The current battle is to simply stop the inertia of decline, but we need to follow through.
“Don’t fight a battle if you don’t gain anything by winning.” There seems to be some dispute as to whether this was actually said by either General George Patton or Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, but everyone seems to agree that one of them said it. Whether we’re discussing a military battlefield or a political one, it’s pretty sound advice either way, often more commonly worded as, “be selective about the fights you pick.” A logical corollary of this maxim is that if you’re going to accomplish anything, then (a) you should have a realistic expectation of what can be accomplished, and (b) know why winning this particular battle will advance the larger goal. And, as any strategist or tactician worth the title will advise, the smart thing to do is to already have a plan for follow-up in place . . . because you’re going to need one should you actually win.
This is where Michigan’s constitutionalist insurgency has done a marvelous job of dropping the ball post-2010, and as a result now has a task that’s four times harder than it needed to be. The upside is that this fight is still winnable, if we stay focused on a realistic expectation of what we’ll actually accomplish by winning it.
In his books, Resolved, and LeaderShift, Orrin Woodward discusses in depth a concept that he refers to as “The Five Laws of Decline,” a systematic method for describing how mankind’s inherent natural capacity for inhumanity and exploitation ultimately destroys cooperation within organizations and societies. Prior to reading Woodward, I was familiar with each of these maxims individually, but had never considered them as a unified concept. But being introduced to the FLD concept was a “eureka moment” for me, as it at once explained why our republic is currently in the sorry state it is (politically and economically), why the tea-fueled uprising of a half-dozen years ago so quickly fizzled, and why the current insurgency paradigm isn’t going to cut it over the longer haul.
So that every reader can have a ready reference point (as I cannot assume that all of y’all will have followed the link in the previous paragraph), allow me to sidebar briefly and identify each of the Five Laws of Decline . . . in the order in which they apply:
- Law of Decline # 1 – Sturgeon’s Revelation: “Ninety percent of everything is crap.”
- Law of Decline # 2 – Bastiat’s Principle: “Since people are naturally inclined to avoid pain, which labor itself is, it follows that they will resort to plunder whenever such is easier than productive work.”
- Law of Decline # 3 – Gresham’s Law: “When bad behavior is rewarded, more bad behavior will occur, which in turn will drive out good behavior.”
- Law of Decline # 4 – Law of Diminishing Returns: “There always comes a point where an increasing quantity of input starts producing fewer and/or poorer results.”
- Law of Decline # 5 – Newton’s Law of Inertia: “An object (or trend) in motion remains in motion, unless acted upon by an external unbalancing force.”
Perhaps the single most disturbing element of this concept is that, unlike the Six Duties of Society (Distribution of commerce, Division of labor, Duplication of membership, Defense of rights and sovereignty, Distinction of performance, Defining goals and plans), which require the constant maintenance of virtue and vigilance, the Five Laws of Decline are a natural and logical outgrowth of sin-corrupted human nature. Because of the reality of human nature, Sturgeon’s Revelation is always “in play,” and the bottom-line litmus test of any effective leadership team is how well that team neutralizes the effects of this reality. And, like it or not, precisely because of the reality of human nature, decline is also a non-negotiable reality; an organization (or society) either actively resists FLD . . . or it will be finally destroyed by the same concept. (Woodward cites the examples of ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the empires of Spain, France, Germany, and Britain, and contemporary America as evidence of this truth.)
Woodward states that organizational systems must account for the natural human inclination to satisfy personal desires by doing the least amount of work possible. According to Frédéric Bastiat, the whole point of a true rule of law government paradigm is to objectively reward productivity and punish plunder, thereby making productive labor the preferable of the two paths to profit and prosperity. The sole purpose of government is to protect the right of an individual to life, liberty, property, and identity; but when well-meaning legislators extend government power into philanthropic endeavors, then government power expands endlessly (as an agent of legalized plunder), ultimately becoming the enemy of the very things society expects it to defend and protect. The concept of rent seeking (ensuring paychecks without effort through guarantees, monopolies, or outright socialism), ensures that the masses will eventually commit only the bare minimum effort necessary to be continually rewarded. Only true competition can ensure maximum productivity and efficiency, and it’s for this reason that Woodward cites Bastiat’s Principle as the hinge that opens the door to decline.
