In this blog, fiat means an authoritative or arbitrary order, not fix it again Tony. Government by fiat would be government by orders issued by prince or a king, not by laws passed by a democratically elected legislature such as Congress. Government by decree is same thing, although you might think decrees were more likely to be issued by a dictator.
Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. Fiat comes from a Latin word meaning “to be done.” Decree comes from a Latin word meaning “to decide.” Since they’re about the same and both Latin, we’ll call them both decrees. On the other hand, the word law comes from an Old Norse word, “log,” meaning a binding custom or practice of a community.
No wonder people like laws better than decrees. Here in the United States, we also flatter ourselves that we are governed by laws rather than by men, the men alternative obviously standing for guys issuing decrees. Are we really that lucky? I don’t think so, at least not anymore.
For 80 years or so we’ve had something called administrative law. It was one of my courses in law school. Here’s the idea. When Congress passes a law that’s complicated, it delegates the application of the law to administrators, also known as bureaucrats. The delegation is right there in the law. Sometimes it’s called “rule making authority.”
Then the bureaucrats make up specific rules based on the law. The rules are called regulations. How far afield the bureaucrats can go in doing this, and what processes they have to use to write and adopt the regulations, is the subject of administrative law.
As far as I can tell, Congress seldom, if ever, reviews regulations to make sure they’re what Congress intended them to be when it passed the laws. Instead, people file lawsuits claiming that the bureaucrats exceeded their rule making authority. Whether they did or they didn’t is decided by judges.
Wow! Regulations seem to look more like decrees than laws, with the custom and practice of the community lost along the way in the mists of the Potomac River and the fog of Foggy Bottom. Now let’s look at something else that might make you feel less lucky.
Along with administrative law we have something called an executive order. The President issues these orders as the chief executive of the federal government. As background, remember that the President’s oath of office requires him to uphold the laws of the United States.
During World War II, President Roosevelt uprooted Japanese Americans from their homes and sent them to internment camps by executive order. That’s still a hot potato. For years nobody thought federal employees could unionize legally. Then along came President Kennedy and issued an executive order that they could. Surprise!
A few days ago President Obama issued an executive order halting deportation of a certain group of illegal aliens, suspending the enforcement of a law passed by Congress requiring their deportation. Oops, executive orders also look suspiciously like decrees, and some seem to trump laws.
Federal regulations are assembled in the Code of Federal Regulations. In print the Code now takes up yards of library shelves. More yards are on the way for ObamaCare. In the meantime, the number and scope of executive orders have also increased considerably.
Myself, I’m not feeling too lucky. Are we governed by laws rather than guys issuing decrees? Would you rather be a Viking in your village banging your shield yea or nay, or a Roman in the Colessium hailing the Emporer? Think about it, do some of your own research, and form your own conclusions.
Birth rates fascinate me.
, as somebody once said.
As prosperity increases, birthrates decline. This appears to be a universal rule. It takes roughly 2.2 births per female for both parents to reproduce themselves. More, and population rises. Less, and it declines.
The birth rate in the United States is above 2.2, but this exception only proves the rule. The highest birthrates in the U.S. are among recent immigrants from less prosperous countries. Among other people, the birthrate is below 2.2.
Italy has the lowest birthrate in Europe, despite the popular image of large families with many beaming bambinos. If the trend continues, someday statistically there’ll be no Italians. The Germans are about even.
What about other broader impacts? Somebody is always predicting the world’s population will overwhelm the food supply. But if you assume spreading prosperity, won’t the whole world’s population start shrinking someday and keep shrinking until there’s more food than we need?
Then there’s global warming. If we’re doing it, won’t there be less of it if there are less of us?
The prosperity factor looks like a wild card to me. I’ve never seen a decent explanation of how prosperity can increase or even continue in the face of population decline. If it can’t, prosperity’s eventually going down.
Will birthrates go up if prosperity goes down? I doubt it. Reliable contraception and women’s liberation aren’t likely to disappear even if prosperity does.
Diehard environmentalists are sometimes accused of hating people. Fewer people would probably mean more wilderness, so maybe they’re in luck. I’m not sure about the rest of us.
Like most Americans, I’m concerned about the looming loss of our superpower status to China and the challenge of Islam. Our comfortable normal seems to be changing into an uncomfortable abnormal. On the other hand, maybe there was nothing normal to begin with about the general dominance of the West, and our superpower status in particular.
