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We The Government:
Home Defense, Airliners, Aisle 3, and Other Starting Points

by John G. Lankford

The first article under this topic head emphasized the principle that "we the people", the collection of individuals named as authority for establishment of our institutional national government in the preamble to the Constitution, are in fact that government, plus state and local government, voluntary organization and family government, and personal self-government. Institutional government is merely one of our implements.

In the war at hand, it is by now fairly clear that our institutional government intends for us to campaign by hugging our children, singing the national anthem, lighting candles, displaying flags, going about our pre-September 11 business, and perhaps donating blood and victim relief money now and again. Oh, yes, and abiding more restrictions of our liberties and intrusions upon our privacies than was the custom before the thugs perpetrated the atrocities. On a more active front, it appears our main assignment is to re-establish the national economy to generate the taxable income the institutional government will need to prosecute the war, relieve immediate victims, and shore up sectors of the economy that are both vital and particularly hard-hit, such as airlines.

On the one hand, "we the government" need to decline to be deceived by Congressmembers who extol the necessity of preserving personal freedoms while passing legislation that threatens them. On the pro-active side, we need to recognize that the President's new Home Defense department is a more-or-less wholesale adoption of a set of proposals that have been in preparation for quite some time, contained in the Phase III Report of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century, also accessible in a different format at this location, which peruse.

If the adoption turns out to be less rather than more wholesale, that will be due to hurried review and fine tuning by officials of institutional government. That is probably to the good, but it is not good enough. On the Report's publication, the Commission's Co-chairmen, former U.S. Senators Gary Hart and Warren B. Rudman, concluded the foreword by writing, 

"We call upon the new President, the new administration, the new Congress, and the country at large to consider and debate our recommendations in the pragmatic spirit that has characterized America and its people in each new age." (emphasis mine)

Consistently, the Commission's Executive Director, Gen. Charles G. Boyd (Ret.), wrote in the Report's Preface, 

"Many of the recommendations made herein require legislation to come into being. Many others, however, require only Presidential order or departmental directive. These latter recommendations are not necessarily of lesser importance and can be implemented quickly.

"The Commission anticipates that some of its recommendations will win wide support. Other recommendations may generate controversy and even opposition, as is to be expected when dealing with such serious and complex issues. We trust that the ensuing debate will yield the very best use of this Commission's work for the benefit of the American people." (again, emphasis mine).

Officialdom cannot have it one way one day and the the other another, unless we abdicate our responsibility and let its members get away with it. Those who designed and proposed the Home Defense system called for public debate. We must message our Congressmembers and our President and demand exactly that take place, that all items implemented by reason of emergency be designated provisional and tentative pending a full public review. Doing so, we can quote their placating pronouncements over the sanctity of civil liberties right back at them. Liberty is not only the package of freedoms not infringed or denied by institutional government: It includes acknowledgement and accommodation of the fact that we are the government, fully entitled to participate in the dispositions of our institutional implement, particularly as same affect us.

Air Travel and Aisle 3

We are being asked to start flying and traveling again, to help the airlines and travel agents in particular and the airlines in general. That makes eminent sense. There is no doubt that, until September 11, those and associated service providers treated us so well we jammed their facilities to the extent we overloaded them and jostled and stumbled over one another, each irritable and muttering imprecations because all the others were there making crowds.

Institutional government's functionaries have given notice of intent to exercise their right to impose conditions in the public interest. We have the same right, and even more power. The precipitate decision to eliminate convenient curbside check-ins was implemented despite a credible contention, one that at least deserves hearing, that skycaps can provide better observation of passengers arriving, and the people who bring them and help them get out of automobiles and remove luggage from trunks, and the vehicles, including license tags, than security workers and other employees inside the airport: the latter see only the passengers, and they see them as any nefarious ones, taking advantage of a few moments' primping and smoothing time, wish to be seen.

