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Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of ten of America's presidencies and who has edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review, which has been on the web since 1995, is now published from Freeport, Maine. We get over 5 million article visits a year. See for full contents of our site

February 17, 2010


Sam Smith

Rasmussen Reports has come out with a fascinating poll that goes a long way towards explaining why not only liberals are doing so badly, but the left in general, the Democratic Party and Barack Obama. Here’s what the poll found:
Liberals are afraid to criticize big government because they think it makes them sound like Republicans. In fact, the idea of devolution -- having government carried out at the lowest practical level -- dates back at least to that good Democrat, Thomas Jefferson. Even FDR managed to fight the depression with a staff smaller than Hillary Clinton's and World War II with one smaller than Al Gore's. Conservative columnist William Safire admitted that "in a general sense, devolution is a synonym for 'power sharing,' a movement that grew popular in the sixties and seventies as charges of 'bureaucracy' were often leveled at centralized authority." In other words, devolution used to be in the left's bag.

The modern liberals' embrace of centralized authority makes them vulnerable to the charge that their politics is one of intentions rather than results -- symbolized by huge agencies like the Department of Housing & Urban Development that fail miserably to produce policies worthy of their name.

Still stuck back in the states' rights controversy over integration, liberals fail to see how often states and localities move ahead of the federal government. Think, for example, of where gays would be if there were no local laws to help them.

As late as 1992, the one hundred largest localities in America pursued an estimated 1,700 environmental crime prosecutions, more than twice the number of such cases brought by the federal government in the previous decade. As Washington was vainly struggling to get a handle on the tobacco industry, 750 communities passed indoor no-smoking laws. And, more recently, we have had the local drive towards relaxing anti-marijuana laws and the major local and state outcry against the Real ID act.
Conservatives, on the other hand, often confuse the devolution of government with its destruction. Thus while the liberals are underachieving, the conservatives are undermining.

The question must be repeatedly asked of new and present policies: how can these programs be brought close to the supposed beneficiaries, the citizens?  And how can government money go where it's supposed to go?

Because such questions are not asked often enough, we find huge disparities in the effectiveness of federal programs. For example, both Social Security and Medicare work well with little overhead. In such programs, the government serves primarily as a redistribution center for tax revenues.

On the other hand, an environmentalist who ran a weatherization program once told me that she figured it cost $30,000 in federal and local overhead for each $1600 in weather-proofing provided a low income home.

A study of Milwaukee County in 1988 found government agencies spending more than $1 billion annually on fighting poverty. If this money had been given in cash to the poor, it would have meant more than $33,000 for each low income family -- well above the poverty level.
WIKI ON: SUBSIDIARITY - Subsidiarity is an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. The Oxford English Dictionary defines subsidiarity as the idea that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. . .  Subsidiarity is, ideally or in principle, one of the features of federalism, where it asserts the rights of the parts over the whole.


Anonymous penalcolony said...

Reality check: can't recall the details, but I came across this 10 or 12 years ago. Actual productivity studies have shown that federal government workers are more productive than local government workers, who are more productive than state government workers -- and all are more productive than people who work in retail.

February 17, 2010 12:03 PM  
Anonymous MonkeyMuffins said...

Small and slow definitely are beautiful.

Now, if only there were an actual "Left" to speak might have something!

February 17, 2010 1:57 PM  
Anonymous wellbasically said...

Many colonists protested plans for the British government to pay Crown officers in the colonies. They understood that they maintained control by (under-)paying the governors and lieutenant governors. It wasn't the money that was the primary issue, it wasn't taxation.

February 17, 2010 2:16 PM  
Anonymous my two cents said...

I'm not so sure local government has overall been more responsive and less corrupt than other varieties. It could be but individuals would still have to be willing to confront powerful people and forces. The very fact that governments at all levels are so corrupt indicates Americans are waiting for some superhero to fight their battles and suffer the consequences while they enjoy the benefits. Time was when, if a litigant could attract the financing they could expect the fundimental fairness of the US Constitution to be implemented in federal court . Obviously that time has passed. I see the great shift in US history as the imprisonment of the Wobblies for advising Americans to refuse the draft . Their real crime was to be effective opposition to capital and threatening real change. The fact is the law has been twisted into a force against justice and basic human sympathy. If Americans are unwilling to resist force, they will be crushed by it. What does it matter if you fear going to jail for freedom, when everyday life is a prison?
Back to the initial question, why is the left failing? Because it has adapted the tactics and values of the right. Triangulation has come full circle. By appeasing corporations to secure financing, the left has become the right; but what the hell they won the election.
People are flocking to libertarianism because they advocate personal freedom which obviously is shrinking. But the libertarians, particularly Balko, use the issue as a loss leader. You know, you sell someting cheap to get the suckers into the store, then jack up the price of everything else. No wonder the libertarians like freedom; who doesn't? But you can't have social or individual justice without economic justice which is something we're all getting an unpleasant taste of, and it's going to get worse if we don't have the guts to say no.

February 17, 2010 2:17 PM  
Blogger LifelongLib said...

I'm generally in favor of more federal action. Not because I like big government for its own sake, but because only the federal government has the legal power, the organization, and the wallet to give everyone in the U. S. equal access to the services it provides. States and localities are notoriously unequal in the services they provide their citizens.

February 18, 2010 1:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where do people get this idea that Obama is on the left or a liberal? He may be a neo-liberal and his is a centrist, but he is no lefty.

If Obama were a lefty, he never would have been elected, because he never would have built a big enough war chest.

Until we have fair elections with public funding, we are doomed to corrupt leadership.

February 18, 2010 12:52 PM  

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