Starving Leviathan

I wonder:

* How many colleges and universities could survive as currently configured without Federal loans, grants and aid?

* How many foreign governments and militaries could survive without aid from the United States?

* How many hospitals or other medical practices could survive without Medicare, Medicaid and other payments from the central government?

* How many state governments could survive as currently configured without Federal money?

* How many businesses in the DC metro area would collapse if defense and other Federal spending were drastically reduced?

* How could the housing market survive in its current form without government assistance?

I could go on. The tentacles are everywhere.

California in Ruins

My brother sent me this intriguing look at modern California. It points to something that I think is happening all over the place: the country has turned into wealthy enclaves with pristine communities and large swaths of crumbling and dilapidated homes and infrastructure (Flint and Detroit Michigan come to mind). I don’t think the answer to this is purely fiscal, I think it is largely character-based as well. Picking up after yourself, cleaning up your lawn and so forth are values that are not universal. The fiscal problems are also real. Because our entitlement and defense spending is so enormous, spending on roads and bridges cannot compete with the massive amounts of money we spend on other things. I think if any of us drove 20 or 30 minutes outside of our locale, we could find the broken down areas next to us that we choose not to see. Here is an excerpt of the article:

Here are some general observations about what I saw (other than that the rural roads of California are fast turning into rubble, poorly maintained and reverting to what I remember seeing long ago in the rural South). First, remember that these areas are the ground zero, so to speak, of 20 years of illegal immigration. There has been a general depression in farming — to such an extent that the 20- to-100-acre tree and vine farmer, the erstwhile backbone of the old rural California, for all practical purposes has ceased to exist.

On the western side of the Central Valley, the effects of arbitrary cutoffs in federal irrigation water have idled tens of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land, leaving thousands unemployed. Manufacturing plants in the towns in these areas — which used to make harvesters, hydraulic lifts, trailers, food-processing equipment — have largely shut down; their production has been shipped off overseas or south of the border. Agriculture itself — from almonds to raisins — has increasingly become corporatized and mechanized, cutting by half the number of farm workers needed. So unemployment runs somewhere between 15 and 20 percent.

Many of the rural trailer-house compounds I saw appear to the naked eye no different from what I have seen in the Third World. There is a Caribbean look to the junked cars, electric wires crisscrossing between various outbuildings, plastic tarps substituting for replacement shingles, lean-tos cobbled together as auxiliary housing, pit bulls unleashed, and geese, goats, and chickens roaming around the yards. The public hears about all sorts of tough California regulations that stymie business — rigid zoning laws, strict building codes, constant inspections — but apparently none of that applies out here.

It reminds me of nothing so much as the late Empire in Rome, when taxes could not be collected and outlying provinces fell into ruins. More confirmation that we are entering a new dark age in the West. The paradox is that we also have sections of the country with more information and more wealth than almost ever before.

Virginia is Rich

The latest data from the Census Bureau shows that Virginia has the three most wealthy counties in the nation. Maryland has another couple in the top tier. All of these counties are in the suburban DC area. Why is this? Because the seat of the Federal government is here. We suck up tax money from the rest of the nation and distribute it in the souk that is the DC area. And Federal workers make what seems like outrageous amounts of money because housing in close to DC costs a fortune. So those salaries aren’t what they seem, and the ever-rising federal wages contribute to the outrageous cost of living in the area – a vicious circle. Here is an example of single family homes from Falls Church plucked at random from the Washington Post.

My suggestion? Distribute all of the Federal agencies throughout the backwater cities of America like Topeka, Omaha, etc. and break the power of the Federal center.

Wikileaks and Espionage

The Wikileaks story dominates our news today. Some people have wondered how an enlisted soldier was able to simply burn all of this information onto discs and then pass it along? Well, it doesn’t surprise me much and I expect much worse ahead.

Back in the mid 90’s I was in Intelligence and was stationed at the headquarters of a certain large agency. I carried a backpack every day and this agency had a spot-check policy for backpacks and purses. I was never once spot-checked. Theoretically, I could have carried documents and such out of the building every day if I wanted to risk being caught.

Jump ahead to today. In the old days, spies had to sneak photocopies of microfilm or something like that out to their handlers. Now, you could use memory sticks or a cell phone. I can’t imagine the damage that an iPhone could do – video, pictures, etc. My guess is that it will only be a matter of time until we hear of huge losses of sensitive data to somebody who just took pictures on his phone all day at work. How can the government stop this? Can they ban all phones at work? Can they enforce such a ban? I think not.

