Their were two big reasons why the great American experiment in liberty worked. James Madison and John Adams explained one of them: “We have staked the future of American civilization upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” Madison. John Adams put it this way: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
The second reason is that the colonists, being wholly responsible for their own survival, could readily see the results of failure as well as success. They got used to fending for themselves and when a government an ocean away tried to assert its authority over a citizenry accustomed to governing itself, the colonists balked. The rest is history.
The experiment was a smashing success that yielded benefits to Americans as well as the rest of the world. America has enjoyed unparalleled prosperity and produced a standard of living for the average American that would have been the envy of kings in the not too distant past. It is still unrivaled in much of the world. Americans’ hard work yielded advances in medicine and technology that made life easier in countless ways for countless people. Whole industries sprang up with the sole purpose of filling the leisure hours people suddenly were able to enjoy.
The flip side of the coin is that people in succeeding generations became accustomed to the benefits of a free society, with little appreciation of the travails their predecessors endured to create them. Many assume that because this is the only life they’ve ever known, that is the way things must be. They are clueless about how the economy works. These are the Occupy folks, we saw on TV a few months back, railing against wicked corporations while grasping their iPhones and Macbooks.
Gradually people abdicated responsibilities their forbearers shouldered as a matter of course. Instead, they began looking to the federal government to solve life’s problems, even the self-inflicted ones. Politicians, it should be added, were only too happy to oblige.
For a growing number, dependence replaced independence and self-direction. Many now appear to believe that their unalienable rights include a new cell phone and a 70-inch TV.
Frederic Bastiat understood this tendency in the mid 19th century when he wrote:
There is the public on one side, Government on the other, considered as two distinct beings; the latter bound to bestow upon the former, and the former having the right to claim from the latter, all imaginable human benefits. What will be the consequence?
The consequence is the same now as Bastiat perceived. Government cannot afford the unlimited largess now expected. At some point it runs out of money. In the US this happened about $17T ago. When the economy is cooking, taxes bring in about $2T in revenue each year. This revenue comes from people, directly or indirectly, through taxes on the goods they purchase and on incomes. For businesses, taxes are just another expense and the costs are passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices. (Take a look at your telephone bill.)
Simply put, government has no money of its own. Whatever it gives to some people, it takes away from other people. Margaret Thatcher famously remarked that socialism is great until you run out of other people’s money.
But America’s economic decline, serious as it is, ranks a distant second to the degradation of American character. It was the government’s insistence that everyone deserves a house (regardless of their ability to pay for it) that caused the mortgage crisis. And now, the banks have no incentive to deal with the mess because taxpayers (fewer and fewer of them) are on the hook for the loans.
People who never would have considered abandoning their obligations are encouraged to do so, with little, if any consequence. If you bought a house that went down in value – and you’re “upside down,” it is possible to qualify for a better one at a lower price and then quit paying for the first one. Traditional values like self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and responsibility are arcane. We are in a situation similar to what alcoholism counselors call “enabling,” only the government is the enabler, standing between citizens and the consequences of their bad choices. So, as entitlement programs multiply, self-control diminishes.
So how did we go so far off course? Wilson started it by disdaining constitutional limits, (see Liberal Fascism by Jonah Goldberg) FDR sanctified it with his Economic Bill of Rights and LbJ upped the anti with his Great Society program. The next major expansion has already begun with ObamaCare, with more, much more to come. All the major organs of the culture: academia, entertainment and the media endorse and cheerlead for bigger government. The old values we no longer live by are replaced by the trendy nonsense we now equate with normality.
Government is the new deity. People no longer look to the Almighty for guidance. Their faith is in Washington, D.C. Madison and Adams warned us, but we no longer heed the founders or the document they gave us.
In the December Imprimus, Hillsdale President Larry Arnn argues that despite the last election results, we can find our way back. He says House Republicans can rein in the progressives in the Senate and the president. But that assumes that the Republicans have the courage of their convictions (or that they have convictions) and are able to articulate them. Mitt Romney lives his but couldn’t explain them to an electorate that needed to hear them.
The problem is not so much political as it is cultural. Are there enough people who understand what America was and that restoring it requires obeying the First Commandment and reaffirming the principles of constitutional government? Right now things look pretty bleak. But then comes to mind Stalin’s response when Churchill cautioned him not to ignore the views of the Vatican. Stalin asked, “How many divisions does the Pope have?”
Well, we know what happened to the Soviet Union. Arnn said that socialism (now renamed progressivism), like communism, carries the seeds of its own destruction. It cannot continue to deliver on its promises without more money. And more money requires expanded government power and diminished liberty. The name for what happens then hasn’t changed. It’s still called tyranny.
According to recent news reports, the Obama faithful are belatedly discovering that when the great one spoke of raising taxes before the election, he wasn’t just talking about those awful rich people. He was talking about them. Paychecks in the New Year are smaller because withholding is bigger, and that is just the beginning. Wait until all the costs associated with ObamaCare kick in and prices go up because of all new regulations slated to begin in 2013.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. – Frederick Douglas
That pretty much sums up where we are now.