I recently had an epiphany. Over the last few weeks I have stolen small amounts of time here and there to reduce my insight to comprehensible form so it can be shared and hopefully, understood by others. As many programmers and writers often do, I sometimes indulge these little mental forays, to escape the lonely discipline of my craft and ponder the great big “why” of it all.
I hope each of you can relate to my experience of aging: as I grow older, I tend to distill my education, knowledge and life experience into a more complete world view. That ever-evolving perspective is more complex and integrated than when I was a young adult. It benefits not only from life experience, but over 40 years of continuous reading and research into the nature of human societies and economies. I now know that there is a lot more that I don’t know, but I humbly pray that what I do know can be useful to others long after I am gone.
Over the years, I have seen numerous diagrams allegedly designed to distill the essence of human society, economics and political ideology into a useful model. They’re often described as a “political spectrum”. I’m sure many of you have seen the most famous ones that place Communism at one end and Fascism at the other end – as if those two ideologies were functional opposites (in fact, they’re functionally identical). Unfortunately, none of the diagrams that feature political ideologies are useful for identifying the most critical component in cultural and economic success, e.g. general human happiness and prosperity. All they do is to exacerbate an already divisive public dialog on the most important issues. Debate over them amounts to the proverbial “Tempest in a teacup”.
Despite thousands of hours of reading human history, I’m embarrassed to admit that only recently I discovered the single issue that was on the mind of our founders when they designed the greatest nation of all time. America’s founders were painfully aware that government in any form is the single most dangerous of all human institutions. They understood that it must exist for only one purpose: to ensure the minimum degree of social order required to produce maximum prosperity and that its primary tool for doing that is some level of organized coercion. Of course they were concerned with many details, but their core motivation can be summed up in a single issue – the number one reason why so many people came to the new world – to be free of politically motivated (arbitrary) coercion! Thus, the essence of their motives can be boiled down to only two questions:
- “What is the ideal overall degree of lawful force that is tolerable for harmless citizens of a free nation?”
- “On what moral authority may force be lawfully applied to any harmless individual?”
Obviously, these questions spawn many related questions. Morally valid answers to those questions are the cornerstones of any honorably designed system of justice. However, before they can be answered, question number one must be put to rest.
Therefore, the diagram below shows the single most important challenge our founders sought to overcome: “What level of power (to coerce) can be safely allowed to our new government?” Their answer to that question became the foundation on which all the rest was built. America’s uniquely brilliant founders understood this as the only political spectrum that matters. All the other political ideology diagrams are mostly exercises in self-distraction or intellectual nit-picking. Some are designed to confuse and distract our moral clarity. Therefore, they struggled, fought, died and designed a severely limited government they hoped would forestall or even prevent the very crisis America now faces. Their historically unprecedented plan actually worked almost perfectly for 124 years (1789 – 1913). Since then, many very smart, but morally dysfunctional people have slowly dismantled our founder’s vision piece by piece.
So here it is. THIS is the only “political spectrum” about which our founders cared: “The Lawful Coercion Spectrum”:
Please note: I have taken the liberty of placing labels at various positions to show the approximate "coercion friendly" relationships among the dominant political players in today's world. I can defend these positions with a vast amount of credible documentation. Nevertheless, I am eager to be refuted by sound logic and/or factual evidence.
As with all governments throughout human history, the trend is toward the left end of the spectrum. It is the nature of government to move in that direction because, with rare and precious exceptions, government tends to attract the least noble members of any human society. Power is an attractive nuisance for corruption.
Now, for the most chilling fact:
There is a direct, predictable relationship between the positions on this spectrum and the overall degree of prosperity and happiness experienced by the general population. Any nation that endures positions 7 – 10, or 1-2 for more than a few generations will suffer increasing (and avoidable) economic deprivation, ever-increasing conflict, low productivity and widespread, absolute poverty (as opposed to relative poverty). So, the “Goldilocks Zone” lies from positions 3 – 6.
The truth of this observation is beyond rational debate. Seven thousand years of recorded human history has proven it many times. That proof was dramatized in both detail and quantity in just the last 110 years. The 20th century was literally a laboratory for the economic ideologies spawned in the 18th and 19th centuries (Marxism, Fascism, Socialism and Communism). The results are in – and they prove conclusively that widespread, sustainable human happiness in possible only inside the zones 3 – 6!
To help put this diagram in perspective, here’s a description of a few nation-changing coercive policies, showing where they fall on the “Coercion Spectrum””
As enforced by the U.S. Federal government and many state governments starting about 1913 …
- All taxes based on income, property, estates (death taxes) or capital gains are in the area of position 9.
- All regulations that are not rigorously justified by objectively defensible necessity are in the area of position 9.5 – 10 (about 85% of all current federal regulations)
- All forms of wealth re-distribution are in the area of position 9 or more because they cannot be done without extreme coercion against harmless individuals.
I humbly suggest that all decent, freedom-loving Americans must start using this diagram as the only prism by which we judge coercive public policy. If we do not, then America will pass into the pages of history as a noble, but failed experiment in self-government. Life here will become indistinguishable from that of eastern Europe (or worse), our grandchildren and great grandchildren will learn the meaning of a new age of darkness, and the incredible, bright promise of 19th and 20th century America will never be realized.