ones, plus several sickening genocides on several continents, but every year it kept getting better, or worse depending on how you view it. Newsmagazines are now confidently predicting it will go to age 100 in a few decades. The problem masquerades as a Social Security problem, or a disability problem, or a health cost problem, or a pension fund problem. But it's all the same problem: we got thirty years of extra retirement time, without making adequate provision to pay for it. Some of us provided for it privately, many made no provision at all. Governments generally pretended to make provision for it, but actually made it much worse with short-term fixes. Our elected representatives "kicked the can down the road."
What is true for individuals is also true of nations. The Germans, badly disconcerted by the hyper-inflation of the 1920s, almost developed a national psychosis about frugality, hard work, savings for the future, and the avoidance of inflation. Unfortunately, they had also developed a hatred for war. That's a good thing, but it is not the same as recognizing the need for frugality, when a whole nation convinces itself that avoiding war will provide the funds to pay for a thirty-year vacation, following a few decades of efficient work on a short work week. It will allow the German nation to enjoy a longer retirement period than, say, the Greeks. But it may not stretch to a full thirty years, even for them. Or even for us Americans. We work longer hours with less vacation time, but we retire too early, and we are too extravagant with wars, infrastructure, bailouts, improvement of the poor, and unlimited immigration of more poor people. Our pension funds were started on a collision course by the passage of ERISA, the appalling accounting standards of which are only now becoming evident after forty years. The adequacy of the accounting methods was based on the return on assets, with no connection to the pension liabilities they were supposed to pay for, with no mark-to-market readjustments, no investment benchmarks, inadequate inflation adjustments, and a definition of risk based on volatility of asset prices -- a total irrelevance in this situation. The trustees of these pensions are provided no asset portfolios to examine, no readjustment for changes in the workforce composition, and no running comparison between each year's assets and each year's adjusted liabilities. Even the term "Liability" does not cover what is owed. Only the large corporations which dumped these defined benefit plans, can feel comfortable that the company can survive a serious accounting of future pension costs.
Because we are getting well off from our announced topic, this is enough about off-the-books accounting for retirements which have grown much longer than originally contemplated. The point here is that European countries are hoping to merge twenty seven nations, each of whom has a different version of this symphony. If a nation can afford to give its citizens twenty years of retirement, it is still not willing to sacrifice for another nation which can only give its citizens five years of retirement, because its own frugal elderly are facing ten years of destitution, nevertheless. Are they expected to increase the ten years they cannot afford--to fifteen years of destitution, in order to help another nation that is even worse off? The common reading of human nature is that they will instead prefer to assess the other nation as shiftless and lazy, and shrug their shoulders.
|The Gold Rush|
Globalization may well have created a thousand billionaires, but its benefits to poor people were greater. As a guess, five hundred million desperately poor people were lifted out of poverty, and eventually it may be several billion. For a certainty, we will soon need a new definition of poverty, which only a few years ago was to subsist on less than a dollar a day. Rich or poor, these lucky people were not the objects of charity, but the visible beneficiaries of enormous wealth creation, surely the greatest gold rush in human history.
If they buy guns and bombs (or narcotics) with their new money, we may not be so happy about its unintended consequences. So far, however, the major unintended consequences have been benign upheavals, like the rapid spread of the computer and internet revolutions, the extension of life expectancy and literacy. These reasonably benign side-revolutions have bounced back as accelerators of the boom. The unit cost of transactions has plummeted; nerdy mathematicians have advanced into the murky mist of derivatives. No one doubted self-seeking bosses would abuse the extraordinary insights of their intellectual superiors, and they did, indeed. It's probably true that wise observers predicted this would all end in tears. And it did.
|Credit Default Swaps|
We are now in the midst of the usual witch-hunt for perpetrators, because we have a national election every four years. Both political parties are planning to spend a billion dollars accusing each other, so the accusations will surely get louder before they calm down. But in the spirit of directing the anger toward more productive targets, it should be remembered that harm to the public usually originates as incompetence, rather than greed. About five years before the crash, for example, I found myself adrift in a convention of bank officers. Within fifteen minutes, I satisfied myself that not one vice-president in the room could offer a coherent definition of a derivative. The general public still cannot define it, but everybody thinks he can recognize greed: it's someone with more money than you have. A few weeks before the initial crash in August, 2007, I was made aware that things called Credit Default Swaps were in circulation in the amount of twenty-five trillion dollars. It was impossible for me to find anyone or any search engine which could tell me what these confounded CDS things were, even though their quantity exceeded what I understood to be the national debt of the United States. And their quantity was doubling every few months. A few months later, indeed, it was made clear that the national debt was far larger than anyone thought. There's a great temptation in a situation like this to demand that Congress pass a law to slow things down. Yes, and while they are at it, they might as well sweep back the ocean with a broom.
To a certain extent, the recent cluelessness of banks has to do with expanding their size, computerizing the deposit and payments systems, and reducing the average branch bank to a single manager with either computers or new hires to help him. The information you need is available, but often in the home office a thousand miles away. Changes of this sort are hard to keep up with, and the bank officers dislike it, too. But the plaintive defense was recently given to a Committee of Congress, seen on television. "As long as the music keeps playing, we have to keep dancing."
Over in the investment banks, there are hundreds of very smart, very aggressive young fellows sitting at desks crowded together with three electronic monitors apiece, talking excitedly on the phones with their new best friends in foreign countries. Their job is not to know everything, but to know how to do something, and perform it very rapidly. Much of their knowledgable talk is just bluffing; no one is sure what the other fellow knows. They all know the situation can't last; perhaps they can get promoted before some changed premise catches up with them. This isn't exactly greed, it's called high pressure. At any unexpected moment, that guy over in the corner office can come out and say, "You are all, all of you, fired as of this moment." It probably isn't his fault, either.
The fundamental situation is that depository institutions are being squeezed by technological change, and the blameless fact that investment banks can substitute their services at a lower cost because the money is accumulated by selling bonds in large denominations. The depository banks must try to accumulate deposits one by one in a recession, with interest rates held low for macroeconomic reasons dictated by the Federal Reserve. To level the playing field, depository banks have access to deposit insurance, which tempts them into high risk lending. Nobody can get hurt when it's all insured, Right? Every once in a while someone sends cold chills down the depository bank spine by calling for the abolition of deposit insurance, on the grounds that it promotes moral hazard. On the other hand, the investment banks are lobbying heavily to have deposit insurance extended to them, and they may well get it for their money market funds. This is all a pretty artificial controversy. The problem isn't evil, or deposit insurance, or being too big to fail. It's the nature of the struggle. Two different ways have been chosen to assemble capital. When one of them wins, the other knows it will die.
Let's not confuse this any further. The point of the discussion is to convey the immense pressure being placed on every minipixel of the financial system, by a gold rush taking advantage of the changes wrought by globalization of the world economy. Somewhere, a bubble will appear. It happened to be in real estate, as it often is in money panics. And if a bubble grows, somebody will pop it. Is it all his fault, too?
Oceans cover two thirds of the Earth's surface. Since global warming is melting the ice caps at an accelerating rate, probably even more of the Earth will be covered by ocean a century from now. In the days when a cannon shot could travel three miles, it became generally agreed that a nation would hold sovereignty for three miles out to sea. A decade or so ago, that was extended to 200 miles by some international body, but few people remember that. Three miles from the coast, that's it. But the underlying reality, then and now, has always been that if you can't defend a piece of land, you may not keep it very long.
Although satellites probably make it possible to survey boundaries on the ocean floor with some accuracy, land/surface markings are more at the mercy of tides. Even though it's possible to survey ownership rights of some sort on the ocean floor, the personalities of sea captains are probably going to set the practical boundaries of ocean kingdoms for quite some time to come. If a land nation reaches for power that is not to the taste of the Captain, he just goes somewhere else to land. Enormously expensive oil drilling platforms are sitting ducks, sort of held for ransom. They can seek the advice of maritime lawyers, but it's likely the most meaningful appeal will long continue to be a call to the naval power which dominates the region. It's nevertheless useful to watch diplomatic minds at work, just to be aware of what they are up to. Because what they want to do is to change the rules of the game.
In essence, the Law of the Sea advocates begin with the premise that since no one owns the ocean, everybody owns it. It's not entirely clear why one assertion follows the other, but that's the basis for the claim. Since they think they own it, they think they can pass laws controlling it, can share in any profits from it, and ultimately can sell it to the highest bidder. Since all of this is highly debatable, many wars have been fought for less. The same ideas once dominated the disposition of our own western wilderness. Essentially, President Lincoln wanted to pay for the Civil War by selling land, as well as creating land grant colleges, transcontinental railroads and other assorted boodle. So he sold off, or gave away, quite a lot of it. Every time you sell land to someone, he develops a reason to defend your original right to say you owned it. But governments, including Lincoln, change the rules for their own benefit. Lincoln sold land, but it still remained part of America. If he had sold a part of America to China, it would be called alienation. You don't hear about very much of that happening. Alienation generally means war. And the suggestion that something of great value should be nationalized or internationalized generally means that somebody doesn't own it, but wants to have a piece of it, free.
The history of the Treaty of Westphalia, the United States Constitution, the European Union -- and for that matter, the French, Russian and Chinese Revolutions -- warn that it is very hard to develop a fair system of governance for uninhabited space. The present proposal under the Law of the Sea offers each cooperating nation one vote. That could be modified by adjusting the votes by population size, as the constitution did in 1787, or it could be changed to bicameral as John Dickinson insisted at the Constitutional Convention, Representatives chosen by population, Senators chosen by states, and both must agree. Unfortunately, even that can be tinkered with. In the contested tie for President in 1800, Madison himself devised the strategy of changing Virginia's internal vote from "winner take all" to "each vote counted separately", which broke the tie because John Jay refused to do the same thing for New York and thus lost the election for Aaron Burr. The surviving moral of this story is that it doesn't pay to be fair about anything in politics. Everybody seems to avoid the plain reality that important decisions between nations are made by the nation with the strongest military force. That's crude and unfair, maybe, but unlikely to change much. Which leads to another truism: it's going to be a long time before we can expect strong nations to submit to supra-national control systems. That's why the uniting of thirteen independent colonies in 1787 was so unique, so difficult to achieve, and such a lasting credit to those who made it happen.
When the Europeans decided to edge gradually into united nationhood, step by step, starting with a unified currency, Milton Friedman was immediately scornful. Mr. Friedman had won a Nobel Prize for his work in monetary matters, and told the world that he didn't think the Euro would last ten years. At the end of ten years, it began to look as though he was right. Since even pirates had once been willing to accept Spanish gold coins at face value, it takes a little explaining to understand why it makes any difference whether the issuing countries of the Euro are yoked in common nationhood.
