We The Government:
Home Defense, Airliners, Aisle 3, and Other
by John G. Lankford
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
"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,
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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