Freedom lessons from Hong Kong (2): democracy

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How liberating

Recall, for a moment, the famous lad who went out one Friday night, ordered gin with orange juice and got tipsy. He went out again Saturday night, ordered vodka and orange juice and got tipsy again. He loved being tipsy so much, he went out and bought himself a whole liter of … orange juice.

Let’s now look at the role of democracy in freedom. Is it the gin or the orange juice?

Last time in this thread–an emerging ‘freedom lover’s critique of America‘–I shared with you my experience of living in Hong Kong as an instructive way into understanding life in today’s America. In brief: I felt freer in Hong Kong than anywhere else I have ever lived; I feel less free in America than anywhere else I have lived.

Even as my fingers still touched the keyboard, I started bracing myself for some inevitable rejoinders. Of which the first and most obvious is: Hong Kong is not a democracy, whereas America proudly is!

Coming clean

I once belonged to a salivating pack of expatriate journalists in Hong Kong who loved to scrutinize every Asian government we covered based on its minute-by-minute body language toward democracy.

  • More democracy = approve
  • Less democracy = disapprove

It was an evergreen topic for us, easy to pitch to an editor, easy to write, easy to be smug about. Hong Kong, during its suspenseful transition from British to Chinese rule, was a particularly good place for “democracy” stories. If an errant Falun Gong meditator from Ohio or Liaoning so much as got stuck in his Lotus pose, I was ready to suspect sinister interference from the Mainland.

On the Mainland, whenever I got stuck in an interview, I whipped out that word, democracy. In Taiwan and the Philippines, officials occasionally played the trick on me: They whipped out the word to buy time. After all, what else could I possibly demand as long as the place was, you know, democratic and thus surely free.

In America, George W. Bush was composing entire inaugural addresses around just two words–freedom and democracy–as a way of explaining wars and himself. Very few people called him on that particular association. The two do seem to go together.

Hell is other demos

Actually, they do not. They can, but they need not. In Foreign Affairs, twelve years ago, Fareed Zakaria coined two powerful memes: Illiberal democracy and liberal autocracy. (That’s liberal as properly used.) He simply observed that there are an awful lot of democracies–ie, countries whose governments are chosen in elections–today whose citizens are anything but free. And there are quite a few autocracies whose people are free. Hong Kong is one of them.

Another free (ie, liberal) autocracy in history was colonial America, before the British started imposing exotic new taxes. The king was far away and left the colonials alone. They had no say in government, but did not care because they were free to live their lives. I once read somewhere (if anybody could point me to the link, I would be grateful) that this was the freest period in American history.

Next came taxation. Then the call for none of it without representation. Then the constitutional convention. And how did our founding fathers approach the issue? James Madison, possibly thinking of ancient Athens, said that:

Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and conflict; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.

In general, the founding fathers believed Polybius: the best government balances monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. Without such balance, monarchy becomes tyranny; aristocracy becomes oligarchy; democracy becomes mob rule. Today, this skepticism about democracy lives on in a small circle of libertarians/liberals such as Ron Paul, who worry about “majoritarian” oppression.

If you read this to mean that I am against democracy, you have misunderstood this post. I am not necessarily against it. And yes, I do love Winston Churchill’s wit. I am merely pointing out that democracy can coexist or conflict with freedom. Some of us have got used to seeing the two together, like orange juice and vodka in a screwdriver, and have made an inappropriate association.

But democracy is irrelevant to our topic. The origin of freedom is to be found elsewhere. And we will look for it.


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29 thoughts on “Freedom lessons from Hong Kong (2): democracy

  1. If someone wants to sound smart and yet avoid this conversation (and avoid sounding stupid), he’s supposed to say, “well, America is a republic – not a democracy.”

  2. Help me out somebody (Steve?). [I citizen shouldn’t be out of his depth in these matters, but I am.] I thought a republic was the sort of place where only certain people participate in the ‘democratic’ process. So, it’s not really democratic.

  3. “…….I feel less free in America than anywhere else I have lived………”

    A distinguishing feature of American political life is how much the word “freedom” is used. It is arguably the most-used word in the American political lexicography; or certainly the most-used word used by aspirants for president. And think about that America is specifically “The Land of the Free”.

    I can’t think of any other country where politicians bang on about “freedom” more than in the US.