The original context of the Gresham-Copernicus Law teaches why the government’s “monopoly of force” in support of a fiat currency will always drive specie currency from the free marketplace. According to Woodward, as a leadership model, Gresham’s Law engages as soon as Bastiat’s Principle becomes fully operative. Once Bastiat and Gresham are both operative, they then become mutually reinforcing, as rewarding bad behavior (or at least not punishing it) either converts others to plunder or drives them out of the organization. When the honest entrepreneurs, honorable statesmen, citizen leaders, critical thinkers, and economic producers figure out that legalized plunder is now the law of the land, and that “term limits” simply translates as “replacing the flushed turds with fresh ones,” they simply walk away from the public arena (“going Galt,” as it were) and produce no more than the absolute maximum that they’re allowed to keep . . . because there’s no point in producing what a “benevolent” government is simply going to confiscate. It’s at this point that the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in.
The classic agrarian example of the Law of Diminishing Returns involves over-fertilizing a field of crops. After a certain point, applying more fertilizer actually starts to reduce the crop yield. (There’s a political analogy for you.) As Woodward applies the concept to organizations, without adequate planning (specifically including accounting for the point of diminishing returns), growth without change invariably results in a decline in effectiveness within the organization. This holds true for governments and societies as well.
To be clear, both the progressive-socialists (who hold that the U. S. Constitution is outdated) and the Article V conventionists (who hold that the only proper solution is a Convention of States) are dead wrong, especially in regard to their core assumptions. The Founding Fathers wisely designed a constitutional framework that accounted for a nation that would ultimately span the continent (becoming now the fourth largest and third most populous on the planet), technologically advance through the Industrial Revolution and into the Information Age, and – in spite of at least two straight decades of mismanagement – have the largest nominal GDP of any nation in the world (as of 2013). Hell, the Founding Fathers even developed a sophisticated and robust system of checks and balances, specifically designed to counter the open corruption seen in DC today (though those checks and balances are nowadays used belatedly and timidly, when they’re used at all).
The problems that America has today have little to do with the founding framework, but rather that we’ve adopted a governing paradigm that is no longer connected to it. Over the course of generations, we have allowed court decisions, congressional legislation, and executive action to erode arguably the single most important separation of power in the entire federal system . . . that of absolute state sovereignty in all matters not specifically delegated to the national government (as specified in Amendment X). What began with the Marshall Court has, over time, spawned a centralized behemoth that treats the several states as vassals rather than as independent sovereigns (upon whom it depends for its very existence). And, as we know, centralized planning routinely fails in large scale application.
The larger problem is that, now that we’re on the downhill side of a full century of inertia, correcting a corrupt government will require drastic action. But a constitutional convention isn’t the right answer. The underlying assumption of the Article V Convention advocates (whether they choose to believe it or not) is that this country as is isn’t worth saving, and that even a bad outcome at convention will be preferable to the status quo. The flaw in that position is that they (a) fail to account for Sturgeon’s Revelation (the likelihood that 90% of the delegates to such a convention will be corrupt), and (b) reinforce Bastiat’s Principle, by preferring the easy route of a quick fix to the hard work of actually reversing the decline.
Using Michigan as our example, if the quick fix of a state constitutional amendment were an adequate solution, then why isn’t the Michigan Term Limits Amendment actually producing better elected leaders every six to eight years? Why didn’t the Michigan Marriage Amendment once-for-all shut down the conversation on ghey marriage? Assuming that the Michigan Sales Tax Increase for Transportation Amendment gets rejected at the polls a shade over two weeks from now, as currently seems likely, do we honestly think that the Headlee Amendment is going to forestall the GoverNerd’s lust for the contents of our wallets?
It’s an unrealistic best case scenario, but for the sake of argument, let’s postulate that the Michigan Taxation Amendment (originally Proposal 12-5), the Michigan Part-Time Legislature Initiative, the Michigan FairTax Proposal, the Michigan Insurance Freedom Initiative, the Michigan Personhood Initiative, and the Michigan Education Vouchers Initiative all somehow make the 2016 ballot, and then actually get ratified by Michigan’s electorate (along with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which will require a citizen initiative, because Snyder’s already on record as intent to veto normal legislation). Would we honestly believe that these – along with the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and the Workplace Fairness and Equity Act – now constitute an adequate constitutional firewall that we can all go back to our bread and circuses and ease up our vigilance on our elected officials in Lansing?
