Pre­par­ing the ground for a fu­ture tyranny

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

Do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing dif­fer­ent re­sults.” So which is it — stu­pid­ity, ig­no­rance or in­san­ity — that ex­plains the be­hav­ior of my fel­low Amer­i­cans who call for greater gov­ern­ment in­volve­ment in our lives?

Ac­cord­ing to lat­est Ras­mussen Re­ports, 30 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve con­gress­men are cor­rupt. Last year, Congress’ ap­proval rat­ing fell to 9 per­cent, its low­est in his­tory. If the av­er­age Amer­i­can were asked his opin­ion of con­gress­men, among the more po­lite terms you’ll hear are thieves and crooks, liars and ma­nip­u­la­tors, hustlers and quacks. But what do the same peo­ple say when our na­tion faces a ma­jor prob­lem? “Gov­ern­ment ought to do some­thing!” When peo­ple call for gov­ern­ment to do some­thing, it is as if they’ve been be­fallen by am­ne­sia and for­got­ten just who is run­ning gov­ern­ment. It’s the very peo­ple whom they have la­beled as thieves and crooks, liars and ma­nip­u­la­tors, hustlers and quacks.

Aside from the gen­eral level of dis­gust that Amer­i­cans have for con­gress­men, there’s the ques­tion of whether there is any­thing that Congress does well. What about So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care? Congress has al­lowed So­cial Se­cu­rity and Medi­care to ac­cu­mu­late an un­funded li­a­bil­ity of $101 tril­lion. That means in or­der to pay promised el­derly en­ti­tle­ment ben­e­fits, Congress would have to put tril­lions in the bank to­day earn­ing in­ter­est. Con­gres­sional ef­forts to cre­ate “af­ford­able hous­ing” have cre­ated to­day’s fi­nan­cial calamity. Congress props up failed en­ter­prises such as Am­trak and the U.S. Postal Ser­vice with huge cash sub­si­dies, and sub­si­dies in the forms of spe­cial tax treat­ment and mo­nop­oly rights. I can’t think of any­thing that Congress does well, yet we Amer­i­cans call for them to take greater con­trol over im­por­tant ar­eas of our lives.

I don’t think that stu­pid­ity, ig­no­rance or in­san­ity ex­plains the love that many Amer­i­cans hold for gov­ern­ment; it’s far more sin­is­ter and per­haps hope­less. I’ll give a few ex­am­ples to make my case. Many Amer­i­cans want money they don’t per­son­ally own to be used for what they see as good causes such as hand­outs to farm­ers, poor peo­ple, col­lege stu­dents, se­nior cit­i­zens and busi­nesses. If they pri­vately took some­one’s earn­ings to give to a farmer, col­lege stu­dent or se­nior ci­ti­zen, they would be hunted down as thieves and carted off to jail. How­ever, they get Congress to do the iden­ti­cal thing, through its tax­ing power, and they are seen as com­pas­sion­ate and car­ing. In other words, peo­ple love gov­ern­ment be­cause gov­ern­ment, while hav­ing nei­ther moral nor con­sti­tu­tional au­thor­ity, has the le­gal and phys­i­cal might to take the prop­erty of one Amer­i­can and give it to an­other.

The unan­tic­i­pated prob­lem with this agenda is that as Congress uses its might to take what be­longs to one Amer­i­can to give to an­other — what Pres­i­dent Obama calls “spread­ing the wealth around” — more and more Amer­i­cans will want to par­tic­i­pate in the loot­ing. It will ul­ti­mately pro­duce some­thing none of us wants: ab­so­lute con­trol over our lives.

The path we’re em­barked upon, in the name of good, is a fa­mil­iar one. The un­speak­able hor­rors of Nazism, Stal­in­ism and Mao­ism did not be­gin in the ‘30s and ‘40s with the men usu­ally as­so­ci­ated with those names. Those hor­rors were sim­ply the end re­sult of a long evo­lu­tion of ideas lead­ing to con­sol­i­da­tion of power in cen­tral gov­ern­ment in the name of “so­cial jus­tice.” In Ger­many, it led to the En­abling Act of 1933: Law to Rem­edy the Dis­tress of the Peo­ple and the Na­tion. Af­ter all, who could be against a rem­edy to re­lieve dis­tress? De­cent but mis­guided Ger­mans, who would have cringed at the thought of what Nazi Ger­many would be­come, suc­cumbed to Hitler’s charisma.

To­day’s Amer­i­cans, en­ticed, per­haps en­chanted, by charis­matic speeches, are ced­ing so much power to Wash­ing­ton, and like yes­ter­year’s Ger­mans, are build­ing the Tro­jan horse for a fu­ture tyrant.

Wal­ter E. Wil­liams is a pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at Ge­orge Ma­son Uni­ver­sity.

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