    I think we, all of us, know people (mostly men) who obviously have sex on their minds all the time, to the degree that they can’t stop injecting the topic, directly or indirectly, into anything they talk about, no matter how unconnected. One thing we know for sure about such people: they’re either not getting any sex, or they have very impoverished love-lives.

    So with “freedom”. The nation which keeps talking about it, either doesn’t, in reality, have much of it; or its denizens feel unfree.

    Therefore, could it be that your own sense of not feeling particularly free in America, is shared by more Americans than most would let on?

  4. Sorry Mr. C, this is an area where the terms and connotations present slippery slopes. Frankly, I don’t know how to categorize what we have in Sacramento in my case, and in Washington on a national scale. I certainly don’t feel like I have any impact on the government, or party leaders or anyone else for that matter.

    I think formally we call ouselves a representative democracy within a Republic. But the name means little when AT&T is data mining at the request of the government without us knowing and without warrants.

    Whatever we have, as goofy as it seems sometimes, it must be attractive to the alternatives because it at least seems like an awful lot of people are dying, sometimes literally, to come here, and have had some exposure to cases where people are seeking asylum.

    I would say as individuals we are very free; but as a group of citizens we are getting fleeced. Don’t know what this means in the long run, but it can’t be good.

    I don’t know much about Hong Kong, but when one of my sons lived in Beijing for 8 months and taught English, he loved it and had a great time and felt “free”, but his keeper, a young well groomed woman associated with someone who he never quite understood, whispered to him not to discuss Tianamen Square and other political matters. He said it was very weird and foreign.

    I look forward to where this joint trip takes all of us.

    SB

  5. Thanks, Steve. I have several other things on my mind, too. ‘… to the republic for which it stands’ the electorate, sufferage, one person one vote, etc. But I’ll leave it for now. (I like AK’s ground rules.)

    Christopher, I utterly agree. Another word that gets used in this sort of creepy way is ‘community.’ The more times we use, it seems the less we have it. It’s like a cry for help.

  6. aaargh. I mean suffrage. (maybe sufferage should be a word, too). My previous comment had an error, too. I quit (for the day).

  7. You made me look it up: Republic (“thing of the people” in Latin) is just a state with an elected representative as head of state as opposed to a monarch. A democracy (“rule of the people” in Greek, thus close) is a state in which people elect representatives. So you can have a monarchy that is democratic (Britain, Sandinavia, Netherlands, Spain) or a republic that is democratic.

    Christopher: Very perceptive and intriguing hypothesis. It reminds me of another over-used term in American politics: “family values”. The more it’s used, the more desperate the users sound. My wife and I, both American, come from European and Asian families, respectively, and we assure you that nobody goes around in the old countries spouting off about family values. In fact, you can’t even translate the phrase. Familienwerte sounds just plain ridiculous, sort of like ‘family valuables’, as in cutlery. But everything naturally revolves around the family.

    But then I think of the German equivalent of “freedom”: Soziale Gerechtigkeit , social justice. Pops up in every debate, usually in the least appropriate or helpful context. Clearly, that’s what they’re craving more of. But it’s odd, because, relative to Americans, they have a much more egalitarian society. (of which more another time)

    I join Mr Crotchety in quitting for the day….

  8. Sorry; just thought of something-without dismissing much of the criticism thus far shared, but to shore up the other side of the picture, could it be that those outside America bash it because they aren’t happy with their own governments and societies? A twist on Christopher’s model I would suggest that homogeneous countries like France, Germany and Spain routinely carp on America because there are things in their own backyard that they detest. It makes them feel good about their country by bashing the big rich guy down the street. It reminds me of people who hate, I mean HATE USC Football. People just get tired of them winning.

    Note that American is demographically different to say the least; It is easy and understandable for a bunch of French people, or German people, or Spanish folks who have relatively homogeneous societies to jump on the gargantuan melting pot of America. Of course out legal and political systems are challenged; there are more opinions from more diverse cultures being brought to the table all the time. It is a daunting task to get people to agree on anything.

    I guess time will tell if the Europeons are better than America in dealing with cultural differences and challenges to the whole; if they are, there will come a day when Pierre says to Gunter or Luigi, “we boys, we did it; we are one, and despite our many difference agree and have smooth running and effective continental government. It is not an unfair comparison.

