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Posts Tagged ‘Decentralization’

Too Much Centralization Is Turning Everything Into A Political Crisis | Zero Hedge

Posted by M. C. on September 20, 2020

Fortunately, nobody has to know exactly what the new political structure will look like, and – arguably the best part of decentralization – it does not have to look the same everywhere.


Authored by Porter Burkett via The Mises Institute,

Is American politics reaching a breaking point?

recent study by researchers from Brown and Stanford Universities certainly paints a grim picture of the state of the national discourse. The study attempts to measure “affective polarization,” defined as the extent to which citizens feel more negatively toward other political parties than their own, in nine developed countries, including the United States.


The study authors concluded that affective polarization has risen much faster and more drastically in the United States than in any of the other countries they studied (figure 1). They then speculated on possible explanations of increasing polarization, suggesting that changing party composition, increasing racial division, and 24-hour partisan cable news are convincing possible causes. Notably, the research was completed before the coronavirus pandemic or the police killing of George Floyd, two events that have only deepened political division.

While the study is interesting and well written, the authors completely fail to consider a more fundamental potential explanation of increasing polarization, one that is likely to be understood well by libertarians and federalists, who have long railed against the trend toward ever more usurpation of local and state sovereignty in American politics.

I propose that the real culprit behind worsening polarization is the gargantuan federal government that has turned the entire country into an unceasing political battleground. When virtually all political issues are settled at the national level, the whole nation becomes a source of potential political opponents. Centralization changes the scale and with it the locus of political debate and conflict. For the average political participant, it is probably true that people with differing ideas live near you, in your city or state, but the mathematical reality is that the vast majority of your political opponents live relatively far away (spread throughout the rest of the country) and thus have no material connection to your life or your community.

Political opposition becomes just numbers on a cable news screen: 49 percent for this, 51 percent for that. Sixty-two million votes for one candidate, 65 million for another. These numbers, without names or faces, become simple objects; some are pawns to be moved around, while others are obstacles to be pushed aside. This is not just speculation: previous research has indicated that partisanship is correlated with the use of tactics to dehumanize political opponents. Centralized political decision-making amounts to a systematic dehumanization of anyone who might participate in the political process.

The effects of such a disastrous form of organization are already evident. Political polarization is not confined to academic papers, but has now manifested in the streets of Kenosha and Portland. As the 2020 election approaches, politically charged killings between members of rival factions will only become more likely. What was formerly a central promise of democratic politics—the peaceful transfer of power—has been abandoned in favor of direct action and blood.


If centralization is the cause of our problems, then decentralization is the cure. Pushing decision-making power down to state and local levels as much as possible, closer to the people actually affected by the decisions, is the only way forward. Of course, it will not solve all the problems of political culture today. Policy debates and disagreements could still be just as intense at the local level as at the federal. But it is harder to dehumanize someone who might be a part of your community. Those numbers on the screen are on your local news now, not the national news. Those percentages and vote tallies might include your neighbor down the street, your Uber driver, the person ahead of you in line at the grocery store, or the old man you saw out walking his dog this morning. Technically, this has always been true, and we would do well to remember the humanity of the people we disagree with even while political focus is at the national level. This fact is simply harder to ignore when the primary nexus for political decisions is more immediate and local.

Admittedly, I do not know exactly how decentralization can happen. There is no magic blueprint. Maybe the worst pessimists are right, and we are doomed to fight some sort of second civil war before we remember that those with whom we disagree are people too. I think the future is brighter than that. Perhaps, as Mises Institute president Jeff Deist has pointed out, de facto decentralization has already begun. Fortunately, nobody has to know exactly what the new political structure will look like, and – arguably the best part of decentralization – it does not have to look the same everywhere. Both major parties, and people of all ideological persuasions, will probably have to give up some preferred victory or vanquishing of the “other side.” Many Democrats would love to prevent all abortion laws in the state of Georgia for the rest of time. Some Republicans would love to lock down California’s southern border with an airtight seal.

A new era of decentralization means that neither of these things can be accomplished by federal imposition, and their proponents are not going to be happy about that. The task ahead is to demonstrate that whatever the sacrifices required to achieve more localized decision-making might be, centralization is too dangerous to continue.

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Three Reasons Representative Democracy Doesn’t Work | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on July 20, 2020

In representative democracies, voters ostensibly control the state through the politicians they vote for. However, most representative democracies fall far short of this goal. Three of the reasons for the trouble are the problems of scale, bundling, and omission. I will explore these three problems below and argue that privatization and decentralization can ameliorate them.


The viability of meaningful political representation withers as the ratio of representatives to voters decreases. There are 435 members in the House of Representatives in a country of 328 million people. This means that each member “represents” an average of 755,000 people. How exactly does one person represent the federal legislative preferences of 755,000 diverse people? How do two senators embody the will of 600,000 Wyomingites, let alone all the Californians and Texans? Scale alone renders American democracy to a great extent meaningless, and yet this is almost never talked about.


The second problem with representative democracy is the issue known as “bundling.” Suppose candidate Smith is running against candidate Jones. Smith has his policies, and Jones has his. But what if you, the voter, like some of Smith’s policies and some of Jones’s? There is no picking and choosing Smith’s position on issue X and Jones’s position on issue Y as there is at a buffet or at the supermarket (market institutions). We’re left with rigid, take-it-or-leave-it, package deals.  Walter Block contrasts the flexibility of the market with ham-fisted democracy:

The dollar vote occurs every day, the ballot box vote only every two or four years. The former may be applied narrowly, to a single product (e.g., the Edsel) while the latter is a “package deal,” an all or none proposition for one candidate or the other. That is, there was no way to register approval of Bush’s policies in areas 1, 3, 5 and 7, and for Clinton in 2, 4, 6, and 8. People were limited to choosing one or the other in the last presidential election.

In society outside the state (the market), no one can force you to pay for something you don’t want, or to go without something you’re willing to pay for. And the free rider problem has been addressed here.


The third problem can be called “omission.” Presidential, gubernatorial, and congressional elections typically revolve around only a handful of issues. But the state intervenes in nearly every aspect of our lives. If candidate Smith and candidate Jones spend their campaigns battling it out over, say, the income tax rate, environmental regulation, and school vouchers, who will “represent” the voters who care about the central bank, the welfare state, foreign policy, the debt, etc.?

