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Rubin Reports: The Government is Not a Magic Box

President Obama signing health care bill into law

President Obama signing health care bill into law
Photo Credit: Keith Ellison

And then, of course, you are using other people’ money. A factor that also makes people careless and spendthrift. You are not subject to the rigorous cost effectiveness that a business faces.  It is easy to conclude that you know best and it is necessary to make others do things for their “own good.”

Self-interest dictates the maximum accumulation of power and money for yourself and your department. To fill up the day you must produce regulations and reports on other’s compliance with existing regulations. As a result, there is a strong tendency to tighten the noose around the freedom of your subjects. And for many, this is reinforced by a specific agenda to be put into place, whatever the cost or effect on the citizenry.

The reality of federal government culture is known to relatively few outsiders. The work ethic is a joke for many (though a few labor with fanatical zeal). To do the least possible is a passion for most and they know they can get away with it. Nobody can be fired. Think of a vast, lavishly-funded version of the post office, with no criteria for success or efficiency, able to conceal its actual workings, and answerable only to itself.

In short, those who write the bills in Congress and enforce them – or, increasingly, even create them as regulations in the government bureaucracy – are structurally and inevitably pretty indifferent to those who pay the bills.

And, of course, when one adds in electoral politics, the temptation to buy votes by doling out money and privileges becomes irresistible. The government takes credit for giving out “free” stuff when the things are merely being paid for by others. There is no surer way to serve one’s self interest than to pretend one is acting in the public interest.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a president and senators and congressman and government officials, but the voters of this country.”

Roosevelt’s statement might have been appropriate for his time. But what happens when after decades of continuous growth the once-small government becomes a country in itself?

What happens when a government through the power of the purse and of regulations can ensure reelection?

What happens when the “fail-safe” institutions of the media, the educational system, and the entertainment industry are enlisted in its ranks, as well as the use of crony capitalism to create “captive corporations” through massive subsidies that don’t even accord with the public interest?

What happens when the functions formerly held by elected officials are usurped by appointed officials and their agencies?

What happens if all of the elected and appointed officials, caught up in their own culture of accumulating control for their “team”, become less responsive than ever?

Then, government does become an “alien power,” or at least a power in the hands of a class or caste that wants to impose its way of life and thinking on everyone else. That is the real “class warfare” going on in America today.

Without going overboard in the analogy, compare this to the Communist experience. Let’s give the Bolsheviks the benefit of the doubt: many of them wanted to make Russia a better place to live. By no coincidence, those who were most sincere and idealistic in that pursuit ended up with a bullet in their heads.

“Government” was supposed to be a black box that would exercise the people’s will without having any will of its own. But all the factors listed above came into play. Absolute government abuses power absolutely. And when the controls are removed, the most greedy, power-mad, and arbitrary rise to the top.

Once you abandon a deliberate division of power and limitation of power, as the authors of the U.S. Constitution understood, abuse of power is inevitable. Here’s how Leon Trotsky put the same basic lesson in Communist terms: “The party organization substitutes itself for the party, the central committee substitutes itself for the organization, and, finally, a dictator substitutes himself for the central committee.” The “dictatorship of the proletariat” becomes the dictatorship first of the party and then of the dictator. And in a Western democracy, in Roosevelt’s phrase, the government is no longer ruled by the voters but is in practice an “alien power” ruling over them - telling them how to live, what to do, messing with the functioning of the society and draining more and more of its wealth.

Obviously, this is not the same situation in the United States. Yet the same basic rules apply.  Government is like a collection of alcoholics, eager to be or already drunk on power.  Society needs to keep them sober by ensuring they stay on a diet of soft drinks and fruit juice.

About the Author: Professor Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.


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