“The era of big government is over….” (President Clinton, State of the Union Address, January 23, 1996)
“Too Big to Fail” Doctrine (Origins in the “essentiality doctrine,” a 1950 amendment to the Federal Deposit Insurance Act of 1934)
“Size Matters” (Origin unknown, but probably rooted in the science of Physics)
US President Barack Obama in his inaugural address said, “The question we ask today is not whether our government is too large or too small, but whether it works….” Mr. Obama is right in so far as the foregoing statement appears, however it was clear from the rest of his speech and in particular the words following the quoted portion that his assumption about the role of government runs contrary to that of a politically free society. His idea of the role of the central government is to help people find jobs at “decent” wages, to get “affordable” care, and to have a “dignified” retirement. In other words he endorses the social welfare state. And, as Peter Kirsanow of National Review noted that means Big Government is on the way.
So, why do I say the President is right? The focus on the size of government is irrelevant and its size would need to change from time to time for various reasons related to its proper role. It is the proper role of government that ought to be of concern. A proper government dedicated to protecting rights would find its magnitude determined by such circumstances as the size and geographical location of its territory, the size of the population within its national borders, the level of economic activity, and the civility of relationships with foreign nations. In a politically free society the civility of relationships within national borders would be a minor concern. It is the exploitive nature of the mixed political economy or welfare state for example, that contributes the most to social unrest through class envy and political competition for economic spoils.
When Bill Clinton made the above statement in 1996 his speech was also sprinkled liberally with what he called his “seven challenges”. The words of the statist will sound familiar, “…strengthen families…renew schools…expand educational opportunities…help every American willing to work…achieve economic security…take streets back from crime…protect our environment…reinvent government.”
On January 20, 2001 President George W. Bush promised the goal of “justice and opportunity” in his inaugural. His address had a more general theme than did that of President Obama. Perhaps that just ended up giving him more latitude in making commitments to “…reclaim schools…reform Social Security and Medicare…reduce taxes…build defense….” Unfortunately, history makes presidents, despite the ambitions of the office holder, and the Bush legacy will undoubtedly be defined by the “War on Terror” launched in response to the attacks of September 2001. It is clear both from the commitments made in his address and the subsequent unchecked spending relative to non-defense programs that Mr. Bush kept the central government on the path to a swelling welfare state. His handoff of the economic recession, relative to the so-called subprime mortgage crisis, together with the precedent set by Treasury Secretary Paulson’s requested bailout of the financial industry gave his successor something to point to as a convenient excuse for every subsequent economic problem: “…the mess we inherited”.
The animus permeating the partisan struggle to assign blame is pointless. The politicians and government bureaucrats can share the frontline blame for all of it. Statesmen would recognize that the last century of ever-increasing meddling in people’s economic affairs represents a colossal failure of the institution of government in the United States. Simply responding that Big Government is what people want is the greatest abrogation of political responsibility. Of course people will want something for nothing if you keep robbing from those that still have what they want. But Robin Hood is not the President of the United States.
It is not just the folks who think they want help with getting “decent” wages, “affordable” care or a “dignified” retirement that are said to want Big Government. The establishment of central banking with the Federal Reserve in 1914 was largely the result of bankers “cooperating” with politicians. Every industry that is heavily regulated by the central government shares similar origins. Big Business meets with Big Government over regulations that effectively establish barriers to entry thereby limiting competition. Largely freed of the need to develop market discipline as an alternative to government regulation, some businesses grow ever larger propped up by cheap loans, guarantees and subsidies. Make no mistake about it, every institution deemed “too big to fail” has become so because of government involvement. The morally challenged executives of these state-sponsored enterprises go to Washington with hat in hand, to beg that more money be taken from taxpayers to support their enterprises, whereas the free market would quickly have them and their companies absorbed by competent operators through liquidations or mergers. Welfare clearly is bestowed upon incompetent business as well as individuals. It was a US Congressman who, in stating something worth thinking about, said, “Once you lose your freedom to fail, you also lose your freedom to succeed….”
Size does matter in the proper context. Even the sexual innuendo associated with the expression “size matters” needs clarifying context. As long as sexual activity is considered some sort of sport or pastime size may well be relevant to the parties involved, for each player by the way. If sexual activity is part of a loving relationship in which the parties value each other’s lives in total, then the particular natural endowments are secondary. It is similar with the individual’s relationship to government. If government is instituted in its proper role of rights protection, then the size of the institution is irrelevant, and it might even be possible in some ideal society light years from now to have some reverence for government. But as long as government is employed in the fantasy of everyone living off of everyone else, of robbing one class to favor another and generally intervening in people’s lives then size is extremely relevant. The bigger the government, measured in terms of the scope of intervention, the less political freedom is possessed by individuals in society, and the closer is the system to ultimate collapse. In the meantime, as Leviathan grows, everyone is just getting screwed.
©Copyright 2009 Edward Podritske