13. NEW ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION
Many Americans today do not know the historical and economic difference between the United States Constitution of 1787 and the Articles of Confederation as a written set of rules for national government. The Articles preceded the Constitution and were the means by which the different states interacted with each other after the war for independence, e.g., customs, tariffs and extradition laws. As with the later Constitution, there was a president and a legislative body. Because the Articles failed to promote a productive interaction between the states, a constitutional convention convened in Philadelphia to draft a set of rules "in order to promote a better Union."
The Constitution was written, in part, to eliminate the economic divisiveness among states which was legal under the Articles. Through their individual laws on commerce, states acted for their short-term good; they ignored not only the consequences for the national well-being but also ignored the long-range implications for the very states which passed the laws. Interstate tariffs prevented competition and excessive tolls restricted trade passing through the states. As a result of these short-term, immediate gains, the spread of new ideas and products decreased which was to the long-term detriment of everyone.
Prior to the Philadelphia convention, George Washington assessed the Articles of Confederation as "a half-starved, limping government, that appears to be always moving upon crutches, and tottering at every step." These two-century-old words sound descriptive of the contemporary U.S. government as it stumbles over and careens between ever escalating problems, and many parallels can be found between the old Articles and the "New Articles of Confederation."
Barriers to interstate trade of energy and natural resources are presently arising which are reminiscent of the early 1780's. Tolls on traffic from other states are becoming common. These conditions have been called the "balkanization": the self-interested and self-destructive divisiveness common among the small nations on the Balkan Peninsula prior to the First World War. Worsened by economic slumps, this disunity is culminating in "a State-Eat-State Nation." Are the politicians acting to diffuse this dangerous disintegration of the national unity, or are they playing on it to when they seek reelection? The increased undertones of regionalism--e.g., Snowbelt vs. Sunbelt--in election campaigns show the drift of the nation, once again, toward a house divided against itself.
The House Of The Rising Sun
Benjamin Franklin attended the constitutional convention and commented on the chair used by the presiding officer, George Washington, which had a sunburst adornment. At the signing of the Constitution of the United States, Franklin expressed how he had initially wondered whether the sunburst represented a new day for the United States, or the final day. His wondering had been laid to rest, he stated, for the new Constitution represented a new day for America: The sun was rising, not setting.
Over the years, the Constitution, while not perfect, has served well as the framework whereby problems within the nation could be addressed and solved at least to some degree. A better standard of living shone upon Americans with each passing year. However, something is wrong as evidenced by the seeming insurmountable problems in the U.S. today. If alive today, would Ben Franklin say that the sun is setting?
Basically, the post-Revolutionary divisiveness of states and regions that negated the policy-making potential of the Articles of Confederation has been resurrected by the modern politicians. With few exceptions, they increasingly ignore the letter and spirit of the Constitution to further their own personal well-being in material and media wealth. Political self-interest has catalyzed the de facto return of the Articles of Confederation, that is, the economic atmosphere of the 1780s is present today.
Today, America suffers again from foolish, self-destructive divisiveness which pits one state against another. Grounded in political incumbency and feudalism, America suffers partitioning because petty politicians view their interests solely in terms of their own reelections which are bought with special laws for their voting constituents. For the sake of reelection, politicians write laws that will legalize more wealth for their states or districts, even if it means taking wealth from other parts of the U.S.
Politicians don't fully understand how legalizing inflationary income for their special interests both drains and weakens the whole. For instance, the oil industry mounted a major campaign through campaign donations to eliminate price controls, and, as a result, the oil producing states have windfall income while other states suffered economic decline because they have to buy an old product at a legally inflated price. Alaska, in 1982, was embroiled in controversy over the disbursement of oil revenues grounded in the price deregulation which can be cited as one reason why other states are becoming jobless quagmires, e.g., energy-dependent, industrial states such as Michigan and Ohio.
Behind The New Articles: The Real Me-Generation
The politicians are aware of the divisiveness that they are engendering, in part, yet they continue to pit different segments of America against other segments. Could it be that their greed exceeds their intelligence? Seemingly, the legislative bodies of the United States are collections of politicians who are foremost interested in their own welfare and who are the epitome of the "me-generation". Politicians enact laws that directly or indirectly benefit themselves. The prescribed method for reelection is to take care of folks back home for a future of only a few years. In other words, ignore the long-term future effects on the nation.
Under the guise of compromises for the nation, politicians pass bills for each other that provide special benefits for their district or state. The benefits can range from tax-supports for unneeded dairy goods to the purchase of military equipment unwanted by the Defense Department. As all-powerful committee chairmen who control the flow of law proposals, senior incumbents act to the detriment of the junior members' constituents which necroses any economic or political claim that we are a set of United States. This uneven economic distribution of the taxes, based on political incumbency and seniority feudalism, constitutes a negation of the spirit and letter of the Constitution. This kind of political self-interest is resurrecting the Articles of Confederation.
Prior to 1787 America suffered from states directly penalizing each other's economies under the Articles. Today, under political "compromises", sanctioned with the Constitution as a legal umbrella, the incumbent and senior politicians penalize the less senior states. In the 1780s, the states exacted economic penalties upon each other in a self-destructive, king-of-the-mountain battle. Today, the politicized representatives of each state exact the same effect through Congressional legisflation. As the states were slowly tearing themselves apart under the previous Articles of Confederation, so are the present politicians tearing the nation apart for their personal well-being.
Political Compromises: A Tragic National Joke!
