The United States is in the midst of a very serious crisis. It is one of the government. One that is also the logical end to many years of propaganda from the far right. We have a nihilist Economic and political philosophy at play with the Grand Old Party. It has elements of the far past if you call the 1850s the far past.
The modern GOP believes that the government is the problem. It started to be openly voiced with President Ronald Wilson Reagan, who called government the problem. It was a reaction to the growth of a professional civil service during the New Deal. For many Republicans, the New Deal, and chiefly Social Security, is a threat to the nation.
Social Security is symbolic of all they hate. So is FEMA, and any form of regulations. The modern-day GOP prefers a nation defined by freedom from any government, where the individual is above all. This is a mythical place where a large corporation would get punished by the market for selling tainted meat. And if there is only a monopoly, you are on your own. This fantasy is attractive because it says that winners and losers are chosen by fantasy and that the government exists for just one thing: National defense.
In this fantasy things like healthcare are dictated by market forces, and doctors could hold their own practices. If need be, they could be paid in eggs and chickens. (And there was a time when that was a reality,) This is also a world where any regulations are internal to the professions, and even that is optional. And if you don’t have the money to pay the doctor, oh well, just die.
This started to take shape with Leo Strauss. The Chicago School of Economics made it into an art form with Milton Friedman leading the way. It was a reaction to John Maynard Keynes, who advised President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression. Until the depression hit, Keynes was a pretty average, mainstream economist. The depression called for radical action. Moreover, Herbert Hoover’s economic team followed standard austerity policies, with a dash of tariffs. These deepened the depression and made it near intractable.
This is why Keynes came with a novel idea. Start spending government money to create social safety programs (like Social Security) and employ as many Americans as possible. As the saying of the day went, they did not care if they hired one American to dig a hole and another to fill it. They understood that the economy would not start to recover until there was money in circulation. To get that to happen, they needed to get people employed. The private sector did not have the capacity to do that since there was no demand. With no demand, there was no economic activity beyond the very basics. And in some ways, the very basics were filled in with things like soup kitchens.
Most Americans do not realize just how deep the crisis was. People literally moved hundreds of miles on the mere rumor of a job. People were desperate. There were strikes, and there was social unrest. In order to save capitalism, FDR and Keynes applied techniques that today are recognized for what they are, a form of social democracy. They increasingly regulated the economy, but they also expanded the safety net. When needed, they became the employer that jump-started the economy. If you go to San Diego State University, Hepner Hall is a product of that era. So is the County building, which FDR inaugurated. They were both built by the Work Progress Administration, the WPA.
The economy did come out of that crisis. However, ever since some in the Republican Party have tried to undo the growth in government that came with the New Deal. They hate it. Why? As their ideology goes, it makes people dependent on the government. It does not. The efficient government actually makes a country far more competitive. Imagine a place where your workers are healthy, see the doctor when needed, and do not go bankrupt due to a health crisis. That is most of the world. Yet, our far right wing is scared of that situation. Partly, because we tied health insurance to workplaces, which makes controlling employees far easier. And it has also made our medical system disjointed, inefficient and the most expensive in the developed world.
These days this view has become mainstream in the Republican Party that has gone to literal war against the government. They do not believe in government. While some Democrats are not happy with it, or how it works and would prefer to privatize many services. Republicans do not believe in it. Period.
The shutdown shows that tension. Republicans are not in a rush to open the government. It shows a very dysfunctional government that cannot serve the people. So what if your tax refund is late? See, the government does not work. Do you need food stamps? Well, can we talk about your moral hazard to the nation? Oh, workers can’t afford to pay their mortgages, well, perhaps they should look for work in the private sector, or get a loan.
It is laying bare a nihilist philosophy that is best summarized in Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. It comes down to this. Personal greed is good, anything else is amoral and collectivist.
This is also destabilizing the United States. It is creating a situation where something will have to give. However, it is also a moment that may face the collapse of whole sections of the government. This is hardly accidental. Many in the GOP believe the government is a problem. One of his staffers, assuming this person actually is a government worker, gave the game away in the Daily Caller.
What he calls waste, fraud, and abuse includes things like air traffic control, the coast guard, and yes, food stamps. As these people scream security, they are attacking essential functions.
And as always, one must ask…who is winning? It is hardly the American people. How do we know? The president took 800,000 people hostage, over a million if you take into account federal contractors. This is hurting the US in substantial ways. If this was a bombing run, it would be obvious. This attack on the country is driven by ideology and is benefiting enemies of the United States.
And as evidence goes, this breaking news from the Washington Post also provides it.
White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney has pressed agency leaders to provide him with a list of the most high-impact programs that will be jeopardized if the shutdown continues into March and April, people familiar with the directive said.
Mulvaney wants the list no later than Friday, these people said, and it’s the firmest evidence to date that the White House is preparing for a lengthy funding lapse that could have snowballing impacts on the economy and government services.
Mulvaney is ideologically opposed to a larger government. So expect this to be a test to permanently reduce the size of the government. In the crosshairs likely will be science programs and the social safety net. Neither is a priority for the modern GOP, that has a lot in common with the know-nothings of the last mid-century.