Western civilization now takes One-man, One-vote for granted in any variant of national governance, and a good thing, too. The Romans modified ancient Greek democracy models into a Republic, allowing slightly modified democracy to become practical for larger governments. Citizens elect representatives, and it is possible to imagine groups of representatives electing their own representatives to higher bodies, and so on, up the line. As long as democracy remains inflexibly the model for a united Europe, other mechanisms must be adjusted for the obvious inequalities of huge population masses. Since money is the main means of exchange in national systems of compromises, it is a handicap for them to freeze a monetary system in place before governance negotiations have even begun. As a reminder of the American experience, remember that in 1787 Virginia was by far the largest and richest state, not at all the case at present. Indeed, the political landscape then consisted of nine small states ranged against four big ones. Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts are no longer considered big states, and New York is fast receding from the top tier. Organizing monetary structures around size can prove crippling to future designs of unified government, particularly if sufficient time elapses between the two steps. At the very least, leisureliness creates an opportunity to cloak opposition to unification within delaying tactics, presenting arguments to "wait and see" how the monetary system works. At worst, it creates an incentive to make certain the monetary system will not work.
|Bitting Gold Coin|
However, a bridge player must play the cards as they are dealt to him, and Europe has decided on a piecemeal approach to organize an eventual political union. The first step of monetary union is in its tenth year, and in deep trouble. Therefore, a new alternative to be considered is whether to have a monetary union without a government to oversee it. Since the Spanish doubloon was for centuries the medium of maritime exchange for the whole western world, it can be done. The doubloon was a gold coin worth its weight in gold, the so-called "piece of eight". Since that kind of money proved entirely workable, the issue of feasibility is one of backing for the currency. When gold from the New World ran low, it was hard to support a growing world economy with a shrinking currency; the price of everything went steadily downward, and local shortages were common. So silver was substituted, and then the coinage became fractional. That is to say, paper money was issued in a fixed ratio to the gold in government vaults. Finally, paper money had no metal backing at all, and was issued by central banks in response to prevailing prices of goods. Using an arbitrary figure of 2% to represent population growth, if the consumer price index plus 2% goes down, the Federal Reserve (or equivalent national central bank) prints more money. Conversely, if it goes up, the Federal Reserve bank stops issuing paper money. The currency is thus "inflation indexed" and its worth guaranteed by the government against an international financial panic. World opinion has a lot to do with the value of a national currency, although in theory the financial reserves are the sum total of all businesses and property available to the government to confiscate. By encumbering its national property, the government monetizes its assets. Even if it were possible to arrive at a tolerably accurate estimate of the total net worth of a nation, much of it is illiquid and has a considerable cost to monetize it. In practice, however, everyone realizes that the government will never sell an island or peninsula, probably going to war to prevent it happening, or simply going bankrupt or defaulting on its debts. The reserves which are listed as backing its money supply are largely frozen in the face of an actual financial panic. Everyone could name a dozen nations which would probably default, should creditors ever trust them, and there are many more who would seriously consider it. However, there are enough "speculators" who take a chance on this scenario for a fee, to keep the system running. If things start looking ugly, these intermediaries quickly disappear and the "markets are frozen". To protect their economies from this sort of chaos, governments look to merging their currencies, or to promising to rescue other member nations in trouble. A big pool of reserves is inherently safer than a small one, so currency unions are attractive to almost everyone.
Currency unions however look like sausage factories when you get inside and look at the details. Some parts of New England are essentially piles of pebbles with a thin layer of topsoil, while the topsoil in Illinois is mostly four feet deep. Some rivers are full of fish, others are full of pollution, and so forth. As long as we are one united country, local differences are largely ignored; if you can't farm the pebbles in Connecticut, you can move to Greenwich and sell Credit Default Swaps. If that doesn't work, you can move to Illinois, and if you don't like big city political machines, you move to Utah. There's a frictional cost to all of this, but it remains a practical alternative. For Europe, it's not so easy to learn a new language, the schools are not so good in Kosovo, and the price of a taxicab in Paris is astonishing. If you are a gypsy, you are very likely to encounter pitchforks after your first night in the campground. No doubt most of this difference between the continents would disappear after fifty years of political unification, but there would be enough problems to make the survival of the E. U. somewhat questionable for two generations, at least. During all of that time, interest rates would reflect the existence of a real risk, and occasionally crises will appear. Madison, Jefferson and Hamilton were bosom chums in the 18th Century; within five years of the new nation they were at each others throats. Founding Father Robert Morris, one of the richest men in America, was denounced and his motives questioned on the floor of the Legislature by a Western Pennsylvania nobody, within weeks of the Constitutional Convention. Vice President Aaron Burr put a bullet through Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton. Social upheavals are just that: upheavals. The problems associated with piecemeal approaches to the monetary union and the political union have been mentioned. The other side of it may be that many of the unique monetary problems of Europe have been brought to the surface by the current financial panic, and political solutions to monetary difficulties can be devised in advance if anyone has time to do it.
The political side of Europe is becoming plain. The Germanic tribes to the North are rich and have a history of trying to conquer all of Europe; the Latin tribes of the South are poor, and nurse a fairly recent memory of defeated military occupation. The Germans are nevertheless the only possible rescuers of the present financial panic. It will not be easy for the Latin component of Europe to humble themselves before a German financial rescue, but they must do so for decades into the future. Although both groups suffer from the debility of a Welfare mentality, the South has it worse and their financial reserves are very questionable. Unless they are ready to do unlikely things like sell real estate sovereignty, they are going to find the ownership of their companies in German hands, and very likely have to endure the sight of the children of Wehrmacht officers managing their local economy. They will have to be tolerant. The Germans are not happy to work long hours so the Greeks may work shorter ones, and must be forgiven for indignation that German funds donated to rescue the Greek Welfare state are diverted for the personal use of corrupt Greek officials. Nevertheless, such affronts eventually become tolerable; a dozen American cities are at least as corrupt, and the California beaches appear to be utterly devoid of the famous American work ethic. Nevertheless, the most likely stark alternative would seem to leave only America, India and China in charge of major viable economies.
LIVING in a small country seems to be very pleasant, and many people prefer it to the hustle, bustle and high taxes of living in a large country. Unfortunately, big neighbors are tempted to conquer and enslave you. Aside from this one disadvantage, many people would prefer a simple, quiet life among blood relatives, all tending to think the same way. It's one step above tribalism, and maybe it's a form of peaceful tribalism.
But our revolutionary ancestors didn't think they could afford this luxury. They lived in a strange wilderness filled with fierce aborigines who often took a notion to scalp you, even if you were willing to become a hunter-gatherer like them, because they scalped other hunter-gatherers, too. And they were good at making war. Later historians sometimes contend that European settlers only gained a foothold in the New World because the Indians had been weakened by smallpox, measles, and other contagion which advanced ahead of the exploring Europeans. English settlers along the Atlantic coast were able to overcome the Dutch and Swedes who preceded them, but the French in Quebec and the Spanish in Florida were a greater threat. Worst of all enemies were the rulers of England, who seemed to think it was natural to enjoy the benefits of the New World without the nuisance of living there. A century or more of conflict from the enemies who surrounded them, had pretty well convinced the English Atlantic settlers that they simply had to get bigger and stronger. Otherwise, one of the many enemies surrounding them would eventually succeed in what seemed to be a universal goal: conquest.
|The summer of 1787|
The colonists had learned one other thing. Their own loose federation of small peaceful states was in some ways worse than rule by an outside King. The Confederation had been constantly reluctant to surrender local power to a unified defense; almost by definition, an invader was better disciplined than the defenders of a loose tribal alliance. The defense alliance had few advantages for keeping local bickering under control, and was definitely less effective with families and children to protect against a mobile force of adult male warriors. The Confederation barely held together during an eight year war against a common enemy, and it was rapidly coming apart after peace was declared in 1783. The English and French could see all this, too. Once they settled their own war with each other, each of them planned to envelop the former colonies. So George Washington and James Madison gathered the Best and the Brightest together in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, intending to construct a practical plan for what almost all the colonists wanted: a Union. A Union strong and big enough so other nations would leave them alone. A Union benign enough so its citizens would enjoy the same Liberty they had as a loose alliance. Divided informally into four interest groups, each of the four needed concessions to be made. But each also needed to leave the other three feeling they had gained something important as the price of surrendering to what the some other group could not do without. Having found the vital concessions, it was then still necessary to tinker and re-balance, so that everyone could still "live with it". In essence: 1) The South had to be given time and forbearance to work out its difficult problem of slavery, moral qualms notwithstanding. 2) The nine small states had to be protected against perpetual domination by the three big ones, of Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. 3) If America was to realize the full advantage of growing from thirteen states to fifty, existing old states must not take advantage of new ones. 4) Political revolution was not the end of it; there was also the Industrial Revolution. Fishing, lumbering, farming, trade, and cotton, would in some way need to accommodate banking and manufacturing, assisting rather than upsetting other compromises. Given these tangled issues, it would be a long, hot summer in Philadelphia.
|Treaty of Westphalia in 1648|
Three of the four main problems were obvious, demanding to be addressed. Slavery was obvious from the start; you either solved this problem or the South would walk out. The western wilderness was bigger than existing America; it too could not be ignored. And finally, huge variations of climate and resources led to local specialization; a marvelous thing, if you could trust your suppliers and customers to cooperate. But curiously, none of these issues got directly to the political problem the Constitutional Convention was meant to solve, which was unifying thirteen different sovereignties, each of which was prepared to get up and walk out. The modern nation state was created by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648; its guiding principle was mutual respect for local sovereignty. Having pacified over a hundred contentious central European states, it required a great deal of self-assurance for anyone to flout it. It seemed hard to imagine any way to remain sovereign, without commanding a vote equal to that of other sovereignties. The delegates from the State of Delaware, which had separated from Pennsylvania within the past decade, were "prohibited [by their legislature] from changing the Article in Confederation establishing an equality of votes among the States". Just what agitated the minds of the Legislature of Rhode Island was kept private, but something about a Union bothered them so much they refused to send delegates to Philadelphia even to discuss Union. After they assembled and started having dinner together at taverns, and later as they were beginning to vote in coalitions, one thing began to emerge. The small states banded together, hung out together, talked alike, and began to vote alike. Their emerging leader was John Dickinson of Delaware, the author of the Articles of Confederation, and very likely one of the prime agitators in the lower three counties of Pennsylvania -- breaking off from Pennsylvania and becoming the State of Delaware. Furthermore, Dickinson had been Governor of both Delaware and Pennsylvania, so he was very familiar with the deplorable behavior of the Legislature of Pennsylvania, now and for decades in the past. It took a long time for this sly old political operator to show his cards, but when he did, he gave James Madison the shock of his life. Madison, the near neighbor of George Washington and leader of the Virginia delegation, the author of the Virginia Plan, and the clear authority on the politics of government in America, was busily consumed with working out the details of the emerging Constitution. Obviously, it went to his head a little, and so he was dumbfounded when Dickinson drew him aside in the corridor to tell him he wasn't going to have a Constitution at all. Dickinson was walking around with the votes in his pocket of five or six of the nine small states, and was telling Madison that the small states were fed up, and not going along. Young Madison was suddenly confronted by the most respected lawyer in America, whose timing was perfect. For what may have been the first time in his life, Dickinson fully revealed the depth of his annoyance, that the big states would always take the little ones for granted. That the little ones were always expected to be deferential to the big fellows in charge of the big states. And then the clincher: "I would rather risk conquest from a foreign state, than be forever dominated by my larger neighbors." That put it in a nutshell. If the only reason for joining a Union was to be protected from foreigners, Dickinson wasn't so sure he preferred his coalition partners. Evidently, this was the feeling of most of the other small states at the Convention, and it may well be the feeling of all small states, anywhere and everywhere.