Whenever the candidates agree on or simply ignore issues, as is necessarily the case for the vast majority of issues at stake in any given election, voting is largely useless in affecting these issues. At best, the citizen can vote for the candidate they hope will better address the ignored topic (in the event that it is addressed at all).

The problem of omission doesn’t just apply to controversial policies shunned by the bipartisan establishment. It applies to topics simply not interesting enough to be prominent on the campaign trail: volumes of arcane regulation, obscure federal agencies, military bases people don’t know exist in countries they’ve never heard of, etc.

What Is to Be Done? Privatization.

Notice how none of the above critiques mention lobbying, fraud, or corruption. Even if representative democracy were squeaky clean, it would be a mess. Then, what is to be done?

The first solution is privatization. Functions, resources, and perceived moral authority currently held by the state can instead be distributed among its competing institutions: the nuclear family, the extended family, the church, businesses, fraternal organizations, private schools and universities, clubs, charities, etc.

The critical difference is that adults only participate in these institutions voluntarily and to the extent that they choose to, in contrast to their interactions with the state (i.e., taxation, conscription). This freedom of association encourages detailed responsiveness on the part of these organizations toward the people who finance and sustain them.


Additionally, decentralization can ameliorate the unresponsiveness of the state by increasing accountability. The smaller (both in terms of geographic area and population) and more numerous the political units, the greater extent to which the rulers and the ruled are in the same boat.

If the political and bureaucratic decisions of Springfield are made by people living in DC, the decision-makers don’t need to live with the consequences of their own decisions to the same extent. But if all of Springfield’s political decisions are made in Springfield, the politicians and bureaucrats will have to lie in whatever bed they make. To a greater extent, if the rulers want to live well, their subjects have to live well.

Decentralization doesn’t just increase accountability. When a political unit is geographically smaller and less populous, the people within it are more likely to have similar worldviews, cultures, religions, languages, etc.

Where there are mosaics of many tiny states, each state can be closely tailored to the particular preferences of each locality without forcing distant and different peoples to live under the same rule. In contrast, enormous political units, by their sheer expansiveness, are more likely to encompass various bitterly opposed camps who will vie for zero-sum control of the same state apparatus.

Privatization and decentralization offer liberty, accountability, and harmony where the state offers phony representation and compulsion.


Gor Mkrtchian

Gor Mkrtchian is a research assistant at the Free Market Institute and a PhD student in the Department of Political Science at Texas Tech University. He received a BA in political science and theater studies from Yale University.

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The Rise, Fall, and Renaissance of Classical Liberalism | Mises Institute

Posted by M. C. on June 24, 2020

And yet, in Western countries, the state keeps on relentlessly expanding, colonizing one area of social life after the other. In America, the Republic is fast becoming a fading memory, as federal bureaucrats and global planners divert more and more power to the center. So the struggle continues, as it must. Two centuries ago, when liberalism was young, Jefferson had already informed us of the price of liberty.

Ralph Raico

[This article appeared in the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Freedom Daily, August 1992]

Classical liberalism—or simply liberalism, as it was called until around the turn of the century—is the signature political philosophy of Western civilization. Hints and suggestions of the liberal idea can be found in other great cultures. But it was the distinctive society produced in Europe—and in the outposts of Europe, and above all America—that served as the seedbed of liberalism. In turn, that society was decisively shaped by the liberal movement.

Decentralization and the division of power have been the hallmarks of the history of Europe. After the fall of Rome, no empire was ever able to dominate the continent. Instead, Europe became a complex mosaic of competing nations, principalities, and city-states. The various rulers found themselves in competition with each other. If one of them indulged in predatory taxation or arbitrary confiscations of property, he might well lose his most productive citizens, who could “exit,” together with their capital. The kings also found powerful rivals in ambitious barons and in religious authorities that were backed by an international Church. Parliaments emerged that limited the taxing power of kings, and free cities arose with special charters that put the merchant elite in charge.

By the Middle Ages, many parts of Europe, especially in the west, had developed a culture friendly to property rights and trade. On the philosophical level, the doctrine of natural law—deriving from the Stoic philosophers of Greece and Rome—taught that the natural order was independent of human design and that rulers were subordinate to the eternal laws of justice. Natural-law doctrine was upheld by the Church and promulgated in the great universities, from Oxford and Salamanca to Prague and Krakow.

As the modern age began, rulers started to shake free of age-old customary constraints on their power. Royal absolutism became the main tendency of the time. The kings of Europe raised a novel claim: they declared that they were appointed by God to be the fountainhead of all life and activity in society. Accordingly, they sought to direct religion, culture, politics, and, especially, the economic life of the people. To support their burgeoning bureaucracies and constant wars, the rulers required ever-increasing quantities of taxes, which they tried to squeeze out of their subjects in ways that were contrary to precedent and custom.

The first people to revolt against this system were the Dutch. After a struggle that lasted for decades, they won their independence from Spain and proceeded to set up a unique polity. The United Provinces, as the radically decentralized state was called, had no king and little power at the federal level. Making money was the passion of these busy manufacturers and traders; they had no time for hunting heretics or suppressing new ideas. Thus de facto religious toleration and a wide-ranging freedom of the press came to prevail. Devoted to industry and trade, the Dutch established a legal system based solidly on the rule of law and the sanctity of property and contract. Taxes were low, and everyone worked. The Dutch “economic miracle” was the wonder of the age. Thoughtful observers throughout Europe noted the Dutch success with great interest.

A society in many ways similar to Holland had developed across the North Sea. In the seventeenth century, England, too, was threatened by royal absolutism, in the form of the House of Stuart. The response was revolution, civil war, the beheading of one king and the booting out of another. In the course of this tumultuous century, the first movements and thinkers appeared that can be unequivocally identified as liberal.

With the king gone, a group of middle-class radicals emerged called the Levellers. They protested that not even Parliament had the authority to usurp the natural, God-given rights of the people. Religion, they declared, was a matter of individual conscience; it should have no connection with the state. State-granted monopolies were likewise an infringement of natural liberty.

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Government Is No Match for the Coronavirus | The American Spectator

Posted by M. C. on March 17, 2020

The problems started in early February, at a CDC laboratory in Atlanta.

