Government vs. Selfless Acts

The advancement of society is measured by its selfless acts.

“That is why young men die in battle for their country’s sake and why old men plant trees they will never sit under.” -Walter Lippman, Essays in the Public Philosophy, (1955)

A voluntary act done solely for the benefit of someone else or the general well being of the community. The country’s history is replete with examples of such acts and Oregon has its fair share of them — the annual clean up of the Oregon beaches by volunteers from all over the state, the charitable giving for worthy causes such as breast cancer research, AIDS research and care, the feeding and sheltering of the homeless, and on and on.

But mark that these are voluntary acts. When politicians take your money for their “causes” it no longer constitutes a selfless act. How much better would we feel if the Millionaires’ Club in the United States Senate spent their own personal fortunes on the social programs they impose before demanding that taxpayer dollars are used. How much better would we feel if the Vice President of the United States (Joe Biden) had contributed more than a meager sum over the past ten years to the very programs for which he now advocates we must raise taxes to fund.

In most instances where politicians impose such programs at someone else’s (your) expense, the charitable purpose is mixed with political gain: additional public employees to fund the public employee unions who in turn fund the liberal politicians; another voting bloc of “beneficiaries” now dependent on the politicians for their largesse, and another segment of business now dependent on their subsidies and/or government contracts. And in each instance, the dependencies beget demands for more — more participation, more benefits, more public employees to “administer” to the demands, and more contracts and subsidies.

Therein lies the seeds of the famed comment of Alexis de Touqueville:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

Or more exactly, from the pen of Alexander Fraser Tytler, Lord Woodhouselee

“A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years.

Thus the antithesis of the advancement of society might be measured by its selfish acts:

“It is why old men vote themselves benefits for which they will never pay.”

And that is precisely what is happening on both a national and state level. The Bush/Obama administrations are rolling up gigantic mounds of debt in order to pay for the “benefits” for their political causes. Articles in Tuesday’s papers indicated that the while the last days of the Bush administration left the nation in debt by more than $1Trillion in aggregate, the first year of the Obama administration will add an additional $1.84 Trillion.

Oregon finds itself anticipating a budgetary shortfall of more than $4 Billion — somewhere in the neighborhood of 25% of its total general fund and lottery budget.

In both instances reckless spending by politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, has out paced the ability of its citizenry to pay without dire economic consequences. President Obama and the Democrat Congress are anticipating raising taxes by hundreds of billions through a combination of new taxes and the expiration of the current Bush tax cuts. And in Oregon, Gov. Kulongoski and his Democrat colleagues in the House and Senate are poised to raise taxes on everything from income to motor fuels, and beer to cigarettes (please note that Oregon’s wine industry which contributes heavily to Democrats appears to be exempt).

And in each instance it appears that government spending has outpaced the growth of total personal income of the citizens thus imposing a greater and greater burden on taxpayers. Government spending by Oregon increased from $6.41 Billion in 1993-94 to $15.1 Billion for 2007-08, or 135.6 per cent.

In Oregon, from 1994 (the midway point for the 1993-1995 biennium) through 2008 (the midway point for the 2007-09 biennium) total personal income (that is income from all sources) increased from $68.0 Billion to $136.7 Billion — or 101.03 percent. During the period from 1993 to 2007 Oregon’s population grew from 3,059,110 to 3,747,455 or 22.5 per cent and its CPI (the measure for inflation) grew from 144.5 to 204.8 or 41.7 percent. The combination of population growth and inflation was thus 64.2 percent.

Had Oregon state government matched its spending to the growth in is citizens’ total personal income, the budget for 2007-09 would have been $12.89 Billion or $2.2 Billion less than the current budget. And assuming that the Governor’s proposed $600 million from 2007-09 to 2009-2011 is appropriate, the budget for 2009-2011 would be $13.5 Billion instead of $15.85 Billion and probably more in line with a projected four plus percent increase in total personal income by 2010 (the midway point for the 2009-2011 biennium).

This remarkable lack of fiscal discipline, like its counterpart in the United States Congress, is creating a burden for future generations who must now pay for the “benefits” extended by the current crop of politicians in order to maintain their power and their social agendas.

The best measure of the decline of the citizens’ well being is whether government spending increases at a rate faster than the growth in their total personal income. To date, that has been occurring at least for the last dozen years and there does not appear to be relief in sight — at least for Oregon.