Current Situation of the Republic

Greenman
Contents
The republic is in a tremendous state of flux at the moment. While it has survived significant change and turmoil in the past, the current conditions present a daunting set of challenges that, like the roots and branches on the tree above, are all inter-related. We must address the situation holistically and not piecemeal. We must determine where we want the republic to go rather than allow situational dynamics to dictate the path. In a way, this is like sailing ships that brought the original settlers to America. The ships crew could not change currents and winds, but they could adapt to them. The helmsman could select a course that accounted for the currents and winds and the crew could properly set the sails and, when becalmed, use the ships row boats to pull the ship along by brute force.

Main Contents

Overview Constitution Education Economy Electorate Security Social Cohesion Resources

Overview

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Many of the ideas in Greenman House hearken back to the Enlightenment, a time that significantly changes the course of human development. The underlying Humanist philosophy of the Enlightenment, with its emphasis on individual liberty and responsibility is under tremendous pressure today from both the left and the right.

The Enlightenment came under pressure soon the formulation of the United States. The excesses of the French Revolution quickly turned off many potential supporters and the European monarchs naturally were not overly supportive of individual liberty and responsibility. Even in the new United States, there was tension over individual liberty and a strong central government.

At the risk of some simplification, the Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton and the Anti-Federalists under Thomas Jefferson engaged in the first US-based arguments over the limits of the Enlightenment. Hamilton and his party favored a strong federal government and restrictions upon liberty and enfranchisement while Jefferson and his compatriots favored a weaker federal government and an expanded franchise. A good example is the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 when John Adams, a Federalist, was president and Federalists controlled Congress. These acts severely constrained the right to criticize the government and free press. The acts were repealed when Jefferson and the Anti-Federalists won both the presidency and control of Congress.

Throughout the 18th, 19th and part of the 20th centuries, the groups favoring liberty tended to favor a weaker central government and those favoring greater control over the populace tended to favor a stronger central government. Yes, this is an oversimplification, but does express the general tendencies. With the rise of Leninism, however, many began to see the state as a way to benefit the populace.

On the surface, this is perhaps not a bad idea Remember, socialism stems from a utopian school of thought that sought to better the lives of people. Even the United States Constitution states, "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America." The government, with its resources seems to be in a position to promote the general welfare of the people.

The problem is, the government obtains its resources largely through compelling behavior, i.e. levying taxes and enforcing compliance. Now any government needs to do some of this to obtain resources to fund itself. The American colonists did not so much object to the taxes Britain laid upon them, but rather to their lack of representation in Parliament, which levied the taxes. Likewise, when the states decided to move beyond the Articles of Confederation and form a federal government under the Constitution, they did so largely because the weak confederate government could not properly compel taxes and support an effective central government. However, from the beginning of the federal government, as noted above, there was a natural balance between those advocating a strong federal government and those wanting to constrain the federal government's power.

Perhaps the point can be illustrated by the simple chart below.

Liberty and Government-The Optimal PointIf there is not enough government and governmental control, the strong prey upon the weak and liberty will be almost non-existence. Likewise if the government does not have enough power, it cannot address fundamental structural issues or provide security. The situation under the Articles of Confederation was clearly in the left portion of the chart. It is what the founders of the republic sought to address in the founding of the republic and the federal government.

If, however, government gets too large and powerful, it can stop protecting liberty and actually begin to infringe on it with a plethora of rules and regulations. It can also crowd out the private sector and potentially starve the private sector of resources. If the United States was to the left under the Articles of Confederation, the Soviet Union was clearly far to the right of the curve.

A responsible electorate needs to control the size and the power of the government to ensure that it stays in the performance band around the optimal point.

Perhaps the three key points above are:
  • Promote the general Welfare
  • Effective government
  • Balance

If the government does not have enough power, it cannot effectively "promote the general welfare". If it has too much power, it can compel taxes and other behavior in the name of "promoting the general welfare" that actually denies liberty to those being excessively taxed. There is a balancing point where a strong central government can both promote general welfare and liberty.

With the rise of socialism, particularly after the Second World War, liberals saw they could control the organs of the state to promote their social agendas. The expansion of the franchise to universal or near universal suffrage allowed them to control the governments and hence the power to compel behavior and levy taxes. Significant changes to the US Constitution facilitated this trend in the United States. While most these changes were not necessarily designed to promote a social welfare state, they did help to facilitate its growth.