Many Congressional laws are a hodge-podge of unrelated bills sanctified as being compromises for the nation. As with many words wielded by the politicians, "compromise" has suffered semantic slippage. Of course, disagreeing parties should settle their differences by compromise, but when beset by thieves arguing over the victim's possessions, does the outcome represent a compromise for the victim? For a valid "common promise" to transpire, all the involved parties should be represented. Given their self-interest and special interest orientation, the modern politicians do not represent (present again) the concerns and consensus of the involved parties. Compromises of, not for, the people and nation results. The following analogies convey this important difference.
Once there was an overflowing cornucopia, more productive than ever known. Those charged with managing the resources increasingly diverted the resources away from production. These counterproductive policies, called compromises for the common good, merely kept the compromisers in charge of the cornucopia for them and theirs. One day the cornucopia came up empty; the last resources had been compromised for some short-term purpose elected by the compromisers.
Once there was a store plentifully stocked beyond previous levels. Those in charge of guarding the store reckoned that their services necessitated a little extra for them and theirs each day of their lives. In confederation, each guard tolerated the other guards ripping off the store in simultaneous actions. Never was a whole lot taken at once, nor did everyone take an equal amount ... seniority counted. A rampant mentality among the guards was "If you don't stop me or tell on me, then I won't do the same to you." The thieving process was gradual enough that the growing bareness of the shelves escaped notice until the end.
Once there was a great democracy which was the best policy-making process that the world had ever seen. Through its basically democratic process, the continual problems of "who owned what" were peacefully and productively resolved; the producer received the fruit of his labors. Unfortunately, and with time, the policy-makers started to short-circuit the route to wealth by legisflating the wealth for special people, including themselves. The laws were mostly appropriation bills hammered out with riders and filibusters.
The appropriation bills were called great compromises by the policy-makers. Yes, the laws were great compromises, since they were compromises on how much wealth could be appropriated from the people who produced the wealth. (The use of appropriation should be qualified by a preposition describing the actual kind of appropriation: for or from the people?) The compromises were not for the good of the producer; rather, the compromises were argument and agreement among the modern politicians over who could appropriate certain wealth for their own special interest.
While specific examples are innumerable of politicians polluting democracy in order to benefit themselves, here are two examples which portray how the modern politicians work the laws to benefit themselves. In these examples, the use of "compromise" is nothing more than the politicians stealing from the nation.
Most people are familiar, for example, with how Congress voted itself unlimited expense deductions during the last part of 1981; in protest, some citizens tied red ribbons to their car antennas. Aggravating the situation was the manner in which the tax-deductions were passed, namely, as an unprinted amendment to a Black Lung Bill. This works nicely, for they could always say that they either didn't know about the amendment or didn't want to vote against the black lung bill. On par with the underhanded way of the passage of the tax break was the manner of repeal, another political compromise: "The proposal to erase the deduction came in an amendment that many lawmakers expected President Reagan to reject [veto]." Did they act to repeal it or merely to give the semblance of responding to voter outrage?
Their tax-deductions for themselves is a direct example of Congress voting itself benefits. An indirect example is the following:
House and Senate leadership quietly took a minor bill and added a rider to enrich the pension of the retiring Senate sergeant-at-arms and nine other congressional employees. The measure allowed them to count their time working for their parties' congressional campaign committees in computing their benefits.
Quite obviously, the reelection of all politicians benefit from laws that provide tax-compensation for past campaign work by retiring public servants. Was this compromise of a bill and riders for or against the American people?
These two cases of legisflation compromise the nation for politicians. This latter example reveals how the politicians continue to rig the laws to increase their chances of reelection. Now, people working for a politicians election know that their "campaign time" will have potential benefits for many, many years of retirement.
Who pays for this legisflation? Yes, it is legisflation. The politicians are being paid more, even though their policies for the nation result in less production; and, the retiring campaign workers will inflationarily receive more buying power without producing more. Whose wealth must be taxed in order to pay for these political compromises? Not the recipients of this legisflation, nor the politicians.
A Confederacy Of Dunces
Even though the Constitution is the official law of the land, the politically resurrected Articles of Confederation increasingly exact a toll upon the United States. In looking out for their reelection, politicians accept or promote limited solutions; they are guilty of subverting the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. The modern politicians are guilty of regressing the official law of the land to a less evolved level of national unity: the Articles of Confederation. Behind the resurrection is a confederacy of dunces, a group of greedy policy-makers too selfish to act in concert for the good of anyone but themselves.
Calling the modern politicians a confederacy of dunces merely describes their actions as failing national policy-makers. Their slyness, duplicity and deceit indicate that they are not dummies. They are dunces in solving problems because their record indicates that they narrowly look out only for themselves rather than fulfilling the broader national trust as indicated in the comment of one congressman seeking election to the Senate, "the bottom line [in politics] is re-election."
Calling the politicians a confederacy of dunces is not the same thing as saying that America is inherently a circus. The lost potential of America is not being equated with the dunces who are responsible for the decline. Rather, it is time to call a clown a clown. When it comes to solving national problems, not campaign problems, are they clowns and dunces?
At the minimum, the reinternment of the Articles of Confederation into their historical grave requires an end to incumbency in policy-making positions. In addition, a separate legislative commission should be established for determining the public service compensation and for reforming election laws. To expect the modern politicians to pass these requirements is foolish; the Revolution War showed the futility of waiting for corrupt and incompetent policy-makers to reform themselves. As was required back in the late-1700s, a meeting of new policy-makers is needed. What better way to celebrate the 200-year anniversary of the Constitutional Convention than to have another one?
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