Take China. For something like 3,000 years the Chinese Empire was the world’s most advanced civilization. The West didn’t truly gain the upper hand over China until it lost the opium wars waged by the British roughly 160 years ago. But the British Empire is now gone, having lasted only 250 years or so, and China now vies with us for supremacy.
How about Islam? Well over 1,000 years ago, it swept to power in North Africa, Asia Minor, the Midle East (including the Holy Land), and much of India, then morphed into the Islamic Ottoman Empire. It conquered Christian Constantinople in 1469 and renamed it Istanbul in 1469. After that the Balkans fell to Islam, and in 1688 Vienna narrowly escaped the same fate.
The Ottoman Empire only fell apart roughly 100 years ago, first with Balkan independence and second when it was carved up after World War I by Britain and France. That didn’t last long, and what was once Islamic is still Islamic. Not only that, Islam has now peacefully invaded Western Europe proper, where Muslims have high birth rates and the natives are failing to reproduce themselves.
So what’s normal and what’s abnormal? Taking the long view, the dominance of the West wasn’t normal, it was abnormal. It seems to have sprung from a temporary and now ending advantage in technology, mainly in weaponry and the ability to project power around the globe. Depending how you count, Western dominance has lasted only about 300 years. Our waning superpower status is less than 100 years old.
Is the supremacy of China and Islam actually the normal state of affairs? Possibly the answer is yes, and the world is only returning to its usual course after a relatiely brief detour. Perhaps that can be of some solace to us and our European friends. We’ve had a good run for a few hundred years. And having had a taste of freedom, people around the world may not be willing to see it disappear.
Please visit our website below:
Did you know that the United States has a National Industrial Policy? If you don’t, take a look at the Web site of the National Labor Relations Board.
In 1932 after Roosevelt’s election, Congress passed the Norris-LaGuardia Act, which removed the legal basis for the use of court injunctions in labor disputes. In 1936, Congress passed the Wagner Act, which provided a legal framework for the oganization of workers into unions, workers’ election of unions to represent them, collective bargaining between unions and employers over labor contracts, and arbitration of labor disputes when collective bargaining failed and strikes ocurred. The Act included the creation of the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces compliance with the Act’s terms and provides arbitration services.
By promoting the Wagner Act, Roosevelt gained organized labor’s vote in his successful bid for a second term as President. Since then organized labor has been a reliable and powerful supporter of the Democratic Party. Its clout increased when public employees gained the right to unionize, starting with an executive order issued by President Kennedy, apparently to reward the AFL-CIO for succesfully supporting his 1960 Presidential campaign. Since then the political power of public employee unions has become enormous.
Restraint of trade, otherwise known as monopoly power, has been illegal under the common law for centuries. The Sherman Act, which predates the Wagner Act by several decades and remains very much alive and well today, follows the common law by explicitly prohibiting restraint of trade by business monopolies. Labor unions essentially restrain trade in labor and therefore represent labor monopolies, which explains the courts’ hostility to unions and strikes prior to the New Deal. It also suggests our National Industrial Policy may be less than sacrosanct.
If prohibiting business monopolies by the Sherman Act, while legalizing labor monopolies by the Wagner Act, strikes you as logically inconsistent, you’re right. However, without unions labor was felt to be powerless in the face of big business. Whether that feeling continues to be justified in the face of hyper-competitive globalization is debatable. Business monopolies are harder to come by today than they were 100 years ago. Closer to home, the political power held by public employee unions at local, state, and federal levels appears increasingly counter-productive and unjustifiable. Perhaps the common law was right after all, across the board. We’ll see.
Please visit our website below:
The War That Ended Peace, despite its author’s caveat that the Great War was not inevitable, left me with the feeling that it was. Ms. MacMillan’s detailed description of the decision makers and the context in which they made their decisions makes it difficult to imagine what could have happened to influence them to make different decisions more conducive to the maintenance of peace. Most of them may not have wanted the war, but they expected one and were willing to have one.
Nail Ferguson’s The Pity of War makes an interesting counterpoint. He tries harder than MacMillan to show that the Great War was not inevitable, but he covers much of the same ground showing the gestation of the War. This undercuts his suggestions that if only people had hewed to the truth rather than their myths, the War could have been avoided. However, the truth is that they clung to their myths.