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The Constitutional Changes

Key Constitutional amendments include:
Amendment Impact
XIV:Citizenship and public debt, 1868 Extended the rights of citizenship to all born in the United States or naturalized. "The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned." Significantly expanded federal power and laid the groundwork for today's immigration debates and the legitimacy of federal spending and debt.<
XV: Right to vote, 1869 Extended suffrage to male citizens of legal age
XVI: Federal income tax, 1913 Provided the federal government the ability to directly tax citizens and compel their payment and allowed Congress to spend money as it sees fit.
XVII: Direct election of senators, 1913 Lessened the power of the states. Before this amendment, states appointed senators and hence senators represented the states as sovereign entities. Under the original system, the Senate represented the states, the House of Representatives represented the people, and the President held executive power for the federal government, checked by both Congress and the Supreme Court. The change was arguably to address corruption in the states, but one may argue that the current election system has as much potential for abuse and lowers state power.
XIX: Women's right to vote, 1920 Expanded suffrage to all citizens of legal age
XXIV: Allowed voting without paying taxes, 1964 "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax." While ostensibly this prevented poll taxes which excluded the poor from the voting booths, it lays the groundwork for "representation without taxation"; in other words being able to vote for taxes without having to pay them. In essence the reverse of one of the ostensible causes of the American Revolution: "taxation without representation".
XXVI: Lowered voting age to 18, 1971 Expanded voting rights to 18 year olds. Ostensibly to recognize that if a person was old enough to get drafted and involuntarily serve in war, they were old enough to vote. It does not, however, address whether by 18, most people have the cognitive capability to fully understand the issues.

The net effect of these amendments was to allow everyone to vote for the Senate and the House of Representatives, and President, regardless of whether they paid taxes or not or had any demonstrable understanding of the US system of government or key issues. Further, they then gave the government the power to tax and spend as it sees fit with essentially no limitations. This situation is most likely not sustainable. A government cannot continue to spend without responsible constraints and impose increasing taxes on the current generation and crushing debt on future generations.

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Education

By almost any metric, the United States is lagging in education, perhaps the most critical success factor to maintain both liberty and prosperity. There have been many anecdotal surveys that show most Americans do not have a grasp on United States' history, geography, economy and government structure and operations; let alone an understanding of the complex multinational issues and challenges. These surveys have ranged from semi-formal surveys by reputable survey houses to "man on the street" interviews by various television shows. 1912 eighth grade comprehensive exam also proved extremely difficult for most Americans.

But there are also hard facts. For example, the United States placed 36th in the OECD 2013 rankings of mathematics, reading, and science. Even more alarming is the US scored below the average. US education rates as a whole are clearly falling and there is a great deal to be concerned about. The modern economy requires a highly educated workforce. The days of someone graduating from high school and getting a job with the local factory are almost completely gone. Most well-paying jobs require a strong education that supports a knowledge-based economy. If true, there is a significant potential for a growing division between those who can compete in the new economy and those who cannot. Those who cannot compete in the new economy will become increasingly isolated from prosperity and become a potential destabilizing factor within society.

So, what causes this growing disparity between those who are educated and can compete and those who are not? Is it the educational system? Is it institutional discrimination? Or is it something else?

First, let us look at some statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics, part of the government's Institute for Education Sciences. The statistics in the table below are for eighth graders in 2011.

Area Rated Proficient White/BlackWhite/Hispanic Low/High Povery ELL/Non-ELL
Mathematics 34% 293/262 12% 293/270 8% 300/264  14% 286/244  17%
Reading 32% 274/249 10% 274/252 9% 279/247  13% 267/224  19%
Science 163/129  26% 163/137  19% 164/137  19%

Curiously, science is reported in far less detail than mathematics and reading. For example, there is no proficiency rating listed and the poverty gap shown above is really a look at those eligible for lunches and those who are not. There is no data reported for ELL. The reported science gaps are over twice the reported mathematics and reading gaps. Given the importance of science in developing new technological breakthroughs, this area deserves greater attention.

Looking at SAT scores, we see a tremendous difference between critical reading scores from students from high and low income homes (31%) and a corresponding difference between students with parents with high education and low education (33%). Mathematics and writing have very similar trends.

