Sunday, October 12, 2008

Two Americas

Esteemed commenter AMac tipped me to this thought-provoking column from Asia Times:

Hockey moms and capital markets

Asian capital markets cannot absorb Asia's savings.

What does America have that Asia doesn't have? The answer is, Sarah Palin - not Sarah Palin the vice presidential candidate, but

Sarah Palin the "hockey mom" turned small-town mayor and reforming Alaska governor. All the PhDs and MBAs in the world can't make a capital market work, but ordinary people like Sarah Palin can. Laws depend on the will of the people to enforce them. It is the initiative of ordinary people that makes America's political system the world's most reliable.

America is the heir to a long tradition of Anglo-Saxon law that began with jury trial and the Magna Carta and continued through the English Revolution of the 17th century and the American Revolution of the 18th. Ordinary people like Palin are the bearers of this tradition….

Provincial America depends on the initiative of ordinary people to get through the day. America has something like an Education Ministry, but it has little money to dispense. Americans pay for most of their school costs out of local taxes, and levy those taxes on themselves. In small towns, many public agencies, including fire protection and emergency medical assistance, depend almost entirely on volunteers. People who tax themselves, and give their own time and money for services on which communities depend, are not easily cowed by the federal government or by large corporations
RTWT. It is a surprisingly positive take on Palin and the America that produced her.

In most big cities, a different pattern and ethos prevail. The best (i.e. worst) example is New Orleans.


Yet, even among these five killing capitals, only Caracas had a higher murder rate than New Orleans.

In part, the magazine blames "grinding poverty, an inadequate school system, a prevalence of public housing, and a high incarceration rate" for New Orleans' world-class murder rate.

What the magazine didn't mention was that the city is run by crooks and charlatans. The mayor can't keep his foot out of his mouth long enough to complete a sentence and his only skill set seems to be begging the federal government for more money. The DA was forced to quit last year because he was an incompetent boob. The city's U.S. Congressman, Bill "What's that money doing in my freezer?" Jefferson, is under federal indictment. A well-known local political hack reported to federal prison this week to begin a five-year stretch for his part in a million dollar city contract skim ...

In New Orleans, nothing ever changes

While New Orleans is an extreme example, many other big and small cities share similar symptoms and suffer from the same deep-seated problems. Here in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia has a murder rate four times the national average. It, too, is plagued by corruption, bad schools, and political futility.

When a provincial outsider looks at Philly or New Orleans, he does not underestimate the problems they face. Yet three facts stand out in stark contrast to the America described by Spengler in the Asia Times.

1. Political leadership rarely confronts the desperate problems in a systematic or thoroughgoing manner. Instead, their policies amount to little more than evasion and passing the buck.

Faced with violent crime and street gangs, they demand more gun control for citizens outside their city. When their schools fail abysmally, they propose that the state and federal governments give more money to those same schools. At every turn they do not solve problems, they redefine them so that some one else is to blame.

2. Like New Orleans, these urban areas hold elections but nothing changes. When it comes to positive change, the new boss is the same as the old (failed) boss. No matter how passionate the run-up to election day, the ballot box seems to ratify the status quo. Politics in these failing cities is trapped in a sticky equilibrium that confirms the flawed policies of the past.

Hey diddle diddle
Distribute the middle
The premise controls the

Frederick Winsor, The Space Child’s Mother Goose

A big reason for this stagnation is the fact that these cities have a political mono-culture that is actively hostile to new ideas.

The establishment Democrats, the rump Republicans, and the major media outlets all share the same world-view. While there may be cosmetic differences among candidates, no one is willing to offer bold alternatives that offer real change. Campaigns never address the real problems that plague the city. The parties and the press serve as mediators who ensure that the prevailing consensus prevails.

Over time this mono-culture has sapped the life and hope out of the electorate. Politics resembles the flawed systems of Asia instead of the vibrant provincial systems that Spengler celebrated and Palin personifies.

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