AS GOVERNMENT GROWS SO GROWS CORRUPTION
Attorney Jonathan Emord
November 2, 2009
Since the dawn of the twentieth century the federal government has experienced massive growth (with legislative and executive branch agencies blossoming anew in each successive administration). The Obama Administration has added immensely to this national experiment, testing if liberty can endure the presence of an ever-expanding state, an experiment that has invariably failed wherever it has been tried around the world. Regardless of how it is promoted, the essence of government is law and the essence of law is the exertion of coercive force to cause people to do that which they may wish not to do. Moreover, as government grows so grows corruption and abuse of power. There is a tipping point at which the cost of government and the corruption in government become too great for the public to bear. If we have not reached that point, we are fast approaching it. When we do, therein lies the greatest opportunity for a restoration of our Constitution of liberty and of the Republic that Constitution creates.
“My reading of history,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “teaches me that most bad government results from too much government.” Jefferson predicted in the early years of the Republic that our government would grow and so would corruption: “Our country is now taking so steady a course as to show by what road it will pass to destruction, to wit: by consolidation of power first, and then corruption, its necessary consequence.”
In troubled times, like the present and the Great Depression, the public ear is largely receptive to politicians’ exaggerated claims that government holds the promise of employing the unemployed, restoring economic stability, and protecting the sick. A sense of helplessness combined with a view that the market has failed leads people to relinquish their right to self-governance in favor of the new prosperity promised by demagogic leaders who, in fact, can do little to fulfill their promises. Truth be told no government program has succeeded in arresting unemployment, sustaining economic growth, or preventing illness; that government can achieve those things is an illusion but one that large numbers of Americans in each new generation believes realizable despite the proof of history. That government cannot achieve those ends should come as no surprise because government is by operational definition parasitic. It depends for its existence on removing from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. As government grows, it necessarily requires more from its host to function. It imposes an ever greater cost on the private producers of goods, services, and jobs, sapping resources that are more efficiently expended when in response to market demand. The imagination of government planners is limitless because the money they expend is not their own. Thus, ambitious calls for new agencies to redirect human behavior proliferate along with price tags that vastly exceed the actual revenue in public coffers. Milton Friedman was fond of observing that there is no limit on the willingness of politicians to spend other people’s money because they experience no personal hardship from the expenditures and enjoy great political gain from them.
Thus it is that those in power naturally seek more of it. That ever expanding aggrandizement comes with an ever increasing cost which must be exacted from the private sector to feed political ambition. In the early years of a free state, jealous of parting with private power, citizens demand limits to government and government fears them. In the latter years, government becomes so powerful that it succeeds in removing limits to its acquisition and exertion of power, and the people fear the government and with that fear goes the liberties of the people. Thomas Jefferson put it brilliantly: “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” By increments at first and by leaps thereafter government grows as each newly elected politician lusts for more power than his or her predecessor had, never halting in its expansion except when the public revolts. In a socialized state, such as that which largely exists in America today, government determines market outcomes and grows at a very rapid clip, becoming a perpetual growth machine: The weight of tax and regulation destroys business, which business is said to have died from market failure, which business is then replaced by greater government control and ultimately government ownership until all that which was private becomes public.
There is a tipping point at which government growth so taxes the private sector as to retard private growth. That taxation comes not only in the form of confiscation of earnings but also in the form of stultifying regulations that inhibit free will. When one, the other, or both become so onerous as to dissuade most people from entering into business or inventing new goods or services, then the economy stagnates and eventually fails. Ironically, it is at that very point when the clamoring for more government reaches a crescendo. That is because the argument that the market has failed is a soft sell, while the argument that government has failed is a hard sell, particularly for those who run for public office (presumably because if they thought the government a failure they would not run). Those who are unemployed or insecure in a market filled with companies that cannot function adequately or at all prefer to believe government an ultimate solution when parasitic government can never be greater than its host lest it kill its host and itself. The choice is thus left to the electorate to tolerate ever greater government acquisition and control of the private sector until the mediocrity of bureaucracy becomes the common element and most, if not all, of us become civil servants or to reject government and turn to the private sector.