|Promoting the Abolition of Slavery|
Once the Convention got the idea, solving it became comparatively easy, but why waste an opportunity? There is good reason to suppose it was Ben Franklin, silent as a cat watching a mouse, who matched it up with slavery. His fellow Pennsylvania delegate, James Wilson, had prepared the way by starting the discussion of granting 3/5 representation for slaves, but it had received comparatively little notice in the previous few weeks. Franklin rammed it home, adding a sop to the large states by according the House of Representative sole power to introduce money legislation. Two of the main issues of the convention were solved with one agreement, small-state representation and slavery. Who can say how long he had been nursing this idea. He had agreed to be president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, about a month before the Constitutional Convention began. Prior to that, he and his wife had owned a slave or two, for many years. On June 2, the society adopted a resolution to end the slave trade and presented it to Dr. Franklin, asking him to present it to the Convention. He never did, explaining later it was "advisable" to let the matter lie over. In August, Alexander Hamilton blocked a similar resolution from the New York Manumission Society, even though he had been a fervent lifelong opponent of slavery.
|Chief Justice John Marshall|
CHIEF Justice John Marshall first took his seat at the opening of the new term, in Washington the new capital, on Wednesday, February 4, 1801. It was also at the end of Philadelphia's twenty-five year reign as the center of the country, and twelve-year Federalist domination of national power, except for the Supreme Court. The Presidency, both houses of Congress, and the federal bureaucracy were in the hands of Jefferson's party. Only the dwindling life tenure of federal judges permitted some power to remain in the hands of Federalists for several more decades. John Adams the defeated Federalist President, realized this very well, and hastened to fill any remaining vacancies before he left office. The Jeffersonian Republicans understood what was happening, resented it, and referred bitterly to the "Midnight Judges". We discuss the Marshall Court in some detail, because it leads to the Andrew Jackson escapade in high finance, which ultimately merges with evolving financial history back in Philadelphia at the crashing termination of "Biddle's Bank".
Marshall was himself a Midnight Judge in the sense he was the retiring (Federalist) Secretary of State, immediately appointed by Adams to the duties of Chief Justice. He was himself the official of the Adams Administration who neglected to deliver the certificate of appointment of Justice of the Peace to Marbury, who promptly sued James Madison the incoming Secretary of State, to give him his signed and ratified certificate. Jefferson the incoming President of the United States, ordered Madison not to give it to Marbury. The behavior of all these high officials was unbecomingly petty, since it was within the power of several of them to end the tangle in simple ways. To make matters still more infuriating, Jefferson delivered a beautiful, heart-warming First Inaugural Speech, full of forgiveness and invitation to compromise ("We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists"), which his own intransigence before, during and afterwards transformed into a Federalist by-word for hypocrisy exceeding anything in Shakespeare. It's hard to say whether it makes these performances more or less bearable to learn that Marshall and Jefferson were first cousins. In any event, Marbury v. Madison was the first example of a Supreme Court ruling that a law was unconstitutional. The legal point on which this titanic Constitutional point rested, however, seems mostly a minor procedural error, leaving poor Marbury's problem as a footnote, Marshall's negligence uncriticised, Jefferson's interference unimpeached, and the whole nation's opinion of its governance sadly disappointed. On vivid display was the dominance of petty private grievances of our most venerated Founding Fathers, in an era when public policy seemed most in need of getting the highest priority. In 1800,the comfluence of names alone suggested crisis: Aaron Burr, Robespierre, Bonaparte, Hamilton. It was certainly a dramatic way for John Marshall to make an entrance on the public stage, but compared with the tie-vote election of 1800, and the Trial of Aaron Burr the Vice President for treason, it scarcely seemed worth public notice.
Within legal circles, professional achievements of Judges are ranked by a different standard which seems obscure to both the public and historians. Oliver Ellsworth, Marshall's immediate predecessor, nowadays seems most highly esteemed in the legal profession for revising the nature of judicial opinions. Prior to Ellsworth, the seven justices gave their opinions individually and serially. Ellsworth simplified this to majority and minority opinions of the entire court, with individual concurring opinions if insisted upon. The Chief Justice selects who will write the majority opinion, and generally writes it himself if he is in that majority. Effectively this makes the Chief Justice the voice of the court in important cases. Ellsworth retired for reasons of health before he got much advantage from this change, so the full force of Chief Justice power began to appear with the voice of Marshall. John Marshall then added his own twist, which was the obiter dictum .
Judges often make little speeches from the bench, which sometimes are on the public record. If they are directly related to the decision or opinion, they have some force as precedents to lower or later courts. In other circumstances obiter dicta have little consequence, but Marshall recognized there was a very big difference when an obiter issued from the pen of the Chief Justice of the United States, speaking for a majority of the Supreme Court. All Judges of every Federal Court, and the Judges of State Courts in many situations, are then on notice that the obiter is the opinion of that court to which all appeals could ultimately be made. It would be a brave judge who ignored this warning, and only a foolish lawyer would bring a case which flouted it. John Marshall had found a way to legislate what was effectively the Law of the Land, one without the possibility of veto while he was still on the bench. He had not been made an Emperor, because the power of his dicta would depend on how combative he and fellow justices chose to be about it. But, looking ahead, Andrew Jackson would have been showing a profound lack of subtlety about the way things really are, had he issued his famous jibe that "John Marshall has made his decision. Now let him enforce it." Jackson's most distinguished biographer Robert Remini maintains Jackson never said it, and prudently so.
Marshall was also prudent when he had to be, and acting as a Moses was careful to confine his Commandments to his mandate, which was the American law. Some of his obiter dicta might have been ignored as coming from the most powerful Federalist of his day, a former chief of the Virginia Federalist party, but with the passage of time several of these opinions have passed from statements of early Nineteenth century judicial policy into becoming the accepted American view of things. It is reasonably safe to say the following three dicta anticipate the coming of the Civil War, define its issues, and survived that war, reconfirmed:
The Federalist View of the Constitution. The Constitution is an ordinance of the people of the United States, and not a compact of States.
Enumerated powers. While the government which the Constitution established is one of enumerated powers, as to those powers it is a sovereign government, both in its choice of the means by which to exercise its powers and in its supremacy over all colliding and antagonistic powers.
States Rights. The National Government and its instrumentalities are present within the States, not by the tolerance of the States, but by the supreme authority of the people of the United States.
Article 1, section 10, clause 1 No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.
|The Contract Clause|
The Sanctity of Contracts. In a famous dialogue between James Madison and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Madison identified the erratic and high-handed behavior of state legislatures as one of the main reasons to convene the Constitutional Convention. He was describing a long list of behaviors which included reclaiming sales which had been regarded as permanent, reversing statutes, interfering with executions or other verdicts of courts, intervening in private controversies, calling for new hearings, introducing new rules of evidence after a trial had begun, and so forth. To a considerable degree, these abuses grew out of a collision between the undeniable right of a later legislature to change the rules which had been established by an earlier legislature, balanced against the disruptive effect of making any changes in rules, no matter how beneficial. For their part the courts were in need of restraining themselves with doctrines like stare decisis , while reserving the right to make desirable changes in the law after serious consideration. They were also in need of establishing best practices and insisting they be followed, eventually evolving into the concept of due process , which eventually became Constitutional doctrine by the XIV Amendment. The legislative equivalent of these judicial principles was seen in laws passed after the crime had been committed ( ex post facto ), special legislation for one case in exception to general rules, and a wide variety of other unfair practices which had grown up. Accordingly, Article 1, section 10, clause 1 of the Constitution was written, but often evaded in practice by sly legal tricks with Latin names. Examples of the broad principles might be stated in the constitution, but it required an experienced Judge to recognize the many evasions for what they were and organize a set of rules to implement the Constitutional principle. Marshall appointed himself in that role and systematically integrated his judicial counter attack into a coherent code of moral conduct, bit by bit in obiter dicta.
We should let the French travelling correspondent, Alexis de Tocqueville, pass the final judgment on Marshall's effort:
"Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved sooner, or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow in their daily controversies the ideas, and even the language peculiar to judicial proceedings. . . The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of law, which is produced in the the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate."
|4 Corners of Pennsylvania|
Prior to 1776, the boundaries between the American colonies were settled in London, either by the King or the British courts. After 1787, disputes over boundaries were settled in the United States Federal Courts, acting under Section III of the Constitution. Generally speaking, boundaries were first created by treaties, by Kings, and by Congress. Boundary disputes were then settled in the courts, first in England, and later in Federal Courts. Between 1776 and 1787, however, the Articles of Confederation governed. The immediate problem was that the Articles were not finally ratified until 1781. A technical problem was that surveying instruments were improving during this period. The judicial problem was that a body of law was evolving about when to use the deepest channel of a river or when to use the half-way point between the two banks of a river, and when to use just one bank of the river or the other. And the political problem was that major immigration made everyone less care-free about boundaries of land which were steadily growing more valuable. The American period under the Articles of Confederation was one big argument about state borders.
A century earlier, when British kings were handing out charters to those adventurous enough to accept them, there was plenty of cheap land if someone could defend it. The common approach to granting charters was to pick two points along the Atlantic, and from there to extend lines westward as far as they could go. When the lines bumped into lines given to other colonies, there were countless lawsuits, and occasionally little wars. Only the three Quaker colonies of New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware were formed late enough in the colonial period to enjoy practical ways even to define a western border. Virginia, the largest colony, officially extended itself to include what is now Kentucky and West Virginia, and had reasonably defensible claims to all the land of the Northwest territory, on the western side of the defined Pennsylvania western border, all the way north to the Great Lakes. When the Indians finally woke up to what was happening, they rebelled under the leadership of Pontiac and Tecumseh, and were helped in their massacres of white settlers by the French, later by the British. Peaceful rectangular Pennsylvania experienced armed nibbles at each of its four corners; from Maryland in the southeast, Virginia in the southwest, Connecticut in the northeast. On its northwestern corner Pennsylvania had the award of the Erie connection to the Great Lakes to settle an overlapping conflict between Connecticut and New York. The Articles of Confederation, composed mostly with common defense against England in mind, were deliberately inadequate to govern disputes between allies within the revolters. Discovering a remarkable subsidence of such disputes after the installation of the Constitution, this might well have become a major reason for replacing the Articles of Confederation, if it had been foreseen. But that was scarcely the case. The American colonists simply had no idea the Union would make such disputes immediately seem trivial, if still remaining fairly numerous. When the advantages of peaceful unification are considered by other nations on other continents, consideration really should highlight the sense of delight America felt at the discovery of this unexpected bounty. At a minimum, it helped us ignore the many fumbles we also experienced.
The structure [of the Constitution] has been erected by architects of consummate skill and fidelity; its foundations are solid; its compartments are beautiful, as well as useful; its arrangements are full of wisdom and order; and its defenses are impregnable from without. It has been reared for immortality, if the work of man may justly aspire to such a title.