The Federal Aviation Administration has precipitately decreed airline pilots and flight deck crewmembers may not bear arms, effective November 14, although the pilots' union and at least one individual pilot have demanded a move in the diametrically opposite direction. There is a bill before Congress to provide pilots be authorized to bear arms aboard -- another "we the government" messaging topic. Federal agencies have drastically accelerated arrangements to put accredited air marshals, formerly called sky marshals, on airliners. It has been sensibly proposed that others, at least people already licensed to carry concealed weapons on the ground, be allowed to retain their pistols aboard, possibly subject to replacement of standard with frangible ammunition that would not pierce airliner skins if fired. Passengers pay for seats, whereas air marshals must be paid to occupy those same seats, denying the airlines revenues while costing them salaries. It can be said in rebuttal that a few well-trained marshals would provide better response than a greater number of indifferently-trained civilians, but that, depending on which hypothetical situation is contemplated and the probabilities of occurrence assigned each possible one, can be debated as well.

Fortunately, for "we the government", this issue is as democratic as a supermarket. Democracy literally means power is vested in the people. Ideally, a great deal of power is vested in each individual, regardless of choices or preferences other individuals may indulge. In a supermarket, in a great number of product categories, a customer can buy the least popular of a wide variety of brands of any particular thing, unfettered by majority or large-plurality preference. The same principle applies to the airline issues. If I am satisfied with the convenience level and security arrangements, I can fly, and if I am not I can travel otherwise or not at all, and neither you nor all of you can make me do otherwise. I may wish the airlines were operated entirely to my liking, and fly annoyed or stay on the ground indignant, but nobody died and made me king. I take my choice, and, if it is affirmative, I pay my money. And so do you.

If enough people are satisfied just well enough to sustain a viable airline industry, we will have one: if not, then not. Institutional government will not be able to appropriate enough subsidy money to maintain one if the people do not choose to fly: "we the government" will not stand for it. If we all insisted our tax preparers hand us prepared paper returns, and mailed them, rather than allowing electronic filing, or, that forbidden, exercised our best efforts to fill out and remit those forms, with our payments, ourselves, institutional government would be overwhelmed while we remained in meticulous compliance with the law. Supermarket democracy can be exercised in many law-abiding yet dramatically effective ways. Perhaps aware of this, the FAA has called for e-messaged public comments on regulation change proposals.

We the Provident

It's nice to be asked to rebuild the economy, and that by the pleasant technique of spending money. Spending money on voluntary purchases is generally fun. Spending money on coerced contributions to the institutional governments is generally not. The more we have to do the second, the less we're able to do the first. A smidgen of that idea soaked in in the institutional citadels, as evidenced by a stingy tax cut. More tax cuts -- and "we the people" messaging opportunities -- are under consideration.

As to solacing our ailing economy, we need to get into lady ape mode. You remember the two apes that were the only primates left alive after World War III, that joke. The male started making eyes, and the lady said, "Oh, no. We aren't getting that started again!" Keep that in mind as you ponder economically.

The economy gasping and flopping at our feet was built on fantasies, innumerable fantasies. Here are three:

1) Securities market prices reflect reality.
2) Mass pretension is sustainable, or, the Greater Fool supply is inexhaustible.
3) Communism works as long as it's done by free-market techniques.

The third leads to productive discussion. When government began to take a great deal of people's income, most tacitly decided to vote the government the duty to look after them, too. They plausibly believed their savings were being wrested away, so the confiscator could see to their welfare, and they could vote it so. People ceased to save in piggy banks, mattresses, and personal bank and brokerage accounts and began to save on the system, figuring their confiscated money was figuratively invested. For larger-scale earners, the securities markets performed much the same function, or beartrap, especially after the long-recovery rocket ride really got going. Starting in about 1983, with a few quickly-overcome setbacks, people eventually came to figure American economics had recovered itself beyond the pull of gravity.

Our credit-based economy invited this. Our heavily-indebted government both inspired and reflected it. What we had operating was free-market communism. First, note that word was spelled with a small c. Communism -- small c -- is much older than Communism of the Marxist-Leninist-Gramsciite-Stalinist-Maoist-etc. fascistic versions. Its essence is a comprehensive collective, into which nearly everyone is putting in whatever cannot be withheld and taking out all that can be extracted. Both in government and in private conduct, the ethic was, get it now, pay for it later: tomorrow may never come, and, if it does, an alibi may come with it.