    And again, history has shown, in its own short history, that for some reason the diversity of the United States has made it particularly attractive to be called upon to help, in the event of war, famine, and other challenges that others need help on. I am proud of that. And by the way, Americans, at least those who remember it or have read about it, are proud of things we have done when called and did it from the heart. You read the diaries of those who came back from WWII. It is heartwarming. So, we do have a lot of problems over here that arise from the multiple challenges that require more than a linear analysis; and through education on where we can improve would be helpful.

    Christopher, are you of the opinion that the US is fundamentally not a free place?
    I invite you to come to Sacramento and it would be an honor to take to to several organizations I belong to where we discuss such topical issues. I’m serious, you can stay at our house and experience it first hand and then spend an evening discussing such matters with appellate court justices from our district. I think you would find that we can talk about freedom, and servitude and philosophical imperatives with the best of them. We are not all Cowboys here, although I do own a nice pair of Italian made cowboy boots and sing a few Roy Roger’s songs on my accoustic guitar.

    I move that we have one week “I Love the United States because…”
    to balance the ongoing critique. I will spring for USA “T” shirts for all participants at the end of the exercise.

    Good night tiny dancers…

    Steve

  9. This is becoming a fascinating discussion. Virginia and Leonard Woolf must be looking down on us from wherever they are, with envy.

    If I could dwell briefly on a couple of points Steve made:

    “……..could it be that those outside America bash it because they aren’t happy with their own governments and societies?………..I would suggest that homogeneous countries like France, Germany and Spain routinely carp on America because there are things in their own backyard that they detest. It makes them feel good about their country by bashing the big rich guy down the street……..”

    I don’t doubt that many people outside America bash it just for the hell of bashing it, and because it’s cathartic to bash an authority figure (which the US, as the only super-power, figuratively is).

    However, most of the anger expressed at America which I’ve come across, has come from Americans themselves. Countless millions of Americans seem to be as mad as hell against their own country (or its institutions), revealing a degree of discontent largely absent in the other countries of the “developed world”.

    Where there is this amount of smoke coming from so many Americans themselves, there has to be a roaring fire somewhere.

    You asked of me: “……are you of the opinion that the US is fundamentally not a free place………?”

    Compared with whom? If compared with many – probably nearly all – countries outside of the “developed world”, the US would be very free. But the US, when compared, for instance, with Canada (where I’ve lived most of my adult life) and the other countries of the G7 (the “developed world”), is probably not as free. Certainly there isn’t the anger against their own governments, which so many Americans have against theirs.

    But, what do I mean by “free”, or “freedom”, for the purposes of this “thread”? How about that the more affluent one is, the more free one feels, because affluence (prosperity) not only provides more life-choices, but also security, and thus less fear? So, to the extent that a society or country is egalitarian – ie it doesn’t have extremes between rich and poor – that society is free. It is also less fear-ridden.

    Because the US has the extremes between rich and poor, which Canada and the other countries of the G7 (the “developed” countries) have chosen not to have by means of their economic and social policies, the peoples of the other G7 countries are freer than are Americans, and thus seem more satisfied with their societies, than Americans seem with theirs.

  10. Good Morning Men,

    Hizzoner seized my computer this morning when I asked him the difference between a republic and a democracy. Then, channeling Hayek and adding his own syntax and word choice, he submitted this entry:

    Gentlemen:

    The notion that individual liberty is increased when the economic disparities among people are compressed is internally inconsistent. Carried to its logical conclusion, as the the disparities among people, especially economic, are equalized in the form of pre-determined outcomes (via government regulation), individual freedom necessarily decreases. As wealth is redistributed via the government, incentives to be creative, entrepreneurial and imaginative dissipate. Everyone has the same things; everyone’s house is the same; everyone lives the same life. Give me a world of disparities and difference. Give me a world where there are equal opportunities, not equal outcomes. Give me a world where there is freedom to fail. Give me a world of choices and consequences!!

    He is now going outside, dressed in his robe (judicial) to chop wood. Alas, this is the intensity I live with…

  11. The issue of equality is one I want to write a post about. But regarding Steve’s hunch that a lot of foreign anti-Americanism is fired by a similar psychological lack or insecurity: I agree. I think America is easy to blame when you should actually look in the mirror. But this is the vulgar and uninformed kind of Anti-Americanism that I vowed to stayed away from.