A technical manufacturing problem, along with an initial decision to test only a narrow set of people and delays in expanding testing to other labs, gave the virus a head start to spread undetected — and helped perpetuate a false sense of security that leaves the United States dangerously behind.

Tests begin with the CDC to ensure quality, which is exactly the wrong approach. It assumes the government can outperform the best medical industry in the world. Even at this hour the CDC has failed, shipping test kits that are defective.

The CDC does not have a solution, but it also becomes the classic blocker to progress.
Labs cannot act without a lengthy approval process from CDC and the FDA.

The coronavirus is reminding everyone that you cannot rely on government and that ultimately it is the private sector that will provide the solutions. Many non-medical government officials and members of the media are predicting massive cases of COVID-19 and death, when in fact no one can predict the outcome. What we do know is that government has created a full-blown national panic, when at this point the normal flu season is far more deadly.

Decentralization is critical to a functioning society but often precluded by federal regulations.

The Washington Post reported the following about the Centers for Disease Control:

The problems started in early February, at a CDC laboratory in Atlanta.

A technical manufacturing problem, along with an initial decision to test only a narrow set of people and delays in expanding testing to other labs, gave the virus a head start to spread undetected — and helped perpetuate a false sense of security that leaves the United States dangerously behind.

Tests begin with the CDC to ensure quality, which is exactly the wrong approach. It assumes the government can outperform the best medical industry in the world. Even at this hour the CDC has failed, shipping test kits that are defective.

The CDC does not have a solution, but it also becomes the classic blocker to progress. Labs cannot act without a lengthy approval process from CDC and the FDA. These government controls violate the principle of subsidiarity (problems should be solved at the lowest level possible). Ultimately care is provided by local hospitals, care facilities, and labs.

South Korea’s rapid testing allowed for early treatment and containment of the virus. These test kits were created in three weeks. Many labs in the U.S. could have solved the test kit problem but were restrained by the FDA and CDC. The South Koreans offered to help us, but was the CDC listening? Evidently not.

At the president’s request on Friday, America’s robust private sector, including Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, Roche Laboratories, and LabCorp, came up with a solution for mass testing. Roche has received fast-track FDA approval for its COVID-19 diagnostic test. This testing will be done on a drive-through basis in parking lots. This minimizes contact and allows for mass testing of thousands across the country. The more Americans are tested, resulting in a lower death rate percentage, the more the testing will have a calming effect on our citizens.

Americans consider regulators and government to be sacrosanct, but in fact government agencies are slow and often fail us. Think of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which allowed Boeing engineers to bypass basic engineering standards, resulting in the crash of two Boeing 737 Max airliners and the grounding of 900 planes around the world.

We all know that any time we expect service from the government, it will be slow and painful as compared to the private sector, which is mostly fast and courteous. In spite of some minor shortages, due to hoarding, the private sector is supplying us with gas, food, prepared meals, medical supplies, and health care.

The coronavirus crisis must cause us to rethink government. The Trump administration has restricted new regulation and reduced arcane strictures, which has resulted in a booming economy. It is absolutely true that most private industry can be trusted because the alternative for poor or unscrupulous providers is failure. Private industry can be sued and suffer financial decline, unlike government, which simply demands more money for poor performance. Business or individuals that commit fraud are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

The federal government spends 21 percent of our national GDP. All federal spending comes from business and citizens. This restricts their ability to allocate those funds to their families and to spur economic growth. American entrepreneurs are excellent capital allocators, creating the jobs and technologies that keep us safe and allow a very high standard of living for most citizens.

In spite of enormous federal deficits, every protected class of workers and business expects the government to bail it out during a crisis, from airlines and cruise ships to government workers. We will now witness a litany of spending, beginning with $8 billion for the coronavirus, moving to a $50 billion pork-laden House bill, and a third spending bill coming from Treasury.

This system is grossly unfair, as working-class individuals and small businesses do not get paid when businesses shut down.

It’s time we heed the advice of President Ronald Reagan: government is the problem, not the solution.

The welfare-warfare state is not only consuming a large portion of our national income, but, worse, it is also spending far beyond its means, creating debt now surpassing $23 trillion, compared to under $6 trillion in the year 2000.

The solution is to reduce federal spending to 18 percent of GDP, which will downsize or eliminate many counterproductive agencies and allow American business and individuals to perform and innovate.

If you are unconvinced, think of Walmart now offering ultra-low-cost medical services, along with a host of competitors, including CVS and Walgreens. Gas is very cheap because of our fracking industry. An abundance of high-quality food is available from thousands of grocery stores, restaurants, and now there is home delivery from many sources.

Americans are hard-working, resilient, and innovative. The time has come to unleash this talent to create a higher living standard and solutions to the most perplexing national challenges.

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Left and Right, Many Are Turning toward De Facto Secession—and That’s Not a Bad Thing | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 14, 2020

Fewer Americans feel at home in this country now. On the national scale, not even commercial events like the Super Bowl can unite us at the most superficial level.

In less than eight months, the presidential election cycle ends. That used to signify a day of national relief, no matter who won. Our political warring was over at last.

Anyone remember that country?

Murray Rothbard points out that the federal minimum wage law is a “protectionist device” weaponized by northeastern industrialists against their southern competitors, who have access to cheaper labor. He also cites “safety” regulations from the central government that essentially block the transportation of goods from one region to another.

Secession is less of a dirty word these days, but how it might actually work is a mystery. Fortunately, unless you’re a politician, there’s almost no downside. It’s a win for nationalists, open-borders advocates, and, most especially, for everyone in between.

New York splitting into two or three states, Illinoisans ditching Chicago, West Virginia welcoming in Virginia’s conservative counties, and northern Californians establishing their own State of Jefferson are a few recent campaigns.

These aren’t radical proposals, but rather a leveling up of what’s already common practice in the US. Mass exoduses from California, Illinois, Louisiana, and New York draw attention to the problems of these particular states, but why relocate if enough of your neighbors support simply redrawing state boundaries?

Immigration, abortion, gun rights, healthcare, and all the other issues that 330 million Americans bitterly fight over can be worked out in a decentralized fashion. Even the economy stands to improve if states partition into smaller units or even if they leave the US.

Aside from the frenzied “but this will cause another civil war” nonsense, the most unfounded concerns surround the economy. The fussbudgets are afraid that states will erect trade barriers, whether they ostensibly remain in the union or not.

