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The Out-Of-Control Monstrosity
20 April 2011
In yesterday's article we looked at the possibility of a painful economic meltdown induced primarily by our massive personal and national debt. We went on to look at ways we could lessen the effect of this crisis on a personal level. Today, we will take a look at how the role of the federal government has mutated into a monstrosity that would cause the Founding Fathers to roll turbulently in their graves.
The big news headlines in recent weeks have revolved around the national budget crisis. While politicians from both sides of the aisle bicker in Washington over the fate of tens of billions of dollars, America teeters on the brink of catastrophe. When those amounts are put into the perspective of our more than $14 trillion national deficit, it's very easy to feel that our leaders are totally out of touch with reality.
The politicians are arguing over $38 billion in budget cuts. That is around 0.26% of the $14.2 trillion deficit — barely a quarter of one percent! Let's bring this down to a personal level. Let's say you make $50,000 per year. Take 0.26% of that and you get around $130. With that amount, you're still a few dollars short for purchasing a low-capacity 8GB iPod Nano on Amazon. Or you could easily blow that amount in just one evening enjoying dinner for four at a nice restaurant. Saving such a trifling amount is not going to do much to get you out of a debt that is equal to TEN years worth of your salary! You've got to be a lot more serious than that about getting out of such a debt!
The point is, our leaders don't even have the guts to chop a quarter of a percent off the government glut. If by some miracle they were so outrageously bold as to dare to chop 10 times as much, $380 billion, that would still make only a 2.6% dent in our rapidly increasing deficit. Even that would be way too little, way too late. As one commentator put it: "The [proposed] budget cuts are like trying to shovel the U.S. out of a debt avalanche with a spoon."
If our leaders were to do the unimaginable — the impossible — and work on axing a 100 times more than they are now considering, $3.8 trillion, we just might be able to save our country from ruin. But how would we accomplish such radical pruning? I'm glad you asked! I have a number of suggestions. But first, I want to address some issues which are the fundamental root of the problem.
The real problem is not the national deficit — that's just a symptom of a deeper, systemic malady. It's the government itself that needs to be overhauled and fixed. If and when that Herculean task is accomplished, it will be relatively easy to solve the deficit problem.
The primary problem with the government is that it thinks it can run every aspect of its citizens' lives better than the citizens themselves can. As one tiny example, consider that where I live in Oregon it is illegal for me to pump my own gas at the gas station! (Be sure to read the article I linked to, it's great!) In the last year or so, there have been some pretty amazing attempts by the government to rule our lives down to the minutest detail:
  • About a year ago, a bill was introduced in the city of New York that would prohibit the use of salt in the preparation of food eaten by customers in their restaurants.
  • Just this month, a public school in Chicago decided to forbid students from bring sack lunches from home.
  • Also this month, officials at an elementary school south of Boston have banned kids from playing tag, touch football and any other unsupervised chase game during recess for fear they'll get hurt and hold the school liable. They are following the example of similar recent school bans in Wyoming, Washington and South Carolina.
These are just a few examples that come to mind — if you took the time to look, I'm sure you could find a huge number of similar examples of government control and interference. This deep-seated belief that "government knows best" leads to a related major defect in our modern government: the idea that the government is responsible for taking care of its citizens, from cradle to grave.
Originally, the Founding Fathers set forth a very limited role for the federal government:
  • National defense (NOT national aggression!)
  • National currency
  • National postal system
  • Protect individual rights
They capped it off with Amendment X, the last in the Bill of Rights: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." In other words, if the Constitution didn't give the federal government responsibility for something, then the states or individual citizens were supposed to take care of it. Consider the insights from this article:
The United States was not established so that government could flourish. Our Constitution was carefully written to limit the power and scope of government, not expand it. The Constitution was about protecting the liberty and freedom of the people, not about protecting the power of the government. The Constitution was about a small government with limited power, not a large government with unlimited power.
Consider some quotes of our Founding Fathers:
  • "We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy [thriftiness] and liberty, or profusion [lavish spending] and servitude." — Thomas Jefferson
  • "Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated [listed]." — Thomas Jefferson
  • "The powers delegated by the proposed constitution to the federal government are few and defined." — James Madison
  • "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic." — Benjamin Franklin
  • "Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government." — James Madison
It seems clear that the Founding Fathers did not envision a federal government so expansive that it could saddle its citizens with so much debt so as to enslave them and future generations. Indeed, the Founding Fathers expressed concern about precisely that. As Jefferson and Madison indicated, the federal government's power to provide for the general welfare was specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The Constitution was the provision for the general welfare.
Bailing out the financial system is not enumerated in the Constitution. Nor is bailing out the automobile industry. Nor is borrowing from the next generation in order to reduce unemployment in this generation. It seems we're intentionally doing the kinds of things our Founding Fathers warned us against.