We tacitly agreed to live on promises, indulge excuses, and invent ever newer and more complicated ways to evade acknowledging what we were doing. Each person paid taxes, did necessary work and sometimes more, and spent virtually all earnings plus full borrowing capacity. A scheme that lets promises generate paychecks that maintain illusions and both thrives on and generates an ever-increasing ratio of promises to performances has cut its tether to the ground and drifted away in the clouds.

Such savings as we did arrange were similarly communistic. The Social Security and Medicare systems are certainly that, as are corporate and union pension plans. But so are Individual Retirement Accounts and 401-k personal-pension plans, as managed by most owners, and so are mutual fund equity accounts. All operate on a premise of paying in some relatively small amount in expectation of drawing out considerably more later, the assets to be managed, in the meantime, by gnomes or other mysterious beings.

At the more immediate level, people found they could extract enough from the great collective, every pay period, to pay bills. Necessity after luxury became buyable with credit cards. Just as credit lines on those in inventory were, as the colloquialism had it, "max'ed out", or exhausted, more credit cards would come in the mail or be offered in exchange for a simple application. Oddly, those most extended in debt, if they but bothered to make minimum or slightly larger payments regularly, were considered the best prospects by those pushing the cards. In effect, people were receiving more purchasing power than their earned incomes represented, creating an analog of what financial professionals call a "float", and the economy floated stratosphereward on that bubble of expectations.

Many with respectable securities portfolios, with or without mutual fund shares, took comfort in the steady rise of the market values of their holdings. They knew but ignored that market values are generated by the trading of a tiny fraction of each corporation's shares, or institution's debentures, and doing that trading more and more on guesses of what other traders think other other traders are going to think rather than analyses of fundamental valuation factors.

When the return to Earth began to be noticeable in 2000, and particularly in the aftermath of the September 11 massacres this year, winners were those who had taken segments of their gains off the table regularly, stashing same in demand (M-1) or near- or qualified-, usually penalized-demand (M2) personally-controlled accounts. If suddenly unemployed, they had cushions. If not, their net worth statements shrank as the deflation of their securities, cash and virtual cash not affected, but did not plummet due to consisting of nothing but securities suddenly returning to their fundamental values and below.

The explanations could fill thick books, but the essential point is that people entrusted their fates to various components of a complicated system of which they had only rudimentary understanding, if that, and over which they had little, virtually no, control. Well-to-do and ne'er-do-well alike trusted someone, somewhere, would make it all come out agreeably by means they could not begin to comprehend. Our financial management was consistent with our highly urbanized civilization, since opportunities to exercise self-sufficiency and self-reliance are severely attenuated in cities. In metropolitan environments, all stake their lives on the hope someone will produce food and other necessities and bring them in.

The presence of a great proportion of losers in an economic downturn exacerbates it. Each default on promises triggers others. Many become desperate, and their possessions are offered for sale at prices far below their average market values. Those with cash are kings: bargains abound. Nevertheless, no one really wins in this sort of resolution. The self-reliant, too, consume their substance rather than continue to increase it. The longer the downturn lasts, the worse it is for everyone.

As we rebuild our economy, we need to leave the stuff of dreams out of the materials list this time. Bluntly, we need to limit expenditures to sums less than our net incomes. Thrill and dazzle may not reappear, but individuals will be exercising self-government, thus reducing the instances of calls on institutional government for relief. The communistic proportion of our economy will diminish.

The tactic of contributing as little as possible and endeavoring slyly to beat the system one can never influence, much less control, and extract as much as possible, is characteristic of slaves, serfs, and all who have little control over their fates. If we adopt self-government, starting with our personal finances, it will be markedly less rewarded and therefore less prevalent. Cash will not be king in every posture the economy assumes, but it is not for nothing that those who can live for extended periods without further income are called independent. And independence is a vital component of liberty, the signal attribute of the self-governed who can honestly call themselves "we the government."

Reconstruction of the economy by deliberate, self-disciplined, self-reliant economic actors may not exactly be what leaders calling for it have in mind. A puffy illusion can be rebuilt faster than a sound structure. But that's all right.

Word is the Sons of Liberty had minds of their own, too.


Printer Version

...but if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little if at all inferior to them in discipline and use of arms, who stand ready to defend their rights... Alexander Hamilton speaking of standing armies in Federalist No. 29.

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