The IES concludes that disadvantaged students receive less effective teaching. However, the paper does not address the key question, why? The other interesting issue is how they measured "effectiveness". It is really defined according to student performance. Which then begs the question is this a measure of "effectiveness" or a result of other underlying issues in the disadvantaged areas?

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Economy

The economy is the source of prosperity and the resources to promote security and governance. A strong economy is vital to a republic. However, pure "stength" is not neccessarily enough. Does the economy provide jobs that provide a high standard of living for the citizens? Are economic benefits leavened throughout society or are they concentrated in specific demographic or geographical areas? Is the economy sustainable or is it tied to a transitory source of wealth? Does it actually produce wealth?

Economics is often called "The Dismal Science". Some ecomonics classes teach this is because economics is the science of resource allocation and there is never enough resources to satisfy every desire or want. However, the resource allocation issue may be true, it is not why Thomas Carlyle called in the dismal science in the mid-19th century. Carlyle actually wanted to provide the benefits of slavery and could not do it. Economic analysis showed slavery was harmful to all concerned. An article in Investopedia states:

Those who doubt the story [about resource allocation] say that Carlyle was reacting not to Malthus but economists such as John Stuart Mill, who argued that institutions, not race, explained why some nations were rich and others poor. Carlyle attacked Mill, not for supporting Malthus' predictions about the dire consequences of population growth, but for supporting the emancipation of slaves. It was the discipline's assumption that people are basically all the same and thus entitled to liberty that led Carlyle to label the study of economics "the dismal science".

This basis of the term is confirmed in many sources. It is interesting that a philosopher linked to liberty and the social contract theory [Mills] is basis for the term. If we consider social contract theory (see below) it is very much tied to resource allocation and the basis of how society operates. We also hear a great deal today about the inequitable division of wealth in America and the problems that it engenders. Perhaps the answer to that has as much to do with the social contract as it does with economic activity.

So what is the health of the republic's economy and what does it mean for the republic's future?

The economy is a difficult factor to track. While most people think the various metrics used to measure the economy are hard and rules, there is quite a bit of subjectivity in the numbers and they can be manipulated to show different messages and allow policy makers to come to specificied conclusions that support their target policies. Even a measure as straight forward as Gross National Product (GNP) can have a great deal of subjectivity. That is why there is often a great range of economic analysis ranging from all is well to the sky is falling when looking at the same economy.

So what can be said of the economy? Perhaps the safest statement is that it is transitioning. That is true, but transitioning to what and how will it impact the citizens of the Republic?

A relatively clear answer is that is transitioning, or perhaps has already transitioned, from a manufacturing based economy to a service based economy.

Manufacturing employment has fallen steadily even though manufacturing revenues have stabilized. While this is good for the companies, it is not so good for employment. In the heyday of US manufacturing, a person could almost be guarenteed a "job at the plant" after high school that paid relatively decent wages. As the chart shows, those days are largely gone and the person needs to find employment elsewhere...or join the ranks of the chronic unemployed.

The chart at the left clearly shows the rise in service sector employment. The growth clearly started in the 1960's and has not abated. The main question then, is where are these service jobs coming from? Do they pay well and do they create wealth?

These two charts look at the growth in healthcare and government employment. A cursory review tends to confirm most of the growth in the service sector is from these two areas. The question, then, is do they produce wealth that can be used to generate prosperity and security?

While Gross Domestic Product is not a perfect indicator of wealth, it does provide at least a general indication. The two GDP show GDP overall has risen as the workforce transitions to a service based economy. The chart on the left shows inflation adusted GDP per Capita and the chart on the right shows GDP growth per year. Based on these charts one is tempted to conclude that the transition has been successful.

But what happens if the music stops? The US economy is now dependant upon the import of "cheap" foriegn manufactured goods. What happens if either the price of these goods jumps dramatically or the source is cut-off? Both of these scenarios could readily happen. As the Chinese workforce, for example, becomes increasingly active, will they demand higher wages and drive prices up? What happens if unrest in some the current manufacturing centers limits or even stops manufacturing operations? Some of the new manufacturing centers are sited in potentially unstable areas precisely to take advantage of cheap labor.

While most analyses discount instablility in China, the may be a higher probability than popularly recognized. In the 1980's and early 1990's the US was concerned about "Japan Inc" and either did not understand or seriously discounted the society and economic structural issues in Japan. Then the bubble broke... Could this happen in China today? The odds are potentially as high as Japan in the 1990's--and the US economy is now far more dependant upon China for manufactured goods to day than we were on Japan in the 1990's.

