A society as huge and complex as the United States can run economically only on the basis of acceptance and trust. This has been true for so long it is no longer noticed, like the air. People accept the rules and generally follow them whether or not there is a policeman in attendance. They deposit money and trust it will be credited to their account. They mail letters and trust they will be delivered. They sleep in their beds and trust the president will protect them. All over the the land people go about their business secure that arrangements will be honored and carried out.
A high-trust society is a low-cost society.
The breakdown of the speakership race following the withdrawal of Boehner’s heir-designate Kevin McCarthy is a sign that this happy state of affairs is eroding. It’s no longer business as usual in Capital City. Who do the Republicans represent? Maybe not the Republican voters. “Republicans may be forced to solicit Democratic help to break their Speaker stalemate, Rep. Charlie Dent (R) said Thursday.”
The Pennsylvania centrist, who often serves as a mouthpiece for outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said there is only a small handful of Republicans who can win 218 GOP votes to fill Boehner’s shoes. The trouble is, none of them wants the job.
“We may need a bipartisan coalition to elect our next Speaker,” Dent told reporters after Thursday’s closed-door GOP meeting. “That’s a very real possibility right now, and I think anybody who’s honest about this knows it. They may not want to talk about it, but they know it.”
This conniption will have serious consequences not just for the GOP but for the capital as a whole. After all, if the Washington Generals fail to show up, the show is over even for the Globetrotters. You can’t sell tickets when the Washington Generals are on strike. And the WGs are on strike. There’s no prospect they’ll return to the court any time soon. The conservative revolt that the media has repeatedly declared dead has at last become strong enough to paralyze proceedings, though it is not yet powerful enough to initiate them.
Yet for rebels, forcing a stalemate is good enough. Washington may be entering a crisis from the cumulative loss of voter confidence. The rebels won’t seize the town, the status quo won’t collapse — it is too gigantic for that to happen immediately — but the breakdown of consensus will make everything costlier for Obama. Governance, already difficult, will become much harder. He will have to use cajoling, coercion and energy where once he needed only a phone call to achieve the same result. He will have to use enforcement and arm twisting in place of the former habitual deference.
A low-trust society is a high-cost society. It creates a place where everything is governed by innumerable rules yet where things work very poorly. A cop behind every billboard means a lot of low-rent cops. That’s why low-trust societies are poor societies. By contrast a working democracy is cheap to run and its economic life is generally unfettered and creative. It is efficient because it does not have to carry the burden of an immense apparatus of propaganda and coercion to get from one day to the next.
What changed was the gradual evaporation of confidence. When the principals (the voters) no longer fully trust the agents (the politicians), what economists describe as agency costs become prohibitively high. Too much energy will be expended brokering transactions between parties that don’t trust each other. Unless trust is restored things will simply freeze up due to the costs of hesitation and mutual suspicion. Even supposing the president — or any president — can keep going without trust, it will be costly. There will not be enough lawsuits, executive orders or federal agents available to restore things to the former free and easy way.
The elites who seized power underestimated the costs of despising the voters, assuming that because they were on the side of angels they could act like devils. They underrated the corrosive effect of constant betrayal and unbroken degradation upon transaction costs. They do things like Drew Magary, who has an article in GQ magazine titled “Fuck Ben Carson.”
You know, the only thing more alarming than Donald Trump leading the Republican presidential field is the fact that Ben Carson is the guy right behind him. While establishment puds like Jeb! Bush and Marco Rubio can’t decide if they want to beat Trump or emulate him, the Good Doctor made it clear this week that he is not only willing to replicate Trump’s signature brand of hot-garbage-spewing, but he’ll say even DUMBER shit. …
Donald Trump, for all of his bluster, is at least authentically stupid. … And, God help me, I think I’d rather have him sitting in the Oval Office, getting stupidly out-maneuvered by the politicians under him, than bringing in a guy like Carson who is willing to shred every last bit of his intellectual credibility in order to lord over a citizenry he doesn’t seem to have much respect for. Fuck him.
What snark! What cool! What virtue signalling!! But Mr. Magary should wonder if at the end of the day people start to ask if this is how the elites honestly regard their Bible-thumping, gun-toting and NASCAR-watching hides.
Vladimir Putin, for all his evil character, understood that if he would serve the devil, it were best that he served him well. Edward Luttwak, writing in Tablet magazine, observed that Putin was ironically true to his salt — and that in this crazy world one might prefer Atilla to Judas; a questionable choice but an understandable one.
So, yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, the aforementioned accused, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin is guilty of a very great crime: He defends his allies and attacks his enemies—conduct particularly reprehensible in the eyes of the Obama Administration, which does the exact opposite. Obama’s America dislikes Japan’s staunchly pro-American Prime Minister Abe (deemed “insufficiently apologetic”), it spurns the calls for action of Britain’s Cameron and Hollande of France, and has missed no opportunity to denigrate Benjamin Netanyahu, even as it eagerly embraces the bleak dictators of Cuba and of course Hassan Fereydoun a.k.a. Rouhani, president of the “death to America” Islamic republic of Iran and de facto chief nuclear negotiator—for the second time. The first time, from Oct. 6, 2003 to Aug. 15, 2005, when Rouhani was the official negotiator, under the equally mellifluous President Mohammad Khatami, he boasted that he had used the talks “to buy time to advance Iran’s nuclear program”—but that is not something that would dissuade an American administration that is intensely suspicious, but only of its allies.
If the Republicans — if Obama — had been half as willing to serve the American people as to sell them out, they might have been trusted more. The reason a working democracy regularly changes its leadership is for the same reason you change your oil. It renews the essential lubricant in the transaction. When that is gone it is as if the oil were drained out of the engine of governance. The costs — like heat — build up till the radiator can’t carry it away. Things go on for a while, but ultimately the engine will seize up.
Either trust is restored or you face major repairs.
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