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Monday, April 25, 2011

Is the Moneyed Interest Oriented to Ending American Federalism?

James Madison wrote in Federalist #10, “a rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project, will be less apt to pervade the whole body of the Union, than a particular member of it.” That is to say, it is in the interest of the wealthy (and especially creditors) that federalism be replaced by a consolidated central government.

In the case of Shays' Rebellion in 1786 in Massachusetts, the debtors were soldiers who had not been paid by the Continental Congress yet still faced payments on their farms. Under such conditions, was stopping such payments an "improper or wicked project"? Moreover, in a republic wherein each citizen of age has one vote, is a tendency to equalize property (as opposed to a concentrating of wealth) so very improper or wicked? Perhaps whether such things are wicked depends on where one stands, though I suspect the good of the whole--the public interest--does not reduce to a partisan position based on self-interest.

Given the diversity that naturally exists in an “extended republic” the size of an empire, such as the U.S. or E.U., the one-size-fits-all interest of the rich is ultimately suffocating. Diversity over such a number of republics in a union must be allowed its breathing room or the pressure from the consolidation will prompt some of the republics to secede. In 2010, for example, there was a movement in Texas to leave the union because the sense was that law from Washington D.C. was not fitting for that republic.

The question is perhaps whether the financial elite can be oriented to the long term, and, thus public interest in the pursuit of a more paricular interest. Moreover, is the public good simply the aggregation of everyone following his or her own particular interest? Even if that works in an Adam Smith economy of competitive markets, does the same logic work for polities?  It could be argued, for example, that unlike a market, a polity requires leadership. The U.S. President can say the U.S. will move against Libya, but does it make sense to say that the American economy is moving as an entity when the market is simply the individual buyers and sellers? Furthermore, nations can explicitly stand for certain principles, whereas a market's principles such as efficiency are given, or inherent.

In the case of the United States, a decision is needed by the citizens on whether to continue to allow the propertied interest to enervate federalism or to reinvigorate the checks and balance in federalism wherein one government checks another. In the end, it is the public's comfort with concentrated power that is at issue. Historically, that comfort was pretty low, but may have subtly changed over decades wiithout being made transparent. One function of leadership in a polity is to act on behalf of such transparency and proffer a directionality.

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