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The Conservative Curmudgeon
July 1, 2009

Selfish Political Class Fuels Deficits and Bailouts
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA — There can be little doubt that our economy is increasingly out of control. Government bailouts of Wall Street, banks, and auto companies have been growing. The Bush administration initiated these efforts, and the Obama administration has increased them dramatically.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in early June that the nation needs to begin planning now to eventually bring taxes and spending in line; he warned that large budget deficits, if sustained, could deepen the financial crisis and choke off the economy. His statement reflects the growing concern among economists and investors that the nation’s long-term fiscal imbalances could stand in the way of economic recovery by driving up the interest rates that the government, business, and consumers pay to borrow money. The rate the government pays has already risen in recent weeks.

The national debt is projected to double from about 41 percent of the economy last year to more than 82 percent by the end of the next decade. After that, things will get worse, budget analysts say, as more and more members of the baby boom generation receive benefits from Social Security and Medicare. The latest government estimates show Social Security beginning to pay greater benefits than taxes collected by 20l6, a year sooner than projected last year. The so-called trust fund will be depleted by 2037, four years earlier than 2008 predictions. Medicare is in even worse condition, paying out more in benefits than collections for the second year in a row. So far, President Obama has offered no plan to rein in these costs.

When you have a huge budget deficit and need to reduce it, you have only two options: cut spending or raise taxes. Our politicians do not want to do either. They do not want to raise taxes because that would antagonize the voters, especially those who trusted “no new tax” pledges. And politicians have a vested interest in continued increases in spending — not in cuts.

Members of Congress subsidize, in one form or another, a host of special interests — farmers, businessmen, universities, labor unions, welfare recipients — and each group has a special Political Action Committee (PAC) that contributes to Members' campaigns. Cuts in the subsidy will provoke cuts in the contributions. The result: every group gets what it wants, and budget deficits skyrocket. Added to all of this business-as-usual subsidization are the bailouts of failed banks, Wall Street firms, and auto companies — turning traditional ideas of free enterprise on their head. Sadly, both Republicans and Democrats have been co-conspirators in this undertaking.

We have, in fact, created in America a permanent political class that has an interest in ever-expanding government. This is something the Founding Fathers sought to prevent — and would be sorry to see.

Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Edward Carrington, observed that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.... One of the profoundest preferences in human nature is for satisfying one’s needs and desires with the least possible exertion; for appropriating wealth produced by the labor of others, rather than producing it by one’s own labor.... In other words, the stronger the government, the weaker the producer, the less consideration need be given him and the more might be taken away from him. A deep instinct of human nature being for these reasons in favor of strong government, nothing could be a more natural progress of things than for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

It was because of their fear of governmental power that the Framers of the Constitution limited government through the Bill of Rights and divided its authority through our federal system. By establishing the executive, legislative, and judicial branches — and by dividing authority between the state and national governments — the Framers hoped to ensure that no branch of government would ever obtain so much power that it would be a threat to freedom.

The kind of activist government we have now — involved in every aspect of people's lives, now even running an automobile company — is the opposite of what the Founding Fathers had in mind. From the beginning of history, the great philosophers predicted that democratic government would not long preserve freedom. Plato, Aristotle, and, more recently, De Tocqueville, Lord Bryce, and Macaulay, predicted that men would give away their freedom voluntarily for what they perceived as greater security. French political philosopher Bertrand De Jouvenal noted that “the state, when once it is made the giver of protection and security, has but to urge the necessities of its protectorate and overlordship to justify its encroachments.”

Voters say that they are against big government and oppose inflation and deficit spending, but when it comes to their own particular share, they act in a different way entirely. Long-time Minnesota Congressman Walter Judd once recalled that a Republican businessman from his district “who normally decried deficit spending berated me for voting against a bill which would have brought several million federal dollars into our city. My answer was, 'Where do you think federal funds for Minneapolis come from? People in St. Paul?'.... My years in public life have taught me that politicians and citizens alike invariably claim that government spending should be restrained, except where the restraints cut off federal dollars flowing into their cities, their business, or their pocketbooks."

If each group curbed its demands upon government, it would not be difficult to balance the budget and restore health to the economy. Human nature, however, leads to the unfortunate situation in which, under representative government, people have learned that they can vote funds for themselves that have, in fact, been earned by the hard work of others.

This point was made 200 years ago by British historian Alexander Tytler: “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover they can vote themselves largess out of the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury — with the result that democracy collapses over a loose fiscal policy, always to be followed by dictatorship.”

The Founding Fathers never envisioned the creation of a permanent political class such as the one we have now. They believed that men would be farmers, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers — and would devote several years of their lives to public service and then go home to continue their careers. Today, however, we have professional politicians — men and women who support their families by holding political office and intend to do so for many years. Their motivation is clearly whatever will permit them to do so, not the long-run best interest of the country.

Still, we must keep in mind that Members of Congress respond to our demands. As long as we seek to be subsidized by government, the politicians of both parties will comply. In this sense, our own selfishness — as well as theirs — is the culprit.

See this article at News Blaze.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2009 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation