Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about ‘premature’ fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.
Paul Krugman’s Misguided Moral Crusade Against Austerity by Michael Kinsley (via thenewrepublic)
But here’s a historical analogy that I remember from an ancient civilizations class so many years ago. The anecdote was so radically counter-intuitive to anything I had ever been taught, that it blew my mind. I’ve been thinking about citizenship and democracy in different ways ever since. It’s a story about the Roman Republic.
As a republic, Rome relied on citizen-armies to fight its wars. When Rome was setting off for war, the male citizens would gather in the Field of Mars (the god of war). Military needs would dictate the number of troops that needed to be raised for a campaign. Then, the citizens would be drafted, one by one, until they made up the requisite number.
But here’s the counter-intuitive part: Because Rome’s was a citizen-army, the citizen-soldiers had to provide their own military equipment. So the wealthiest citizens were always drafted first. (According to my professor, in the history of the Roman Republic the poorest class of citizens were never drafted.) Even when they fought, the wealthier (better armed) citizens always took the front ranks.
This seemed to me remarkable. The wealthiest Roman citizens held the most power in the republic. Only they could enter the Senate or hope to serve as consuls or tribunes. And yet they were the most exposed to the risks of war. Because those who exercised the most power also bore the greatest responsibility—and put their own skin in the game.
Today, America’s military is predominantly manned by the lower social classes. Few members of the social elite ever enter military service. Not surprisingly, austerity politics has followed suit. We’re more likely to cut services for the poor than subsidies for the wealthy or middle class.
I wonder. Would an average ancient Roman citizen even recognize our system as a “republic”?
BTW, it’s perhaps not immaterial to point out that the Roman Republic lasted nearly 500 years (that’s almost three centuries longer than the US has existed). By around 50 BC or so, the citizen-army model gave way to “professional” militaries, often recruited from among the poor. These private armies served under individual (wealthy) generals—like Julius Caesar, who gave us the Roman Empire.
A referendum in which the colonists will take part, the descendants of those who evicted the true inhabitants of those islands, means a disrespect to intelligence and to national and international law,
Argentine Vice President Amado Boudou, who apparently doesn’t know Argentina’s history with its own indigenous populations or has no sense of irony. Via Argentina attacks Falkland Islands referendum - Telegraph (via westernhemisphereanalysis)
Oh, historical anachronisms!
Let’s be very clear on something: The US Constitution, as every textbook (at any level) makes very clear, was not written with the primary intention of limiting the central government.
Sure, the Founding Fathers (peace be upon them) were motivated by a liberal suspicion towards strong central government.
But the Founding Fathers had already created a government with a weak central government. It was called the Articles of Confederation. It was the failure of that government (which lasted until 1789) that prompted the Founding Fathers to create a new constitution that gave more powers to the central government and took powers away from the states. (I’m also pretty sure the Civil War definitely answered this issue.)
In fact, one of the things that prompted the creation of a new, stronger central government was Shay’s Rebellion. My old office (at Dickinson College) was on the very corner where General George Washington assembled the militia that marched off to put down Shay’s Rebellion (there’s a plaque and everything).
It’s also useful to remember that the original Constitution included a number of things we would probably find distasteful today. And not even in the Bill of Rights (which, remember, only came later—years after the Constitution was adopted). For example, slavery was legal and slaves (African-Americans) only counted as 3/5 of a person. And women weren’t allowed to vote. Stuff like that.
I love the US Constitution. It’s not perfect (no such document is). But it’s not a sacred text. I do, however, wish more people got sworn in with it (like Rep. Kyrsten Sinema did).
Today is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Rememberance Day.
As we remember the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis, let us also recommit ourselves to fighting intolerance, injustice, and human rights abuses around the world.
If you’re looking for something else to read to mark the day, here is my piece on visiting the Buchenwald concentration camp.