Perhaps the security in critical places like nuclear labs and top-level analysis centers is better and it would be harder to take information out of them, but I have no confidence in that. Perhaps the larger question is how the nation-state can lock down information in the  digital age. I don’t have much faith in the ability of a big, lumbering organization like the modern State to keep information secret. All it takes is one person with hostile intentions to wreak havoc with national secrets.

Defending Constantine 1

I received the book yesterday. It is surprisingly large – most of Leithart’s works are shorter. Here’s a quote from the Introduction:

…one aim in this book is to contribute to the formation of a theology that does not simply inform but is a social science.

In contrast to many modern theologians who consider social science to be foundational for theology, Milbank argues that classical orthodoxy contains its own account of social and political life.

I love this – we don’t need to go to sociology and political science for instructions on how to order our lives. Theology, rightly conceived, contains all we need for every area of life. This is Reformational, Medieval, and Kuyperian!


Defending Constantine

Coming in November, Peter Leithart’s new book:


1 Sanguinary Edicts
2 Jupiter on the Throne
Instinctu Divinitatus
4 By This Sign
Liberator Ecclesiae
6 End of Sacrifice
7 Common Bishop
8 Nicaea and After
9 Seeds of Evangelical Law
10 Justice for All
11 One God, One Emperor
12 Pacifist Church?
13 Christian Empire, Christian Mission
14 Rome Baptized


Our Future

It is hard to imagine what the future of the USA will look like, and forecasts are useless anyway, because none of us actually KNOWS the future. That said, we face such tidal waves of debt in this nation and globally that a reckoning day will come. [I will make my own useless forecast] Since we are unlikely to cut spending much or raise taxes much, my guess is that the reckoning will be in the form of hyperinflation. Inflation makes debts small at the cost of destroying the currency and punishing savers. What all this means for me and my children is worrisome.

I am post-millennial, which means that I think the future is ultimately bright for Christ and His Church. I think things have gotten better since the Resurrection. You only think things are the worst now if you don’t know history very well. While I expect a form of “collapse” for the USA I don’t think it will be “end of the world” collapse, just something like the collapse of the British Empire. We won’t be able to police the world, tell everyone what to do, and so on. Rod Dreher talks about where to live and whether or not to move on his blog. Will there be social unrest? I would think so. I don’t think living in cities will be pleasant at times. On the other hand, living in extremely rural areas doesn’t seem great either due to driving distances, lack of supplies, and so on. If oil prices go up, driving distances may become untenable and low income / fixed income folk aren’t going to be able to commute. All of this seems to point to suburbs and smaller cities becoming more livable, walkable and pleasant, so that is an upside.

I would imagine that our standard of living will stagnate, but on the other hand it seems possible that there will continue to be an uber-class of vastly wealthy elites and an underclass of the proletariat who cannot protect their savings with gold, overseas banks and the like. Stress will come on the institutions of governance and perhaps they will fall apart. And yet technology affords the government with unprecedented means of spying, control and punishment.

Perhaps a public burned by experiences with debt and disabused of the notion that the Messianic State can take care of everything will mature in wisdom. Perhaps fragments of our society can begin to return to taking care of local things instead of always worrying about national issues that we can do nothing about. Or perhaps we are in for several centuries of darkness, where fragility and uncertainty reign and the political landscape shifts all the time. Either way, there are great opportunities for the Church in the coming century, due to technology, upheaval and the failure of institutions that are given over to evil.

Housing in Virginia 2010

It is now May of 2010 and there is no sign that housing is recovering here in Virginia. I live out in the exurbs, so in close to the city core things are probably a bit different. Out here, most of the homes that sat empty last summer still sit empty today. Most of them don’t have any signs on them at all and grass is now waist deep. I am no expert, but I imagine that a home sitting empty for a summer or two warps, cracks and falls into disrepair. Mold sets in. Bugs get in. Who wouldn’t want that? The few homes that do sell are at fire sale prices, 150K or more under where they were in 05-06.

Will these homes eventually need to be demolished? Will this neighborhood and those like it turn into exurban ghettos? After all, we are only another oil shock or inflation shock away from it being totally unthinkable to do the 1-3 hour commutes (each way) that we do here.

All things considered, housing isn’t picking up steam here. There are years of pain ahead.