You’d be amazed (or perhaps “appalled” would be the better word) at how many grassroots activists actually seem to behave as though they believe that would be so, sorta like how many tea partiers seemed to believe that merely electing the “red team” in 2010 was the magic elixir to our economic and policy headaches (which may explain why so few Gadsdens have been seen in Lansing since November of that year, in spite of there being plenty of reason for otherwise).
Don’t get me wrong, Proposal 15-1 delenda est, and we need to do everything within our power to ensure that coffin is nailed shut a shade over two weeks hence. This includes tolerating an ad hoc alliance with the guy who’s personally bankrolling what little organized resistance is in place. (That many tea partiers refuse to do so – because said bankroller dared say something negative about one of their “movement heroes” – is shortsighted bullshit from my perspective.) And every single one of those “firewall initiatives” that qualify for petition circulation in the ’16 election cycle ought to receive every spare dollar and extra hour that we can contribute in support; ditto for the ones that actually make the ballot.
But simply rejecting Proposal 15-1, and ratifying all of those “firewall initiatives” combined, ultimately does nothing more than stop the inertia of decline. If we don’t follow up on that, if we do nothing to reverse the downward trend of the Overton Window of Political Possibility, then the entropic juggernaut of decline will eventually again yield to the gravity of tyranny, and we’ll be exponentially worse off than we were before (because we didn’t follow through with the next step).
As James Madison said in Federalist 51 (emphasis added):
… It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. …
The need for “auxiliary precautions” is what led the Founding Fathers to develop the sophisticated and robust system of checks and balances that is the founding framework of our American Republic. But this is where the 21st Century heirs to that republic suffer from a bit of cognitive disconnect; the sophisticated and robust federal system of checks and balances that the constitutionalist insurgency is rightly concerned about restoring was always intended to be the backup safeguard of liberty (the “plan B” so to speak). As any properly-trained engineer will tell you, the backup system is intended to be used only in the event of the failure of or maintenance on the primary system, as prolonged use of the backup system in lieu of the primary only serves to facilitate its premature failure.
The Founding Fathers always understood that the primary safeguard to freedom is active citizen oversight of the government, and if that oversight ever ceases to exist, then the republic will ultimately be forever lost. As Orrin Woodward and Oliver DeMille rightly observe, decline begins when a society’s political leaders become disconnected from citizens, business leaders focus solely on profit and growth, and citizen influencers are content to be uninvolved with governance. The problem they note is that we’ve stopped being a nation of closely-involved citizen-leaders who’re broadly educated in freedom, liberty, government, and leadership, and instead have become a nation of specialized experts. The issue, according to them, is that the reasoning necessary to overcome America’s decline involves cross-discipline, outside-the-box thinking. Ancient philosophers called this “wisdom,” but today’s experts often flatly reject the intermingling of philosophical fiefdoms.
This is where the modern-day tea party movement dropped the ball roughly four and a half years ago. The movement originally developed organically around a three-objective mission:
- To re-anchor American society to its founding principles
- To restore citizen control of the government, by returning the constitutional leash to the government
- To return the Republican Party to its platform and core principles (to the extent that the tea party works with the republicans at all)
. . . and when the tea parties stayed on mission, they’ve been a formidable political force. But, as Tom Norton observed, a political movement retains its effectiveness only so long as its philosophical ideology and its electoral end goal remain in balance, relative to each other. If that balance is ever disrupted, then there is a limited window of time to restore it, before the inexorable weight of Duverger’s Law irretrievably carries the movement off to the ash heap of history.
That is what’s happening now with the modern-day tea party movement. Because of the major crisis and organic response, business leaders and citizen influencers were motivated to reengage in their communities and attempt to restore popular control to government. But once those leaders and influencers saw that the movement’s key figures had fallen prey to the very decline that they originally resisted, popular support for the movement was withdrawn (as those whose popular support the insurgency needs, have no interest in a bogus left-vs-right political paradigm).
If the constitutionalist insurgency wishes to regain public credibility while opportunity remains to do so, then it must once more unfurl the banner of principled and coordinated resistance (regardless of which major party currently holds the levers of power), and again openly demand that the government return to its rightful place. That done, the insurgents must then take the necessary steps to, first, ensure that even their own leadership isn’t populated by crud, and second, undertake the process of engaging the business leaders and citizen influencers in the righteous work of restoring our primary safeguard to freedom (so that the auxiliary functions can then be properly repaired). Only then can we begin to rightly reverse the decline in such a way as to effect the long-term repair of the republic, and once again become that bright beacon of liberty to the entire world.