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Saving Communities

Bringing prosperity through freedom,
equality, local autonomy and respect for the commons.

Muddling Back to Monarchy


There is a dynamic tension between monarchy and democracy, between a system of privilege that rules its subjects and a system of equality that serves its citizens. The purpose of this book is to examine that tension and to show how and why we have been slowly sliding back to monarchy, both politically and economically.

The bad news is this slide back to monarchy began as soon as independence was won from Britain. Indeed, the seeds of a return to monarchy were sewn even before the American Revolution was over. The good news is that the causes of this slide can be traced to a small number of fundamental errors - errors that can be corrected by very simple reforms.

Americans have recognized the need for these reforms and conducted heroic campaigns for their implementation, only to be distracted by propaganda from both the left and the right. We will examine the essential contrasts between monarchy and privilege on one hand and democracy and equality on the other. We will also examine how beneficiaries of privilege have manipulated the left and right to prevent genuine reform, and the superstitions of left and right that prevent that reform today.

We will start with a history of privilege, for privilege lies at the root of monarchy. We will also look at the cost of privilege to ordinary people, and at how the growth of privilege brings about the decline of general freedom and prosperity. We will not only examine the American experience, but will sketch a general history of man.

The way we were, not long ago

I grew up in the 1950s - hardly an era of free expression. The first Great Depression and the second Great War had traumatized my parents' generation into a rigid social conformity. Fear of another global war focused on the territorial conquests of Soviet Russia and the communist takeover of China, punctuated by the Korean War.

Yet a joyful, hopeful economic outlook prevailed. The number of people unemployed during a typical week was lower than the number on vacation. One parent's income was usually enough to raise a family. Even unskilled, minimum-wage employees were far more at ease than they are today.

The rise of the automobile enabled ordinary working people to escape the high cost of city living by moving to cheap farmland that had been converted into suburbs. In 1950, the median house cost ($7,354) was only 2.2 times as high as the median family income ($3,319). A mere forty years later, the median house price of $119,600 had risen to 3.4 times the median family income of $35,353. Mortgages in 1950 were typically for 10-20 years, and they are now more typically forty and even fifty years long. Second mortgages were rare, and "reverse mortgages" were extremely rare. Low-cost housing, minimal debt and full employment meant more discretionary spending, and more discretionary spending meant more jobs.

These statistics actually understate escalating cost of housing compared to the earnings of labor, because these income statistics report gross (pre-tax) incomes of families, not net incomes of individuals. Sales and income taxes had become much higher by 1990, and the number of households with more than one wage earner had greatly increased. Modern Americans have also the added family expenses of professional child care, multiple vehicles for commuting to work, increased reliance on restaurants and pre-packaged foods, etc. Mere income and housing price statistics badly understate how quickly the "American Dream" has been slipping away.

Americans who left the city for the suburbs enjoyed the same sense of success as their ancestors who had left Europe, where rents were high and wages were low, for America where rents were low and wages were high. We took great pride in America's legacy as a the country that had led Europeans to abandon monarchies in favor of democracy, and the country that had more recently rescued Europe from Nazi despotism. A steady stream of war movies romanticized our contribution to the war, and a steady stream of Westerns romanticized our pioneer heritage as a free, independent people settling wide-open spaces without interference from the grasping feudal lords who dominated the "old country."

Suburban homes were mostly purchased by young couples raising a "baby boom" of optimistic, financially comfortable children like myself. It was the birth of television culture, where a stream of programs taught us American values. Superman fought for "Truth, Justice and the American Way," three terms that were treated as synonyms. Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rodgers, Wild Bill Hickok, The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, Matt Dillon and many others championed those values in the context of our pioneer heritage. Some villains of movie and TV westerns were ordinary ne'er-do-wells, but many were land grabbers of one sort or another - claim jumpers, ranchers fighting farmers, upstream barons damming up water supplies, speculators with inside information on proposed railroads, people provoking Indian wars because they want Indian land, etc.

Although most of us had little more than a vague sense of history, land issues had actually been central to the settling of the West. The connection between freedom and access to affordable land is uniquely American (and Australian). Indeed, the main reason Europeans came here is that the land of Europe had been monopolized by feudal lords for centuries. A few societies, such as Ireland and some of the Scandinavian countries, had resisted the rise of feudalism until relatively recently. Others saw the democratic institutions of Common Law quickly eroded. Still others, where the Roman Empire, had been replaced almost overnight by the Holy Roman Empire, have no memory of freedom at all.

The American memory of freedom and its relationship to affordable land, (and a relative absence of debt) is not nearly so distant. Yet it is slipping away as those on both sides of the political spectrum studiously avoid confronting it. With all the right-wing opposition to taxes and the left-wing fixation on services, very few have paid attention to the real causes of inflated real estate taxes and the explosion of personal, corporate and governemnt debt as a whole.

America's original progressives had tackled land monopoly and debt-money head-on, proposing fundamental, privilege-ending reforms. This had a genuinely positive effect on the well-bing of ordinary citizens. Since, then, however, that left has been largely replaced by a more bureaucratic, paternalistic left. The paternalistic left avoids confronting privilege and instead asks for tax-funded programs to treat the symptoms of privilege.

This has turned the programs of the left into perfect scapegoats for the monopolistic right. The American middle class believes it is endangered, not because banks have been lending us money they had created out of thin air, and not because land speculators have been driving up the prices of land and natural resources, but because of these bureaucratic programs.

And indeed, many government programs have often made problems worse. For example, mortgage subsidies and homeowner tax breaks camealmost entirely from increased taxes on renters and small businesses, and have merely accelerated housing price increases. Like a dog chasing its own tail, our government leaders come up with more and more tax-funded programs to help taxpayers cope with ever-increasing land prices and ever-deepening indebtedness. This happens because the left avoids confronting privilege while the right actively defends privilege. Once the public demands that the left set aside its bureaucratic paternalism and the right set aside its alliance with banking, real estate and licensed monopolies, real progress will once again be made and the lives of ordinary Americans will once again improve.

There must be a major political realignment against privilege pure and simple. There have been many such realignments in our history, as later chapters will show. The real trick is not creating such a realignment, but in preventing a reversion  to the current alignment of paternalistic bureaucrats vs. monopolistic plutocrats. The underlying problem is that when those who crave freedom actually get that freedom, they turn away from political intrigue and set about to enjoy that freedom. In contrast, those who crave bureaucratic power and monopolistic privilege constantly work to develop those powers and privileges.

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