Something I noticed a couple of days back. AP:
State and federal environmental regulators have issued a blanket waiver for Florida electricity companies to violate clean air and water standards for the next two weeks.
The Environmental Protection Agency announced the decision in a letter issued Monday as Hurricane Irma blew through the state. The agency said the so-called No Action Assurance granted through Sept. 26 will provide Florida utility generators needed flexibility to maintain and restore electricity supplies.
The assurance letter will allow utilities to operate outside restrictions mandated by their permits, including potentially using dirtier fuels, running for longer hours or electively bypassing pollution-control equipment.
The Associated Press reported last week that air pollution levels spiked in the Houston area after a similar enforcement waiver was granted to petrochemical facilities ahead of Hurricane Harvey.
If they can issue blanket waivers for electricity companies to violate clean air standards, why not issue blanket waivers for bars and restaurants to do the same with smoking bans? Perhaps this is the way smoking bans will end: blanket waivers issued during emergencies.
Another thing I read, that set me thinking:
In every case, a democracy will deteriorate as the result of the electorate accepting the loss of freedom in trade for largesse from their government. This process may be fascism, socialism, communism, or a basket of “isms,” but tyranny is the inevitable endgame of democracy. Like the destruction of a sandcastle by the incoming tide, it requires time to transpire, but in time, the democracy, like the sandcastle, will be washed away in its entirety.
Why should this be so? Well, as I commented some years ago,
The concept of government is that the people grant to a small group of individuals the ability to establish and maintain controls over them. The inherent flaw in such a concept is that any government will invariably and continually expand upon its controls, resulting in the ever-diminishing freedom of those who granted them the power.
Why should any government continually expand upon its controls? I know that this is happening right now more or less everywhere in the Western world, but is it inevitable? What’s the underlying logic?
Looking at government from the point of view of Idle Theory, in a busy, hardworking society there will be a lot of busy, hardworking people, and only a few idle people. The busy, hardworking people won’t have enough time to think about matters of state – keeping the society in a good state of repair, defending it from enemies. But idle people can think about stuff like that, and make suggestions and proposals for projects (e.g. building city walls) that would benefit everybody in the city. It is these idle people who are society’s natural legislators. These are often – but not always – rich people.
In the least idle societies, the task of government may fall to a single individual: a king. But as a society becomes more idle, thanks to technological innovations (e.g. roads), more people can become involved in government, and governing will be done by families, oligarchies, republics, and democracies, in which more and more people have a say. As social idleness increases, government expands.
But if social idleness decreases, the opposite must happen. If a society becomes impoverished by famine or drought or plague or war, and people have to work harder, there will be fewer idle people. In these circumstances, government contracts and becomes concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, perhaps finally in the hands of a dictator or emperor, who is pretty much a king.
Something like this happened with ancient Rome, which seems to have prospered enough under its Etruscan kings (for example, Tarquinius Superbus) for the city of Rome to overthrow them circa 500 BC and introduce a republican form of government, with a Senate and two Consuls. Rome must have been idle enough to have 300 or so idle people in its early Senate. By about 50 BC, it had expanded to 900 people. And during the preceding 450 years Rome had expanded to include the whole of Italy, Spain, Gaul, Greece, and north Africa. Perhaps by this time, for one reason or other, Roman idleness was decreasing, and more and more power was being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people – like Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. Finally, after a series of civil wars, all power was concentrated back in the hands of a single individual, Augustus Caesar.
So maybe Roman idleness first rose, and then fell. And its form of government reflected this, starting out as monarchy, becoming a republic, and then returning to what was effectively a monarchy again. And the series of civil wars in Rome towards the end of the Republic suggest that Roman idleness was falling, and in the process people were being pushed out of government circles, and were fighting to stay in. These civil wars were also themselves a cause of loss of idleness: wars are times when people become busier.
Why might the idleness of the Roman Republic have fallen? It may have been that, as its government expanded, it also became increasingly ineffective and corrupt. It may have become ineffective because it had become too large and bureaucratic and unwieldy. It maybe took ages to decide on anything, and when it did, it probably decided to do things that benefited some people, but not others. And maybe it made lots of stupid rules and regulations (how about a ban on smoky oil lamps in taverns?) which increasingly hampered rather than helped people in their everyday lives.
The same process can be seen at work today throughout the Western world. The EU is a government superstructure that sits on top of a layer of national governments, which in turn sit on a layer of local or regional governments, in a sort of giant governmental wedding cake. The EU is terminally indecisive about everything. And it makes lots of hampering rules and regulations (e.g. smoking bans). EU politicians (and also many national politicians) live in a bubble, detached from the populations they are supposed to represent. It’s also corrupt: you can get very rich in the EU, and get a substantial pension, and even immunity from prosecution.
It’s no different in the USA, where Donald Trump – an elected modern consul – is trying to “drain the swamp” in the Senate and House and the equally corrupt and bloated US government. In both Europe and America, government is conducted more and more by an oligarchy of rich people, doing deals among themselves. Donald Trump is probably just as much an oligarch as Julius Caesar once was, and like him is also a populist. He wants to shrink the government, and that would remove influence from a lot of people who are currently very influential. US politics has become highly polarised between pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions. The possibility of civil war is being openly discussed. Meanwhile natural disasters – like two back-to-back hurricanes – have just reduced US idleness: a lot of people now have to work a lot harder to survive than they did a month or so back.
Last night I watched a discussion between pro-Trump Alex Jones and pro-Trump Steve Pieczenik. Alex Jones believes that Trump is becoming isolated by the anti-Trump “Deep State”, and surrounded and betrayed by anti-Trump advisors, possibly in preparation for a coup to overthrow him. Steve Pieczenik doesn’t believe a word of it. He’s much more interested in the hurricanes (he lives in Florida). Their disagreement starts 10 minutes into the video below:
I’m more inclined to agree with Pieczenik than Jones. But what do I know?
Anyway, I hope I’ve set out an outline of the logic that may underlie the growth and decline of democracies, rather than just pointing to historical precedent.