I will certainly grant that the United States of 2009 is not the same as that of the 18th century. Things have changed. But some underlying principles haven't changed. They aren't quaint or obsolete because our country has grown. And the warnings of our Founding Fathers in the 18th century have more consequence and importance than ever in the 21st century.
In our times, the federal government has evolved into the very thing the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent! You could say that they saw the government as the pilot of a ship, who keeps it on course. Two hundred years later, the government has completely swallowed the ship, and has become Santa Claus, fairy godmother, Father Knows Best, mother hen, and good ol' grandma, all wrapped up in one humongous, all-encompassing, "benevolent" entity! By assuming that it knows best, by taking responsibility for the education, health, and financial well-being of its citizens, the government is, in a very real sense, playing God in our lives. And when man sets himself up as God, we are in a very dangerous situation.
This reminds me greatly of the Frankenstein story. In the famous novel by Mary Shelley (who also wrote The Last Man, which I reviewed in an earlier article), Dr. Frankenstein, trying to play God, attempts to create human life, but ends up bringing into being an out-of-control monstrosity which leaves a trail of death and destruction everywhere it goes.
The American government is different from the lead characters in Shelley's book in this regard: it is not one or the other, but it is actually BOTH. Like Dr. Frankenstein, the government tries to play God in the lives of its citizens. And like the bring he created, it is also an out-of-control monstrosity that leaves a trail of death and destruction everywhere it goes, even when its motives are good. In the story, Dr. Frankenstein, and all those he loves, are destroyed by his own creation. Likewise, there is a very real possibility that the American government, nation and people will end up being destroyed by the very same American government that tries to play God.
For a frightening example of just how monstrous this horror story has become, look no further than this report from FoxBusiness.com — Government Cash Handouts Now Top Tax Revenues:
U.S. households are now getting more in cash handouts from the government than they are paying in taxes for the first time since the Great Depression.
Households received $2.3 trillion in some kind of government support in 2010. That includes expanded unemployment benefits, as well as payments for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and stimulus spending, among other things.
But that's more than the $2.2 trillion households paid in taxes, an amount that has slumped largely due to the recession, according to an analysis by the Fiscal Times.
Also, an estimated 59% of the 308.7 million Americans in this country get at least one federal benefit, according to the Census Bureau, based on 2009 data. An estimated 46.5 million get Social Security; 42.6 million get Medicare; 42.4 million get Medicaid; 36.1 million get food stamps; 12.4 million get housing subsidies; and 3.2 million get Veterans' benefits.
And the handouts from the government have been growing. Government cash handouts account for a whopping 79% of household growth since 2007, even as household tax payments — for things like the income and payroll tax, among other taxes — have fallen by $312 billion.
That is a tough feeding trough to take away from voters.
Tough, but not impossible. Where are the high-caliber men and women who have the guts and the nerve to lead America back from the brink of destruction, onto a path of fiscal sanity and economic health? Rembember Benjamin Franklin quote shared above: "When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic."
The whole problem is so simple that even a child could understand it. DON'T SPEND MORE THAN YOU HAVE! How hard is that to grasp? If you can't afford a new Mercedes, then maybe you'll have to make do with a used Escort. You don't need to have a Ph.D. in economic to figure that out — it's just common sense. When times are lean and difficult, it's obvious that you can do without luxuries like that entertainment center you've always wanted, the gourmet tour of Europe you've been dreaming of for years, or the Hearst Castle look-alike pool that you've always promised yourself!
Common sense on a personal level also works on a state and national level. National parks, the space program, the arts, military marching bands — as well as many, many other deserving causes — are all wonderful luxuries that we can splurge on and enjoy in times of plenty. But the are definitely not necessary! So many things the government spends its money on are not at all vital to our survial or well-being as a nation. And yet talk of axing them provokes reactions of shock and horror in many Americans — politicians and citizens alike! This madness must stop before it kills us!
How can we find the path back to life, liberty and prosperity? It will be a very long and difficult journey, but the trailhead begins where we acknowledge that the government does NOT know best. We must also renounce the government's role as God. We can do this by a radical pruning, which will severely cut back the government's control over our everyday lives. By doing so, the budget and deficit problems will pretty much solve themselves. The U.S. government, at both the federal AND the state level, has way too many fingers in way too many pies. It needs to divest itself of many of the businesses it has acquired over the years.
Well, this article is already long enough, so my proposals for how to radically prune the federal and state governments will have to wait until next time.
This article is 7th a series of articles on this Web site related to American Politics and Culture which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
5  Nov  2008
5  Dec  2008
6  Mar  2010
18  Sep  2010
18  Apr  2011
19  Apr  2011
The Out-Of-Control Monstrosity
20  Apr  2011
21  Apr  2011
8  Nov  2011
28  Jun  2013
11  Sep  2013
5  Oct  2013
29  Apr  2014
2  Jul  2014
26  Jun  2015
28  Aug  2015
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