    A complementary sub-thread on “I love America because…” is a good idea. But let’s see where this goes first.

  12. Hi, it’s me again.

    Regarding Cheri’s channelling of Hayek, it has been shown by learned people far cleverer than I (me?) that the disparity between rich and poor beyond a certain point, hinders economic growth, presumably because poverty is extremely inefficient.

    In the displayed passage from Hayek, he (Hayek) was talking about the negative consequences if egalitarianism is carried to an extreme (“to its logical conclusion”).

    • Regarding this debate about equality: Does anybody remember the Googlable name of that fantastic documentary which traced the link between inequality, stress, obesity, heart disease and brain plasticity among apes and humans?

  13. Cheri and Christopher-as usual, moderation seems good and extremism bad.

    I say give people a fish if they need it urgently (because its the right thing to do), but teaching them to fish is better in the long run. Bail-out the auto industry? OK, I can support immediate short term assistance, but tell the CEO’s they need to cut their obscene bonuses and the UAW and AFL/CIO that the good ‘ol days are over and they will be forced to compromise on their fat health and welfare plans and Union leader’s salaries and become part of the solution.

    Andreas: I don’t remember the documentary you are looking for, but the very first thing that came to my mind was the Big Lebowski.

    Good night tiny dancers…

  14. Christopher, I apologize for my confusing post above. The words in italics are not from Hayek. They are from my husband. :)

    I harp day and night about clarity and then post the unclear. Drat.

    My husband will hearby be known as Rock. The above words about freedom are his, not Hayek’s.

  15. Christopher:

    Could you clarify what you are saying here:

    Because the US has the extremes between rich and poor, which Canada and the other countries of the G7 (the developed countries) have chosen not to have by means of their economic and social policies, the peoples of the other G7 countries are freer than are Americans, and thus seem more satisfied with their societies, than Americans seem with theirs.

    I don’t see what you are referring to and know that people are angry because they, the middle belly of the country, are working their asses off paying for the putative poor from January 1 until June 30 before they start earning for themselves. The poor in America probably get better health care, certainly in Sacramento, than in Canada. They can go directly to the ER at Sutter General Hospital or UC Davis Medical Center and receive the best health care in the world at no charge. No questions asked; illegal or not, bring ‘em in, treat em, and send the bill to MediCal (our state version of MediCaid). We do have some really bad areas of squallor but it is usually the sad consequences of meth production etc.. but I don’t think the guys that mow the lawns are unhappy. They are really happy to just be here.

    Are you saying that the middle class in Europe has decided to design their institutions so there wouldn’t be rich and poor, just enough of wealth redistribution but not too much to take away incentive and that that makes them proud and therefore happier? Interesting, um,..doesn’t sound consistent with human nature…

    Of course, the US has a budget that takes into account, the entire world in terms of foreign policy programs, defense (for Canada and other OAS partners) and the world when it calls on us.

    I am not trying to pick a fight and have even destroyed the DVD from Southpark with the “Blame Canada” oscar-nominated song, but I think this country has a lot more on its plate than the folks up in Saskatoon or Prince Rupert.

    And, I am right in there on bashing my country right now; I just don’t get the bashing that comes from countries who have their own fish to fry, their own problems and their own hypocrisy.

    Anyway, enjoy the dialog and have a good day.

    Best,

    Steve

  16. Hi Steve – Interesting points you’ve raised. Since I don’t live in the US, you will, of course, know infinitely more about your health care system in Cal-eee-fornia than do I.

    For what it’s worth, here’s some of what I’ve gleaned about the US’s overall health care system:

    – Fifty million (one sixth of Americans) have no health insurance (probably because they can’t afford it).

    – The uninsured get health care only through Emergency Rooms. But while they do get health care via Emergency Rooms, they are not likely, if they for instance have cancer, to get chemo or radiation; or, if they have heart problems, to get open heart surgery.

    – Catastrophic health care expenses are by far the leading cause of personal bankruptcies.

    – The US is the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide universal health care for its people.

    I’m not, by the way, suggesting there’s anything wrong in any of this this. But it is a state of affairs which the rest of the industrialized countries have chosen not to have; and illustrates what I said in a previous comment: that the US body politic contains many values different from those in the other industrialized countries.

