May 8, 2008

"Well, here we are on top of the world, and we have arrived at this peak to stay there forever."

"There is, of course, a thing called history, but history is something unpleasant that happens to other people. We are comfortably outside all of that I am sure."

So wrote the historian Arnold Toynbee, describing his childhood impression — he was 8 in 1897 — of the Diamond Jubilee — the celebration of 60 years of Queen Victoria's monarchy.

Quoted by Fareed Zakaria in "The Future of American Power: How America Can Survive the Rise of the Rest" — a very interesting article that is (qualifiedly) optimistic about America — even though we know what happened to Britain.
The problem today is that the U.S. political system seems to have lost its ability to fix its ailments. The economic problems in the United States today are real, but by and large they are not the product of deep inefficiencies within the U.S. economy, nor are they reflections of cultural decay. They are the consequences of specific government policies. Different policies could quickly and relatively easily move the United States onto a far more stable footing. A set of sensible reforms could be enacted tomorrow to trim wasteful spending and subsidies, increase savings, expand training in science and technology, secure pensions, create a workable immigration process, and achieve significant efficiencies in the use of energy. Policy experts do not have wide disagreements on most of these issues, and none of the proposed measures would require sacrifices reminiscent of wartime hardship, only modest adjustments of existing arrangements. And yet, because of politics, they appear impossible. The U.S. political system has lost the ability to accept some pain now for great gain later on.

As it enters the twenty-first century, the United States is not fundamentally a weak economy or a decadent society. But it has developed a highly dysfunctional politics. What was an antiquated and overly rigid political system to begin with (now about 225 years old) has been captured by money, special interests, a sensationalist media, and ideological attack groups. The result is ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia -- politics as theater -- and very little substance, compromise, or action. A can-do country is now saddled with a do-nothing political process, designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving.
Ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia...

Hmmm.... must move on to the next post.

17 comments:

Roger J. said...

We can identify the exact cause of the downfall of the United States: it started when baby changing stations started to appear in men's restrooms.

Roger J. said...

Was a sarcasm tab necessary in the 3:11?

madawaskan said...

What was an antiquated and overly rigid political system to begin with (now about 225 years old)[...] is now saddled with a do-nothing political process

Wait! I thought was the whole damn idea-where does this guy come from?

George said...

Once upon a time, in a great nation, there was a serious magazine called Newsweek that serious people took seriously.

Today, however, it sells its editorial space to media tyrant Oprah and, even worse, to actual tyrants, the theocratic tribal monarchs of Saudi Arabia.

No word in that article about the fate of the Turkish man, sentenced to beheading, for taking in vain the Lord's name, something common in Chicago churches. Nor is there any mention of the Kingdom's multifarious cruelties towards its own people. This article, which is mostly about luxury shopping and luxury hotels and modern architecture, says, "Saudi society is highly conservative and traditional, and in some cases authoritarian—but it is also fiercely modern in its contemporary esthetic, and deeply hospitable to strangers who respect its mores." In some cases authoritarian. How like the Soviet Union, but without the statues.

Most amusing, perhaps, is last week's weary Editor's Word. Surely you remember its blistering coruscating invectives—"Does it matter, then, that Hillary Clinton says she likes to bowl, or that Barack Obama cannot? The answer, as unsatisfying as it may be, is: sort of. "

One sort of wonders how much one must be paid for writing such insights. How tiring it must be to flap one's jaw for Oprah and King Abdullah.

madawaskan said...

What was an antiquated and overly rigid political system to begin with (now about 225 years old)[...] is now saddled with a do-nothing political process

Wait! I thought that was the whole damn idea-where does this guy come from?

Palladian said...

"The result is ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia -- politics as theater -- and very little substance, compromise, or action. A can-do country is now saddled with a do-nothing political process, designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving."

Perfect. The absolute best situation is a government that does nothing except obsess over trivia. I do not want a "problem solving" government. We're not there yet, since the inefficient, trivia-obsessed government still spends my money, but the best way to solve the problem of government is to dissolve as much government as possible.

ricpic said...

The Founders were lucky enough to do the work of founding this nation at a time when the best minds of the age generally agreed that the job of the state was to get out of the way of "the invisible hand," not to do something about every last socio-economic problem. It was the age of Smith and Locke and its wisdom made great freedom in combination with great prosperity a reality that held for over two hundred years until the children of Marx got their hands on the machinery of state and began the work of undoing that which had worked so well so long.

vbspurs said...

The result is ceaseless, virulent debate about trivia -- politics as theater -- and very little substance, compromise, or action. A can-do country is now saddled with a do-nothing political process, designed for partisan battle rather than problem solving.

Ahh, Mr. Zakaria again. Who watched his PBS programme? Me neither.

I have but one quick retort for this observation-cum-accusation levelled against the American status quo today.

It is because we're a stable democracy, with an efficient economy, adaptable laws, and an elastic culture that we are ABLE to discuss trivialities.

May not be to everyone's taste, and certainly sometimes it isn't to mine.

But this is what happens when the real important stuff gets solved.

Other nations are still figuring out theirs -- like almost everyone in South America, Africa, and Asia.

Frivolity happens when you shake the ramparts. Duh.

Cheers,
Victoria

Ruth Anne Adams said...

Ditto Palladian. Huzzah gridlock!

These idiots have enough time to outlaw my beloved incandescent light and replace a cheap great product with a mercury delivery device that's ugly. We could've used more gridlock on that brilliant piece of legislation.

Revenant said...

We could've used more gridlock on that brilliant piece of legislation.

Yeah, especially since CFLs won't actually WORK in my house, thanks to *another* brilliant piece of environmentalist legislation. I just have to hope that LED lights improve before the ban kicks in.

Palladian said...

"I just have to hope that LED lights improve before the ban kicks in."

Does anyone know any specifics about that stupid shit "legislation"? Surely the incandescent bulb won't be "banned"? Such a move would be unprecedented, wouldn't it? Boston Lightbulb party anyone? I'm serious.

Palladian said...

"Many of these state efforts became moot when the federal Clean Energy Act of 2007[5] was signed into law on December 19, 2007. This legislation effectively banned (by January 2014) incandescent bulbs that produce 310 - 2600 lumens of light. Bulbs outside this range (roughly, light bulbs currently less than 40 Watts or more than 150 Watts) are exempt from the ban. Also exempt are several classes of specialty lights, including appliance lamps, "rough service" bulbs, 3-way, colored lamps, and plant lights."

FUCK that shit. I HATE fluorescent lighting. I hate the fucking nanny state, ushered in by Republicans as much as Democrats. It's indescribably how angry this sort of shit makes me. Well, as should be obvious by my descent into expletives.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm stockpiling lightbulbs and plan to accumulate enough to last the rest of my life.

Palladian said...

Same here, Althouse. I've allotted a portion of my storage unit for light bulbs. Chromalux! How many politicians will it take to unscrew the aesthetically discerning patriot's light bulbs? Let them try.

rcocean said...

Don't worry, if 72 year old McCain gets elected everything will change.

He's the voice of the future.

Palladian said...

"Don't worry, if 72 year old McCain gets elected everything will change.

He's the voice of the future."

You're a disgusting ageist. You should be ashamed of yourself.

blake said...

I started buying CFLs when all of a sudden, incandescents started dropping ridiculously in price.

What're they, like, a dime now?

Meanwhile every CFL I have has died, in about the same length of time incandescents would have.