- - Monday, June 20, 2016


Rep. Gwen Moore, a Wisconsin Democrat, has proposed legislation to force anyone claiming $150,000 in itemized deductions to submit a drug test to the federal government along with their tax return. No wonder approval of Congress is at its lowest level in history. When you treat government like a joke, you’re going to get laughed at.

Ms. Moore’s bill is a cute and crude attempt to criticize a competing measure to require federal welfare recipients to take a drug test as a condition of benefits. Whatever you may think of people doing drugs on their own time on their own dime, nobody is in favor of public funding of drug use.

Add Ms. Moore’s name to the vast scrolls of uninformed elected representatives. She’s evidently been taking her cues from her boss, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who infamously said, “Every month that we do not have an economic recovery package 500 million Americans lose their jobs.” And you’ll remember her reference to the Affordable Care Act bill, “We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”

Things are possibly worse at the local level. In Washington D.C., Council member David Grosso recently suggested that we should explore raising the minimum wage to $50 an hour. Imagine the ripple effect when high school dropouts are guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 a year for full-time work at Burger King. After passage, we’ll all be rich.

Minimum wage proponents have become a parody of themselves. A standard retort to their claim for an arbitrary and dramatic $15 minimum wage has been, “If $15, why not $50?” Mr. Grosso has now made that joke a reality. He follows in a long line of uninformed D.C. leaders, the poster child being former cocaine user Mayor Marion Barry, who infamously said, “If you take out the killings, Washington actually has a very, very low crime rate.”

I could go on, but you get the idea. The stereotype of uninformed American leaders is largely true. What’s going on here? Thomas Jefferson was essentially correct when he said, “The government you elect is the government you deserve.”

About 10 percent of college graduates think “Judge Judy” is a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. About 30 percent of Americans can’t name the vice president. According to the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, one-quarter of eighth grade students do not have basic reading skills, and two-thirds don’t have “proficient” reading skills. About one-third of high school graduates who try to enlist in the armed forces are rejected for insufficient reading or basic math abilities. And that is the pool from which some of our elected officials have arisen to lead us.

But there is more to the story than just an uninformed electorate that empowers these so-called leaders. Conservative and libertarian intellectuals have long argued that bad representation is a staple of big government. Many of those who run for office are those who can’t succeed in the private sector. The old saying, “good enough for government work” applies here.

This view is perhaps best articulated by Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek in his chapter “Why the Worst Get on Top” from his 1944 masterpiece, “The Road to Serfdom.” A society with big government, Hayek argued, is a society where “the unscrupulous and uninhibited are likely to be more successful” because their regulatory instincts are rewarded when government is seen as the answer to most problems.

Is there anything we can do to fix this problem? Liberals contend the answer is just getting smarter people to run for office. But Hayek would argue and history has shown that the very institutions and incentives of big government always attract the worst in society, and cause the best to sell out their principles and compromise to stay in power. Government attracts those whose chief — if not only — talent is getting elected. Perhaps we could amend the Constitution with a requirement that you have to take a standardized intelligence test before you are entitled to be funded by those paying the freight.

Famous American columnist and defender of liberty H.L. Mencken said, “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.” Those words ring truer with each passing day.

Richard Berman is the president of Berman and Company, a public affairs firm in Washington, D.C.

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