Monday, September 08, 2014

Income distribution versus power distribution in America: Godzilla vs. the midgets

The statists are up in arms over what they claim is 'worsening' income distribution situation:  according to (inaccurate, incomplete) income analyses of tax returns, the top one percent are capturing more income relative to the middle class than they did 50 years ago while according to these stats the 'poor' are holding their own.  But there are two coins of the realm in our country:  the wherewithal to buy cooperation - aka money and the wherewithal to coerce cooperation - aka power.  So let's say that the critics are right: wealth and income is becoming increasingly concentrated in the hands of 5 million or 12 million or 30 million Americans.  How is the other key coercive commodity's distribution trending?    Because without looking at both wealth and power you can't understand what the implications of the changes are for our Republic. So just who is getting more power and where are they getting it from?

There's no metric of 'power' the way that there is of money but as a stopgap I propose the following rule of thumb:  to what extent do other power centers have to respond to your power center's actions versus you being forced to respond to their demands?  And how has this balance of coercion changed over time?  The coercion can be formal as in a law or a regulation or in an appeal to public opinion which forces the target to respond, cash funding or even back room lobbying.  These are my estimates by sector, feel free to make your own:

First the big time losers - Institutions that have been decisively weakened over the past 50 years.

The Church/Synagogue - plummeting attendance and a society much more open to 'sinful' lifestyles demonstrate the Church's power quotient is tiny compared to fifty years ago. Mosques have more clout but they're still a tiny proportion of the total.
Other civic membership organizations whether they be the American Legion or the NAACP or the Boy Scouts they've almost all seen their numbers plummet and their ability to define their own memberships challenged.  They speak with tiny tinny voices in America today. Some like Gay organizations have more power but they're the exception to the rule.
Business both big and small - business has never been more constrained by law and regulation.  It is estimated that there were over 300,000 Federal rules carrying criminal punishments in the early nineties.  It's probably over 400,000 now.   Never have business leaders and owners been more subject and vulnerable to the depredations of the state.  The minor gains in tort law reform shrink to insignificance in the face of this immense power shift.
Private Unions Have shrunk into irrelevance, are losing the right to work battle state by state and are ignored by the Democrats who they have spent so much money to elect.  The public employee unions are different but I subsume them under their various governments whose interests are largely synonymous with theirs.
The family.  There are far fewer intact families and those families have never had fewer rights.  The state has imposed a wide range of restrictions and punishments and rules on intimate family life such that many millions of families are under forml state supervision.  The state has won the PR battle over who is best positioned to determine what 'appropriate' parenting is because in surveys the public largely approves of these new 'standards'.

The Stuck in the Middles: Power centers who haven't gained or lost much in their ability to move outcomes in ways they desire.

Media and entertainment have never been more popular which gives them more power but they have also never been so fragmented or faced such difficulty getting paid for what they produce.  The power of old media was in the fact that there were very few institutions who could move public opinion by themselves.  They no longer exist.
The intelligentsia, foundations and universities. Much of the aggrandizement of the Federal Super State has been via implementation of the intelligentsia's ideas and they've had a big hand in the explosion of regulation and administrative law.  To this point they have avoided most regulation that has drowned business.  But the relentlessly increasing dependence of Universities on Federal Student Loans and grants and researchers and institutes on Federal Research Grants are leading to a steady encroachment by the Federal bureaucracy who have never dictated so much of what the intelligentsia's institutions operations need to do as they do today. Distinguished scientists can be defrocked and ruined by the state in a matter of moments.
Public education public education has never had so much money, employees or kids for so many hours of indoctrination.  Indeed the past fifty years have seen a quadrupling of real spending per pupil without any real accountability for the results.  Each failure has led to greater funding, staffing and prestige.  Unfortunately it also has led to much higher levels of Federal Funding and direct Federal controls over that funding.  Public education has never been so constrained and directed by outsiders as it is today.  Indeed there is a 20,000 employee agency with nary a student taught dedicated to supervising the public schools down to what's for lunch.
The professions have a mixed outcome as well:  never have lawyers, accountants and physicians been richer and never have they been more essential to daily life in this country.  But their wealth and power are increasingly controlled by the Federal State's whims which dictate what kind of work will be done for lawyers and accountants and everything for physicians. None of them can stop the state if it decides to turn their industry upside down or with a flick of a pen bankrupt a multi billion dollar partnership.
The states have never spent a larger share of GDP than they do today nor had more invasive laws and regulations.  But even in the most independent states more than half of the money now comes from the Federal Super State and if the Feds provide more than half the money they get much more than half of the power that goes with it. Never have states been more micro managed, required to go hat in hand and request 'waivers' to do what they think is in the interests of their citizens. And the states are mostly bankrupt with the only institution who could bail them out being the Feds.
Local governments likewise have never spent more money nor raised less of it locally.  Once again the funder calls the shots and the funder is the Feds.  Almost all big cities are bankrupt with only Uncle Sam to turn to.

The massive intergalactic gainer

Notice a pattern here?  The Federal Government is the only power locus that has massively increased its share of the nation's power in the last 50 years.  And its expansion has been astounding. For example:
Militarily - the Feds spend half of world's total spending on defense and have never had so many remote precision tools to kill with.  This is making it far easier for the Federal State to intervene wherever it wants for whatever reason with or without Congressional or even public approval. Not to mention the entire NSA/Surveillance state infrastructure.
Financial - the Federal superstate has demonstrated that it can run deficits of up to half of its revenues and simply have its wholly owned bank buy the paper.  There is no institution in the history of the world that has the financial heft and flexibility of the US Government.  To the extent that any other power player can be bought, the Feds have the wherewithal to buy them at the click of a mouse.
Bureaucratic - the Federal bureaucracy now essentially writes the laws - Congress is so logjammed that the bureaucracy simply issues regulations and dares Congress to sue them.  The agencies are all mini governments unto themselves with legislative, law enforcement, judicial and taxing authorities often with their own military forces to coerce the recalcitrant.  Through asset forfeiture they supplement their own bureaucratic budgets with billions of dollars of legal takings from unpopular citizens or organizations.  When the bureaucracy is attacked as it was by the Tea Party, the various parts of it automatically assault the attackers without needing coordination from above.
Judicial - aside from the bureaucracy the Federal judiciary is the big winner - the explosion of law and administrative regulation means that judges get to determine the fate of the nation in far, far more areas to a greater detail than ever before.  Moreso than the Church, the judiciary has become the arbiter of what is moral and righteous and what is not. The nation hangs on the Supreme's words and facial tics for evidence of what 'Truth' will be handed down to the proles.

The only part of the federal super state that has lost power and influence over the past fifty years, harming the clout of all non-Federal players are the Federal elected officials. The elective power players have lost power to the bureaucracy and the courts because they must live in a political world where there is constant conflict over means and ends.  And they do not have the resources to monitor and hold accountable a ballooning bureaucracy that pretty much does what it wants within ever widening limits. And the electeds00 have made the mistake of increasingly pursuing political victory in the courts which ultimately does nothing but wick more power to old lawyers in black mumus and away from the people's elected representatives.

Fifty years ago the Feds were already the single most powerful institution in the land but the other institutions of our society put together were far more powerful than it alone.  Today I would argue that the Federal Super State wields as much if not more power than all of the other institutions in the United States combined.  Like Godzilla in a crowd of midgets the Federal State goes where it will and takes what it wants with a lot of complaining by the other players but very little power opposition.  Questions: How many years has the NSA been breaking our laws safeguarding civil liberties?  And why are they still doing it? Answers: Nobody knows because they wont tell udsand because we can't stop them.

And in the name of 'income equality' the statists want to take more wealth and power away from wealthy people who form some of the only independent centers of power and influence in the land and give it to the immense, unaccountable Federal State.

They're joking right?

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