Capitalism may not last forever. For decades I’ve been wondering what the next “ism” might be. I think I’ve got it. It’s Minimalism: a cultural sense of restraint.
Minimalism suggests that:
What we have today is the opposite of Minimalism: Grandiosity. Everything’s supposed to get bigger forever: every company, advertising campaign, bulk mail, spam mailing, copyright law, car and, above all, government. You know, the Texas-sized notion that everything should be bigger, flashier, more expensive and impressive. All-pervasive boosterism and Big Bidness, boy howdy! Guys with big hats and over-dressed women and huge Rolex watches.
We used to say of pilots with fancy chronometers on their wrist, “Big clock, small cock.”
Capitalism has developed to the point that it vests its chieftains with a grandiosity beyond belief. Our leader of the free world has not one but two 747’s at his beck and call, 5,900 employees and a budget estimated at $730 million as of three years ago.
FDR managed a war on two sides of the world with a staff of 18 and a rail car.
Federal Staff Reductionism
There’s only one way to reduce the Washington bureaucracy, which is the ostensible goal of conservatives, but obviously not their effect. Minimalism can only come about when the bureaucrats embrace smallness. But how to do that?
We all know that most bureaucrats could be replaced by a reasonably well programmed web app. Whether public or on an intranet, a properly designed web site can elicit the information needed to replace many a bureaucrat’s job of repackaging information for the consumption of those who think they need a bureaucrat to define the obvious.
I propose a crack team of experts on call to help bureaucrats eliminate their positions–a web site, an 800 number, bulletins on boards, etc. The message: if you can help us devise a web application that moves information as your job description specifies, then you get to go home and continue receiving the pay and benefits you’re getting and reasonable increases, plus a great retirement package when the time comes.
Yep. We’re ready to do that for you, Mr. Bureaucrat, to keep you from dreaming up programs to make your position seem necessary; to avoid the endless rounds of committee meetings and studies and travel and consulting contracts to make it appear that how you move information needs more study. No, we realize that the expensive part of government is the programs you dream up, not the cost of paying and retiring you.
Save the Children
But what about the programs that matter, you ask? Is this merely a variation on the NeoCons’ idea that if we just stop spending gummint money then we can return to a pristine world of bucolic villages and faith-based socials and solutions (don’t pay attention to those smokestacks and fetid water)?
No, there are real needs and real money to spend. Undernourished, under-educated children need a better future. Minimalism doesn’t have a problem with spending money on kids and job training and a health care safety net. It also doesn’t mind spending money defending us against real threats, like people who actually possess WMDs. No, Minimalism has a problem with ideological politicians funneling so much money through a bureaucracy stealing money from real problems.
Minimalism has an abhorrence of corporate welfare supporting obsolete business models and legislation to jail customers who invent their own media packaging and an arms race against ourselves. Rather, Minimalism seeks a spareness in all things, whether government, legislation, business, marketing or car stereo volume. It’s not a matter of making laws defining efficiency and slim government, it’s a matter of allowing a culture-wide sense of restraint to permeate our shared aesthetic about how to conduct our affairs. The time seems to have arrived.
When we get it right, we’ll know it, and the simple act of defining ourselves as minimalists may be a start. Howard Dean has ignited voters by saying that deficits need to be minimized, that federal gun control needs to be minimized and that the feds have no business telling states what form of ritual qualifies their citizens as life partners.
I’ve been traveling to Vermont for 42 years and got married once in Dallas, so I have a sense of the contrasts. Vermont’s always been a place of few words and laws. A quiet place where people keep to themselves but help their neighbors. Sure, there are more ex-urbanites there now, but the place hasn’t changed that much. The last president from Vermont was a man of few words. When asked to comment on Niagara Falls by its enthusiastic boosters, Calvin Coolidge took a look and asked, “What’s to hinder?”
Ayep, Vermont’s a good place to spawn an overdue sense of minimalism.