“I couldn’t hack it on the outside. Been in here too long. I’m an institutional man now…In here I’m the guy who can get it for you. Out there…I wouldn’t know where to begin.” – Ellis ‘Red’ Redman, The Shawshank Redemption
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It’s said that a people get the government they deserve. And for all the complaining about the “dysfunction” in ours, we keep sending back the same politicians who have made lucrative careers out of what the Founding Fathers saw as an irritating but obligatory stint in public service. George Washington, for example, likened his election as president to being sentenced to execution. When in 1797 his self-imposed second term was up, he happily went home to Mount Vernon to reclaim his life as a private planter. My, how times have changed.
So here we are in 2013, having put off the latest fiscal crisis for another few months. Fantastic. Others can dissect the politics if they want. Did the GOP win by having Obama’s cut-off for higher taxes be $400k/year as opposed to his $250k? Did Obama win by prying out of the GOP tax increases with nothing by way of meaningful spending cuts? All I have to say is: Does it really matter? Is the immoral debt load we’re heaping upon our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren with little to show for it somehow alleviated?
Under the latest deal hammered out in the middle of the night, the national debt is projected to be $24 trillion in ten years. By 2050, when my kids are a little more than my age, $58 trillion. And this assumes interest on our bonds artificially stays at near zero and not the post-1959 average of 6.7%. But fear not. “The rich” will be soaked with tax increases that will raise $620 billion in ten years. Hey now! That’s $62 billion a year—to help offset a $900 billion per year deficit.
Consider: President Obama and Speaker Boehner took a full two months to craft a deal that hacks out what amounts to, according to the CBO, a whopping $2 billion of savings for fiscal 2013 (or what the government borrows every eleven hours). This is a total abdication of their charge to govern responsibly.
Author Mark Steyn summed it up best: “There are arguments to be made in favor of small government…There are arguments to be made in favor of big government…But there is absolutely nothing to be said for what is now the standard operating procedure of the Brokest Nation in History: a government that spends without limit and makes no good-faith effort even to attempt to balance the books. That's profoundly wicked.”
Americans have an unavoidable choice to make as to what kind of country we wish to be…and we need to make it soon. Are we a nation that believes in individual initiative, self-reliance, and all the winning—and losing—that goes with a properly, albeit lightly regulated, market-based system overseen by a limited and de-centralized government apparatus? If so then we better start seriously diving into the expenses side of the ledger and accept that they are unsustainable and effect real reforms.
Are we a European-style social welfare state wherein a large central government is the arbiter of resources, healthcare, capital, social justice, and re-distributed earnings? If so, then you simply cannot vote yourself a European-style government while insisting on an American-style tax code that absolves vast swaths of potential taxpayers of their responsibility to pay for the government services to which they feel entitled. This conclusion is not an expression of ideological predilection. It is an incontrovertible reality of mathematics which is neither intrinsically left nor right but coldly indifferent.
What’s happening in Washington today, however, is a cowardly third way in the form of a massive generational heist to put off this binary choice for as long as possible. You say you want a generous welfare state—but only want the wealthy few to pay for it? No problem! Meh, so what if even if we taxed everyone making over $250,000/year at 100% marginal rates and confiscated every dime of profit from every Fortune 400 company we couldn’t raise enough money to run the government at its current burn rate for more than six months. Keep voting for us and we’ll just keep borrowing the difference from the future and stick them with our growing tab.
This course is, as Steyn says, profoundly wicked. At the least, it is an undemocratic form of taxation without representation as the young and unborn cannot cast votes to pay for our largess. For most of our history we’ve viewed our present as a compact in which we are connected to other generations both in the past and future…especially the future. The Preamble to the Constitution stresses this, asserting that government has an obligation to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Not anymore. Many today have come instead to embrace what Keynes declared as our societal zeitgeist: “In the long run we are all dead.” What difference does it make then if we leave our unpaid bills to our children and their children and their children’s children to manage? We are all dead anyway. So long as we die before the checks that cover our entitlements, subsidies and padded government contracts start bouncing we’re sound as a pound. Our representatives are keenly aware of this mindset, all lip service to fiscal responsibility aside.
Politicians know that a record of abject failure from both parties will not prevent us from voting back our guy. We gave 91% of those seeking re-election to Congress in 2012 another term. That’s because it’s always the other congressmen from the other party in other districts that are the problem. Yet, I’m starting to look at my own representative, Leonard Lance (R). I actually have nothing against him, and he seems like a decent enough fellow. But when I pull up his biography I notice something striking. This gentleman, though no doubt conscientious, has been in public service in one form or another his entire adult life. Indeed, the son of a state representative from Pennsylvania, he has been marinated in the political world. His list of post-law school accomplishments include the Warren Country Court (government); assistant counsel for county and municipal matters to Governor Kean (government); member of the NJ Council on the Humanities appointed by Governor Whitman (government); New Jersey General Assembly (government); New Jersey Senate (government); U.S. House of Representatives (government).
He seems pro-business, and certainly has the talking points down, but I wonder. Has he ever run any organization that goes belly up if it spends more than it takes in for too long? Has he ever been on the receiving end of the laws and regulations his body relentlessly imposes upon the rest of us? Has he ever created, produced, or marketed any product other than himself? Maybe he has some practical experiences about which I am unaware, but barring that correction he is a man who, like the President, has never once run a for-profit organization. This matters because running a private sector concern instills in one the vital discipline to make hard decisions when revenues cannot be raised by simple fiat.
I don’t mean to pick on Mr. Lance. Again, I believe he is an honorable man; I voted for him. And to be fair Sen. Menendez (D) won his first election when I was a college freshman. I just feel that the real cancer in the body of government today is incumbency itself. And we, the electorate, feed that cancer. Sure, we all complain that politicians lie to us. But let’s be honest. “It’s not the politicians who lie,” said a friend of mine in an astute moment of clarity. “It’s the average person who lies to himself. In fact, it’s impossible to survive in politics if you tell the truth.” And because we reward mendacity, this ship will never be righted. (R) or (D) matters not because it means nothing. They are two sides of the same coin.
What we have is not a representative government committed to the common good but rather an elitist body, disproportionately loaded with people who in many cases possess multiple degrees, and yet have never run anything. The First Couple is a par excellence example of this new effete ruling class. nlike Reagan (Eureka college), or Truman (no college) or Lincoln (18 months of formal education) these are highly credentialed and cloistered people who nonetheless earn their livings not by creating anything but rather from being political insiders and thus for whom staying in power is the end game, not doing what is best for the country—and for our posterity to whom Constitutional author Gouverneur Morris was so considerate in his Preamble.
Instead of scrupulous public servants, we are stuck with, on one side, ideologically blinded Democrats who actually look to a depopulating Europe collapsing under the weight of a mathematically impossible quasi-socialism that is an existential threat to some of the world’s oldest nation-states and yearn to implement that same defunct model here. On the other we have inept, impotent Republicans lacking any political courage or cohesion to put up an effective opposition or even argue their case—that is, those who have not become so “institutionalized” like ol’ Red up there that they are no different than the “tax and spend liberals” they claim to decry. Are we really surprised at the fiscal mismanagement we see in all branches of government when these are the parties we trust to lead this nation out of its fiscal quagmire? Maybe a leadership reboot is on order.
Personally I vow to vote for no incumbents next election, regardless of party, as a matter of principle. Who knows, maybe the idea will catch on. Every tempest starts with the first few drops. I suspect I am not alone when I say that I’m tired of holding my nose and pulling the lever for the lesser of two evils. If Lance's and his cohorts’ replacements are even worse fiscal stewards than this crew, what does it really matter at this point? Are you more dead if you hit a wall at 175 mph rather than just 150 mph? The level of bipartisan malfeasance running rampant in Emerald City, D.C. is so abjectly shameful that it demands we fire them all. Don’t feel too bad about it. They’ll be getting off easy. Heck, if I ran my small business with the same accounting rules that the US Government uses I’d be in jail.
Call politics what you want. Show business for ugly people. The refuge of the mediocre. Any cute cliché will do. But we the people are ultimately to blame for we have again and again placed these unsightly mediocrities in control of our lives and, more unforgiveable, the lives of unborn generations who have absolutely no say in the dystopic future they stand to inherit as a result of their negligence. Our leaders are spending money yet to be earned to bribe their way into yet another term of what is, for many, the only business they have ever known.
Washington's dysfunction is the invariable by-product of attempting to govern from a central power hub a sprawling republic spread across 3.8 million square miles and inhabited by 320 million diverse people with so many competing interests. Federalism only works when power is dispersed among federal, state, municipal and local constituent bodies. (This horizontal management model is the reason that the USA is the only one of the ten wealthiest nations that has a population above a mere 8 million.) But since the 1930s our national capital has become a GDP-gobbling vortex into which ever more of its productive citizenry’s treasure is spiraling to feed the insatiable beast of entitlements...and the careers of those who dispense them.
Though bad for the country, the vortex certainly has been a bonanza for the ambitious who have found their way into the inner circles of federal power. Of the 3,141 counties in the USA, seven of the ten wealthiest are now in the Washington D.C. commuter belt. Such a statistic should be alarming. But all is not lost. Even the most stubborn cases of Big Governmentitis can be cured with but the smallest dose of real world experience, if only we have the courage to administer the remedy.
The late Sen. George McGovern, a liberal Democrat mind you, had a catharsis after he left politics—a life he’d been immersed in for three decades. In 1988, he invested a decade of lecture fees to buy and run a 150-room inn in Stratford, CT, which had always been his dream. And he lasted just two years before calling it quits. He cited not just a recession but something more revealing: the costs of complying with a bewildering labyrinth of rules and regulations crafted by lawmakers who, though well-intentioned, never lived lives outside the beltway or the faculty lounge and thus had no clue about the very real consequences of their policies which looked so noble on paper. Ironically, some of these were laws put in place by the body in which he himself served.
McGovern, a history professor and then politician, admitted how his lack of real world experience handicapped his ability to properly serve the public: “If I were back in the U.S. Senate or in the White House, I would ask a lot of questions before I voted for any more burdens on the thousands of struggling businesses across the nation…I would ask whether specific legislation exacts a managerial price exceeding any overall benefit it might produce. What are the real economic and social gains of the legislation when compared with the costs and competitive handicaps it imposes on businesspeople?”
He offers a bit of introspection that is in too short supply on both sides of the aisle today: "I wish that during the years I was in public office I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender.”
As for my representative, Mr. Lance assures us: “Essential discussions about spending cuts and the debt ceiling will continue in early 2013 and I welcome this debate.” Sure he does. Why should he or anyone on Capitol Hill or in the White House ever get serious until we do? After what we saw in the latest round of “essential discussions” isn’t it time to fire all the career politicians and maybe hire some inn-keepers? We owe it to our posterity to at least try.
That’s just my opinion. I could be wrong.