Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pizza Federalism, Kickstarter and the Arts

Discussion of federalism is all the rage these days among conservatives. Such conversations are generally framed by the Tenth Amendment, interpreted as an issue of "States Rights," and then dismissed by the left as a throwback to the days of the Civil War.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
I believe a more honest appraisal of the concept requires consideration of the Ninth Amendment as well, and others are becoming at least tangentially aware of that idea.
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
When both the Ninth and Tenth Amendments are included in the discussion, federalism expands to encompass "pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible," as Jonah Goldberg notes.

In yesterday's Real Clear Politics column, The Federalist Solution, he is but the latest to tackle the topic of federalism, by first asking a question that is ripe with promise.
But what if the real compromise isn’t in forcing the Left and the Right to heel? What if instead the solution is to disempower the national elites who think they’ve got the answers to everything?
He then goes on to illustrate that he understands the argument for federalism at the most basic level.
Federalism is simply the best political system ever conceived of for maximizing human happiness. A one-size-fits-all policy imposed at the national level has the potential to make very large numbers of citizens unhappy, even if it was arrived at democratically. In a pure democracy, I always say, 51 percent of the people can vote to pee in the cornflakes of 49 percent of the people.
His analysis of federalism as a political structure for improving the responsiveness and accountability of the political system is also accurate. (bolding mine)
Pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible — while protecting basic civil rights — guarantees that more people will have a say in how they live their lives. Not only does that mean more people will be happy, but the moral legitimacy of political decisions will be greater.
The rest of his column focuses on an essay by Yale law professor Heather K. Gerken, who offers the case for “A New Progressive Federalism” and actually engages the topic in a positive manner, rather than simply screaming "slavery" and running away to hide in the corner. Her essay suggests that federalism provides an opportunity for relatively small collective groups to have a larger say in politics in those areas where they constitute a majority rather than a minority. Mr. Goldberg registers his agreement with the concept by offering the examples of Utah and its Mormon characteristics, San Francisco as a haven for "dissenters," and the suggestion that "In areas where Latinos or blacks are the majority, what’s so terrible about having institutions that reflect their values?"

But then Jonah loses his nerve. He should have kept going, acknowledging the existence of the most under-represented minority in any political system; the individual.

It's a simple journey, Jonah; just follow the concept of federalism, pushing government decisions down to the lowest democratic level possible, to its ultimate conclusion. Federalism at the state level just means smaller groups of 51% peeing in smaller bowls of cornflakes; at the county or local level, smaller bowls still. And the state and local governments are certainly no less corrupt than the federal, as recent research has documented in exquisite detail.

"The lowest democratic level possible" is pizza federalism, where those who choose to do so group together to accomplish specific tasks, restrained by the basic civil rights of others from forcing those others to finance their actions via taxes. "The lowest democratic level possible" is two or more people, voluntarily deciding to interact, or not. "The lowest democratic level possible" is freedom for all and coercion for none.

Pizza Federalism

Most of us have had the experience of being with a group of friends, for whatever reason, when it comes time to eat and no plans have been made. Someone suggests ordering a pizza. Counter-suggestions surface. Most settle on pizza, and decide to order a couple, one split half-and half, because not everybody wants the same toppings. Contrary Charlie doesn't want pizza, but notices on the pizza flyer that they also sell subs, and that sounds good to him. Vegetarian Vicky opts for the house salad, but Stubborn Steve holds out for burgers and fries.

Does the group beat Steve into submission, raid his wallet, throw him into a jail cell, and make him eat pizza or go hungry? No, somebody suggests he pick up the pizza and stop at the local burger joint on his way back. Everybody pitches a few bucks on the table to cover their share of the pizza or their specific order, and Steve sets out on his mission. When Steve gets back, everybody eats, nobody has to eat something they don't want or go hungry, and, to borrow Jonah's metaphor, nobody ends up eating a bowl full of stinky cereal. That's pizza federalism in a nutshell.

Here Comes CrowdFunding

The concept of pizza federalism is showing signs of promise, thanks to the Internet. We turn now to an article at Time Business, titled Will Crowdfunding Drive a New Wave of Startup Investing? The article focuses on new provisions in the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act (JOBS) that's currently making its way through the federal legislative process. The article notes that even the SEC has joined the general concensus that it's time to open up the funding of new businesses to ordinary investors, and that the Internet as an information source is making that possible. And included in the article is this little gem.
Crowdfunding has been a hot topic recently with the dramatic success of online platforms like Kickstarter, which allows anyone to donate money to a variety of projects. Kickstarter expects to distribute over $150 million in 2012, surpassing the annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. But Kickstarter is about philanthropy, not investing, because donors don’t receive a stake in the projects they fund.
"Kickstarter is about philanthropy." As in private charity. It's a system that allows individuals to decide how much they want to donate, and which projects are worthy of their support. It's going to distribute more funds than the National Endowment for the Arts this year. And it's a textbook example of pizza federalism at work.

Conservatives have long preached the mantra of smaller government. The National Endowment for the Arts has long been a conservative lightning rod, in part because of the small-government mantra, in part because conservatives and the bureaucrats who are charged with disbursing NEA grants have widely different artistic opinions. Now Kickstarter's success offers conservatives the opportunity to put their money where their mouths have been for at least a couple of decades.

One way for society to begin to free itself from the shackles of coercion that government represents is to resume responsibility for functions that are now supported by that coercive government structure. This returns choice to the the people and takes power from the hands of the bureaucrats where it currently resides. There's no reason to start with justice, defense, or infrastructure; start where the tools work best.

On that premise, this Tireless Agorist would like to humbly suggest that it's time for National Endowment for the Arts funding to be slashed. Replace the whole grant process, funding and all, with a small staff responsible for creating and maintaining "Kickstarter for the Arts," a purely voluntary replacement for the funding of artistic endeavors by the use of coercion. When ad revenue picks up, it can even be self-supporting. Where's the conservative leader who will step up and bring this discussion to the halls of Congress?

There should be little resistence from those of the left. After all, Kickstarter is the purest possible way to actualize the leftist mantra of the Sixties: "Power to the People!"

As Jonah Goldberg states in the very first paragraph of his essay, "We’re constantly told that the way to fix the country is to dethrone the Left and the Right and empower the middle."

The Internet has provided the tools to do exactly that, by returning choice to the people themselves. Declare pizza federalism supreme, and everybody ends up with more of what they want to pay for, and less of what they don't.

In a Pizza Federalist society, the appropriate question will no longer be "how can we get government to do the right thing," (assuming we can all agree on "the right thing") but "how can we get government to do less, and empower members of society to do more?"

...and that's all I have to say about that.
Author's note: I generally try to give credit where credit is due (although my compatriot over at The Ponds of Happenstance rightfully notes I sometimes fail to grant Hobbes his full honor). When I read the piece by Jonah Goldberg that triggered this essay, the concept of pizza federalism leapt to mind, but I knew it wasn't an original thought.

My memory and Google-fu initially failed, but I finally stumbled across the essay, Pizzacracy, by L. Neil Smith, and recognized it immediately. Well worth a read.

As you'll find in the introduction to the essay, Smith embodies Goldwater's statement "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue" more fully than perhaps any other liberty writer today. You'll find in the reading that he's had no small influence on my own views. My hat's off to you, sir.

1 comment:

  1. I've always thought this progressive brand of federalism that we see both in the EU and in the USA is the wrong way to go, simply because it's easier to have a political impact with a thousand man march in a state capital than with a million man march in Brussels or Washington.