It may, nevertheless, perish in an hour, by the folly, or corruption, or negligence of its keepers, THE PEOPLE. Republics are created by the virtue, public spirit, and intelligence of the citizens. They fall, when the wise are banished from the public councils, because they dare to be honest, and the profligate are rewarded, because they flatter the people, in order to betray them.
|A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States: Containing a Brief Commentary on Every Clause, Explaining the True Nature, Reasons, and ... Designed for the Use of School Libraries and General Readers; Joseph Story: ISBN-13: 978-1886363717||Amazon|
This-here speaker at the Right Angle Club began a discussion of the "Fiscal Cliff" razzle-dazzle of 2012, by changing his mind about the causes of the fiscal crash of 2007. Originally, it seemed as though globalizing 500 million Chinese out of poverty had destabilized the exuberant American mortgage market by flooding it with cheap credit. Supplanting that idea, or perhaps only supplementing it, must now be added the overextension of national debt itself to a point of bringing national borrowing to a halt.
Early in the Eighteenth century the Dutch and English had monetized national assets through a system of national borrowing formalized by Necker in Europe, and Robert Morris and Alexander Hamilton in America. Aside from a handful, no one could understand what they were talking about. Try reading that sentence a second time.
It amounted to guaranteeing all the private credit in the banking, investment, and commerce systems, with a national debt (in the form of Treasury bonds) which monetized all the assets of the whole nation. That action more or less doubled their value, just as any bank loan is seemingly owned by two people at the same time. Carried to an extreme, it might imply that America could turn Guam and Hawaii over to China if we defaulted on our debt. That was never actually intended to happen, and it never has, because all nations now fear the deflation which could result from triggering a massive exchange of national assets. The nebulous issue of "National Sovereignty" interferes with territorial transfers by any means other than war. If one nation defaults against a second nation which is afraid to go to war, it is just the stronger nation's hard luck about the debts it has chosen to support, unless a transfer of assets actually happens. The Treaty of Versailles did transfer assets to the victors, and set off World War II, although it is considered bad manners to mention it. That's a simplified view of our international financial system, which admittedly skirts uncertainty about how much national debt is too much.
In fact, no one knows how much is too much until everyone runs for the exits. Now that politicians have control of computers and "big data", a modern description places the blame on Alan Greenspan the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve. For eighteen years Greenspan produced delicious world prosperity by steadily increasing American national debt faster than the American economy was growing. Sooner or later this approach was going to uncover how much was currently too much Federal debt. With silver and gold removed from the equation, one could see that default would certainly loom whenever the size of the debt became so large it could never be serviced by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and possibly sooner than that if enough people could guess what was coming. This reality might be obscured temporarily by reducing interest rates, modifying international trade balances, and inflation. When the stars were in alignment however, the system just had to collapse and start over. Because it happened gradually, perhaps it would unwind gradually. In 2007 what happened was that everybody tried to get out the door at the same time. Essentially, our two political parties made opposite assessments: the party of Hamilton -- Republicans -- announced this system was doomed, while Democrats --the party of Andrew Jackson -- announced they could stave off disaster by making the rich Republicans pay for it. Both parties were partly right but essentially wrong, and the Democrats hired a better magician.
It will take months or even years to be certain just what strategy was pursued. It would appear the Democrats chose to repeat the performance of the Obamacare legislation, eliminating national debate by eliminating the Congressional committee system of examining details in advance of a vote. Given one day to digest two thousand pages prepared by the Executive branch, no time was allowed for public opinion to form about Obamacare. In the case of the fiscal cliff episode, Congress was given less than one day to consider 150 pages allegedly prepared the day prior to the vote. Some will admire the skill of the executive branch in orchestrating this secret maneuver, but eventually it must become apparent that policy decisions have been transferred from the legislative to the executive branch of government. Perhaps the Congressional Republicans are as stupid as the Democrats portray them to be, but it is also possible that a decision has been made to tempt the Democratic leaders into repeating this performance several times, until eventually the public is ready to consider impeachment for it. No matter what the strategy, we are now threatened with imagining some moment when gun barrels come level, and live rounds slide home. We may pass up the opportunity to criticize Henry Clay for concentrating undue power in the Speaker of the House, or to uncover the way Harry Reid was persuaded to surrender Senate power to the Executive; both miscalculations are fast becoming irrelevant in the flurry of events. We came close to borrowing too much, exceeding our means to pay it back, that's all. A New York Times editorial economist feels we can "grow" our way out of this flirtation with danger, and we all certainly hope so.
Seemingly, there are only two ways to cope with over-borrowing, once we step over the invisible line. A nation may cheat its citizens with inflation, or it may cheat foreign citizens by defaulting on their currency. We are indebted to Rogoff and Reinhart for pointing out there is no difference between inflation and default except the identity of the cheated creditor; so most politicians prefer to cheat foreigners. Either way, cheating makes deadly enemies. Two centuries ago, Alexander Hamilton suggested a third way out of the problem, which we would today call "growth". But here, cheating is pretty easy: If the limit is some ratio of debt to GDP, find a way to increase nominal GDP.
|Shale Gas and Argentina|
The most astonishing current example of the power of "growth", is shale gas. It may not be totally clean, but it is cleaner than oil or coal, and far cheaper. We suddenly have so much of it the price of energy is artificially lowered, and we talk, not merely of energy independence, but of restoring the balance of international payments by exporting it. Germany is constructing steel mills to utilize iron ingots made in America with gas instead of coal. Pittsburgh was once the center of steel production because that's where the coal was, the most expensive ingredient to transport. Suddenly it is now apparently cheaper to transport the energy source to wherever you find limestone and iron ore. JP Morgan got rich the other way, transporting limestone and iron ore to Pittsburgh, where the coal was. Russia now finds it has lost its leverage over Eastern Europe's energy supply, and the Arabs (?Iranians?) will no longer have a monopoly to provide the wealth supporting Middle-Eastern mischief. China may lose interest in Africa. And in America we may develop the courage to rid ourselves of the corn subsidies for gasoline; cutting the wind and sunlight fumbles also emerge as obvious ways to cut the deficit. That's what we mean by growth. It's so powerful it makes action by any American President seem trivial by comparison.
Presumably, President Obama does not welcome being upstaged by an economic force he doggedly resisted. He may seek ways to imply it was his idea all along. When that happens, rest assured that everyone else is then a fracker. But there is another alternative Presidential path, which in extreme form is emerging in Argentina without much media attention. In short, Argentina discovered signs of oil deposits but was unable to exploit them. A European oil company was enticed to develop the oil reserves at its own expense, and effectively did so in expectation of reward from the resulting oil sales. Suddenly, the Kirchner government expropriated the oil company, paying for it with Argentine bonds. The ink was scarcely dry before the Argentine government abruptly turned around and offered to buy back the bonds for 24 cents on the dollar. And unless someone is willing to send gunboats, the previous owners of the oil company are just out of luck. Appeals to the UN are futile; because on the one-nation, one-vote principle, there are more expropriator votes in the UN than potential victims. The only thing visible which could save capitalism in South America from revolution, is shale gas competition. Presumably, Argentina has lots of shale gas, but who will lend them the money to frack it?
|George H.W. Bush|
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was signed on December 17, 1992 by President George H. W. Bush for the United States, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Canada, and President Carlos Salinas for Mexico. It was intended to eliminate tariffs from the North American continent, with long run benefits for the three nations who made the agreement. Essentially, it was President Bush's idea, growing out of the long period of public service in which he prepared himself for the Presidency in most of the major components of the American government. After his election, he immediately started to implement the many ideas he had formulated, characteristically worked out in considerable detail, and assigned to government officials he had worked with and knew he could trust. The twin results were that he advanced sophisticated ideas much more quickly than is customary, but then experienced backlash from a public which was accustomed to understanding programs before they assented to them. NAFTA was a prime example of both the advantages and disadvantages of an expedited approach.
Tariffs are a tangled ancient political dispute between nations; George Bush got his two neighbors to sweep them away in a remarkably short time for diplomacy. However, plenty of people benefit from the pork barrel, the unfairness and the economic drag of tariffs, so Bush even got ahead of that opposition, essentially presenting it with a done deal. However, he failed to be re-elected because his fellow Texan Ross Perot campaigned as a third party candidate, thundering about a "giant sucking sound" which was predicted as American businesses would flood into Mexico. Whatever Bill Clinton may think, he won the election as a result of the third-party divisiveness of Ross Perot. And Clinton furthermore got to take credit for NAFTA largely because he claimed credit. Poppy Bush followed Reagan's strategy of winning by letting others take the credit.
NAFTA had a lot of minor provisions, but the main feature was to help Mexico with manufactures, compensating for America hurting Mexican agriculture with cheaper United States agricultural imports. The usual suspects howled about the unfairness of such a dastardly deed, but they lost. Helping Mexican manufactures took the tangible form of the "maquiladoras", which were assembly plants from the United States re-located just south of the border, assembling parts made abroad into machinery and other final products, for sale in the United States. The general idea behind this was that Mexican immigration was mostly driven by hunger for better jobs; give them jobs in Mexico, and they would stay home. That's a whole lot better than an endless border war. Even today, it would be hard to find anyone who would contend that fences, searchlights and police dogs were a superior way to control the borders.
For a while, the maquiladoras were a huge success. But then, China got into the act, paying wages so low that even Mexicans could not live on them. No doubt Ross Perot rejoices that the maquiladoras promptly collapsed, leaving abandoned hulks of factories just across the dried-up Rio Grande. And eventually, we even have tunnels bored under the border, and more illegal Mexicans in America than we have people in prison who might take the same jobs. Not the least of the consequences came from the other parts of the same country. Mexico traded an injured agricultural economy for the promise of high-paid manufacturing jobs in maquiladoras. So, masses of impoverished Mexican farmers were made available for illegal immigration, up North.
It is now anybody's guess whether Chinese wages will rise enough, soon enough, to reverse the economics of their destruction of the Mexican economy. The election of a union-dominated Clinton/Obama presidency in the meantime does not bode well for actions which would reverse that result, which now would threaten American-Chinese relations of an entirely different sort. It is true that Chinese wages are relentlessly rising, and that transportation costs now favor assembly-factories closer to the American consumer. But maybe the moment for this approach is passing, or possibly has passed.
|George H. W. Bush: The American Presidents Series: The 41st President, 1989-1993: Timothy Naftali, ISBN-10: 0805069666||Amazon|
The Annapolis Convention had the original purpose of negotiating the joint ownership issues of the Potomac River between Virginia and Maryland. It seemed quite a natural thing to extend the discussion to other rivers which needed interstate cooperation, particularly the Susquehanna (Maryland and Pennsylvania) and the Delaware (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and New York). That was at least six of the thirteen colonies, where Maryland and Virginia would find uniformity of rules to be advisable. It did not take too much imagination to suppose that the remaining states would wish to be involved, as well. It seems that much of the push for enlarging the local river discussion into a national discussion of broader issues, came from Alexander Hamilton.
|The Bretton Woods conference in 1944|
Stripped of its mystery and irrelevant details, the Bretton Woods conference agreed that all nations would make their currency convertible into U.S. dollars, and the U.S. would make its currency convertible into gold. Since World War II had left the United States with the only major working economy, it sold goods to the rest of the world and the rest of the world sent us their money to be converted into dollars; we had a "favorable balance of trade." Somewhere in the 1960s the rest of the world got on its feet, and we began to have an unfavorable balance of trade. After a while, foreigners started converting their dollars (the "reserve" currency) into gold. By 1971, the depletion of gold from Fort Knox became alarming, and the United States stopped converting its currency into gold. From that point onward, all currencies became effectively computer notations, whose value as a medium of exchange was what their government said it was.