Both of these books, along with Sleepwalkers by Christopher Clark, confuse the distinction between how and why. The title Sleepwalkers must have been chosen by Clark’s publisher, not by him. Like the other two, Clark’s book makes it perfectly clear that the decision makers as well the public were wide awake. “How” goes to causal chains and their interplay. “Why” goes to fate. The Great War is best understood as tragedy. By the same token, assigning fault to any of the players in the play is an unprofitable exercise.
For more interesting reading please visit our website:
Annexation of Crimea by Russia. A book review for the Bar magazine.
Comparison to the origins of World War I and World War II.
By Stanley D. Prowse
The recent annexation of Crimea by Russia, and the Russian instigated war in progress in Ukraine (albeit for now a small one), invite comparison to the origins of World War I and World War II. These four books, three of them recently published and one from 2007, provide a good place to start.Sleepwalkers, a New York Times Important Book, is inaptly titled. It is a long and densely detailed story of how the war started, focusing on the role played by Serbia and the Russian ambassador in Belgrade in sowing the seeds for the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, and the assassination’s centrality to the series of events culminating in Germany’s invasion of Belgium in August, 1914. The book’s title is inapt, because the book itself makes it crystal clear that the players who made the decisions producing the war did so over time, with considerable deliberation, and with the knowledge that their decisions would almost certainly lead to a general European war. They were not sleepwalking. Clark, although a British historian, self-consciously avoids taking sides, but it appears fairly clear that the Tsar’s decision to announce the first general mobilization of the Great Powers was taken for the benefit of the Serbs, and in legal terms was the efficient cause of the war.
In contrast to Sleepwalkers, Catastrophe is shorter, oriented more towards the individual experiences of soldiers and civilians alike, and an easier and more enjoyable read. Catastrophe takes a self-consciously British viewpoint of the beginnings of the war and its first few months. Hastings is not shy about pinning the blame for the war on the Germans for giving Austria the famous “blank check.” He acknowledges the thesis of the revisionist German historian Fritz Stern that Germany’s major goal in World War I was strikingly similar to its major goal in World War II, the domination of Eastern Europe. On the other hand, Hastings fails to acknowledge the enormous role France played in goading both Serbia and Russia into war, while ensuring England would intervene against Germany.
Bloodlands, by American historian Timothy Snyder , tells the story of the bloodletting in Eastern Europe between the Wars and during World War II. It is an alarming and ghastly tale of human suffering by civilians, from Stalin’s plunder of Ukraine and other non-Russian areas conquered by the Soviets following the end of World War I, through the contest for control of Eastern Europe between the Soviet Union and Germany during World War II. Bloodlands stands for the proposition that in terms of the slaughter of both civilians and soldiers, the number of combatants involved, and the scale of battle, World War II in the European theater of operations was fought primarily in and over what is now roughly Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine.
No Simple Victory might be seen as the precursor of Bloodlands. It emphasizes that our perceptions of World War II are biased and parochial depending on our national and cultural perspectives. For example, it is hard to argue with Davies’ thesis that the American contribution to the War was primarily the production and provision of weaponry and related supplies to the Soviets, and that the Normandy invasion and the liberation of France and eastern Germany was a sideshow in comparison to the series of colossal cauldron battles like Bagration fought successfully by Russia on the Eastern front. Davies shows beyond a doubt that Eastern Europe – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine – was the primary theater of the War in Europe.
Vladimir Putin is obviously a student of Russian and Soviet history. He knows full well that Russia has exercised hegemony over Eastern Europe for most of the last 250 years, and that its eastern border has repeatedly been well within Eastern Europe. Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine as independent, sovereign states are historical anomalies in modern history, not the norm. Russia’s border has already moved west again to encompass Crimea, and threatens in the near future to encompass another chunk of Ukraine.
History has a way of repeating itself. Russia is clearly a revanchist state bent on regaining its historically former territories, just as France in 1914 was bent on regaining Alsace Lorraine. How will Russia’s current ambitions play out? Its annexation of Crimea, like the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, was no accident, although at the time his assassination did not seem to be a threat to world peace. In addition to the annexation, we have a downed civilian airliner and a small war which might still get bigger. If you’re Polish, you should be worried.