We have entered an era of relentless creation and destruction that is shifting power in every form away from established elites, devolving it into smaller and smaller cores. This shift has been in motion in the West at least since the time of the printing press. Our Republic was an early product this great devolution of power.
But with radical advances in technology over just the past two generations this power shift has accelerated exponentially. On the whole this is a good thing. Human labor has become the most valuable commodity on Earth while the old elites who once hoarded power and the benefits it brought are seeing their influence weaken. But like any good thing it brings some dangers in its wake. As the pressure builds globally on the staid old institutions of politics, this wave of transformation is beginning to threaten the very existence of government as we know it.
Our economy has already been transformed by the new normal of constant, radical change. Look at what’s happened over just the past few years to the music industry, video stores, even Internet Age businesses like dial-up ISP’s. Entire industries, not just companies, have been born and obsolesced just over the course of my own professional career.
Government by its very nature is slower than business to adapt, and the pressure is mounting. Individuals have more power than they have ever possessed before. Our culture and economy have become far too dynamic for anyone to hope to control. Government hasn’t become obsolete, but in its current design it lacks the flexibility to do its job.
Look at what has happened to Somalia and Afghanistan. Other weak governments like Haiti and Congo have practically ceased to function. Strategically critical nations like Pakistan and Iraq are teetering on the brink of chaos. Even in stable, established, Old Europe, Belgium has gone over a year without an elected authority. The long trend toward devolution is beginning to topple some dominoes.
The Paul Boys might stand up and cheer at the trend toward weaker government, but a sudden, disorderly transition away from the past will be good for no one. Seeing Lycos rise to a $5.4bn company and disappear in less than a decade may be interesting. But government is a bit more important to civilization than a search engine. If it faces the same fate we will all pay dearly.
Government, in its present form, is what keeps our civilization functioning at a relatively low level of violence. It gives us the freedom to engage in economic activity without the constant threat of theft or coercion. It prevents us having our capital investments destroyed by more powerful forces who would pollute, monopolize, or defraud their way to an unstoppable advantage. Without it we get to live like Somalis. Without it, you will not get your Netflix on time, not even on your Wii.
We need a bridge to a smaller, more flexible, less intrusive government and we need to cross that bridge without Washington erupting in flames. And we need to do it quickly – within a generation.
What would a devolved government look like? That’s a bigger subject than this format would allow, but in short it would be pretty recognizable, and could exist under our current Constitutional structure. It would still do a lot of the same things, but it would do them differently.
In the regulatory sphere for example, environmental rules that now dictate practically every aspect of power plant operation would shrink to some very basic, bottom-line standards. Instead of dictating in minute detail what technology should be installed in a smokestack, it would set pollution standards and hold plants accountable for measured results.
Likewise, banking regulation would not attempt to keep pace with the ever more complex financial instruments. It would include a more tightly regulated environment for depositors and basic banking (think in terms of ‘tiers’ of regulation). A less regulated environment might be open to individual investment with basic anti-fraud standards and fees and taxes to prevent institutions from acquiring the power to destroy the whole system.
Its involvement in infrastructure would relate more to finance and coordination, less to execution. There would be more privatization, fewer grand projects, greater power to local governments and less top-down planning. Think of a world with fewer space missions and more schools. Expect smaller armies, fewer aircraft carriers and more police.
This is exactly where a rational, functioning Republican Party is critical. Republicans were advocating a government structure that looks more like our future needs in the Reagan Era. But that movement within the GOP has deteriorated in recent years into a senseless ‘burn it down’ frenzy. This is not the Neo-Confederate vision of a 19th Century government that does practically nothing, but a sort of Technotarian model in which government remains a major player, but largely in a guiding role.
Republicans in principle are the only force in politics that could bring this vision to life in an orderly way. Unfortunately the GOP at present has hitched itself to the hysteria of those who are terrified by the accelerating pace of change. From its fortified base in the heart of Crazytown (Sharia Law free since 2010!) its currently unable to contribute anything useful to this process.
Democrats, with their long historical dependence on government-funded patronage, will never voluntarily assist with this transition. They still want unions and centralized regulatory control to keep the brakes on scary economic change – a sandcastle as protection from a tsunami. If the GOP does not find its marbles very soon, the American Devolution will reach a critical mass without meaningful government reforms. Under the pressure of a rapidly evolving economic and technological environment, a stale government will simply break with consequences too horrible to conceive.
We’re in trouble. Our children’s future, and for that matter the futures of children all over the globe, depend on restoring some minimal level of rationality to the Republican Party. For clarity, that doesn’t mean Republicans need to win the next election, or any particular election in the near future. The Party in its present form is an absolute horror show. A Tea Party-controlled GOP in power will tip the American Devolution very quickly into a global nightmare from which there is no near-term recovery.
And how do we get adults back into positions of power inside the GOP? I can tell you that here in Illinois we have lots of responsible, thinking Republicans in positions of power and that’s true locally in many places all over the country. The key will be changing the rhetoric at a national level. That can only be done with engagement and with courageous, confrontational leadership from rational Republicans everywhere. Engagement right now may be smelly and unpleasant, but there is no other choice.
Viva La Devolution! But let’s hope it doesn’t go too far, too quickly