Paradoxically, it is hard to see how this system would work without a government in charge of it, although private substitutes would probably soon appear if governments relaxed their monopoly on currency. Since a great many people dislike their governments for one reason or another, they chafe at a system which forces them to keep their governments in order to prevent commercial chaos. For those who do not adequately understand this, governments all stand ready to maintain themselves with force, and many other people dislike that feature even more. Since it took place at the same time, the Vietnam protest movement may have had some relation to this major change in the nation, misunderstood perhaps, but viscerally perceived. In view of President Nixon's central role in all of this, one is even tempted to speculate that his electoral promise of a secret means to end the Vietnam conflict, coupled with the subsequent peaceful surge of China and the financial recycling of Chinese money through Treasury bond purchases, may all have been subjects discussed during his historic trip to China.
However that may be, it is a fact that the Vietnam War ended, the Chinese economy flourished with American help, and the deposit of Chinese money in our economy helped fuel a massive economic bubble, and the weakest links in the chain -- mortgage backed securities -- were the place the bubble burst. Not much of this could have occurred with a gold standard, and in many circles this was regarded as proof that gold was a barbarous relic. In retrospect, few would deny we had been leveraging our economy to dangerous heights, for nearly fifty years. In 1996, Alan Greenspan denounced our "irrational exuberance", and yet the bubble did not burst for another twelve years. If we succeed in deleveraging our economy until it reaches 1996 levels, it will be regarded as a remarkable success. But the Chairman of the Federal Reserve at that time described it as a dangerous level. And looking back over the centuries, an indescribable number of kings were dethroned or beheaded because they evaded the rather irrational restraints of a scarce, hence precious, barbarous relic. Balanced against that, a billion Asiatics have been raised out of poverty, and the economy of the world overall would seem opulent to our grandfathers. Somehow, we must find the wit and the self restraint to solve this problem.
|The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order:z Benn Steil: ISBN-13: 978-0691149097||Amazon|
Tourists like to banter about their favorite place in the whole world; until recently, mine was Cyprus. It's an eastern Mediterranean island, where it was possible to swim from beaches in the morning, ski in the afternoon, and luxuriate in an inexpensive but posh hotel in the evening. The locals had their ethnic rivalries, but what would a tourist care. Since I was last there, apparently Russian and other billionaires discovered the place, and now three local banks are bigger than the GNP of the nation. Like Ireland, Hungary, Iceland and several other small European nations, this dystrophic growth made it impossible for the government to guarantee the assets of the banks, as the familiar "lender of last resort" because the banks were bigger than the government. Accordingly, the local government was forced to declare a protracted bank holiday, to forestall what was certainly going to turn into a run on the banks as depositors all tried to get out the door at the same time. International stock markets immediately dropped a noticeable number of points, as the whole world suddenly discovered Cyprus wasn't such a nice place to put your money after all. The Russians might possibly be nasty people, but in this matter of bank deposits, people all link arms internationally like brothers.
There have been lots of other bank panics in small nations without much agitation, so what seems to have bothered the markets was the decision of the Central European Bank to tax the depositors 10% to support the system. Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said she thought it was a good idea to tax depositors, and that really upset a lot more people. Ms. Lagarde is French, but the IMF which she heads is located a few blocks from the U.S. White House, so the suspicion grew that Mr. Obama might approve of placing a tax on bank deposits, too. As things started to get out of hand, everyone hastily dropped the whole idea, and even the Cypriote Parliament voted against it. There was no time for even the large organizations devoted to managing the news to manage this one. World opinion was instantaneously mobilized, and thunderous in voicing its low opinion of taxing bank deposits, by anyone, anywhere. What was accidentlally aroused was the realization that since the World went off the gold standard in 1971, the world's money is backed by nothing at all except a computer notation. Irrevocably taxing it in bank accounts could be done in an hour.
In 1944 the international conference held at Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, agreed that other nations could exchange their currency for American dollars, but only the U.S. dollar could be converted into gold. As long as the U.S. ran a trade surplus, the gold remained undisturbed in Fort Knox. But when other nations began to export their goods in the 1960's, their dollars began to be changed into gold. Gresham's Law took over quickly, since when two currencies of unequal value circulate together, the more valuable one will quickly disappear; the shifting balance of trade had made gold more valuable than dollar bills. When President Nixon began to see that Fort Knox was soon going to be emptied, he put a stop to the exchange. He "closed the gold window". At that point, we were all off the gold standard, but nothing much happened. It remained possible to continue to speak of gold as a "barbarous relic", and by implication any standard like silver or oil or land, was also a barbarous relic. But the experience of Cyprus taught the world that everyone did want the value of currency to be independent of the whims of government, and like the Emperor's suit of clothes, was just waiting for someone to point it out. A system of monetary exchanges, or exchanges of goods and services, really can be run without backing by anything except the word of government. But inflation targeting does need a government to run it, and thus governments have acquired a power over currencies which centuries of experience had taught people not to trust for a moment. North and South American hemispheric trade had been comfortably run without governments for centuries, as long as there were Spanish pieces of eight in actual circulation. But the modern Cyprus government could not run for a week without the trust of depositors, and neither can any other government. Conversely, it is impossible to run an economy without a government to guarantee the international value of money. People don't like that situation, and the threat of chaos in the streets is not much different in any place in the world which does not run a brutal military system. When you reach a point where even the soldiers refuse to be paid with paper money, you are about at the point General George Washington found himself after the Revolution. Robert Morris convinced him it would be possible to base a currency on the credit of the nation, and General Alexander Hamilton had been taught how to run such a thing. The rest of the country didn't understand what that meant, but they did understand that it seemed to work. But it would only work if the people trusted their Constitution, and the government it designed. But then, our government never tried to put a tax on bank deposits. In fact, it took another hundred years before the American public was completely certain you could trust banks even to exist. The good ol' mattress, that's where to keep your money. If it's in gold coins, that is. Paper money might just as well be in a bank, because its value is only symbolic of a government promise.
|The Battle of Bretton Woods: John Maynard Keynes, Harry Dexter White, and the Making of a New World Order: Benn Steil: ISBN-13: 978-0691149097||Amazon|
|Robert Morris: Financier of the American Revolution: Charles Rappleye: ISBN-10: 1416570926||Amazon|
|Bitter Lemons: Lawrence Durrell: ISBN-13: 978-1604190045||Amazon|
|Dr. Ronald J. Granieri|
Dr. Ronald J. Granieri of the office of Secretary of Defense, recently spoke to the Right Angle Club about recent threats to the unification of Western Europe. One of his more striking points was that the 1989 collapse of the Soviet Union ending the Cold War, may have unintentionally thwarted the plans for a European Union. The Iron Curtain running from the Baltic to the Black Sea had served as an Eastern boundary for European dreams. When the curtain suddenly disappeared, the European Union was flooded with applications for membership from the recently liberated, formerly Communist dominated, Eastern bloc. It was understandable why these countries would wish to get away from Russia, and equally understandable that Russia would be annoyed. But bedazzling expansion was quite unexpected by the European Founding Fathers, who were having enough trouble without doubling their number with weak economies. If Napoleon or Bismarck or some other empire-builder had been in charge at that time, Europe would either have been expanded by brute force, or its borders slammed shut with brute force. But in the clutch no one was thinking big. Acquiring twenty new nations was an undreamed-for opportunity, but a technical headache for academic theorists. It called for bold action at a time when bold actors were not in charge.
Although it hurts European pride to admit they were following the American model, most of the problems they were encountering were the same problems our own Founding Fathers encountered in 1789. There were two main differences, however, one of which had been written into our Constitution. The other went largely unnoticed. The written difference was we had a bicameral legislative branch, designed to address the issue of voting rights straddling three big states and nine little ones. Pennsylvania had already gone through a dispute over the unicameral Pennsylvania Legislature, which proved to have so much power it unbalanced the three-branch system of government. Consequently the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention, held in that same building, was already uneasy about unicameral legislatures. It was John Dickinson the delegate from little Delaware, who went to James Madison (of Virginia, then the largest state) and told him bluntly that if Virginia persisted in demanding a unicameral Congress with representatives elected by population size, well, there just wasn't going to be any Union. The three big states refused to participate in any one-state, one-vote, system, while the nine small states wouldn't submit to large-state domination by population size. Either voting by state or voting by population would inevitably result in one side winning every hotly contested vote in a unicameral legislature. So, we had solved our problem by having two legislative houses, one of each kind, and agreeing that legislation would only proceed if both houses were in agreement. What made any legislation possible under these terms, was the informal system of "log rolling", in which informal agreements on seemingly unrelated matters would compensate the loser branch of government, and the states they represented. Since in modern Europe, any group of ten or twenty states in a union would surely have memberships of unequal size, bicameral legislatures seem to Americans to be a perfectly sensible arrangement, so get on with it. The insistence by the League of Nations and the United Nations for one-vote, one-nation arrangements, is a major reason the United States never permitted these supranational forums to have much power.
It's an unspoken truth however, that other nations do not see it our way. That's partly because the German and other parliaments going all the way back to the Roman Senate had established a unicameral tradition in Europe. The other main but unwritten cause of Constitutional differences between the two continents is that we had been surrounded by thousands of miles of ocean, and never had to consider the danger that external and internal enemies would join forces to frustrate our decisions. It is true that many attempts were made to do just this, but they were immediately recognized and easily quashed in the past. As long as the Iron Curtain was operational, Europe thought it might have such ocean-like protection as well, but events in 1989 swept that idea away. With a large addition of formerly hostile states, some members were occasionally bound to join forces with Russia or China, even though they were nominally loyal citizens of the EU. Traitorous behavior had long been an underlying cause of splinter parties and brutal suppression, but that was when Communists were thought by everyone to be agents of a hostile foreign power. With the end of the Cold War they might become misguided local citizens exercising freedom of speech, claiming a right to argue for behavior which would have formerly been denounced as traitorous. Nations harboring few such inclinations soon became cautious about joining government with nations who had a great many of them. Citizens of recently enslaved nations were particularly resistant to soothing arguments about unity. It must be confessed that the example of our own Civil War lends force to this feeling of what might happen.
|Baltic and Black Seas|
It may be claiming too much to describe the fall of the Iron Curtain, as the major reason for decline of interest in forming a political union in Europe. That decline did occur, and was replaced by the rather weak stratagem of leaving unified government to another time. In its place appeared a strategy of economic unification, hoping the benefits to everyone would become so apparent that unified nationhood would follow. A substrategy emerged, narrowing it to a unified currency, the Euro. Bankers and other financial experts argued that such unification would be fairly simple and effective. And so it proved, until the same difficulty appeared in a different form. The design of the Euro Currency Zone had apparently underestimated the problems of a foreign currency operating together with the Euro, and variants of Gresham's Law surfaced. Small nation members like Iceland and Cyprus found their small banking systems could not cope with huge inflows of flight money, escaping to tax havens within the Euro zone. As well, underdeveloped member nations actually romanced non-member capital to relocate to their shores. Since local currency is ultimately supported by the full faith and credit of the nation, local banks and economies cannot easily deny equal protections to foreign capital, except temporarily while exchange controls are applied. But when a sufficiently small nation is thus forced to guarantee a sufficiently large amount of foreign money, local banks and markets will be destined to crash. If, in addition, the member nations are deprived of the ability to devalue their currency as the Euro zone could, some type of informal arrangement for a two-value currency had to be devised unless more prosperous members like Germany were willing to subsidize the money flows. When two currencies of unequal value circulate together, said John Gresham to Queen Elizabeth I, the more valuable one will quickly disappear.
|Constitutional Convention in 1787|
According to the last census, my Legislative district (#6 in New Jersey) has 224,000 residents. If I spent five minutes talking to each one, I wouldn't have time to sleep or eat. Therefore, I get mixed feelings when I hear only 43,000 of them are registered voters, and only 23,000 of them turned out for the last election. I guess I could talk to that many, but it is pretty sad only one resident in ten bothers to vote. The same number of people voted for every R candidate, and the same number of D's voted for almost every D candidate. So, it looks as though a lot of people vote a straight-party ballot.
