America’s sneaky despotism

(The PanAm Post, where I found this interesting piece, describes the writer, José Azel, as a “scholar and author.” It’s about Democratic Despotism, a phrase that I like and which I think applies not only to the United States now but to most of Western Europe.

(Azel makes the point that in Democratic Despotisms one finds “armed forces, securities agencies or administrative agencies [that evolve] beyond the effective control of the civilian political leadership.” Of these three, I believe it’s administrative agencies that are the biggest peril today to individual freedom in the United States. They constantly grow and spit out endless rules to keep themselves in business and you hog-tied.)

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The idea of democratic despotism appears to be an oxymoron – a contradiction in terms. But, in “Democracy in America” (1835-1840) Alexis de Tocqueville offered a powerful description of democratic despotism as “a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd.”

Under Tocqueville’s democratic or soft despotism, “The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting.”

Democratic despotism “does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flow of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Soft despotism is not as obvious as hard despotism. It gives us the illusion of being in control; it degrades us rather than persecutes us. It often takes the form of a state within a state (imperium in imperio) where an internal organization, such as the armed forces, securities agencies or administrative agencies, evolves beyond the effective control of the civilian political leadership.

Regulatory policy should be viewed with extraordinary suspicion and used frugally.

For example, historically, efforts to separate Church and State were anchored on the perception that the Church could turn into an imperium in imperio undermining civilian leadership. In other examples, in the Soviet Union, the secret police (KGB) was considered a State within a State. The same is true of its successor, The Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB).  And, in the United States, the government’s bureaucracy is often portrayed as a modern-day example of an imperium in imperio.

The modern definition of bureaucracies comes from German sociologist Max Weber who, in the 1920s, defined bureaucracies as any system of administration conducted by trained professionals according to fixed rules. And, although Weber considered bureaucracies necessary in a modern world, he also warned that bureaucratization was a threat to individual freedoms where individuals would be trapped in a soulless “iron cage” of rule-based controls.

Bureaucracies are also characterized by unrelenting growth. In the United States, the original bureaucracy of the federal government consisted of only the employees of three small departments; State, Treasury, and War. Today the federal branch employs nearly 3 million people. The old Soviet KGB employed one officer for every 428 citizens. In today’s “freer” Russia the FSB employs one officer for every 297 citizens.

Tocqueville forewarned, back in 1835, of a degrading despotic democracy of “small complicated rules.” Imagine what he would say today. During the last few years of the George W. Bush administration regulations increased dramatically, and in the first seven years of the Obama Administration over 20,600 new regulations were added for an estimated regulatory cost burden in excess of $100 billion annually.

Conceptually, government regulations represent a way for people to give up managing their own affairs and turn those affairs over to a government agency.

According to Tocqueville, a byproduct of turning over the management of our affairs to a government institution is that we become incompetent to choose good leaders. Thus, government regulations would ruin the American experiment by combining the vices of those who govern with the weaknesses of the governed.

This regulatory paternalism embodies the philosophy that people cannot be trusted to make good decisions, requiring government to impose its judgment over the voluntary decisions that represent our needs and preferences. Yes, some regulations are necessary and inherent to the rule of law. Regulations to protect children and those unable to make reasonable judgments are essential. But regulatory policy should be viewed with extraordinary suspicion and used frugally.

Fortunately, we seem to have finally understood that the soft despotism of regulations undermines the very concept of personal responsibility.

New ImageIn January 2017, President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order requiring government agencies to slash two regulations for every new regulation put in place. The President has now reported a success ratio of 22 regulations eliminated for every new one enacted.

The measure is being touted as an economic success. It is much more than that. It is a restoration of personal freedoms.

Die-hard habits

MOVING TO another country doesn’t mean you leave your habits behind. Some of those habits are good, others less so.

One example is the American habit of medical insurance. The necessity of having coverage is ingrained into the Gringos, and I was no exception when I moved south in 2000. Almost immediately, I bought coverage from a Mexican government provider that goes by its initials IMSS.