There is growing concern about income inequality in the United States. Perhaps one of the key strengths of the US has traditionally been its middle class and the ability to move into the middle class from lower economic rungs. This has almost certainly been a source of stability. If that ability is dead, then potentially the US could become increasingly unstable.

In an analyst or policy maker simply looks at the popular charts, they will clearly see a growing disparity between the wealthy and everyone else. But when the strata of the "wealthy" are broken down as shown in the accompanying graphs, it is really on the top 1% and even in that group, really the top .1% that is the source of the growing inequality.

That still leaves the question, how did this happen and where did the super-rich get this income? If we look at the next two graphs, we see that just about the same time that the income disparity started to widen, the stock markets took off. There seems to be a fairly high correlation between the growth of the top 1% and the explosion of the stock markets. Implicitly, this makes sense as these people traditionally have a far higher investment rate than the rest of the population and often rely on investment income for much of their total income.

If this correlation is valid and causal, then the issue is not so much income disparity as it is wealth disparity. While still a potential issue--perhaps even more significant than income--the approaches to addressing the problem are significantly different. Until the republic focuses the debate on the real issue, nothing meaningful will happen.

The follow on question then is what problems does wealth inequality pose and is it really new? Most likely the issue is not really new it is just more apparant with the rapid build up of asset bases upon which the wealthy earn income. Just as the wealthy saw their income shoot up dramatically during the market rises, they could potentially see their income plummet if the asset bases get devalued.

Another key question is whether this wealth disparity is as large as it seems. The wealthy tend to earn on their asset bases immediately. Most others, however, have their asset bases invested in 401K plans and other retirement plans and therefore do not earn any current income. These plans are designed to accrual all gains and income and re-invest them into the asset base until the account holder is ready to retire. If the income calculations took the annual gains on various retirement plans into account, the income gap may not be quite as significant.

Finally, a policy maker must determine whether this gap, however large it is, has an actual impact on the sustainment of the middle class and the ability to move into the middle class as well to higher levels in the middle class. That is, does the republic's middle class still have the stabilizing impact to keep society together? The chart at the left indicates that the stablility problem may not be as severe as many pundits indicate. The median income for all races in the chart follows the same general trend with no significant changes in the relative differences. The median income all races in the chart is well above the $24,000 level for a family of four in 2014. In addition, must income measures do not take transfer payments into account the government provides as subsidies for low income families. The actual differences may not be as significant as shown in this chart when they are included.

The structure of the overall economy and the loss of decent paying manufacturing jobs that would go to lower middle class workers and those seeking to break into the middle class is far more worrisome. If the economy looses more of these type of jobs and the higher paid jobs go to "knowledge workers", there could be an entire group of people that cannot compete in the new economy and become a source of growing instability. If the republic wants to prevent this problem, it will need to both bring back some manufacturing jobs and strengthen our educational system to ensure new workers can compete successfully in an increasingly global environment. Bringing back manufacturing--if done intelligently--will also alleviate the problem of foreign dependency noted above.


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Electorate

There is a clear trend of declining electoral participation in the republic. The chart below from George Mason shows participation rates in Presidential elections from 1948-2012.
Presidential Election Voter Turnout
The George Mason analysts correct a key issue they see as wrong in most analyzes, which look at participation and voters of the correct age. The gold line above shows this rate. The Mason data shows total participation and eligible voters. That is it takes out felons, illegals, etc. This is the green data.

Even with the green data, participation is habitually less than 60% for presidential elections. The US Census data clearly shows the up tick in 2008 was a significantly increased African American turnout and an even stronger youth vote, both of which dropped in 2012. If we look at longer term data, for 1828 onwards, the participation rates were generally in the mid-70% range based upon those eligible by age. Since there does not seem to be a significant deviation between VEP and VAP in the chart above until 1972, the age based rate may be valid for these earlier dates.

The gap that started between eligible and age that started in 1972 is interesting. What caused this growing gap? Most likely, it is a growth in the felon population and illegal aliens. Both of these trends could threaten the republic.

The chart below from the US Census Bureau shows similar data for Congressional elections, except that participation is less than 50% from 1974 onwards.