Certainly some states will prefer different immigration policies, but barriers to trade among the states are mostly made possible by the federal government.

Murray Rothbard points out that the federal minimum wage law is a “protectionist device” weaponized by northeastern industrialists against their southern competitors, who have access to cheaper labor. He also cites “safety” regulations from the central government that essentially block the transportation of goods from one region to another.

Ryan McMaken observes why immigration restrictionists may be inclined to favor free trade:

If goods and services can’t move across borders, then people are more likely to move in order to reach those goods and services.

Plus, as free trade raises the standard of living for both sides, economic migration is that much less likely.

An increase in smaller states and more representatives in Congress threatens to effectively nullify much of the federal government’s unconstitutional activities. And for those concerned about the nation-state’s integrity, a leaner Washington, DC, may be a factor in newly formed states deciding to stay attached to the union.

However, the future of America could also be a collection of hybrid state-nations, as opposed to a large nation-state.

States running their own immigration systems apart from any national policy is now the norm, as sanctuary cities and states such as California show. States are also encroaching on foreign and monetary policy with efforts to withhold their national guard troops from unconstitutional wars or proposing that gold and silver be legal tender.

This decentralization of society may be necessary considering the deeper implications of this newfound, widespread interest in secessionist solutions.

Fewer Americans feel at home in this country now. On the national scale, not even commercial events like the Super Bowl can unite us at the most superficial level.

In less than eight months, the presidential election cycle ends. That used to signify a day of national relief, no matter who won. Our political warring was over at last.

Anyone remember that country?

We don’t live there anymore, and we won’t this November 3, either.

However, the losing side can be expected to push talk of secession to an all-time high. Thankfully, centralization is losing popularity among some rising demographics, including Hispanics, who support secession at a rate of 36 percent, and those aged 18–29, 47 percent of whom favor decentralization.

At a time when polarization is leading to radicalization on the left and right, it’s reassuring that so many are now open to a strategy that offers compromise.

Although secessionists may generally talk of “taking back” some rights or way of life, they follow this up with willingness to let others go their own route, even to the point of giving up geographical reach for their new state or nation.

Social cohesion is declining under the status quo, as institutions that traditionally hold the social fabric together are failing, from traditional churches to civic community centers. Under centralization, politics freely usurps these cultural vacancies.

Tragically, that leads to violent street clashes between activists, many hopelessly seeking a sense of purpose from the mob.

The year 2021 offers a political environment in which frustration at national politics can be positively directed toward local officials. Over a dozen major cities will hold mayoral elections, and countless other municipalities and neighborhoods will be holding elections or hearings in which nullification and secession can be raised, not to mention that there are state legislatures taking most of their action in the early months of the year, when secession talk may be trending on social media.

Public discussion need not be charged with partisanship. In fact, issue-based campaigns and coalitions can transcend ideologies, so this could be a great opportunity for someone not attached to a political identity to lead the charge.

Good fences make good neighbors, Robert Frost wrote. Americans are more severely divided than ever before, but redrawing some boundaries just might help form a more perfect reunion.

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“Political Anarchy” Is How the West Got Rich | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on March 5, 2020

Decentralization, after all, has never been a true barrier to economic growth.  If anything, the rise of mobile capital and global trade has made economic success more attainable for small states than ever before. Moreover, the implosion of the Soviet Union provides yet another example of how the disintegration of a large state can lead to far more economic progress than had been thought possible.

Unfortunately, those in power, who benefit from the status quo and from holding the reins of large states, are unlikely to relinquish their power without a fight.

It is not uncommon to encounter political theorists and pundits who insist that political centralization is a boon to economic growth.  In both cases, it is claimed the presence of a unifying central regime—whether in Brussels or in Washington, DC, for example—is essential in ensuring the efficient and free flow of goods throughout a large jurisdiction. This, we are told, will greatly accelerate economic growth.

In many ways, the model is the United States, inside of which there are virtually no barriers to trade or migration at all between member states. In the EU, barriers have been falling rapidly in recent decades.

The historical evidence, however, suggests that political unity is not actually a catalyst to economic growth or innovation over the long term. In fact, the European experience suggests that the opposite is true.

Why Did Europe Surpass China in Wealth and Growth?

A thousand years ago, a visitor from another planet might have easily overlooked European civilization as a poor backwater. Instead, China and the Islamic world may have looked far more likely to be the world leaders in wealth and innovation indefinitely.

Why is it, then, that Europe became the wealthiest and most technologically advanced civilization in the world?

Indeed, the fact that Europe had grown to surpass other civilizations that were once more scientifically and technologically advanced had become apparent by the nineteenth century. Historians have debated the question of the origins of this “European miracle” ever since.

This “miracle,” historian Ralph Raico tells us,

consists in a simple but momentous fact: It was in Europe—and the extensions of Europe, above all, America—that human beings first achieved per capita economic growth over a long period of time. In this way, European society eluded the “Malthusian trap,” enabling new tens of millions to survive and the population as a whole to escape the hopeless misery that had been the lot of the great mass of the human race in earlier times. The question is: why Europe?

Across the spectrum of historians, theories about Europe’s economic development have been varied, to say the least. But one of the most important characteristics of European civilization—ever since the collapse of the Western Roman Empire—has been Europe’s political decentralization.

Raico continues:

Although geographical factors played a role, the key to western development is to be found in the fact that, while Europe constituted a single civilization—Latin Christendom—it was at the same time radically decentralized. In contrast to other cultures—especially China, India, and the Islamic world—Europe comprised a system of divided and, hence, competing powers and jurisdictions.

Although modern EU centralizers are attempting it, at no point has European civilization ever fallen under the dominion of a single state as has been the case in China. Even during the early modern period, as some polities managed to form absolutist states, much of Europe — such as the highly dynamic areas in the Low Countries, Northern Italy, and the German cities — remained in flux and highly decentralized. The rise of the merchant classes, banking, and an urban middle class — which began as early as the Middle Ages and were so essential in building the a future industrial Europe — thrived without large states.

After all, while a large polity with few internal borders can indeed lead to large markets with fewer transaction costs, concentrating power in one place brings big risks; a state that can facilitate trade across a large empire is also a state that can stifle trade through regulation, taxation, and even expropriation.