That's something they surely wouldn't do if they knew each candidate. And that's pretty sad, because it is easily managed by party machines. I have to think these things are caused by the steady growth of the population, without comparable growth in the number of representatives, at all levels from township commissioner to President of the United States.
George Washington was bothered by the same problem. In 1787 he had nothing to say about issues during all the time he was presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention. But on the last day of the convention, he asked for permission to step down and address the group. His conviction was that no congressman should represent more than 30,000 people, and he begged for an amendment providing for it. The delegates meant to oblige him, but somehow it got lost. If they had done what he asked, we would now have about 5000 congressmen, so it doesn't sound workable. As a practical matter, in the early 1920's Congress finally limited the size of its members to 436. So now we have exactly what Washington feared, which is each Congressman represents 700,000 people, nobody knows his congressman, it costs millions of dollars to get elected, party machines dominate what decisions aren't dictated by lobbyists.
Exactly the same thing is true of legislative districts, except the lobbyists are probably less well funded. They seem to search for party machines, and spend their time (and money) on unelected party leaders. Unelected is an important word here, because many county leaders take care not to hazard their future on an election. I understand the county leader in Mercer county lives on eighteen acres in the center of Princeton. I don't know his name, in fact almost nobody knows his name, but everybody knows that God himself couldn't afford eighteen acres of Princeton. I got this from a reporter, Bob Ingle, for the Trenton newspaper who wrote a book, called Soprano State. I wish more people would read that book, so I don't have to sound so negative at times. I gather from this book, there is much to talk about.
Anyway, this representation issue is starting to hurt. I go to all kinds of meetings in my district, at least to show my face. Little did I expect I would be sitting in the audience while a professor of history, would explain that Washington's proposal was already part of the Constitution. I woke up slowly and may have got this wrong, but I believe he said it was one of the two (of the twelve original) amendments of the Bill of Rights that Thomas Jefferson recorded as not being ratified. However, Kentucky was a long way away by horseback, and the ratifiers seem to have given up on the messenger who was bringing the duly recorded, on-time, ratification from Kentucky needed to reach the required number. I guess when it got to be dinnertime they decided no messenger meant no ratification.
However, Mr. LaVerne seems to have dug up photocopies of the Kentucky document of ratification, plus the bylaws stating amendments were to be effective as of the date of ratification. Somehow, the War of 1812 got things confused even more, and burnt up enough, that Washington's pet idea sort of got lost. If that's really provable, it seems to mean we already have a mandate to have 5000 congressmen (and two or three thousand Assemblymen and women in New Jersey?). The contention seems to be that for two hundred years nobody knew what to do with this bit of history, and sort of decided to ignore it. My view is that even if you knew all about this strange history, you simply can't have it both ways. Either you get stuck with the present inability to represent all those constituents, or else you get stuck with having unworkable thousands of congressmen.
I promise to think about this. And when I get an answer, I'll let you know.
Come to think of it, the nation's smallest state still does things the way the Founding Fathers did them, sort of confirming my feeling that population growth is the source of our trouble. Correction: the failure to adjust to population growth is our trouble.
They really do "bury the hatchet" in Lewes, Delaware, and they really do get the candidates, victor and vanquished, to ride around the town square in Georgetown, Delaware after the election is over. The implication is of course there was a hatchet in use, and yet the two candidates can be cheerful gentlemen afterward.
Shortly before election last year, the papers were full of agitation about passing laws to require voters to identify themselves. That doesn't sound so burdensome, considering how teenagers pester you to get a driver's licence when they reach a certain age. But, oh my goodness, it was a terrible thing to ask of voters who are barely able to crawl to the voting place, much too poor to afford a car, and grossly offended by the suggestion that anyone would dare to have such nasty suspicions. So, being new to the candidate business, I asked a few hardened old pros about it. Is there much voter fraud in Camden County? And if so, how is it accomplished?
For some reason, this innocent question was greeted with gales of laughter. When it settled down, two or three suggestions were offered. In the first place, said the old guy on a park bench, tell the poll watchers to be certain the voting machines have been set to zero before any voter uses them. How would requiring a driver's licence prevent that kind of thing? It wouldn't; it depends on having poll watchers.
All right, what else? Well there's the "old fashioned way". What that refers to is waiting until about an hour before the polls close, and there is nobody watching in the polling place because it's dinnertime. When the coast is clear, just take the list of registered voters who haven't yet voted -- and vote them for your party. Pretty smooth, right? And if you would be required to write down the driver's license number for every voter, it's pretty easy to spot deficiencies when the results get challenged. So, maybe requiring some sort of ID would be effective, and wouldn't amount to frisking a citizen. And then, there's a law to mention.
In New Jersey, and maybe elsewhere too, a poll watcher is required to be a resident of his district. So, a little old lady with knitting is unlikely to want to watch the polls in some of the tougher districts. For this, both parties employ "flying squads" of some of the party faithful who look like professional football players. One beep on the cell phone and this squad comes flying. Well, my Goodness me.
Written several months later:
Judge Richard Posner, whose writings I have come to admire greatly, was interviewed recently on television. Although he said he had written earlier that he saw nothing wrong with asking voters to identify themselves, he now reverses himself and concludes that voter identification laws prevent more people from voting than they prevent fraud. He bases this opinion on what someone tells him is credible evidence, but I'm afraid I neither believe the evidence, nor think it is an important way to think about this issue.
I believe the most important issue is to have the public believe the elections were fair, so we don't get more civil disobedience stirred up by political "contractors", or in spite of heated fanaticism heating up in the last few days of an election. There are numerous examples of candidates who supported a fraudulent election of their opponent, rather than have his own supporters injure the reputation of our procedures. Somebody has to win an election, and the election has to be seen as final. In our system, any close election could probably be reversed by a well-managed recount, and reversed again on re-recount. To discover large frauds, even if potentially balanced by improved enfranchisement, is to discredit the election process. And since there are many local polling districts near me which have not had dual poll watchers for twenty years, the suspicion of voter fraud in those districts is quite a natural one. I"m not sure what the issues are, surrounding the credibility of absentee ballots.
All I know is a lot of people are increasingly resorting to them because they distrust the conventional polling places. If that's what it takes to convince people the elections are fair, let's try it out wholesale in some districts where obtaining dual poll watchers has been difficult. Like Chicago, for instance?
Howard Calloway on the prospects for the EU:
1. The EU has no Army or Navy, and thus no military expenditures, but also no physical power. It remains to be seen whether this situation is an advantage or not. It's like leaving your six-gun on the table before you enter the boxing ring.
2. The unicameral parliament is no accident; there is a definite animosity to creating a Senate. To them, it signifies aristocracy, which many countries of the EU have not completely abandoned. To America, the creation of the Senate was a compromise (probably devised by Franklin, but perhaps by Dickinson) between big states and small ones; the American Union could never have been created without it, as a way for states of different sizes to share power.
3. Timing is everything. There are times which permit some concepts to move ahead, when they would otherwise be unable to move. Some memories must be fresh; others must be half-forgotten.
|Justice Robert H. Jackson|
According to Justice Robert H. Jackson, "We" (The Supreme Court) "are not not final because we are infallible, we are infallible because we are final." Scoop Jackson was the last Justice who never went to college or graduated from Law School, so his viewpoint concentrated on the practical outcome of a situation. In fact, the father of our constitution, James Madison, was learned in the history of many constitutions, and was well aware of allusions to divinity in the construction of our governing document, particularly when the sources of strong beliefs couldn't be grounded in evidence. The Constitution is an attempt to reconcile our culture to the needs of governance and the revelations of controversy. Composed by Enlightenment rationalists within a highly religious environment, the Founding Fathers were careful to use the metaphors of Religion, even though many were personally skeptics about the substance. Indeed, the Penman of the Constitution who ultimately wrote most of the words was Gouverneur Morris, a flagrant libertine. It had been the tradition of Constitutions to describe their culture by allusion to epic poems, drawing inferences about Right and Wrong from what had subsequently happened to ancient heroes after similar situations unfolded. Some would put the plays of Shakspere in that role in 1787, but the evidence is stronger for Roman writers, like Cato and Cicero. In my own view, this leap of faith was only divine in the sense it was a one-way street. A citizen might try to emulate the ancients, but appealing back to them was not likely to work.
Although the Constitution can be viewed as bridging a gap between Culture and Common Law, or perhaps as placing a guardhouse between them, this relationship is not spelled out and therefore in theory might be changed. Other cultures, perhaps the native Indian, or the Catholic Church of Central Europe, might be substituted, or other legal structures resembling the Napoleonic Code might serve on the opposite side of the bridge. These substitutions were a legal possibility, but there is little doubt the American leadership intended for an Anglo-Saxon culture, linked with Francis Bacon's legal system, to prevail under a distinctively American flag. Because of our debt to France for then-recent assistance, there was once the possibility of French coloration to our culture, but the excesses of the French Revolution soon ruled that out. Some modern observers have capsulized the scene: First, we got the British to help throw out the French in 1754; and then in 1776 we got the French to help us throw the British out. Both our allies thought we played their game, but we were playing our own. The new Constitution specified no laws, but with little doubt the Framers intended the states to adopt British Common Law without the infelicity of saying so.
|Bill of Rights|
And then there is the Bill of Rights. Madison had great faith in the ability of structure (separation of powers, term limits, etc.) to command predictable outcomes, and initially resisted any need for a Bill of Rights. But the Ratification Conventions in the states showed him the need to yield. The First Congress soon enough confronted over a hundred proposed rights in petitions from the states, especially the four big ones. If anyone else had been in Madison's position, our Bill of Rights would resemble the European one today, fifty pages long and growing. That outcome would have greatly weakened the Legislative branch, since after protests about Mother Nature subside, the legal fact emerges that Rights are merely laws which no majority can overturn. They might even be characterized as a contrivance for transient majorities to promote the permanence of their viewpoint.
|The Founding Fathers|
But they are not the only contrivance in politics. Enshrinement of the Founding Fathers elevated their political positions into near divinity, whereas debunking the Founders personally undermines their symbolism as statues and myths. There was too much of this during the romance period of the Nineteenth century, but also in von Ranke's later marginalization of History into mere scholarship and footnotes, which was a reaction to it. The Founding Fathers themselves now supplant Achilles and Cincinnatus in our lexicon, and we have little choice but to accord more weight to their original intent in the Constitution, than to contemporary reasonings. Indeed, we are forced to acknowledge more similarity between George Washington's fictitious cherry tree than to his relations with Peggy Fairfax, when we interpret his thundering "Honesty is the best policy" in the second inaugural address. It is admittedly a difficult choice, but Justices now need to consider what his audience widely believed was his original intent, more than what later archeological discoveries uncover. Justice Scalia is correct in placing more weight on the original intent of the Founding Fathers than contemporary reactions to the same words. But in occasional conflicts between myth and reality, it seems safer to consider what the audience then widely believed, than what modern audiences would guess at.
