Thursday, March 22, 2012

America After Blue Destruction

For conservatives longing for an end to the Age of Liberal Hegemony Walter Russell Mead has good news.  The "Blue Social Model" of the liberals will end not just because conservatives hate big government but because the mid-20th century bureaucratic model is so inefficient that liberals will give it up.  Liberals want government to "do" things.  They are becoming frustrated that it is getting progressively more and more gummed up.
There is an anti-government case for moving beyond the blue model and there is a pro-government case. Some people will push to transform the civil service and increase the productivity of workers in government and government-related services (above all, health and education) because restructuring and re-engineering government is the only way they can provide the services they want the public sector to provide.
From a rational perspective, you would have to agree.  But you wouldn't have noticed any such notion from the rapid expansion of government under President Obama.  ObamaCare, after all, is the biggest monument to bureaucracy even enacted, and creates dozens of new bureaucratic committees with the IPAC, the Independent Payments Advisory Commission, at the very center of its bureaucratic lotus flower.  Maybe some lofty academics have a gleam in their eye, but you wouldn't know it from the liberals you meet at parties, who have an unquenchable faith in "single-payer" healthcare.

No, I suspect that there really is little chance that the Democrats will agree to reform their welfare state in time.  Why should they?  It would mean suggesting to their voters that they have been lying to them all this time.  The only way Democrats will go for reform is when "austerity" hits, when the government is forced to reduce spending because it can't sell its debt to the bond market.

The world doesn't work by timely accommodations to reality.  It works by "creative destruction," as George Will writes in an article about that good old American institution, Sears.  In the middle of the 20th century everyone shopped at Sears.  But a chap called Sam Walton in Bentonville, Arkansas, had a different idea, and today Sears is going down for the count.

What will the government of the future look like?  Don't look now, liberals, but the best leading indicator is the military.  The big battalion model grew up in the era of gunpowder as generals learned to differentiate the feudal host into rigidly hierarchical and disciplined regiments.  They built a rigidly bureaucratic government to tax the people so they could afford their expensive, bureaucratic armies.

But the rigid model began to break up in the 19th century with rifled gun barrels and the "lethal battlefield."  By the end of World War I the armies had developed a new model based on the squad, often led by an NCO. In the 1920s the German Army under Gen. von Seeckt decided that it needed a new kind of soldier: "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility."

Today, the US armed forces operate under just that kind of philosophy.  Responsibility is pushed downwards as far as possible.  And with the rise of special forces, the trend is likely to intensify.

The bureaucratic model gradually spread from the regiments of the absolute monarchs to the social programs of the welfare state.  Today, government is a monolithic monster that rewards place-men and people who go along to get along.  If liberals really want government to be effective they will have to change the model to the responsibility model that now obtains in the armed forces and also in the private sector.

But conservatives must ask: do we really want a new generation of liberal government employees "self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility?"  Imagine the damage they could do!  On the other hand, perhaps the responsibility model would force government to be less oppressive and less hegemonic.

It would probably be better for us all if government goes down for the count, so that almosts everyone would agree that big government was a human disaster that must never be repeated.  But that would mean horrible suffering for the folks that drank the Kool-Aid and turned their lives over to government.  That would be a tragedy, not just for them but for all of us.

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