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.