Congressional Election Turnout Rates
The chart t below is from the US Census Bureau links voter participation and education. Voter Participation and Education


The situation gets even more interesting when we look at voting in Congressional elections by employment status as show in the graphs below.
Congressional Election participation by employment status Presidential Election participation by employment status

Most of the growth in voting is by those that are unemployed or not working. Arguably, these voters pay little or no taxes, yet have an increasingly large influence over federal spending. In a perfect world, this may not matter.

What we are seeing is a continued growth in entitlement spending. The question is how much of this growth has to do with voters that have less invested in the government through taxes paid over their working lives and how has to do with voters who have little or nothing invested?

A second key question is why are voting rates down? Do citizens feel their vote simply does not matter? Do they feel like "the system is rigged"? Do they feel like none of the candidates represent their views?

These questions are crucial. Without an informed VOTING electorate that is invested in the outcome the republic is in danger.

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Security

The oath of office an officer takes in the Armed Forces states
"I, _____, having been appointed an officer in the Army of the United States, as indicated above in the grade of _____ do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office upon which I am about to enter; So help me God."

Note that the oath is to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States". It is not to defend the government or provide loyalty to a specific person or office. What does this mean?

Simply put, it means that the security provided is to protect the ideals and mechanisms espoused in the Constitution. It is as much about values as it is about tangible institutions. In the end, it may be even more about values. As discussed above and elsewhere on the site, those key values are liberty and prosperity and a government that protects and nourishes them. Benjamin Franklin wrote, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

If we compromise liberty to gain security, are we compromising the values in the Constitution? Or is Franklin's quote out of date in today's hyper connected environment with security threats Franklin never imagined. Perhaps the key is "essential liberty". What is "essential liberty" and is there a "non-essential liberty". Or is the quote even relevant?

Benjamin Wittes argues the quote is a mis-construed and not used properly in date. He writes that the historical setting for the quote was the French and Indian War and whether the Penn Family's property could be taxed to raise funds for security. The Penns argued no, but offered to provide separate funding for frontier security if the legislature agreed the Proprietor's holdings could not be taxes. In Witte's view Franklin was arguing for the power of the legislature to tax all for the purpose of security. If Wittes is correct, as I suspect he is, does the conflict between the Proprietor of a Proprietary Colony in pre-Revolution America moot the quote for the modern republic? I do not think it does. The concept itself is still valid and one of the key factors in the revolution was taxes and how they should be raised--and the definite connection between taxes and liberty.

So how do we stand on liberty and security today? Perhaps the most obvious issue is the so-called PATRIOT Act. This act was in direct response to the 911 attacks in 2001. However, did the act simply help Usama bin Laden and Al Queda accomplish their objectives? We may never know that, but consider what happened. For the price a few zealots' lives and some flight training, Al Queda got the United States to spend trillions of dollars on a quest for security, enact legislation that trims individual freedoms, and get involved in two wars that have destroyed thousands of lives. Pretty effective. Did the United States simply play into Al Queda's hand?

The issues are complex, but the fundamental question is, "Is the United States more secure today than it was on 11 September 2001"? One may argue that we took down Al Queda and carried the conflict to the terrorists and away from our shores, but that still begs the question, are we more secure after all the resources spent and the enforcement of the PATRIOT Act? Most of our citizens will never really know the answer because the information required to answer it is classified. Few know how many attacks were thwarted because of the new measures. Perhaps we are more secure from an external threat, but what of an internal threat?

When I served in Bosnia, I often heard my fellow soldiers state that what happened in Bosnia could not happen in the United States. I always responded that I thought they were wrong. If conditions change in the United States, the civil war and hatred the world saw in Bosnia could happen anywhere and the United States is no exception. What keeps the wolf at bay in the republic are shared values and just as importantly a strong economy that keeps most people more interested in well being then fighting each other. If the shared values erode and/or the economy collapses, conditions could well emerge in the republic that could engender something similar to Bosnia.

As the United States becomes an increasingly heterogeneous society, will it maintain the shared values that formed the republic and espoused in the Constitution? Both our culture and our education system tend to cast doubt on whether we will maintain these shared valued. Schools increasingly do not teach about the founding of the republic and when they do, it is often to show the flaws of the founders rather than the ideals that inspired them. Likewise, our popular culture has moved from "truth, justice, and the American Way" to violence and hedonism. These do not appear to be security issues, but if they erode the values that hold the people together and support the Constitution, and the purpose of security is ensure the Liberty and Prosperity of the republic envisioned in the Constitution then what are they?