    “………..Are you saying that the middle class in Europe has decided to design their institutions so there wouldn’t be rich and poor, just enough of wealth redistribution but not too much to take away incentive and that that makes them proud and therefore happier? Interesting, um,..doesn’t sound consistent with human nature……..”

    I’m saying that the other industrialised countries have long had fiscal and social policies to ensure somewhat egalitarian societies, in the interests of having a just society (sozial Gerechtigkeit). This doesn’t mean there’s no gap between rich and poor, because there is. It just that the gap is less than in the US. In the other industrial societies there is plenty of incentive to get rich, because being poor is, in the main, much less pleasant than being rich.

    I’ll repeat what I said in a previous comment: that too great a gap between rich and poor has proven to be economically inefficient, in addition to being socially unjust.

    “……..Of course, the US has a budget that takes into account, the entire world in terms of foreign policy programs, defense (for Canada and other OAS partners) and the world when it calls on us…….”.

    You make an excellent point here. The other industrialised countries might well spend more on their defence, but for the US’s hovering presence. But how much more, I’m unable to say. But I suggest that the enormous amount the US pays for things military, doesn’t come so much out of altruism towards its allies, as it comes out of perceived self-interest.

    “……..I think this country has a lot more on its plate than the folks up in Saskatoon or Prince Rupert………”

    This, of course, is a matter of opinion. The folks up in Saskatoon or Prince Albert might think differently.

    “………I just don’t get the bashing that comes from countries who have their own fish to fry, their own problems and their own hypocrisy………”

    As said in a previous comment, I don’t doubt that much America-bashing comes from outside America. But I think most of it comes from within America.

    But, why shouldn’t outside countries engage in America-bashing if they feel they have cause to? Remember, what happens in America affects the rest of the world. Thus a US presidential election is, in effect, a world election, with the difference that only American citizens are allowed to vote for or against policies, which, in many respects, affect non-Americans as much as they affect Americans.

    I’m enjoying this discussion, by the way.

  17. Christopher:

    Thanks for your continuing observations-I also enjoy the interchange-it is important and educational, certainly for me. Let me try to respond. I can’t seem to italicize, etc.. so it is hard to make clear what I am quoting or just writing.

    – Fifty million (one sixth of Americans) have no health insurance (probably because they can’t afford it). (agreed)

    – The uninsured get health care only through Emergency Rooms. But while they do get health care via Emergency Rooms, they are not likely, if they for instance have cancer, to get chemo or radiation; or, if they have heart problems, to get open heart surgery.

    (generally true, but is often part of a larger picture. e.g. someone who is working for an unscrupulous employee, making cash wages anbd has no health coverage, or an illegal immigrant which is a huge problem, or they simply don’t have the ability to advocate for themselves. Education, better immigration policies, etc.. would help. But if they get to an ER, they get treated. )

    – Catastrophic health care expenses are by far the leading cause of personal bankruptcies. (agreed and a huge problem)

    – The US is the only industrialized country that doesn’t provide universal health care for its people.

    (I don’t know, but it is also where people come for the best treatment, I was in the Navy and so understand how crappy a socialized system can be-aside from whether health care is a right, we should strive to make it available to as many as possible)

    I’m not, by the way, suggesting there’s anything wrong in any of this this. But it is a state of affairs which the rest of the industrialized countries have chosen not to have; and illustrates what I said in a previous comment: that the US body politic contains many values different from those in the other industrialized countries. (don’t agree, just different ways of getting from point A to B. Giving all citizens health care doesn’t necessarily make the goal if the health care they are all getting is delayed and mediocre. We all need to get better health care, in a timely fashion to as many of the masses as possible without putting it soley on the back of us worker bees. I don’t have the answer. By the way, my yearly deductable for family PPO coverage is $3,000 USD. Arggghh!

    “………..Are you saying that the middle class in Europe has decided to design their institutions so there wouldn’t be rich and poor, just enough of wealth redistribution but not too much to take away incentive and that that makes them proud and therefore happier? Interesting, um,..doesn’t sound consistent with human nature……..”

