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Monday, October 27, 2003

Janice Rogers Brown

As mentioned below, Brown wrote:
"where government moves in, community retreats, civil society disintegrates, and our ability to control our destiny atrophies. The result is: families under siege, war in the streets, unapologetic expropriation of property, the precipitous decline of the rule of law, the rapid rise of corruption, the loss of civility and the triumph of deceit."

Jim writes:
The results she lists do not, in general, square with our historical legacy. We have had a strong, active government for over two centuries, and, in general, the results of governmental engagement have been good. Or, are there some among you who feel that slaves should not have been freed, women should not have the vote, non-elite children should work and not attend school, the races should be segregated, the disabled should be left to their own means?

I don't think there should still be slavery, etc., and somehow I seriously doubt that Brown thinks that either, nor do I think that she implies that with her statement. In fact, this exchange illustrates to me one point I think Brown left out of her tirade. I would have said it as follows:
where government moves in, people lose the ability to even imagine possible alternatives to solve problems without involving government, community retreats, civil society disintegrates,...

I think this addition is very important. We have become so used to the government doing things for us that we assume that there is no alternative. Not only is this not true, I believe this attitude is holding us back.

Have we really "had a strong, active government for over two centuries?" If so, that's news to me. I thought the government (federal, anyway) became active last century, and really didn't meddle domestically much at all in the 18th and first half of the 19th century.

A few other points. Government enforced slavery until the emancipation proclamation so I think that it's quite a stretch to give credit to government for freeing them. In other words, if government hadn't enslaved them in the first place, they wouldn't have had to free them. The same concept applies to women's right to vote.

We were actually a pretty literate nation long before government got involved, as shown by this excerpt:
By 1820, there was even more evidence of Americans' avid reading habits, when 5 million copies of James Fenimore Cooper's complex and allusive novels were sold, along with an equal number of Noah Webster's didactic Speller - to a population of dirt farmers under 20 million in size.

In 1835, Richard Cobden announced there was six times as much newspaper reading in the United States as in England, and the census figures of 1840 gave fairly exact evidence that a sensational reading revolution had taken place without any exhortation on the part of public moralists and social workers, but because common people had the initiative and freedom to learn. In North Carolina, the worst situation of any state surveyed, eight out of nine could still read and write.

In 1853, Per Siljestromm, a Swedish visitor, wrote, "In no country in the world is the taste for reading so diffuse as among the common people in America." The American Almanac observed grandly, "Periodical publications, especially newspapers, disseminate knowledge throughout all classes of society and exert an amazing influence in forming and giving effect to public opinion." It noted the existence of over a thousand newspapers. In this nation of common readers, the spiritual longings of ordinary people shaped the public discourse. Ordinary people who could read, though not privileged by wealth, power, or position, could see through the fraud of social class or the even grander fraud of official expertise.

And do you really think schools are better now than in say, 1950, which is prior to when the federal government began funding education? I'm not saying that they're not, but I don't think they're much improved either, and, in fact, the complaints about inner city and other schools for the poor are still the most emphatic.

The races are still quite segregated. For example, I can't remember the last time I saw a black person here in San Diego, and I can't imagine that San Diego is radically more segregated than say, Mississippi, so I think the government didn't quite succeed on the desegregation front. I have no idea why San Diego is so segregated. I'm also not saying that's okay, I'm just saying that government didn't solve that problem very well.

Lastly I didn't realize that before the ADA or other government intervention, the disabled were left to their own means. In the community I grew up in they were taken care of by their families, church groups, and other community services. It certainly is possible that the disabled were left to die on the streets in droves in other places, I just wasn't aware that that was the case.

Nonetheless, the disturbing thing to me, is that for all these things, non-government solutions aren't even imagined to be possible, much less contemplated, articulated, debated, refined, and proposed as alternatives. We are destroying our creativity and ingenuity "and our ability to control our destiny" by turning these problems over to the government. This is what I believe that Brown meant by her statement and I agree with that interpretation of it.

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