Likewise if the economy collapses, and the collapse triggers conflict and strife that endanger the republic what else is it but a security issue?

Security is multi-faceted and must be approached from a multi-dimensional perspective. If outspending the next twenty-five countries combined on the military erodes our economy, does it promote or inhibit security? If growing entitlements endanger the economy and pull funding from the military, but help to promote social cohesion, does it promote or inhibit security. If delving into individual communications thwarts an attack but compromises individual liberty and core values, does it promote or inhibit security?

Bosnia can happen...

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Social Cohesion

International Comparison of Social Cohesion

Social cohesion could easily be the subject of several PhD dissertations. It is a complex topic, filled with conflicting research and ideas. At its core, however, the concept is simple. Social cohesion is what keeps disparate elements of a society together rather than fighting each other. Highly cohesive societies will have a great deal of shared values and little conflict. Societies with weaker cohesion will continue conflict over ideas, values, and the vision for the future. While conflict is not necessarily bad, societies with low cohesion will have difficulties resolving the conflicts and they could escalate into violence. The factors below tend to drive cohesion. Based on what's happening in American society now, social cohesion seems to be dropping. The question is how low will it go? While the republic had periods of bitter strife before that have even shattered into civil war, overall cohesion kept society more or less together. Even after a terrible civil war, the republic came back together remarkably fast because there was more to unite society than to divide it.

Social cohesion could easily be the subject of several PhD dissertations. It is a complex topic, filled with conflicting research and ideas. At its core, however, the concept is simple. Social cohesion is what keeps disparate elements of a society together rather than fighting each other. Highly cohesive societies will have a great deal of shared values and little conflict. Societies with weaker cohesion will continue conflict over ideas, values, and the vision for the future. While conflict is not necessarily bad, societies with low cohesion will have difficulties resolving the conflicts and they could escalate into violence. The factors below tend to drive cohesion. Based on what's happening in American society now, social cohesion seems to be dropping. The question is how low will it go? While the republic had periods of bitter strife before that have even shattered into civil war, overall cohesion kept society more or less together. Even after a terrible civil war, the republic came back together remarkably fast because there was more to unite society than to divide it.

Social Contract

Social contract theory like social cohesion is a complex subject with volumes written on it. Simplistically, however, it is the rules, both written and unwritten that tie a society together. It was first espoused by Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Locke and Rousseau were two of the key shapers of the Enlightenment. Their writings helped to shape the republic's founders ideas. Locke's concept of the social contract was a significant influence on Thomas Jefferson when he wrote The Declaration of Independence. People unite into societies to preserve their wealth, lives, liberty, and well-being. If the government creates conditions that inhibit prosperity and well-being, the people have a right to dissolve the government. John Rawls expanded this idea to cover justice as well as liberty. Perhaps the simplest way to understand social contract is that it is the agreement between the government and the people over how to govern and maintain society. In the republic, most of this contract is embodied in the Constitution. Laws are not the contract. Rather they are the mechanism to manage the contract. When laws start to violate the contract,

Rule of Law

The key aspect of the rule of law is consistent and fair application across all strata of society of fair laws. A law can be consistently applied, but if the law itself favors one segment of society over another, it will reduce social cohesion. The laws also must be stable. If the laws are subject to frequent, significant change, people will not be able to count on the laws, which will reduce cohesion. Historically, the republic has had a mixed record on the rule of law. While American like to think we have a strong tradition of the rule of law, we also have a tradition of highly prejudicial laws. Thus, at the same time that the US had strong commercial laws that allowed for investment and help to attract foreign investors, it maintained laws specifically meant to discriminate based on race.

Values

What are American values? Are they the same today as they were during the founding of the Republic? What were the values at the forming of the Republic?

Perhaps the first values we can define are derived from the Declaration of Independence. Clearly, liberty is the core value. Individual security is inherent in the "Life" section of the clause. The "pursuit of happiness" almost certainly refers to the ability to pursue one's dreams, goals, and aspirations without hindrance. If we look at these three together, they implicitly form a composite similar to Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. "Life" is at the bottom of the pyramid, satisfying the need for security and other basic necessities to live: food, shelter, security. "Liberty" is the next rung up the pyramid and refers the freedom required to pursue knowledge, beauty, and spirituality in whatever form it is suited to the individual. "The Pursuit of Happiness" is perhaps roughly equivalent to self-actualization in Maslow's model.