The annual premium for major medical was the peso equivalent of about $350. There is an IMSS clinic/hospital here on the mountaintop. After a year, I had begun to lose the Gringo medical insurance habit because I’d seen how relatively inexpensive private healthcare was, plus I’d noticed the crowded conditions at the IMSS clinic.

I knew I would never use it.

stock-footage-mexico-detail-of-waving-flagDuring that year, I’d had some routine health issues, but I had not gone to the IMSS clinic, which would have been free. I went to private doctors and paid out-of-pocket. When it was time to renew the IMSS coverage, I let it lapse, and I’ve been uninsured since.*

But today’s topic is not the superlative Mexican medical system. It’s die-hard habits. My health-coverage obsession 15 years ago is an example. Another is the U.S. passport. Mine will expire soon.

Coincidentally, both my Mexican passport and U.S. passport expire next year, the former in February, the latter in May. Both were issued for 10 years. There will be no waffling on renewing the Mexican passport. That’s a no-brainer, and it’s not that difficult to do.

A decade ago I got my first Mexican passport in an office in the old Colonial center of the state capital. The system was good, but the offices were cramped and jam-packed with people, most no doubt dreaming of visiting America. That was not my dream. It was my past.

Those offices have moved out of downtown and into a large space in a strip mall, eliminating the previous, cramped conditions. My wife renewed her passport in those new offices a few years ago, and I was impressed with its well-oiled efficiency. You make an appointment online, and you leave after a few hours with fresh passport in hand.

The last time I renewed my U.S. passport, I went to the bunkered Embassy in Mexico City. Once I penetrated the building the process went smoothly. The passport was express-mailed to me weeks later.

us flagThis time, however, I would do it at the U.S. Consulate in San Miguel de Allende about 140 miles away. I don’t know if that option was available 10 years ago. I’ve only been to that office once, to get something notarized, and I had to wait in a long, slow line.

From what I’ve been told, processing takes five weeks (Compare to Mexico’s passport process of one day.) and I’d have to return to San Miguel, or they would express-mail it to me at a higher cost.

But I face a dilemma: Why do I need a U.S. passport? I have not been in the United States since early 2009. I doubt I will ever set foot there again. I have a Mexican passport that will get me anywhere a U.S. passport will — with the sole exception of the United States.

And here we encounter a die-hard habit. I likely will renew it even though I know it’s a total waste of time and money. But I promise one thing. It will be the last renewal, one way or the other.

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* Not quite true. About three years ago, at my wife’s insistence, we enrolled in another government healthcare system named Seguro Popular (Popular Insurance). It is totally free, zero co-pay, but I cannot imagine ever using it either for the same reasons I balked at IMSS.

We’d have to be dead broke.

Race and guns

lawA STORY IN The Washington Times says the recent church murders in South Carolina have “reignited” the debate in America over race and guns.

Again?

Let me explain this mess to you. I’ll speak slowly and clearly.

First, guns. Two elements here. One is that gun ownership is in the Constitution, the law of the land for centuries. Second is that America is awash in arms. The horse is out of the barn, big-time.

If private gun ownership is made illegal now, all those guns will not dissolve. They will simply be owned illegally. And mostly bad guys will have them.

Second, race. Just one element here. Multicultural societies throughout history and around the world have been troubled, often violent, places. The only workable solution to a multicultural society is to handle it as a problem to be addressed as sensibly and kindly as possible.

The absolutely worst thing to do is encourage multiculturalism, celebrate it, put the notion on a pedestal, bow down and praise it as to a pagan god. That is, of course, precisely what America and much of Western Europe now does with perfectly predictable consequences.

Europe does it with its growing population of Mohammedans, and America does it with blacks.

The solution for Europe is to drastically reduce Mohammedan immigration and send many home because they often are not nice people.

The solution for America is to take blacks off the pedestal and treat them as any other citizen, like the regular folks they usually are.

I hope this clarification has been helpful.