The former vast kingdoms and empires of Asia may have once been well positioned to foster the creation of a wealthy merchant class and middle class. But the fact is this didn’t happen. Those states instead focused on stifling threats to state power, centralizing political control of markets, and extorting the public through the imposition of fines and penalties on those who were disfavored by the ruling classes.

The Benefits of “Anarchy”

In contrast, Europe was relatively anarchic compared to other world civilizations and became the home of the great economic leap forward that we now take for granted. This isn’t “anarchy” in the sense of “chaos,” of course. This is anarchy as understood by political scientists: the lack of any single controlling state or authority. In key periods of the continent’s development—as now—there was no ruler of “Europe” and no European empire. Thus, in his book The Origins of Capitalism, historian Jean Bachler concludes:

The first condition for the maximization of economic efficiency is the liberation of civil society with respect to the state….The expansion of capitalism owes its origins and raison d’être to political anarchy. (emphasis in original)1

For many years, economic historians have attempted to find correlations between this political anarchy and Europe’s economic success. Many have found the connection to be undeniable. Economist Douglass North, for instance, concludes:

The failures of the most likely candidates, China and Islam, point the direction of our inquiry. Centralized political control limits the options—limits the alternatives that will be pursued in a context of uncertainty about the long-run consequences of political and economic decisions. It was precisely the lack of large scale political and economic order that created the environment essential to economic growth and ultimately human freedoms. In the competitive decentralized environment lots of alternatives were pursued; some worked, as in the Netherlands and England; some failed as in the case of Spain and Portugal; and some, such as France, fell in between these two extremes.2

Competition among Governments Means More Freedom

But why exactly does this sort of radical decentralization “limit the options” for ruling princes and kings? Freedom increases, because under a decentralized system, there are more “alternatives”—to use North’s term—available to those seeking to avoid what E.L. Jones calls “predatory government tax behavior.” Thus, historian David Landes emphasized the importance of “multiple, competing polities” in Europe in setting the stage for

private enterprise in the West possess[ing] a social and political vitality without precedent or counterpart. This varied, needless to say, from one part of Europe to another…And sometimes adventitious events like war or a change of sovereign produced a major alteration in the circumstances of the business classes. On balance, however, the place of private enterprise was secure and improving with time; and this is apparent in the institutional arrangements that governed the getting and spending of wealth.3

It was this “latent competition between states,” Jones contends that drove individual polities to pursue policies designed to attract capital.4  More competent princes and kings adopted policies that led to economic prosperity in neighboring polities, and thus “freedom of movement among the nation-states offered opportunities for ‘best practices’ to diffuse in many spheres, not least the economic.” Since European states were relatively small and weak—yet culturally similar to many neighboring jurisdictions—abuses of power by the ruling classes led to declines in both revenue and in the most valuable residents. Rulers sought to counter this by guaranteeing protections for private property.

This doesn’t mean there were never abuses of power, of course, but as Landes observed:

To be sure, kings could, and did, make or break men of business; but the power of the sovereign was constrained by the requirements of states…and international competition. Capitalists could take their wealth and enterprise elsewhere and even if they could not leave, the capitalists of other realms would not be slow to profit from their discomfiture.5

Nor was decentralization limited to the international system of separate sovereign states.

Thanks to the longtime tug-of-war between the state and the church, and between kings and nobles, decentralization was common even within polities. Raico continues:

Decentralization of power also came to mark the domestic arrangements of the various European polities. Here feudalism—which produced a nobility rooted in feudal right rather than in state-service—is thought by a number of scholars to have played an essential role….Through the struggle for power within the realms, representative bodies came into being, and princes often found their hands tied by the charters of rights (Magna Carta, for instance) which they were forced to grant their subjects. In the end, even within the relatively small states of Europe, power was dispersed among estates, orders, chartered towns, religious communities, corps, universities, etc., each with its own guaranteed liberties.

Over the long term, however, it was the system of international anarchy that appears to have ensured that states were constrained in their ability to tax and extort the merchant classes and middle classes, who were such a key component of Europe’s rising economic fortunes.

We Need a Return to Smaller Polities

Even today, we continue to see these factors at work. Small states—especially in Europe and the Americas—tend to have higher incomes and have greater openness. We can see this in the microstates of Europe and in the Caribbean. Small states, seeking to attract capital, often undercut larger neighbors in terms of taxes.

It is true that one of the most economically successful polities in the world today is a large one: the United States. The US’s success, however, can be attributed to the enduring presence of political decentralization internally—especially during the nineteenth century—and to the latent, albeit receding, economic liberalism esteemed by much of its population. Europe, of course, was already rich—and relatively politically free compared to the despotic regimes of the East—long before it began to centralize political power under the banner of the European Union.

Today, however, we are seeing the impoverishing downside of decades of political centralization in both the US and Europe. Government regulations decreed from Brussels and Washington continue to stifle innovation and entrepreneurship. The EU has sought to crack down on low taxes in smaller member states. Both the EU and the US are erecting trade barriers to producers outside their trading blocs.

The antidote to all of this is to decentralize. Decentralization, after all, has never been a true barrier to economic growth.  If anything, the rise of mobile capital and global trade has made economic success more attainable for small states than ever before. Moreover, the implosion of the Soviet Union provides yet another example of how the disintegration of a large state can lead to far more economic progress than had been thought possible.

Unfortunately, those in power, who benefit from the status quo and from holding the reins of large states, are unlikely to relinquish their power without a fight.

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Secession Fever in Today’s America: What Would Lincoln Think? – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on February 27, 2020

In addition to closing newspapers and deporting deplorables a Lincloln of today would no doubt institute an internet gatekeeper.


A February 19 article in The Washington Times announced that “Secession Fever Spikes” in five states where “conservatives” are attempting to escape neo-Stalinist policies of the Democrat Party majority there, now that the mask is finally off and the Democrats are the proud party of socialism and omnipotent government.  Long gone are the days when they hid their true beliefs by calling themselves “liberals” and their brand of fascism “The New Deal.”  They are now the party of the Green New Deal, the crazed, Soviet-style government plan to totalitarianize all of American society under the dishonest guise of “saving the planet.”  In other words, they are all card-carrying “watermelons” – green on the outside, red on the inside.