This macrocosmic reality is enlivened by a corrupt microcosmic reality which grows within a growing government. As government becomes more powerful, those who wish to retain positions of economic prominence in the private sector must involve themselves with government. A common quid pro quo occurs as government invades private contract, redistributes wealth, and imposes public interest regulations in the form of prior restraints. On the one hand, the anxious captain of industry comes to the realization that government actions affect market share and influence who wins and who loses. On the other hand, the ambitious politician comes to the realization that his quest for personal wealth and power is aided greatly by using the instrumentalities of government to build barriers to market entry that enhance the economic position of industry leaders. Those in government, who seek to enhance their own power and wealth find it beneficial to align themselves with wealthy industry leaders and to do their bidding through regulation and legislation.
Those in power thus transform the government into an institution for sale. The elected and the appointed use their powers to impose regulatory barriers to market entry, to grant licenses and benefits to a select few, and to use the instrumentalities of government to advance the interests of a select minority at the expense of everyone else. Through those corrupt machinations, politicians and agency heads assure themselves riches and influence after they leave office, and captains of industry insure their businesses insulation from competition and above market rates of return at the public expense. When, as at present, the business of government becomes overwhelmingly preoccupied with satisfying the demands for market barriers that come from the captains of industry, the republic is at an end and a bureaucratic tyranny arises in its place. Abraham Lincoln foresaw this happenstance in the earliest days of the industrial revolution, writing:
I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
What the public ear seems reluctant to hear is a lesson taught us in every prior crisis, whether military or economic. There is an inevitability to corruption in government; it is inherent in the nature of an institution that creates no wealth of its own and plunders the riches of a free market. That fact was well understood by the philosophers of the Enlightenment and by our own founding fathers. Jefferson wrote: “Experience hath shown that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, by slow operations, perverted it to tyranny.”
Government may be succinctly defined as a monopoly police force that through law exerts its will to alter or prohibit freedom of action. In the view of America’s founders, government is a necessary evil (necessary to defend against forces external and domestic that would deprive people of their lives, liberties, and properties) with one essential purpose—to defend the rights of the governed. That purpose, the Declaration of Independence tells us (as did John Locke), is why governments are instituted among men and why men consent to be governed and to relinquish to the state their natural right to act against those who threaten their freedoms. There is no greater purpose to good government than protection of the rights of the governed, and there is no greater purpose to evil government than the violation of the rights of some or all to enhance the power and riches of those who govern.
Big and corrupt governments are common in our modern world. The instrumentalities of those governments have effectively been sold to industry leaders who, in turn, reward elected and appointed officials responsible for the sale with lucrative post-government positions and rewards. With the expansion of the preferred method of restricting market entry, prior restraints, our liberty has increasingly been circumscribed. We pay through taxation and, ultimately, inflation, for the cost of our own enslavement. Americans are slow to appreciate that liberty recedes as government grows, but they appear to be awakening to the reality that a government that expends $13 trillion dollars more than it takes in is more government than they can tolerate. In the words of Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “all experience hath shewn, that Mankind are more disposed to suffer, while Evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” But there is a tipping point and we are fast approaching it.
That individuals love to be free is a fundamental verity. So long as they perceive themselves free, they are content to tolerate the failings of government, but when they perceive themselves in a state of servitude sooner or later they will replace the government that oppresses them and restore the freedom that is their birthright. Few would have given Ron Paul much of a chance to influence public opinion as greatly as he has, yet his message of a return to a Constitution of liberty is striking a chord with more and more Americans. Whether those Americans whose love of liberty is greater than love of self will reclaim a majority of the electorate and remove from office the many whose love of self is greater than love of liberty remains to be seen.
But the outcome of that evolution in American history will determine when the Republic created by our Constitution will be restored. I am not willing to accept that the question is whether the Republic will be restored because I believe that the American loves liberty too much to allow the Republic to become a lost relic of history. The question is not whether, but when.
© 2009 Jonathan W. Emord - All Rights Reserved