    I’m saying that the other industrialised countries have long had fiscal and social policies to ensure somewhat egalitarian societies, in the interests of having a just society (sozial Gerechtigkeit). This doesn’t mean there’s no gap between rich and poor, because there is. It just that the gap is less than in the US. In the other industrial societies there is plenty of incentive to get rich, because being poor is, in the main, much less pleasant than being rich. (I guess it depends on when you are looking at history-there are a lot of “egalitarian” societies that had we lived there in earlier years might have been poor or even worse dead due to a less than egalitarian view of all peoples or political affiliations. Not a big point but all these things are dynamic and changing. Look at Venezuela and Mexico-not really looking forward to visiting these countries these days-I speak spanish and used to go to Mexico a lot.)

    I’ll repeat what I said in a previous comment: that too great a gap between rich and poor has proven to be economically inefficient, in addition to being socially unjust. (OK, but if the government pounds those who are industrious, and who work hard at great sacrifice for the common good, it is not difficult to stifle the incentive and shear ability to encourage such folks. Medical and scientific advances that benefit the world can only be maximized in the private sector. government has a role, but should be junior to encouraging hard work and achievement.)

    “……..Of course, the US has a budget that takes into account, the entire world in terms of foreign policy programs, defense (for Canada and other OAS partners) and the world when it calls on us…….”.

    You make an excellent point here. The other industrialised countries might well spend more on their defence, but for the US’s hovering presence. But how much more, I’m unable to say. But I suggest that the enormous amount the US pays for things military, doesn’t come so much out of altruism towards its allies, as it comes out of perceived self-interest. (I get your point, but Jeremy Bentham would understand the self-interested motive and I think the French, English, and post WWII Germany and Japan (Marshall Plan) would still acknowledge and feel greatful for the efforts during the war and after the war to advance peace and reconciliation-see, I picked a particular time in history-Post WWI was another story perhaps!)

    “……..I think this country has a lot more on its plate than the folks up in Saskatoon or Prince Rupert………”

    This, of course, is a matter of opinion. The folks up in Saskatoon or Prince Albert might think differently. (on the personal level, I totally agree, but that wasn’t the point)

    “………I just don’t get the bashing that comes from countries who have their own fish to fry, their own problems and their own hypocrisy………”

    As said in a previous comment, I don’t doubt that much America-bashing comes from outside America. But I think most of it comes from within America. (disagree)

    But, why shouldn’t outside countries engage in America-bashing if they feel they have cause to? (because often times it isn’t constructive or genuine) Remember, what happens in America affects the rest of the world. Thus a US presidential election is, in effect, a world election, with the difference that only American citizens are allowed to vote for or against policies, which, in many respects, affect non-Americans as much as they affect Americans. (totally agree and this is a satisfactory and legitimate fact in understanding why people are so focused on us, on the good and the bad. I think we are sometimes hypocritical and justifiably draw fire. Like on the torture issue.)

    I’m enjoying this discussion, by the way.

    (Me too. It makes the world smaller and brings people together who otherwise might never share a thought. And in someway, I think it serves our shared common good. Thanks for your thoughts)

  18. Hi Steve – On what we’ve been discussing, I, for my part, will quit the decks and leave it for interested others to weigh in on these matters, which are more the concern of Americans than of foreigners like me. So, let’s agree to disgaree on those points on which we disagree; and agree to agree on those points on which we agree (do I sound Rumsfeldian?)

    However, I’d like to pick up on the following phrase you used: “…………if the government pounds those who are industrious, and who work hard at great sacrifice for the common good, it is not difficult to stifle the incentive and shear ability to encourage such folks……..”.

    Do I detect an anger here, at all the taxes you have to pay? Following US public affairs as I do, I perceive much American anger at the taxes they must pay, since they feel they don’t get much in return for them.

    It seems to me, as an outsider, that much of this anger is justified, when I look at defence (defense) spending, which I’ve gleaned, takes up approximately 30% of Federal tax revenues. Direct defence spending is about $650 billion; but amounts to about $1000 billion ($1 trillion) if other defence-related spending is added in. A large amount, considering it represents approximately 47% of what the entire world spends on defence.

    When last I checked, there were about 100 million American tax returns filed annually. So, on average, each American taxpayer gives to the Federal government to defend him from foreigners, anything between $6,500 to $10,000.

    But what do you get out of it? Wouldn’t you feel just as safe if your government spent, say, $100 billion, or $200 billion on defence? If so, you might better be served if your government applied the $500 billion and more thus saved, into programmes (like universal healthcare) which would benefit you more.

