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Continetti's The Case for Panic
Jesse Richman, 10/4/2014

Writing in The Washington Free Beacon, Matthew Continetti argued The Case for Panic in his October 3rd Column.  His equation for panic is given in the subtitle of the column: "Incompetent government + corrupt elite = disaster."

The first paragraph encapsulates his charge:

"Deadly, irrational, and determined, the intruder snuck across a weakened perimeter. Eluding capture, the intruder was detained only after missteps and close calls. The spin began soon after the threat was isolated. Information was selectively leaked. Half-truths and untruths were uttered. Responsibility was avoided; privileges and credentials asserted; authority reasserted. Trust us. Remain calm. Don’t panic."

It is then effectively applied to a series of recent cases including the White House fence jumping, the spread of Ebola to the United States, the mismanagement of Ukraine, the contradictory US policies toward the Islamic State, Syria, and Iraq. All of it is worth a read, but he leaves out some of the most important cases.

Critical among these omissions is the failure of America's elite to craft an effective -- and balanced -- trade policy over the last four decades, and the resultant destruction of much of U.S. industry, the hollowing out of the defense industrial base, and the undermining of the living standards of the American working class.  My coauthors and I make this case in our book Balanced Trade

He then turns to a brilliant but also limited diagnosis:

"It is precisely the intersection of Ebola and globalization that worries me. The only response to a virus this deadly is to quarantine it. Stop flights, suspend visas, and beef up customs and security. It can be done. If the FAA can cancel flights to Israel, why can’t it cancel flights to and from the West African countries whence the outbreak originated?

"Simple: because doing so would violate the sacred principles by which our bourgeois liberal elite operate. To deny an individual entry to the United States over fears of contamination would offend our elite’s sense of humanitarian cosmopolitanism. For them, “singling out” nations or cultures from which threats to the public health or safety of the United States originate is illegitimate. It “stigmatizes” those nations or cultures, it “shames” them, it makes them feel unequal. It’s judgmental. It suggests that America prefers her already existing citizens to others.

"Such pieties endanger us. They are the reason we were slow to contain the influx of Central American refugees, the reason we do not follow-up on illegal immigrants who fail to show up for hearings, the reason we remain unable to strip jihadists of U.S. citizenship, the reason that a year after two Chechen refugees bombed the Boston Marathon, America is preparing to expand resettlement of Syrian refugees. The imperatives of the caste, the desire to make actual whatever is rattling around Tom Friedman’s brain at a given moment, take precedence over reality."

My posts last month about the corruption of our think tanks provide one reason for the persistance of pieties that threaten the American people.  Continetti argues the rot is in the elite more generally.  That the "sacred principles" of the elite (including many in both parties) are opposed to the American national interest.  

I think however, that the rot is even more fundamental.  It lies in the unwillingness of many Americans, whether elite or not, to take the long view -- to invest in the future of the country.  

According to a survey by Transparency International, 72 percent of the American people believed that corruption in America increased from 2007 to 2010.   Sixty percent of Americans believed corruption had increased in the subsequent two years.  The American people believe that the most corrupt institution is the political parties.

The left, right, and center of American politics are restive in the face of perceived by corruption.  The Kansas independent candidate for Senate who has forced the Democratic candidate from the race, and seems likely to topple the sitting Republican Senator has emphasized corruption in his campaign, and the need to enact reforms that reduce the corruption and gridlock of American political parties.  David Brat the the Virginia economics professor who defeated Eric Cantor in the Republican primaries emphasized claims that Cantor had a corrupt relationship with big business and big finance.  The former Governor of Virginia, a man who just two and a half years ago was a potential Vice Presidential pick, one with his eye on an independent run for the White House is now awaiting sentencing on nearly a dozen felony convictions stemming from his family's unseemly dependence on largess offered by an herbal supplement salesman. 

What follows?  A fundamental question is whether the American political system is once again able to respond to this challenge.  In the past widespread corruption has yielded major reform movements like the Populists and the Progressives.  Today it remains inchoate.  

Orman, the independent candidate for Senate in Kansas has prominently featured on his campaign website a quote from Ross Perot that Orman included in his 1991 college yearbook. Perot emphasized the importance of building the country, of planning for and investing for, the future.  Ross Perot had many things right nearly three decades ago.  We would be a much stronger country had the U.S. listened more to Perot.  

The scene is ripe for a major independent challenge to our current creaky and corrupt parties.  In a September 2014 New York Times poll, 19 percent of respondents approved of the job being done by Republicans in Congress, while  30 percent approved of the job being done by Democrats. Less than half of the respondents approve of at least one party.  As Orman is demonstrating in Kansas, the parties have become so polarized and their brands so badly depreciated that effective centrist candidates can beat both.

Let us hope that those at the heights of American government take note, take action, and begin investing with care in our nation's future.  It is time to cut the happy talk, fire the incompetents, balance trade, advance the permanent and aggregate interests of the people, and begin righting our ship of state.  The rocks are upon us.  We have steered for them far too long. 

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    Wikipedia:

  • [An] extensive argument for balanced trade, and a program to achieve balanced trade is presented in Trading Away Our Future, by Raymond Richman, Howard Richman and Jesse Richman. “A minimum standard for ensuring that trade does benefit all is that trade should be relatively in balance.” [Balanced Trade entry]

    Journal of Economic Literature:

  • [Trading Away Our Future] Examines the costs and benefits of U.S. trade and tax policies. Discusses why trade deficits matter; root of the trade deficit; the “ostrich” and “eagles” attitudes; how to balance trade; taxation of capital gains; the real estate tax; the corporate income tax; solving the low savings problem; how to protect one’s assets; and a program for a strong America....

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  • In Trading Away Our Future   Richman ... advocates the immediate adoption of a set of public policy proposal designed to reduce the trade deficit and increase domestic savings.... the set of public policy proposals is a wake-up call... [February 17, 2009 review by T.H. Cate]