As soon as they took control of the Virginia state government, helped along with mega-donations by billionaire fellow totalitarians Michael Bloomberg and George Soros, among others, they immediately waged political war on the First and Second Amendments to the Constitution.  Their governor, Ralph Northam, is on record in a publicly-recorded video as supporting infanticide in cases where babies survive abortions.  That’s just for starters in the first month of their rule.

Virginia politics is now dominated by the heavily-populated D.C. suburbs composed of hundreds of thousands of deep state bureaucrats, government contractors, and Third World immigrants promised the riches of the American welfare state by the Democrats.  Most of the rest of the counties in the state have declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries.  Most strikingly, there is a “Vexit” movement whose goal is for those counties to secede from Virginia and become a part of more Constitution-friendly West Virginia.  The governor of West Virginia, Jim Justice, joined with Liberty University president Jerry Falwell, Jr. in a press conference at which they invited the more conservative Virginia counties to secede.  The West Virginia legislature is on board.

In Illinois – “Land of Lincoln” – a similar movement is shaping up.  State Representative Brad Halbrook has proposed allowing the rest of the state to escape the political crutches of the hyper-Leftist Chicago political machine.  Mr. Halbrook has issued a resolution to kick Chicago out of Illinois and make it the 51st state.  His attitude is apparently “If you want to become a communist society go right ahead; just leave the rest of us out of it.”  He is frustrated that people like himself are “forced into a democracy that’s concentrated power into a small geographical area,” i.e. Chicago.

This is a recurring theme in today’s “secession fever”:  People seem to have tolerated the Democrat political machine control of cities like Chicago, Baltimore, and Detroit (and now all of Virginia) for the past seventy years or so as long as they could escape to the suburbs and rural areas and be largely left alone.  Those days are now over, with the out-of-control crime of the cities permeating all other areas; the ever-escalating tax increases to pay for their hopelessly-failed government programs and pie-in-the-sky pensions for retired bureaucrats of all sorts.  Then there’s the aggressive drive to effectively abolish the First and Second Amendments.

Thousands of New Yorkers are similarly disgusted by the far-left, self-described “communist” mayor of New York City and the just-as-far-to-the-left governor, Cuomo the Elder.  Consequently, there is a movement whose goal is to create three politically-autonomous regions in New York state, each with its own governing body, but still a part of New York state.  De facto secession, in other words.  Then there’s the “Calexit” movement that wants California to secede altogether and become an independent country.

Oregonians outside of the leftist-dominated northwest part of the state are petitioning to move the Idaho border westward to include them, for almost identical reasons given by the Virginia Vexit proponents.

All of these movements are in the spirit of American federalism, the core idea of the U.S. Constitution.  Thomas Jefferson considered the Tenth Amendment to be the most important principle of the Constitution because it said that although the citizens of the free and independent states (as he called them in the Declaration of Independence) had delegated eighteen or so powers to the federal government (Article 1, Section 8), so that it could act as their agent and for their mutual benefit, all others are reserved to the people and the states respectively.  And of course it was also Jefferson who famously wrote in the Declaration that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.  And, whenever governments become destructive of the citizens’ rights to life, liberty and property it is their “duty” to abolish that government and create a new one if they wish.  Isn’t that exactly what the people of Virginia, Illinois, Oregon, California, and New York who are part of the new secession movements are all about?

The founders were aware that the European city states of antiquity assured themselves of a much higher degree of freedom and prosperity because government was so decentralized.  If one city state became annoyingly tyrannical with excessive taxes, corruption, and other such ingredients of all governments, citizens could vote with their feet and move to another city state.  This form of competition between city states worked to moderate the tyrannical impulses of Europe’s political class.  (And is why that political class worked mightily for generations to destroy the city states and create systems of consolidated, monopolistic government).  This history is part of the reason why the American founders, like the Swiss founders, created a highly decentralized system of government known to us now by the word federalism.  The original constitution, the Articles of Confederation, did not even give the central government taxing powers.  (Like the European princes and potentates, the Hamiltonian wing of the founding generation got the ball rolling to centralized, monopolistic government by scrapping the Articles of Confederation –after promising to only “revise” it– and created a much more centralized form of government with taxing powers).

With all of this talk of secession, one naturally wonders what Abraham Lincoln would think of it.  There is of course a very clear record of his thoughts on the subject; one only needs to read parts of his first inaugural address to glean them.  (See my forthcoming book, The Problem with Lincoln, for a fuller dissection of Lincoln’s first inaugural address).  There he proclaimed that the then-existing structure of the American union was “perpetual” and written in stone, even though the previous generation had seceded from the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, as it was officially called, and did not repeat the word “perpetual” in the Constitution of 1789.  That the existing configuration of the union of the states was perpetual was “not expressed” in the text of the Constitution, Lincoln stated, but is “implied,” in a good example of the usual leftist tactic of proclaiming the Constitution to be a “living” document to be altered not by the formal amendment process but by the twisting or words by clever, weaselly politicians.

Lincoln claimed that if there was any change at all in the configuration of the existing American union, then it would mean the “termination” of the federal government.  A dumber theory was never put forth by an American politician.  After the Southern states seceded the federal government proceeded to explode in size, create one of the largest and best-armed armies in world history up to that point, and wage total war on the South for four years.  Hardly a disappearing act.

If any state or part of a state seceded, said the man or orchestrated the illegal and unconstitutional secession of West Virginia from Virginia, then such states will “make a precedent which in turn will divide and ruin them, for a minority of their own will secede from them . . . .  [W]hy may not any portion of a new confederacy a year or two hence arbitrarily secede again, precisely as portions of the present Union now claim to secede from it?”  Counties may secede from states, and cities from counties, he was effectively warning.  This of course sounds exactly like what freedom-loving Virginians, Illinoians, Oregonians, New Yorkers, and Californians are proposing to do.  But to Lincoln such acts are nothing less than “the essence of anarchy” and a guarantor of “despotism” (his exact words).

In other words, Lincoln defined the whole classical liberal history and theory of the virtues of voluntary government, decentralization, consent of the governed, and federalism as recipes for despotism and anarchy, exactly the opposite of that which all the great students of liberty, from Lord Acton to Ludwig von Mises and beyond, believed.  As Lord Acton wrote in his famous November 4, 1866 letter to General Robert E. Lee, “”I saw in States’ rights the only availing check upon the absolutism of he sovereign will, and secession filled me with hope, not as the destruction but as the redemption of Democracy . . . .  I deemed that you were fighting for the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization; and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was saved at Waterloo” (emphasis added).

