Sunday, May 31, 2009

Homogenization and Federalization of America

Back when the United States was founded, people in this country used to identify themselves by the state they lived in. People saw themselves as Virginians or Rhoad Islanders. However, it seems as the years pass, more and more people in America are loosing their sense of place.

Today it hardly matters where in the US you live. the suburbs of Los Angeles aren't all that different from the suburbs of Austin. Chicago is becoming less and less distinct from Atlanta. Wherever you go there will be a Walmart and a McDonald's. There is becoming less and less of what makes home special and unique.

In Europe, when you walk down the cobblestone streets of your town, you are likely to pass the 1500 year old church that your great great great grandfathers helped construct. Your family would have likely lived in the area for a zillion generations. Direct ancestors may have crafted the brass doorknobs, or the stain glass windows. In contrast, if your family has been in America for a couple of generations, your ethnicity probably includes a Heinz 57 mix of a handful of ethnicities. And if you are like me, because of the unstable economy, it is not unusual to hear new couples moving, on average, once per year of marriage.

What happened to the day when people lived in the towns where they grew up, and children were around to care for aging parents, and siblings were there to watch your kids while you enjoyed a night out or weekend away with your spouse. What happened to America? I live in a town in the Deep South were the top 3 employers are an Army Base, a national nuclear laboratory and a medical school. Everyone here is from somewhere else and no one except the poor stay long.

I think one factor to the loss of place in America is due to the Federalization of America. When the Founding Fathers established the Constitution, there were specific checks and balances put in place to limit the power of the Federal government and reserve all other rights to the States. One of these important checks and balances was destroyed by the 17th Amendment. The original Constitution proscribed that the Senators not be elected by popular vote but selected by their respective state legislatures. This proved to be an important check against the Federal government passing laws and programs which usurped States rights. Since, Senators became servants of the people and not the State, big federal spending programs began to be passed without regard to States rights.

The Constitution originally intended only specific rights be granted to the Federal government. Some of these were to establish an Army to defend this country from threats foreign and domestic. Other rights were to establish treaties, levy taxes, and tariffs. Now it seems the Federal government has got its hand in every single major industry in America. And now with the failure of the car industry, banking, mortgages, and insurance, our Federal government is now selling cars, lending money, and playing insurance salesman. What happened to the principal of self government. How did we get to the point where our local and state institutions failed such that big brother needed to step in and take over.

America was founded on the principle of self government. Every person has been endowed by their creator with the rights of life, liberty and property. Rights to not come from the Federal government down. Instead, the rights of the Federal government are specifically and individually derived from the governed. Instead of putting our trust in a king or oligarchy, in America, we were to develop great institutions of commerce, trade, learning, and art who would govern themselves. However, due to the increasing greed and dishonesty of several high profile corporations, the public has lost faith in many of our great institutions. And some in the Federal government are a little too quick to demonize our institutions with the epithet of "Big Business."

One of the most fundamental violations of States rights I think is the establishment of national parks and national forests. Over 75% of land in Utah for example is federal land. That is Utah land that Utah should be able to sell mineral, logging, water and grazing rights to private and corporate entities. Instead, the federal government owns 76% of all public lands while local governments control a mere 3 %.

Another major problem in America is our lack of self-sufficiency. America is not only importing a majority of its oil to satisfy its energy needs, but we are also importing an increasing amount of food and textiles. Local textile mills in my town have been slowly closing one by one and jobs being shipped overseas to China and now Vietnam and other 3rd-world countries where labor costs are cheap. In our "just-in-time" economy, if there were to be any type of transportation disruption, America is going to be in a world of hurt. It seems to me that if brand were not an issue, could technology help local companies compete with global companies? No one wants to work in a textile mill doing manual labor. But if computers and robots were designed to make clothing, then they would require a few skilled and educated technicians to operate and service the machines. And by buying local, local companies could possibly compete by saving on transportation costs.

Freedom of Opportunity

My son Devin (8) and I were playing Pokemon today. The past few weeks I have been showing him how to divide up the cards by color, and select the best proportion of 60 Pokemon, energy, and supporter cards he should use to win. So far, I have won the first 2 games. The first game we randomly divided the supporter cards and I played a purple-green deck, and this time I let Devin play the purple-green deck and I played the blue-pearl deck. Despite the 2 defeats, Devin has taken the loses well.

However, despite my helping Devin play the game better, my wife Ruth wondered if it wouldn't be better for Devin's self-esteem if I let him win every once in a while. Let him win?!! I don't know why these types of comments continue to surprise me. We will have been happily married for 10 years this June. And I knew when I married her that she was a bit of a "social progressive." But, if sometimes a little thing like a card game can suddenly become a metaphor for life and politics and everything that is wrong with America, this is a time.

Even though I disagree on this issue, I do appreciate and value my wife's empathetic perspective. However, I think we have been doing a little too much letting people win in America instead of helping people compete. I mean, who are we kidding if we just lower our expectations for people. And what kind of satisfaction and self-esteem does a person really derive from a victory if they know the game was rigged from the start.

Ruth did say, that her reasoning for wanting me to let Devin win was that she didn't want Devin to take out his frustration on his younger cousin Cameron by endlessly thrashing him every time they play Pokemon together. That is a bit of a red herring. No one wants that. In stead, I am hoping he will do as I have done with him and help his cousin to become a better Pokemon player as well.

This is the difference between equality of opportunity verses equality of results and the Founding Fathers established this nation based on the prior principal over the later. Unfortunately, through LBJ's "great society" and similar socialist legislation since, our country has been focused on lowering expectations and letting people think they are winning at the game of life instead of empowering people to truly succeed.