Sunday, June 6, 2010
America a Slave Society
Gus Murphy had written a letter to our local newspaper, the Olive Press, about my prior letter and here is my response.
Gus Murphy claims that the Wicks Law and similar kinds of governmental failures are accidents and that government can work. But Murphy does not illustrate his claim with facts. Murphy is right that some government is essential, and he is also right that Henry David Thoreau wrote in Civil Disobedience that the government is best which governs not at all. When I assign that short and passionate essay to my senior seminar students they are often surprised that the inventor of civil disobedience, an abolitionist and opponent of the Mexican War, disagreed with big government.
Mr. Murphy offers foreign affairs and road building as examples of the essential services that government provides. But both of these functions were with us long before the explosion in government spending in the past fifty years. In 1950 government spending was 15% of the economy and today it is 45%. But the US isn't any safer and doesn't have better paved roads. Berndt Leifeld and Barack Obama have gotten plenty of votes through handing out jobs, though, even if the roads are worse.
I agree with Murphy on his proposals to cut drug enforcement and military spending. Prohibition didn't work and neither does criminalization of drugs. Likewise, the use of large scale, second generation warfare (see Thomas Hammes, the Sling and the Stone) has been incompetent and wasteful, much like everything else in government.
But I respectfully disagree with Murphy that once it starts spending government can avoid persistent failures like the Wicks Law and a long list of government boondoggles. The Wicks Law has been with us for nearly a century, yet it remains law. There are four reasons why government does not work. First, the brokerage of special interests arises from economic incentives that government creates. Mancur Olson in Rise and Decline of Nations shows that lobbying and political manipulation result from a straightforward cost-benefit calculus that that favors wealthy special interests like Paul and Nancy Pelosi's Star Kist Tuna at the expense of the average American. In the 2009 Bush-Obama bailout of Wall Street even the mass media was coopted. There was hardly an opponent of the bailout permitted on any media outlet.
Second, in the 1920s to 1940s Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek showed the impossibility of socialist calculation. That is, the only way to efficiently allocate resources is through markets. Government interferes with markets and so makes us poorer.
Third, government lacks feedback about whether its tactics succeed over time. Government budgets are for one year, so decisions that dump costs into the future are encouraged. There is no stock price to inform decision makers whether they are failing.
Fourth the complexity of government means that neither legislators nor the public can monitor it. Few Americans are familiar with the intricacies of the tax code or pollution law. Recently, we heard Nancy Pelosi say that the health care law should be passed so that we can find out what it says. Pension law (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act) is a joke, yet few Americans question it.
Thus, government cannot work, has not worked and never will work. As government has expanded from 15% of the economy in 1950 to nearly half today, real wages have stagnated. In the nineteenth century and into the 1960s real hourly wages increased two percent per year. Since the 1960s explosion in government and the abolition of the gold standard in 1971 the real hourly wage has not grown at all. The explosion led to the freezing of standards of living at the 1970 level. The frauds in the banker owned "liberal" media claim that the stagnant real wages were due to Reagan, but the freezing of the real hourly wage started in the 1970s. In turn Americans became two income families, then three income and now we see both spouses working two or three jobs just to make ends meet. In my day my dear mother could stay at home while my father worked in a factory. Reason: there was less government.
But the public and Mr. Murphy have not figured out that if you pay half your income in taxes and get little or nothing in return, you will be forced to work like a slave in order to pay for government's greedy incompetence. Henry David Thoreau would turn in his grave if he saw how America has become a slave society.