Melanie L. Sturm: Elections and consequences
July 12, 2010
The upcoming midterm elections are among the most important in modern American history. They will be a referendum on what we want America to be. It is critical that Americans understand the Republicans’ and Democrats’ divergent visions for our country, and that we vote as informed citizens in November.
Republicans’ vision champions personal liberty, equality of opportunity, the right to pursue happiness (while risking failure) and limited government. Ultimately, what is at stake is our Founding Fathers’ vision of an America characterized by free enterprise, liberty and a non-coercive federal government.
The case for limited government is critical not only because it is the essential principle upon which America was founded, but because limited government helped make us the freest and most prosperous country in the world. Exclusively American and demanded by our Founding Fathers, limited self-government fostered a unique “American Character” typified by a strong work ethic, self-reliance, independence, productivity, creativity, entrepreneurialism, charity and personal responsibility.
The Founding Fathers’ vision, our “American Character,” is undermined by the advance of an expansionist government often led by unelected elites who seek to control more of our economy and, consequently, our lives. Thomas Jefferson was prescient when he warned, “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and for government to gain ground.”
Our Founding Fathers understood that the political philosophy of individual responsibility and limited government is not about protecting the rich. Policies based on this philosophy demonstrably promote prosperity for all citizens. As demographic data reveal, self-identified conservatives are so committed to lifting people out of poverty that they contribute and volunteer more than self-identified liberals.
One might assume that this commitment to giving is because Republicans are wealthier than Democrats. However, demographic data also reveal that the incomes of liberal households are 6 percent higher, on average, than those of conservative households. This doesn’t mean that Republicans have a monopoly on generosity, only that they’re not “takers.” Republicans are generous because they believe in the principle of individual (not government) responsibility for others.
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The corrosive effect of an intrusive and controlling government is evident in the “entitlement culture” and the belief, propagated by self-interested politicians, that government can bring us utopia (and someone else will pay for it). The danger of this trend is captured by the saying, “the bigger the government, the smaller the citizen,” and was the essential insight of John F. Kennedy who said in 1960, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
Since then, elected leaders of both parties have moved America in the opposite direction: quadrupling the size of the federal government; enacting new entitlements – the unfunded liability for which exceeds $109 trillion; and creating new bureaucracies that employ more government workers whose unions collude with politicians to provide wages and benefits that dwarf those in the private sector.
More than one-third of the $787 billion 2009 stimulus package (which passed before congressional representatives could read the legislation) funded unionized government jobs. Federal jobs are increasing by 10,000 per month while job growth in the private sector is negligible and the unemployment rate hovers around a 27 year high. Even more worrisome, total compensation (including benefits) for federal employees averages almost twice that of private sector employees.
As a consequence of rising governmental expenditures, the national debt has grown so enormous that Fed Chairman Bernanke warned of its “Greek proportions” and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, declared it to be the greatest threat to U.S. national security.
Finally, the case for limited government is clear when considering the unintended adverse consequences that result from government intervention, however well intentioned and politically successful the policy. Ultimately, these policies hurt those they are intended to help. Minimum wages create unemployment, welfare provokes dependency, bailouts lead to moral hazards (which lead to more bailouts). Furthermore, punitive income taxes reduce entrepreneurship, leading to fewer jobs created, less economic growth, less tax revenue and less charitable giving – to the detriment of all.
The paradox is that the government often intervenes to address problems that were created by ill-conceived (though politically popular) government policies. For example, when Nixon instituted price controls in 1972 to tame the inflation caused by Johnson’s “Guns and Butter” policies, he won widespread praise and a landslide election. But the resulting shortages, long lines at gas stations, and stagflation of the 1970s were far worse. In an attempt to address affordable housing challenges created in part by strict zoning laws, the Clinton administration introduced quotas and began to use Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to stimulate loans to people with bad credit. As a result, the government helped precipitate the current economic crisis.
We hope we’ve stimulated consideration of the unintended adverse consequences of big government and are grateful to The Aspen Times for this pre-election forum. Ultimately, elections have consequences – a lesson Republicans have learned the hard way. Thankfully for America in 2010, consequences also have elections.
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