Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Willful Surrender v. Seizure

Danes were recently ranked the happiest people on Earth. Consequently, there's been a lot of discussion about what makes Danes happy, and how we can get in on that action, or where in America are we closest.

Americans are said to be interested in the Danish model. (But seriously, who's not interested in a Danish model? Mmmm, danish.) And then the discussion turns to recriminations: who's the bastard keeping us from being a giant-ass Denmark?!

This article tries to explain how Danes feel about their own model.

When asked why they are happy, Danes usually give two reasons. First, they point out that most of their society is not created for the upper class. ... Second, they mention the great services that the state provides.
So if Denmark has it great and we don't, it could be that our "society" (represented by the puppy in Chrissy Taylor's groundbreaking children's book The Puppy Who Lost His Way) has been designed for the benefit of the upper class, and we don't have enough government services.

Why do we have these two problems? I believe they are related. Firstly, we have a society designed for the benefit of the upper class because we have a government run by the upper class. Only 1% of Americans are millionaires, but 47% of congressmen are. There's the argument that one must be independently wealthy to dedicate his life to public service, but the $174,000-per-year salary is over three times the median household income of the country. You don't have to be rich to be a congressman, but being a congressman will make you rich.

Sure, becoming a congressman involves an expensive campaign, but why does it cost $1.4 M to become a representative and nearly $9 M to become a senator? Buyers spend up to the value of the item. A Senate seat is worth $9 M of prestige, bribes, future employment leads, and power.

If we want to stop attracting the rich to positions of power, we need to make the positions of power less powerful.

Secondly, America is lacking in desired government services because the American people do not trust the American government with the authority that comes with the provision of those services. Time and again, the American ruling class has shown its doubtworthiness, with many examples from just the past 12 months. The IRS requires (contra the Fifth Amendment) the self-reporting of financial records, which it shares with the White House for political purposes. The NSA listens to phone calls and reads e-mails of citizens not suspected of any crime. The Department of Agriculture used its access to public funds to redistribute billions of dollars to the supposed victims of discrimination who were not required to demonstrate any actual discrimination. State and local governments are guilty of countless other violations of the public trust. Is it any wonder that a majority of Americans do not want a federal presence in their healthcare decisions?

The problem with expanded government services is the expanded bureaucracy of discretion that provides them. The creation of personal fiefdoms and attendant vassals is the hallmark of the government monopoly of service provision.

When a government is trustworthy, its citizens willfully surrender more control. But a government that wants to wrestle that control from its citizens is demonstrating its doubtworthiness. There are plenty of instances in our own lives when we are okay with something for which we volunteer, but having the same experience forced on us would be seen as a violation of privacy and liberty. It's not just a matter of pridefully rejecting someone else's authority. Acknowledging this distinction is the basis for marital rape laws. Denmark has surrendered some freedoms to its government which the Danes feel they can trust, but Americans can't do the same because their government isn't trustworthy.

How does Denmark eliminate competition in social services without the loss of quality (and freedom) experienced in America? How does Denmark trust its government? How are Danes okay with the loss of social status associated with lower inequality?

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