A point which cannot be emphasized enough is that a Health Savings Account is just about the best way to invest, if you have given little thought to investing. The deposits are tax-deductible, and the withdrawals are tax-free if they are medical in nature. Even if they aren't medical, they can be anything at all after you reach 66. You probably ought to give a lot of thought and investigation to the particular agent you choose, because they aren't necessarily legal fiduciaries, no matter how friendly they may be. They have no obligation like a doctor or lawyer to put the client's interest ahead of their own, and they can later hire partners you don't care for, so make certain you can terminate the arrangement and switch to someone else without penalty.
Be careful to choose a representative carefully. But whether to choose an HSA, at any age and stage of advancement, always leads to the same answer: Yes, do it. That being the case, a certain number of HSA owners will find themselves with an account they don't know what to do with. There's almost always an exit strategy, although you may need professional advice to judge which one is best for you.
If you started your account near or after retirement, you may have the idea you will never have surplus funds. But if Congress can be persuaded to make it legal, one of your options might be to roll the surplus over to a grandchild or grandchild-like person. If this suits your situation, please notice that a newborn child has some special medical problems. In the first place, the first year of life is unusually expensive; in the aggregate, 3% of all medical expenses are spent on the first year of someone's life. To anticipate a little, 8% of health cost are spent before age 21, which is generally held to be the beginning of the earning period. Children are generally pretty robust, but when a child is sick, he is vulnerable to lasting disabilities of a very expensive sort, so you don't like to see a family cut corners on child care.
But newborns have no earning power, their future is in someone else's hands. The average woman has 2.1 children today, two women thus have 4.2. Four grandparents roughly have one apiece. The way the law of averages is working out, if every grandparent took care of the health costs of one grandchild, things would be close to solved. Things would have to be adjusted for the non-average case, but they would be close to being solved by adding one grandchild's cost to each average Medicare cost for the elderly.
In this case, however, the legal and political problems are greater than the financial ones, so it would suffice for a beginning, just to permit those who want to volunteer, to be permitted to leave unused leftovers in their HSA to children under the age of 21. If there is concern about dynasties and perpetuities, it might be left to the child's HSA, to be exhausted by age 21, or transferred to the HSA of a second child. The sum in question might be around $8000.
The purpose of healthcare financing is to redistribute the pain of paying for it. Otherwise, the patient doesn't want to be sick or die; illness itself is a disincentive to abuse. The concern about abuse mainly arises when someone else pays for it. The indigent patient doesn't want to be sick, either, but somehow that's different. Not only does the public resent the cost, the public resents the need for the cost, as well.
Two of the central figures in devising Obamacare -- supposedly free healthcare for everyone -- have framed the issue as whether it is better to die in America or somewhere else. Just about no one wants to die anywhere, at any time I notice. The mortality figures are too fuzzy to judge whether the extra cost is worth the money, but essentially there isn't enough provable difference among developed nations to assert most care lengthens the lifespan of the patients. Especially the cancer patients. Apparently, the diffusion speed of new knowledge makes it impossible to tell how much it helped. Or else the amount of new knowledge isn't sufficient to show up in such crude data. By that standard, medical care is just as "good", one place or another, one insurance system or another. It just costs more, that's all. When some research laboratory finds a cure for cancer, health care still won't seem to have proved it helped.
But life expectancy will increase; in the long run costs will come down. It can be very confidently assumed that those who invest their savings early in life will enjoy a more prosperous retirement than those who depend on entitlements.
George Goodwin appears to have written the best book I ever read, in Benjamin Franklin in London, which that writer in residence of the Craven Street Franklin Museum. has just produced. At least I have never read a book which proceeded to explain so much I knew puzzled me. There have been hundreds of books about Benjamin Franklin, but all of them fall back on Franklin's Autobiography which while surely authoritative, often omits significant details. Goodwin, concentrating on the eighteen years Franklin spent abroad, had access to many unnoticed personal papers. It was also written while Franklin was in England, where many things did not appear to need explanation to 18th Century Englishmen. And the autobiography was written for his son, who needed even less explanation. So it's a mistake to ascribe the autobiography's vagueness to deliberate deviousness, to say nothing of basing a whole theory of his personality on deviousness. Its hazy points now seem more attributable to his assuming his intended audience needed little explanation for what to us was seemingly left vague. And so as a first impression, Franklin himself emerges less deserving of his reputation for deceptiveness.
|Ben Franklin In London|
It occurred to me as I read it, that national opinions will change so quickly, that the transitional opinions of people like me will soon be swept aside. I am no scholar, but have read twenty or so excellent books about Benjamin Franklin, and adopted a number of fixed ideas which I will have to change. Therefore, Goodwin's achievement is in danger of becoming lost in a stampede of permanently revised views. Goodwin himself may be oblivious to his own achievement, which was probably gathered slowly after poring over heaps of primary documents, and living in a London world which needed less explaining to a Londoner. Heaven knows I am no Keats, but my place in all this can possibly aspire to his goals in the poem On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.
|Join or Die|
In the first place, Franklin appears to have been a staunch British subject, at least from the Albany Conference of 1754 to as late as 1774. His dream, formulated at Albany and expressed in many forms later, was that of a combined British-American empire, with its headquarters eventually to be located in America. For the largest part of his life, his attitude was not that America should be independent of Britain. It was the two nations should unite even more closely, America would inevitably grow larger, and the British Empire would become a British World. After King George III unleashed Wedderburn to excoriate Franklin before the crowned heads of Whitehall, it all changed, of course, but it did so after a personal dispute with the King about lightning rods, where Franklin never doubted he was the world-acknowledged authority. In essence, Franklin was the inventor of electricity, but King George in effect responded, "Who do you think you are, a King?" Those weren't the words they used, but that was the sense of it. Or, considering what was at stake, the nonsense of it. Franklin had been challenged to destroy the British empire if he was so smart, and that is exactly what he set about to do.
|King George III|
Without editorializing a word, Goodwin allows us to read a line Franklin wrote in 1773, that King George was "perhaps the only Chance America has for obtaining soon the Address she aims at."
Franklin was not without British allies. Lord Chatham, later prime Minister, and Edmund Burke, author of "On Reconciliation With the Colonies" came very close to toppling the government over this issue. Even Lord Howe, Franklin's chess partner and brother of even-more-avid chess partner Lady Carolyn Howe, who was later designated to lead the British repression of the rebellion, is quoted as saying in 17XX, XXXXXXXX. Lord Howe's words are going to require some re-examination of his motives in abandonment of Burgoyne against direct orders, and redirection of the fleet toward Philadelphia. Frankin's response, of course, was to use the victory to sign a treaty of alliance with France.
|William Pitt 1st Earl of Chatham|
In victorious America, of course, Franklin was celebrated for flying a kite in a rainstorm, something every schoolboy knows is too dangerous to try. It was during his time in England that Franklin performed a series of experiments which invented electricity which every physicist would agree would today win him a Nobel Prize. It made him a friend of Mozart and Beethoven, Joseph Priestley and five kings. Goodwin even restores the tarnished reputation of Peggy Stevenson.
But it isn't all for the better. Goodwin tells us Franklin didn't invent bifocals, some British optometrist did. So he raises a question, for those who are looking for it, about how many of the other American "firsts" for which he is famous, were ideas he picked up in his first trip to London in 17XX, and transported to an America eager to have what was the latest and trendiest. There are probably other innuendoes in this eminently readable but essentially scholarly work. But I missed them, and a hundred graduate students will have to put the record straight.
|Minister David Cameron|
In June, 2016, Great Britain voted by a million plurality, to withdraw from the European Union. The plebescite was not binding on Parliament, but Prime Minister David Cameron promptly resigned, and there remains little discussion of anything but going ahead with "Brexit". It will take at least two years to accomplish the matter, and there remains great uncertainty about the terms of separation. The British stock market took a sharp dip. Stock markets always hate uncertainty, and from the start there was little doubt Britain would experience some economic hardship, but still they went ahead with it.
|Archbishop of Canterbury|
By the greatest stroke of good luck, I happened to be in London for this event. It had been barely noted in the Americana press before I left, and indeed a discussion group hadn't even put it on the agenda after my return. But let me tell you, the British public was talking about nothing else. From the lowest barmaid in a pub to the Archbishop of Canterbury, there was only one topic of conversation, and a very real understanding that Britain might well vote to leave the EU. Once the vote had been taken, of course, even the American public appreciated its significance, and its resemblance to the headlong tumult in our own political parties. Donald Trump might well win the election, and logic or rhetoric had little to do with it. Other countries, Scotland in particular, were teetering in the same direction of demonstrating how far a democracy was from a republic, when each "leader" had a million constituents. And how well the public appreciated the tendency of elected representatives to forget who elected them. Or else, in more rational moments, to appreciate how difficult it is for elected representatives to communicate with constituents.
|Ben Franklin London Townhome|
To go on with this insight for a moment, my Washington daughter tells me Democrat congressmen are required to spend thirty-six hours every week in a call center, soliciting campaign funds; where do they find time to legislate? But the central background reflection I happened to have about Brexit was how enduring the political split apparently was between the Whigs and the Tories. This thought came to me from one of the real reasons I was in London, to visit Ben Franklin's imposing rowhouse on Craven Street, fifty feet from the National Museum on Piccadilly. Franklin lived there for most of eighteen years, in a style quite different from the two-penny loaf of bread in Philadelphia. He was personal friends with five kings, Voltaire, Mozart and Beethoven, as well as Priestly, Lavoisier, and Hume. Townsend may indeed have passed the Stamp Act, but he invited Franklin to spend the weekend at his hundred-room castle. The neighbors on Craven Street easily recognized the carriage of the Prime Minister when he came to call on Franklin on Craven Street. From the point of view of this social set, the uproar over the colonies was whether England should conquer them and send their raw materials to British factories (the Tory view), or should instead colonize them with Brits, give them the vote, and rule the world as a commonwealth (the Whig view). Naturally, Franklin supported the Whigs, but his loyalty to his good friend George III, never wavered until 1775. And then, lightening struck St. Paul's Cathedral.
|King George III|
Quite logically, the King asked Franklin's advice. The King however insisted on a brass ball on the top of the church. Franklin resisted, saying a spire was much more effective. We don't have the exact words exchanged, but essentially the King said he was going to have his way, while Franklin in effect asked him who he thought he was talking to. In those days, far less direct wording was needed to give offense on such a central issue of the king having the last word whenever he wanted. It is intimated the King suggested to Weddeburn he should take care of the issue for him, and within a few weeks Franklin was subjected to public humiliation in the cockpit at Whitehall, threatened with arrest, and fled to America to start the war. I had never heard this story, before.
