A Republic, If You Can Keep It (Part 3.1)

28 Oct

Section 3: The Past Century

The 20th Century has truly been a century of unbelievable technological advancement. We should be cognizant of what this technology has done tot he size and nature of our own government. It could easily be argued that, with greater technological advances, the need for government ought to decline and private alternatives be enhanced. But there’s not much evidence for that argument. In 1902 the cost of government activities at all levels came to 7.7% of the GDP; today it’s more than 50%.

…The idea that we’re responsible for our own actions has been seriously undermined. And it would be grossly misleading to argue that the huge growth in the size of government has been helpful and necessary in raising the standard of living of so many Americans. Since government cannot create anything, it can only resort to using force to redistribute… goods….

Taxes are certainly higher. A federal income tax of 35 – 40% is something many middle-class Americans must pay, while on average they work for the government for more than half the year. In passing on our estates from one generation to the next, or “partner,” the US government, decides on its share before the next generation can take over. The estate tax certainly verifies the saying about the inevitability of death and taxes. At the turn of the century we had neither, and in spite of a continuous outcry against both, there’s no sign that either will soon be eliminated.

As casual acceptance of the principle behind high taxation, with an income tax and an inheritance tax, is incompatible with a principled belief in a true republic. It is impossible to maintain a high tax system without the sacrifice of liberty and an undermining of property ownership. If kept in place, such a system will undermine prosperity, regardless of how well off we may presently be.

The modern-day welfare state has steadily grown since the Great Depression of the 1930’s. The federal government is now involved in providing health care, houses, unemployment benefits, education, food stamps to millions, plus all kinds of subsidies to every conceivable special-interest group. Welfare is now part of our culture, costing hundreds of billion s of dollars every year. It is now thought to be a “right,” something one is “entitled” to. Calling it an “entitlement” makes is sound so proper and respectable and not based on theft. Anyone who has a need, desire, or demand and can get the politicians’ attention will get what he wants, even though it may be at the expense of someone else. Today it is considered morally right and politically correct to promote the welfare state. Any suggestion otherwise is considered political suicide.

But the history is clear and the words in the Constitution are precise. Madison and Jefferson in explaining the general welfare clause left no doubt as to its meaning.

Madison said: “With respect to the words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of power connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs not contemplated by its creators.” Madison argued that there would be no purpose whatsoever for the enumeration of the particular powers if the general welfare clause was to be broadly interpreted. The Constitution granted authority to the federal government to do only 20 things, each to be carried out for the benefit of the general welfare of all the people. This understanding of the Constitution, as described by the Father of the Constitution, has been lost in this century.

Jefferson was just as clear, writing in 1798, when he said: “Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare but only those specifically enumerated.”

With the modern-day interpretation of the general welfare clause, the principle of individual liberty and the doctrine of enumerated powers have been made meaningless. The goal of strictly limiting the power of our national government as was intended by the Constitution is impossible to achieve as long as it is acceptable for Congress to redistribute wealth in an egalitarian welfare state. There’s no way that personal liberty will not suffer with every effort to expand or make the welfare state efficient. And the sad part is that the sincere efforts to help people do better economically through welfare programs always fail. Dependency replaces self-reliance while the sense of self worth of the recipient suffers, making for an angry, unhappy, and dissatisfied society. The cost in dollar terms is high, but the cost in terms of liberty is even greater, but generally ignored, and in the long run, there’s nothing to show for this sacrifice.

Today, there’s no serious effort to challenge welfare as a way of life, and its uncontrolled growth in the next economic downturn is to be expected. Too many citizens now believe they are “entitled” to monetary assistance from the government anytime they need it, and they expect it. Even in times of plenty, the direction has been to continue expanding education, welfare, and retirement benefits. No one asks where the government gets the money to finance the welfare state. Is it morally right to do so? Is it authorized int he Constitution? Does it help anyone in the long run? Who suffers from the policy? Until these questions are seriously asked and correctly answered, we cannot expect the march toward a pervasive welfare state to stop, and we can expect our liberties to be continuously compromised.

…In 1936 the New Deal Supreme Court told Congress and the American people that the Constitution is irrelevant when it comes to limits being placed on congressional spending. In a ruling justifying he Agricultural Adjustment Act, the Court pronounced: “The power of Congress to authorize appropriations of public money for public purposes is not limited by the grants of legislative power found in the Constitution.” With the stroke of a pen, the courts amended the the Constitution in such a sweeping manner that it literally legalized the entire welfare state, which not surprisingly, has grown by leaps and bounds ever since….

The problem in the now-accepted role for our government. Government has too much control over people and the market, making the temptation and incentive to influence government irresistible and to a degree necessary….

…Once it’s clear that the nation is not nearly as wealthy as it appears, this will become a serious problem, and it will get the attention that it deserves.

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Posted by on October 28, 2008 in History, Life, Politics


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