Monday, November 2, 2009

No Way Out vs. Worst Bill Ever

Last week, Nancy Pelosi unveiled the final House health reform bill, a 1,990 page monstrosity that The Wall Street Journal calls the "worst bill ever."

Coincidentally, Peggy Noonan's weekly op-ed moaned about pessimism in the nation's elite, a feeling that there is "no way out" of our present difficulties. We are ruled by America's luckiest children, Peggy mourns, people who have never been foreclosed upon.

They are stupid and they are callous[.]

My op-ed this week deals with the nasty little situation the Democrats are in, the one that drives the "no way out" meme. This is the first time that Democrats have come into office during the nail-biting stage of a recession. It's hard for them. Usually in a recession, it is a Republican president in charge and the Democrats are barracking from the sidelines, asking why the insensitive president hasn't got everyone back to work yet.

But I think that the "no way out" chaps are weenies, like Falstaff on the day of battle telling Prince Hal that "I would 'twere bedtime, Hal, and all well." (Henry IV Part I) Sorry, Sir John, but to win the war you first have to win the battle.

I happens that I have just started reading the monumental German History 1770-1866 by James J. Sheehan. It starts with a discussion of the transition from traditional corporate political organization in Germany to the centralized bureaucratic state.

The paradigmatic centralized state is, of course, the France of Louis XIV. Centralized administration concentrates power and resources at the center and makes the state into a unitary weapon in the hands of its ruler.

But, of course, bureaucracy has its limits. It cannot adapt to changing situations at all well. And it tends to run down over the years, becoming a mechanical monster that spins its wheels, using up resources without delivering any power for traction.

The absolutist monarchy developed into the welfare state, most notably beginning with Bismarck in the 1880s. Bismarck's intention was to enroll the working class into the patronage system of the state, brining the workers inside the power structure rather than continuing on the outside creating trouble.

The question is, as we contemplate the "worst bill ever" that concentrates all health care into the state, when does the administrative model reaches its limit? Can it compete against the more decentralized capitalist system?

Let us not be romantic about this, and think just in terms of what is good for the people. The question for me is: how does the administrative model work for the high game of politics in 2009? How does it serve the interests of the political elite in maintaining power and satisfying its supporters. Or does it create too many enemies, people outside the charmed circle?

My guess is that the administrative system will eventually crash and burn, for a number of reasons, including:

  • Overpromising of the benefits
  • General inability of bureacracies to adapt
  • Excessive consumption of resources to maintain political power
  • Population decline due to unwillingness of welfare state adults to have children
  • General lack of vigor in welfare state populations
  • Inability to maintain enough resources for military power

The thing about politics and the human condition is that you can always stop and change before you really have to, before you hit the wall. But usually, we don't.

But I am an optimist. I hope that the American people do not feel there is "no way out." And I hope that the American people will take one look at PelosiCare and ObamaCare and upchuck everyone from Obama to Reid to Pelosi.

We'll know tomorrow after the off-off-year elections whether the Great Upchuck has begun.

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