Mises wrote in Omnipotent Government (pages 3-4) of how, with the growth of government in the U.S. and in Switzerland during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, “New powers accrued not to the member states but to the federal government” in each country.  “Every step toward more government interference and toward more planning means . . . an expansion of the jurisdiction of the central government . . . .  It is a very significant fact that he adversaries of the trend toward more government control describe their opposition as a fight against Washington and against Berne, i.e., against centralization.  It is conceived as a contest of states’ rights versus the central power.”

Lincoln repudiated the philosophy of freedom and championed the philosophy of centralized, monopolistic governmental tyranny instead.  He even threw in one last straw-man argument by claiming that the advocates of secession were claiming that in the seceded states there would be a “perfect identity of interests among the States,” which he then ridiculed, demonstrating that he was clueless about the meaning of federalism and constitutionalism (unless he did and was simply lying for political effect).

This is why Frank Meyer, a conservative literary icon of the last generation, wrote in an August 24, 1965 article in National Review that Lincoln’s “pivotal role in our history was essentially negative to the genius of freedom of our country” with his “repressive policies” of abolishing civil liberties in the North, waging total war on civilians in the South, and how he “moved at every point . . . to consolidate central power and render nugatory the autonomy of the states . . .”

In an essay entitled “Federalism in America” historian Forrest McDonald wrote that “Political scientists and historians are in agreement that federalism is the greatest contribution of the Founding Fathers to the science of government.  It is also the only feature of the Constitution that has been successfully exported, that can be employed to protect liberty elsewhere in the world.  Yet what we invented, and others imitate, no longer exists on its native shores (emphasis added).  No one is more responsible for this than Lincoln, which is why the answer to the question of “what would Lincoln think” of the new “secession fever” in

America is so obvious.

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Is 2020 Going To Be the New 1860? – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on February 21, 2020

Fortunately, this won’t end in war, but I do think that no matter who wins, decentralization will get a boost in 2021.

It really doesn’t matter who wins the 2020 election. Nearly fifty percent of the American population, if not more, loses. But not if we had real federalism.


If you watched the debate last night, I pity you. I watched it for you so you wouldn’t have to, but [spoiler alert] you didn’t miss anything by tuning out.

Regardless, I think some things became clear in the two hour snooze fest.

1. Joe Biden still looks like he is too old to be president. He stumbles, stutters, drools, and loses his train of thought in two seconds. Not a good showing for Uncle Joe.

2. Elena Klobuchar isn’t ready to be president, and probably never will be. She is in over her head and needs to quickly exit the race. Foreign policy is the most important role for the president, and Elena lost any momentum with her debate performance.

3. Mayor Mister Bean is attempting to appeal to centrist Democrats that do not exist while banking on LGBTQ support to increase his “woke” credentials. That, coupled with his Frederick Douglass initiative, is bad optics in that Party that is made up of various factions defined by Victim status.

4. Elizabeth Warren delivered the tomahawk chop to Bloomberg’s chances for the Democratic nomination, but she’s still too awkward and weird to win the nomination, even in a Party full of awkward and weird people. No one feels comfortable watching her. It’s like watching every boomer on social media trying to appeal to the kids with a meme about medical marijuana.

5. Comrade Sanders is the most authentic candidate in the the Party and appeals to its real base, the neo-Stalinists who comprise a good portion of the online Bernie Bros. He has never shied away from being a communist, and that means he has the inside shot at winning the nomination, unless the Party steals it from him again.

6. Mike Bloomberg isn’t going to get the nomination, but I think he will run as an independent candidate on a Never Trump/Never Sanders ticket, potentially with Hillary Clinton as his running mate. He is too many of the things the modern Victim Democrats can’t stand: racist, womanizer, billionaire, etc. That was clear as every candidate took shots at his character, money, and influence.

So what does this mean? 2020 looks a lot like 1860 or perhaps 1912.

Substitute Trump, Bloomberg, and Sanders for Douglas, Lincoln, and Bell or Taft, Wilson, and Debs and you have the 2020 presidential election.

The only real modern comparison could be 1992 with Perot, Clinton, and Bush, but Trump represents everything Perot advocated in 1992 while Bloomberg is the establishment. Sanders will be the socialist side show.

And Trump will win.

Fortunately, this won’t end in war, but I do think that no matter who wins, decentralization will get a boost in 2021.

Think locally, act locally. We are already seeing more Americans sign on to the idea of secession and nullification than at any point since 1860. And this time it will be peaceful. There are secession movements in Oregon and Virginia in addition to California, Illinois, New York, Texas, Alaska, Hawaii, Colorado, and Vermont. Self-determination is the American tradition.

It really doesn’t matter who wins the 2020 election. Nearly fifty percent of the American population, if not more, loses. But not if we had real federalism.

Every president before Lincoln knew it, as did nearly the entire founding generation.

The States, and perhaps even the counties, are the key to breaking apart the monstrosity that is Washington D.C.

I discuss the debates and the future of American politics in Episode 292 of The Brion McClanahan Show.

You can watch it here.


You can listen to it here.

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Thoughts on Tyler Cowen’s “State Capacity Libertarianism” – LewRockwell

Posted by M. C. on January 13, 2020

Jeff Deist

George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen has penned a brief manifesto for what he calls “State Capacity Libertarianism” on the Marginal Revolution blog. In it he makes the case for libertarians to embrace “state capacity” in certain limited cases. You can read his essay here.

My initial responses, in no particular order, are as follows:

1. There is no political will or constituency for skillful technocratic state management of society. This is a pipe dream, once simply referred to as elusive “good government.” When do public choicers of all people give this up?
2. There is no third way between state and market, regardless of technology or material development. Futurism is bunk; the question before us today is the same as thirty, fifty, or one hundred years ago: who decides? Decentralization vs. centralization is the most important policy question.
3. Western states won’t give up their sclerotic regulatory, tax, central banking, and entitlement systems no matter how many flying cars or hyperloops we want. This reality will be a huge drag on science, infrastructure, medicine/health, and overall well-being.
4. The environmental movement will quash nuclear (especially after Fukushima), and the energy capacity vs. weight/cost issue will continue to plague electric cars/planes.
5. Left socialism, not libertarian futurism, is the rising tide across the West — and its constituency skews young. Adopting its pose, language, or ostensible goals won’t produce Singapore.
6. Climate change is not a problem or issue for anyone to solve.
7. The West can’t advance until it stops warring. War and peace won’t be solved technocratically, and true noninterventionism requires a painful rethinking of the hubris known as universalism. I thought technocrats believed in realpolitik?
8. Human happiness and prosperity depend on elements of civil society which libertarian futurists don’t like (faith, family, et al.). Hence the cheap jab at “Ron Paulism.”
9. We build “capacity” in society through profit, saving, and capital investment. Government makes this worse, not better, in each and every case.
10. Libertarianism simply means “private.” It is a non-state approach to organizing human society. It is not narrow or confining; in fact everything Cowen desires in an improved society can be advanced through private mechanisms.

