Posts tagged with: American government

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The Bosses of the Senate, a cartoon by Joseph Keppler. First published in Puck 1889.

Cronyism is ugly. It hurts the economy, it’s unjust, and corrupts the core of democracy.  “The damage that cronyism has inflicted on the economy is considerable,” Samuel Gregg writes in a new piece for Public Discourse. “[C]ronyism also creates significant political challenges that, thus far, Western democracies are struggling to overcome.”

The crony capitalism seen from the Trump presidential campaign and many others is not something that’s new to America or Western civilization. As long as there have been governments, there have been powerful people seeking special favors from them. From the 17th to 18th centuries, mercantilism “dominated the West,” which involved powerful guilds working closely with their government officials to limit trade and stifle innovation. Gregg explains the cronyism that’s common today:

Today’s crony capitalism is not outright corruption, though it often verges on or morphs into illegal activity. The expression itself first emerged in 1980 to describe how the Philippines’ economy functioned under the Marcos regime. It became prominent in explanations of the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis, especially the role played in that crisis by government decisions that favored business “cronies” (many of whom were relatives) of political leaders, such as Indonesia’s then-President Suharto.

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Working Class Bulwark by Jacob BurckAs I noted last week, my review of Nicholas Eberstadt’s Nation of Takers: America’s Entitlement Epidemic appears in the current issue of The City, a fine publication produced by Houston Baptist University.

Eberstadt provides an important service in bringing home the fiscal realities of the spending crisis facing the American government. But Yuval Levin’s brief reply was, for me, the high point of the book, as it emphasized the indispensability of the so-called “third sector” in social analysis. Eberstadt’s case is helpful for drawing sharp lines, but it’s also worth taking a step back to appreciate the real complexity of the situation.

This is in part why I find any dichotomous breakdown of the situation, whether it pits “makers” against “takers” or the proletariat against the bourgeosie, to be insufficient.

When you have a fuller picture of society than is provided through merely political lenses, it becomes far more difficult to determine who is really a maker and who is really a taker. Or as Joseph Sunde puts it in his review,

The moment we disregard the value in varying social and institutional relationships—beginning with a holistic disregard of the distinct responsibilities of the government vs. the business vs. the school vs. the church vs. the father vs. the daughter vs. the grandmother—is the moment we should expect to see “dependency” become warped toward a one-sided “entitlement archipelago” that serves the self, and little else.

As for the complexity of modern society, Herman Bavinck describes things this way, in a manner that helpfully complicates any simple oppositional narrative:

Current society displays in every respect the greatest inequality and the richest diversity, far greater inequality and diversity than its opponents usually imagine. For they divide society actually into only two classes: the filthy rich and the dirt poor, the superpowerful and the powerless, the abusers and the abused, tyrants and slaves. But the real society, the society that lives and breathes, does not look at all like that; the diversity is far greater, so great that no one can form a complete picture of it. The filthy rich constitute a very small minority, and of these people, membership along a continuum proceeds down to the bottom not by a big leap but rather in terms of a gradual slope in various degrees and in various stages.

For more on these matters, I highlight Bavinck’s insight and the phenomenon of natural diversity, particularly in economic terms, in a recent paper, “The Moral Challenges of Economic Equality and Diversity.”

Even at America’s top schools, says Peter Berkowitz, graduates leave without reading our most basic writings on the purpose of constitutional self-government:
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