The point it leaves me with is not that Franklin lost his cool and should have known better than to express his opinion. Rather, it is the reflection that never before had a king been challenged on his divine opinion on any subject. Just think of the shock this must have caused him, to have to realize this was the first snowflake in a blizzard. With the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, the world was going to be full of experts, who could make a fool of any king by disagreeing with him in public. This particular king was able to have his way, no matter what, but the day was soon approaching when any science editor, any university professor, and ultimately every barmaid in a pub, could pontificate to the Pontiff.
Articles of Confederation: Fatal Flaw
Some subtle features make the Constitution a vast improvement over the Articles of Confederation.
IF MEN WERE ANGELS, NO CONSTITUTION WOULD BE NECESSARY
A lot of shrewd thinking went into the checks and balances of the Constitution.
A Single International Currency?
Half the world cheats, the other half grumbles, when American dollars become a reserve currency for the rest of the world. It will be a long time before the world has a single unified currency, and it may not be desirable.
European Common Currency
The European central bank has done a good job, but European culture is a little slow.
CEO of the World
The State Department must change, because the world has..
Unwritten Lessons For the European Union
The Europeans, trying to unite 27 countries into one, should study America's problems uniting 13 colonies in 1787. It isn't easy, and it isn't quite the same.
William Penn demonstrated one of the most incisive legal minds in England by trapping the British courts in what remains a central unresolved dilemma for the law. He was the defendant in his own case.
After the Convention:Hamilton and Madison
Two of the main authors of the Federalist Papers -- and hence of the Constitution -- ultimately proved to be acting on entirely different sets of principles, aiming for widely different goals.
U.S. and E.U. Exchange Experiences (1)
The European Union follows the American example. ...
Compromise Outside the Borders of a Debate
.....Break a deadlock by seemingly unrelated trade-offs.
A Pennsylvania Farmer in Delaware
John Dickinson achieved national fame in 1773 by publishing twelve letters written earlier denouncing the Townshend Acts. They were published anonymously as Letters From a Pennsylvania Farmer. His farm, curiously, was in Delaware.
Africa Comes to the Schuylkill
African oil, refined in Philadelphia, supplies 2/3 of the gasoline on the East Coast.
Hayek Confronts Keynes
The influence of Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek is slowly winning out over the views of the English economist Maynard Keynes, even though both of them are dead. Which is worse, inflation or depression?
Be Careful What You Wish For
After the Clinton Health Plan of 1993 fizzled, major employers pushed their employees into managed care. The negative reaction to HMOs was as unambiguous as it was unexpected -- we hate it.
Euros and Dollars
When interest rates of a country go down, the international value of the currency also goes down. But the devil is in the details, the leads, lags, and fiddles.
Constitution-tampering is Unwise
Working paper: The voluntary union of sovereign states is so rare as to stand unique if successful. Since the secret of the U.S. Constitution seems to be its delicate internal balance, tampering with its provisions is to be resisted. That's not strict constructionism, it's fear of disturbing successful equilibrium..
World Finance, Columbus Day 2008
Europe's leaders met in Paris, while finance ministers met in Washington over the three-day weekend in October, 2008. Should nations chance total collapse to save the whole system, or sacrifice the weak to save the strong? Unfortunately, the source of the answer may not be financial but political.
George Washington Demands a Better Constitution
George Washington was an athlete, a soldier, and an adventurous leader. It is less appreciated that he constructed that aloof public image of himself, cloaking an activist politician, and a rather ambitious real estate developer. We got a new Constitution because he wanted a new constitution.
The rules for succession are not spelled out in the American Constitution, but what is implicit was revolutionary. Once again, credit George Washington.
A Gleam in Washington's Eye
Section 8 of Article I of the Constitution contains the enumerated powers of Congress, and Section 9 contains some prohibitions of Congressional power. Taken together, these "powers" constitute the arguments that a Union is superior to a Confederation. In the aggregate they represent the reasons why we created a Union.
An Industrial Nation, or a Plantation Society?
The founding of America produced patriots, heroes, revolutionaries and other idealists. James Madison was our first modern politician.
East Jersey's Decline and Fall
Some day, a novelist will make East Jersey famous. There's lots of material there.
As Others See Us
Perhaps the Europeans are intentionally slow to adopt our form of Constitution.
Franklin on British American Relationships
For one of the most remarkable men who ever lived, Benjamin Franklin unfortunately must be acknowledged to have jotted down some foolish and ill considered things in his voluminous lifetime writings.
How Does New Jersey State Aid Affect School Districts?
State aid for schools is like health insurance: costs go up faster when you aren't spending your own money. At least, that's what the New Jersey statistics seem to show.
Inalienable Rights Before the Magna Carta
Human rights of some sort can be traced back to 1800 B.C The question is not whether they are ancient, but who gave them out.
Addressing the Flaws of Republics
We need some local, not national, think tanks. To understand why, it helps to have been elected to something, yourself.
When Quakers lined both shores of a river, even a state boundary couldn't interfere with fishing.
Adrift With The Living Constitution
With apologies to any political tricks left unmentioned.
Foreground: Parliament Irks the Colonial Merchants
The Townshend Acts, upsetting trade and hated by Americans, bordered on economic warfare. The British tested tea, stamps and manufactures, but the most effective economic pressure points proved to be paper money and gunpowder. The Americans reacted to all this as second-class citizenship.
Robert Morris refused to sign the Declaration of Independence because what he really wanted was Constitutional Liberty. He didn't even mind being a British subject, and didn't want a different King. What was this all about?
Father of the Bureaucracy
Only a few days after being appointed Financier, or acting President of the United States before the Constitution, Robert Morris swept away Congressional committees and replaced them with administrative employees.
Funding the National Debt
Funded debt, otherwise known as Capitalism, was a gift to the nation from Robert Morris, Jr.
Articles of Confederation: Of What Value?
The American Articles of Confederation were devised in Philadelphia, and replaced in Philadelphia. Correcting their biggest flaws made it easier to accept a permanent Constitution which is sparse but hard to amend.
Old Articles (of Confederation) for Old Europe
The European Union and the American Articles of Confederation share the same problems, with a few extras.
What Is the Purpose of a National Constitution?
It could be said the framers of any constitution seek to return future generations to the reasons for founding the nation.
Espionage in the Revolution
Almost everyone in the American Revolution could speak English, so it is not surprising to hear of many spies.
John Marshall's Constitution
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Union, Now and Forever
It's not easy to herd cats.
The Franklin Institute has been making awards for scientific achievement for 188 years, long before the Nobel Prize was invented. The seats are all reserved before the meeting notices are even mailed.
Aftermath: Who Won, the States or the Federal?
The auto and the jet plane changed all the rules of the American Constitution of 1787. Curiously, canals were central to the Peace of Westphalia of 1648, the other great political innovation of modern times.
Rise of the Formidable State
The Catholic Church came to dominate Europe and its monarchs. Over a period of 300 years, secular governments became steadily more powerful. In 1648, the so- called Peace of Westphalia established that henceforth Kings would dominate churches. The American Constitution stabilized this upheaval for America in 1787, in its present uniquely American form.
Why Should Nation States Unite?
Many nations in history have united, but almost always by military conquest. What is America's secret, that made it an exception?
Adjusting Government Finances with Immigration
People emigrate for many reasons, but the main one is to better themselves, economically.
Too Much Money
From the vantage point of 2012, the main cause of the 2007 financial crash was globalization's creation of immense wealth, which lifted 500 million desperately poor people out of poverty. The gold rush corrupted many minds, assisted by the computer and banking revolutions which hurried many smart honest people into fixing the engine while the motor was running.
Law of the Sea
A United Nations effort to give all of the world's oceans to all of mankind was once tossed out by Ronald Reagan and Barbara Thatcher of the U.K. Twenty years after that setback, the U.S. Senate is trying to ratify what is now a fifty year-old negotiated treaty.
Common Currency Without Common Government Spells Trouble
For many years, many nations shared the Spanish doubloon or "piece of eight" as their common currency. Why the Euro couldn't do the same gets to the basics of what money is supposed to be.
U.S. and E.U. Exchange Experiences (4)
The Euro crisis is about monetary policy alone, but they may have crippled their ability to use money to fine-tune the inflexible axioms of One-man, One-vote.
Perils of Sovereignty
A sovereign can act without contradiction. He has a right to be capricious; else, what good is it to be King? Rules were established for this, and all nations agreed to enforce them at the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. All Europeans soon had kings, but nowadays live in republics, and the people have sovereignty. Should that mean every citizen has a right to be capricious?
Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Small Country
Remaining a small country has many merits, but one big demerit. Your neighbors are tempted to swallow you up.
Attendees of both Confederation Congress and Constitutional Convention
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Chief Justice John Marshall Enters (Kettledrums and Crashing Cymbals)
John Marshall is known for some ground-breaking decisions, but many of his most influential pronouncements were just side comments with no force of precedent, obiter dicta , as they are called in legal circles. Marshall came to realize that if he told the legal profession what he firmly believed, no lawyer would think it was wise to conflict with the views held by the final level of appeal.
Boundaries between nations were mainly based on effective military occupation until the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. After that, established boundaries were mainly based on rivers or mountain ridges. In the Eighteenth Century, surveying instruments made other boundaries practical, but the political system added new quirks. The Articles of Confederation were a make-shift adjustment to changing concepts of boundaries.
Joseph Story on Politics Under the Constitution
Joseph Story, Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court during the time of Chief Justice Marshall, had something to say about political parties.
National Debt, Presidential Hat Tricks, Shale Gas and Argentina
The Franklin Inn Club discusses Obama's maneuvers in the context of what might have been a better approach.
Mexican Immigration and NAFTA
NAFTA was a brilliant innovation by Poppy Bush, but it was perhaps a little too sophisticated.
The Annapolis Convention now appears as if its call for a Constitutional Convention was the real intent. But there were legitimate reasons to call for a more germane extension of its original purpose.
The Bretton Woods conference in 1944 was very simple. The U.S. dollar alone was convertible into gold, but all other currencies were convertible into U.S. dollars. To prevent Fort Knox from being completely depleted of gold, the convertibility of dollars into gold was also soon discontinued. Effectively, all money everywhere was thus just a computer notation, controlled by the U.S.government. Temporarily, the dollar became a reserve currency, supplementing gold. Effectively, we were testing whether we needed a metallic standard at all.
Stress Tests for the European Union
Ending the Cold War in 1989 may have generated an unexpected obstacle to European unification.
Fisher on Representation Size
My Legislative district has 224,000 residents, according to the census. If I spent five minutes talking to each one, I wouldn't have time to sleep or eat.
How They Do It in Delaware
The nation's smallest state conducts a lot of things the way they did in the Eighteenth Century.
Fisher on Stuffing Ballot Boxes
I hear, but scarcely can believe, that there is occasional voter fraud.
Howard Calloway: On the European Union
New blog 2013-11-19 20:30:47 description
Appealing the Constitution to a Higher Authority
The original intent of the Constitution has as much to do with what the audience thought they heard, as what the Founders meant they were saying. Or possibly, what Gouverneur Morris thought they were saying.
Grandpa Makes a Gift
New blog 2015-04-29 19:54:18 description
Is It Better to Die in America?
New blog 2016-02-17 21:20:34 description