Turning the Constitution, the preamble continues on with key's to American core values:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

From the preamble, we can clearly derive:

  • Justice
  • Civil and harmonious society
  • Common prosperity

If we put all of this together, perhaps the core values look something like this:

These values work remarkably well to promote social cohesion. Properity is the engine that helps to ensure overall tranquilty. Liberty allows a person to rise as far as the limits of their ability. Harmony helps to promote overall cohesion, to find ways to resolve problems and to build ties that keep society closely knitted together. Justice ensures that people are treated fairly and based upon the rule of law and the basis truth rather than class or innuendo. Individual responsibility forms the overall foundation ensures people are responsibile for their actions and individual life outcomes.

They are all anchored on Truth. While "truth" is not explicitly mentioned in either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, it is there implictly as the foundational require. Justice depends entirely on Truth. Without Truth, there can be no Justice. Likewise, the basis for Liberty is Truth. The Enlightenment was essentially a question for the free exploration of Truth unconstrained by religion dogma or civil restrictions on free thought. Harmony is also dependant upon Truth, but perhaps less explicitly. A government can maintain harmony based on lies and propaganda, but once the mask is torn off, harmony quickly flees as well.

The Greeks have an interesting word for truth: Alethiea. In the literal sense, it is something uncovered or revealed. In another sense it means not to forget. Both meanings are critical to the Republic.

Alexis de Tocqueville, in Democracy in America, written in the 1830's, confirmed these values and their impact on cohesion.

Culture

As potentially campy as The Lone Ranger, Superman, and other televisions shows were in the 1950's and 1960's, they clearly communicated American values. Superman said it clearly in its opening, "Truth, Justice, and the American Way". This phrase sounds remarkably like the core values discussed above. Popular culture tended to reinforce these values until perhaps the 1960's with the rise of several different strains of thought and expression:

  • A questioning of how the Republic was founded and why, lead by historians such as Charles Beard. This strain of analysis tended to cast doubt on the purity of motives of the founders and concluded the US was founded mainly to promote their class economic interests.
  • The rise of Civil Rights. This movement tended to use the work of Beard and others to show the racial discrimination inherent on the founding of the US and the institutional racial bias. The movement was absolutely correct about institutional racial bias. While the legal efforts to correct racial bias, and to be quite honest violence in many cases, clearly showed the core American values, the civil actions in many cases did not and actually worked against them. If the majority American populace had openly embraced racial equality and harmony in the 1950s and 1960s without the legal compulsion society may be very different today. Unfortunately, the lack of open acceptance created a counter-cultural strain that is present in modern culture and seems to almost reject core values and project a sense of nihilism. Certain strains of rap and hip-hop are potentially good examples.
  • The rise of the "anti-hero". This was not necessarily limited to the 1960s--it can perhaps be traced back to at least as far as Henry David Thoreau and his works Walden and Civil Disobedience. The classic anti-hero works outside the norms of society to effect change or at least highlight social issues and problems. While some of this is very healthy for a society, too much can actually work to destabilize a culture and lower social cohesion.

The works of Beard and others tended to cast doubt on the nature of the Republic's founding and erode confidence in the truth of the story. Government actions post World War II have not helped allevite the "trust gap". From exposing soldiers to radiation and other hazards, to enforced sterilization programs, to the increasing secrecy in the name of "national security" public confidence in the government's ability and desire to tell the truth has eroded. There is a saying, "truth is the first casualty of war". Practically speaking, the Republic has been in either a cold or a hot war since World War II. Perhaps the situation first became apparent to the public in the late 1960s during the Vietnam War. A war that was entered almost certainly on a false pretence: the Gulf of Tonkin.

As a result popular media and culture has often taken a decidedly "anti-hero" approach to find and expose the "truth". Movies like Soylent Green are a good example. The counter-trend are the movies such as Star Warswith the classic hero quest. Indiana Jones is somewhere in the middle. The question, is, "what do cultural expressions have to do with the Republic?"

If we look at current popular culture, we find two interesting trends. First is a very clear trend that ignores and in some cases even undermines "traditional American values". The second is the increasing violence in movies and games. Virtually every highly selling game involves violence and destruction. There is almost nothing in the gaming world that involves the quest of truth and beauty and to create rather than to destroy.

Culture transmits values and helps to bind people together. If the cultural expression is of distrust and disconnection from the government and either a repudiation of core values or even just an absence of them, the the ties that bind a group of people, especially a heterogeneous group like Americans, together grow weaker.

