Feed on

I was rereading this excellent old essay:

Many people, probably including Mr. Sulzberger, seem to think of the US as a charitable venture. Like the American Cancer Society, just with a broader mission. Perhaps the purpose of the US is simply to do good in the world.

This is a very understandable perspective. Surely, if anything ungood remains in the world, it can be vanquished by a gigantic, heavily armed mega-charity, with H-bombs, a flag, and 250 million serfs. In fact, it’s actually rather astounding that, considering the prodigious endowments of this great philanthropic institution, it seems to do so little good.

Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it’s run so efficiently that it hasn’t balanced its budget since the 1830s. Perhaps, if you reformalized the US, ran it like an actual business, and distributed its shares among a large set of separate charities, each presumably with some specific charter for some actual specific purpose, more good might occur.

Of course, the US doesn’t just have assets. Sadly, it also has debts. Some of these debts, such as T-bills, are already very well-formalized. Others, such as Social Security and Medicare, are informal and subject to political uncertainties. If these obligations were reformalized, their recipients could only benefit. Of course, they would thus become negotiable instruments and could be, for example, sold. Perhaps in exchange for crack. Reformalization thus requires us to distinguish between property and charity, a hard problem but an important one.

All this fails to answer the question: are nation-states, such as the US, even useful? If you reformalized the US, the question would be left to its shareholders. Perhaps cities work the best when they’re independently owned and operated. If so, they should probably be spun off as separate corporations.

If those who favor governments constituted as the USA is were utilitarians (and I suspect they are) would not an appropriate question be, “if the reason for having the USA is to (insert outcome X), then how well does the USA accomplish this goal vis-a-vis other alternative arrangements?” I don’t suspect any progressive would ever dip their toe in that water? You see, when you are in the Church of Massive Government, such a thought would condemn you to the fires of hell for eternity.

Leave a Reply