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How to Avoid Civil War: Decentralization, Nullification, Secession

Posted by M. C. on December 5, 2019

The FBI and CIA will go to even greater lengths to ensure the voters are never again “allowed” to elect anyone who doesn’t receive the explicit imprimatur of the American intelligence “community.”

It is true, however, that if the idea of a legally, culturally, and politically unified United States wins the day, Americans may be looking toward a future of ever greater political repression marked by increasingly common episodes of bloodshed. This is simply the logical outcome of any system where it is assumed the ruling party has a right and a duty to force the ways of the one group upon another. That is the endgame of a unified America.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that the United States will not be going back to “business as usual” after Donald Trump leaves office, and it is easy to imagine that the anti-Trump parties will use their return to power as an opportunity to settle scores against the hated rubes and “deplorables” who dared attempt to oppose their betters in Washington, DC, California, and New York.

This ongoing conflict may manifest itself in the culture war through further attacks on people who take religious faith seriously, and on those who hold any social views unpopular among degreed people from major urban centers. The First Amendment will be imperiled like never before with both religious freedom and freedom of speech regarded as vehicles of “hate.” Certainly, the Second Amendment will hang by a thread.

But even more dangerous will be the deep state’s return to a vaunted position of enjoying a near-total absence of opposition from elected officials in the civilian government. The FBI and CIA will go to even greater lengths to ensure the voters are never again “allowed” to elect anyone who doesn’t receive the explicit imprimatur of the American intelligence “community.” The Fourth Amendment will be banished so that the NSA and its friends can spy on every American with impunity. The FBI and CIA will more freely combine the use of surveillance and media leaks to destroy adversaries.

Anyone who objects to the deep state’s wars on either Americans or on foreigners will be denounced as stooges of foreign powers.

These scenarios may seem overly dramatic, but the extremity of the situation is suggested by the fact that Trump — who is only a very mild opponent of the status quo — has received such hysterical opposition. After all, Trump has not dismantled the welfare state. He has not slashed — or even failed to increase — the military budget. His fights with the deep state are largely based on political issues, and not on major policy disagreements. Trump, for example, sides with the surveillance state on matters such as the prosecution of Edward Snowden.

His sins lie merely in his lack of enthusiasm for the center-left’s current drive toward ever more vicious identity politics. And, more importantly, he has been insufficiently gung ho about starting more wars, expanding NATO, and generally pushing the Russians toward World War III.

For even these minor deviations, we are told, he must be destroyed.

So, we can venture a guess as to what the agenda will look like once Trump is out of the way. It looks to be neither mild nor measured.

And then what?

In that situation, half the country — much of it from the half that calls itself “Red-State America” may regard itself as conquered, powerless, and unheard.

That’s a recipe for civil war.

The Need for Separation

But how can we take steps now to minimize this polarization the damage it is likely to cause?

The answer lies in greater decentralization and local autonomy. But as long as most Americans labor under the authoritarian notion that the United States is “one nation, indivisible” there will be no answer to the problem of one powerful region (or party) wielding unchallenged power over a minority.

Many conservatives naïvely claim that the Constitution and the “rule of law” will protect minorities in this situation. But their theories only hold water if the people making and interpreting the laws subscribe to an ideology which respects local autonomy and freedom for worldviews in conflict with the ruling class. That is increasingly not the ideology of the majority, let alone the majority of powerful judges and politicians.

Thus, for those who can manage to leave behind the flag-waving propaganda of their youths, it is increasingly evident that something other than repeating bromides about teaching high-school civics, reading the Constitution, or electing “strong leaders” will have to be done.

As I’ve noted in the past, the notion of increasing local autonomy through nullification and secession has long been gaining steam in Europe, where referendums on decentralization are growing more frequent.

And conservatives are increasingly seeing the writing on the wall. Among the more insightful of these has been Angelo Codevilla. In 2017, Codevilla, writing in the Claremont Review of Books, laid out a blueprint for local opposition to federal power and noted:

Texas passed a law that, in effect, closes down most of its abortion clinics. The U.S. Supreme Court struck it down. What if Texas closed them nonetheless? Send the Army to point guns at Texas rangers to open them? What would the federal government do if North Dakota declared itself a “Sanctuary for the Unborn” and simply banned abortion? For that matter, what is the federal government doing about the fact that, for practical purposes, its laws concerning marijuana are being ignored in Colorado and California? Utah objects to the boundaries of national monuments created by decree within its borders. What if the state ignored those boundaries? Prayer in schools? What could bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., do if any number of states decided that what the federal courts have to say about such things is bad?

Now that identity politics have replaced the politics of persuasion and blended into the art of war, statesmen should try to preserve what peace remains through mutual forbearance toward jurisdictions that ignore or act contrary to federal laws, regulations, or court orders. Blue states and red states deal differently with some matters of health, education, welfare, and police. It does no good to insist that all do all things uniformly.

And by 2019, the need for separation was becoming more urgent. Last week Codevilla continued in this line of thinking:

[A]fter the 2020 elections ordinary Americans will have to deal with the same dreadful question we faced in 2016: How do we secure and perhaps restore our fast-diminishing freedom to live as Americans? And while we may wish for help from Trump, we have to look to ourselves and to other leaders for how we may counter the ruling class’s manifold assaults now, and especially in the long term…

The logical recourse is to conserve what can be conserved, and for it to be done by, of, and for those who wish to conserve it. However much force of what kind may be required to accomplish that, the objective has to be conservation of the people and ways that wish to be conserved.

That means some kind of separation.

The rest here

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