Demographics

There are two key demographic trends in the US today:
  • Increasing immigration from non-European sources, leading to an increasingly heterogeneous population
  • An aging population
The two charts below show the impact of immigration on the population mix.

The second chart is based on US Census Bureau data on population and legal and illegal immigration. Trends are projections based on this data. Statistical models are always subject to error and change if the underlying assumptions change. However, the basic direction of this projection is most likely roughly accurate given the high correlation values of the various inputs and the model projection.

The issue is not immigration per se. The US is a nation of immigrants. Rather it is an increasingly heterogeneous population that may not share common core values and, given changes in the US education system, may not have a good understanding of how and why the Republic was formed and how the government operates.

The question "is immigration good or bad?" is not the right question. The US has had several waves of immigration, all of which have uniformly benefited the Republic. Most immigrants had an initial difficult time and some of the large waves, such as Eastern Europeans in the early 20th century, were uniformly condemned as diluting America and setting the country up for major problems--not unlike the rhetoric we hear from some today. The real question is two-fold:

  • How well do the immigrants assimilate and accept the Republic's core values?
  • Do the immigrants add to or subtract from overall prosperity?

Since the latest wave is so recent, neither question can be accurately answered. The best indicators are, however, that these new immigrants tend to be increasingly "hyphenated" Americans that are perhaps more economic migrants that seek to maintain their own culture and values. Depending upon their country of origin, many come with little skills. However, that may not be significantly different than other first generation immigrants, whose descendants fully assimilated into American society. We need to be careful of drawing hasty conclusions based on annecdotal or incomplete data. The main issue is whether the Republic's policies facilitate or inhibit assimilation and integration.

The two tables below show the key age demographic data. As they show, the population is aging. However, the disturbing trend is the lower labor force participation rates.

The ageing workforce means potentially lower productivity as more of the poplulation is retired and higher medical and social security costs. If there are fewer worker paying for these costs, the deficits will almost surely go up. The chart is based on US census data and reflects known legal and illegal immigration as well as the projected illegal immigration and births from this segment. The explosion of illegal immigrants is a significant factor in the sharply lower per capita tax receipts vs. per capita tax outlays since 2006. If this data is accurate, and the trends of both per capital tax data and demographics continue, there will be a significant economic problem in the coming years.

Economic Well-being

Economic well-being is as much a state of mind as it is actual prosperity. For instance a person can make a good salary but be concerned about job security and debt. There is a sense that many Americans are just a paycheck or two away from bankruptcy or financial catastrophe. Whether that is actually true or not, if people believe it is true, the effect on society can be large. People may not know the specific numbers, but they can feel the economic problems and issues. Most know an economic tidal wave is coming if the Republic does not take decisive action. The problem many have is that decisive action will almost certain cause near-term pain to adjust the imbalances.

Summary

The chart below, generated from data from Indices of Social Development presents a mixed view of the impact of the last twenty years.
The trends are at best mixed. If we compare the US 2010 results to a mix of countries in North and South America, Europe, Africa (only South Africa), and Asia, the United States comes out better than average in every category. However, in trying to be representative, the sampling includes Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Latvia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Nicaraugua, Norway, Poland, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa,Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Ukraine, and the UK. Thus there us a mix of countries, but most that have significant problems are not included in the sample. The average values are:
AreaAverage
Civic Activism.55894443
Intergroup Cohesion.714359534
Clubs and Associations.512696539
Interpersonal Safety and Trust.515145967
Gender Equality.846290598
Inclusion.5808461668
At this point, the US is still a relatively cohesive society, but there are signs of lowering cohesion. Top

Resources

Social Contract Theory

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Social Contract Theory): http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/

Electoral Issues

Penn Libraries: http://www.iep.utm.edu/soc-cont/
Fair Vote: http://www.fairvote.org/voter-turnout

Security

Franklin and security: http://www.lawfareblog.com/2011/07/what-ben-franklin-really-said/
Lawfare: http://www.lawfareblog.com/

Historical and Commentary

What our Forefathers Thought: http://www.whatourforefathersthought.com/index.html
The Essential Liberty Project: http://essentialliberty.us/

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Social Cohesion

http://www.gesellschaftlicher-zusammenhalt.de/en/international-results/overall-index-of-social-cohesion/


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