    I do find strange, not so much that so much is spent on defence, so much as that the justification for the huge American defence establishment (military-industrial complex) isn’t even questioned by Americans. I detect no debate about this.

    But then, Americans may simply be happy to have an empire, and recognise that the huge amounts they pay in military outlays, are what’s neccessary to remain an imperial power.

    Over now, to the likes of you and Andreas and others, as taxpaying Americans.

  19. Christopher:

    Clearly, there is a lot of pork in the defense budget and Eisenhower himself warned us about the MIC becoming an entity unto itself.

    I truly don’t know enough about particular programs and their cost and utility that would enable me to offer a reasonable defense budget.

    I admit there is a “feel secure” benefit that we get from the shear weight of our defense establishment. Moreover, with the evolution of asymmetrical warfare, there is something ironic about some weapons systems that are both expensive and seeming useless against certain threats. (Picture an Aegis-class guided missile destroyer following a couple of pirates in a beat up Zodiac boat.)

    Finally, do you really look at the US as an Imperial Power or think that we think we are? This feels like a Parthian Shot. There is a material difference between establishing hegemony in hot spots around the world as a defense to expansionism and the kind of empire-building that the British Empire, France, Japan and the Soviet Union have engaged in. I will leave it at that.

    I have exceeded my limit on the Hannibal Blog and apologize to the host-I will enjoy just reading it for awhile. Take care and have a good evening.

    SB

  20. “……Finally, do you really look at the US as an Imperial Power or think that we think we are? This feels like a Parthian Shot……..”

    My saying the US is an imperial power, may well have been a Parthian Shot. But, given that the US has a military presence in 153 of the 192 member states of the UN, my Parthian Shot I think was true.

  21. This is a comment for the Blog you haven’t written yet.

    We’ve been commenting on freedom (and democracy) and, separately, newspapers. It has been said that newspapers are an important part of a democracy. The newspaper seems to be the first to make that point. Are newspapers really an important part of freedom? Would our democracy shrivel up without newspapers? It’s analogous to saving major league baseball because it’s so American. How many people out of 300 million really care (i.e., willing to pay)? Alot of the conventional newspaper is ritual and paraphernalia (not a bad thing, but easily substituted).

    As I’ve observed before, nothing in the newspaper with which I have had personal experience was correct. The people who comment at the HB sound like perfectly sensible and rational people – with none of the fears and concerns USA Today would suggest they have. We don’t need most news. As Samuel Clemens remarked (paraphrased and updated); I read the paper yesterday and I read the paper today and I’m amazed at how little one billion people can accomplish in twenty four hours.

    Watergate is one of the first examples one will hear in defense of the importance of newspapers. Does one win every forty years justify one’s existence. (for my sake, I hope so)

    • I don’t think newspapers are important for democracy or freedom. Rigorous public dialogue, topped off by well-funded investigative journalism, is. But it doesn’t have to be in newspapers. I think we will find a way to have both the dialogue and the investigative journalism once newspapers have died out.

  22. Hi,

    Interesting post and conversation. I just wanted to elaborate on two points.

    First, democracy does seem to be entwined with liberty in ways that are misleading at best. One common trope (at least in the 90s) was how democracy led to free market economies and vice versa – I believe this is the underpinning concept of the “Washington Consensus”. Needless to say, I think that history has proven this one to be wrong. A stable democracy usually goes hand in hand with rule of law (another cliche!), which tends to promote freer, more stable and more developed economies. But one does not automatically lead to another.

    I would just like to back up the observation about America’s lack of freedom. I spent a great deal of recent years living and working in the former Soviet Union, and I have to say that even there with its autocracy, general disrespect for rule of law and isolated markets, one got the sense that it was far, far easier to run a small to medium business than it would be in America, as long as you knew the right people. My understanding is that business in China functions in a similar fashion: if anything, business there is about circumventing rules and ignoring public opinion. Here in America, near the neighborhood I grew up in, you can’t even open an IHOP without community meetings, inspections, meeting zoning requirements, etc. etc. I’m not advocating unbridled Chinese-style business practices in America, mind you, but despite the rhetoric of Americans being the most business-minded people in the world, I do get a feeling that there is a much heavier burden on people looking to go into business for themselves here.

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