The Unprotected

There is one paragraph in Steven Brill’s essay in Time on what’s wrong with the United States that can’t be emphasized often enough:

As I tried to find the answer over the past two years, I discovered a recurring irony. About five decades ago, the core values that make America great began to bring America down. The First Amendment became a tool for the wealthy to put a thumb on the scales of democracy. America’s rightly celebrated dedication to due process was used as an instrument to block government from enforcing job-safety rules, holding corporate criminals accountable and otherwise protecting the unprotected. Election reforms meant to enhance democracy wound up undercutting democracy. Ingenious financial and legal engineering turned our economy from an engine of long-term growth and shared prosperity into a casino with only a few big winners.

These distinctly American ideas became the often unintended instruments for splitting the country into two classes: the protected and the unprotected. The protected overmatched, overran and paralyzed the government. The unprotected were left even further behind. And in many cases, the work was done by a generation of smart, hungry strivers who benefited from one of the most American values of all: meritocracy.

The emphasis is mine. In the balance of the piece, Mr. Brill insistently points his finger in the wrong direction. Rather than arguing over who shot John let’s just think about the obvious. If the problem is that the American people have been divided into a relatively small protected (and I would say subsidized class) and a much larger unprotected class, isn’t the solution obvious? There are two possible directions: protect everybody or protect nobody.

Protecting everybody would mean imposing tariffs, transforming “at will” employment into unrecognizability, broadening American subsidization of businesses, creating mechanisms to ensure that everyone who wants a job has one, and generally reconstructing all of the U. S. economy and society to more closely resemble the societies and economies of Europe. Protecting no one would mean rolling back occupational licensing, removing restrictions on foreign competition with presently protected businesses and individuals, restoring intellectual property law to something that more closely resembles what it was 200 hundred years ago, and the thicket of subsidies that has grown up over the years would be eliminated.

IMO the latter would, from a technical standpoint, be much easier than the former. It would also mean an end to the benefits presently enjoyed by the protected who will fight the reforms to the death and who have the power to get what they want.

My bet is that neither will be done and over time the United States will come to resemble Mexico with its small, wealthy, entrenched mostly Spanish aristocracy and its large struggling mostly native and mestizo lower class.

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