The Acceleration of the Welfare State

Last week a reader criticized my column (The Reincarnation of Hillary Clinton and John McCain) thusly:

“Larry Huss, your ad hominem criticism of politicians of ‘not my persuasion’ is unhelpful to be charitable. Are you capable of nuanced policy discussion? Show me.”

Normally, I would give the reader an “A” for using a big word in proper context; however, in this case I believe the term ad hominem is applied incorrectly. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (yes, I know that that edition is quite old but then so am I, plus I am notoriously cheap) defines ad hominem:

“1. appealing to a person’s feelings or prejudices rather than his intellect 2. Marked by an attack on an opponent’s character rather than by an answer to his contentions,”

That suggests that for a criticism to be ad hominem there must be an issue that the speaker seeks to avoid by attacking the character of the opponent. That is not the case in my last column.

Now there is no doubt that my column dealt with the character of Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and Mitt Romney. But that is precisely what was at issue – their character. I was not responding to their contentions; it was their character pure and simple. And I find their character wanting. An ad hominem attack is more like Sen. Chuck Schumer claiming that President Trump is having a “temper tantrum” instead of discussing whether a wall is needed on the Southern border, or Speaker Nancy Pelosi declaring that Mr. Trump is “immoral” rather than discussing his refusal to admit illegal immigrants. Or even more directly the entire line of questioning of now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh by Democrats during his confirmation process – that’s ad hominem.

Having said all of that, let’s turn to something that is more material to our nation’s future than the sad character of Mss. Clinton and Warren, and Messr. McCain and Romney.

The very nature of a democracy drives democratic nations to a welfare state and then to ruination. A quote attributed to Alexander Fraser Tytler, a Scottish born lawyer and essayist, defines the progression:

“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. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

“From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage.”

There is nothing new in this observation. Others have commented similarly including Alexis de Touqueville, John Stuart Mill, and President Ronald Reagan.

The founders of our Constitution were cognizant of the effects of majority rule and the likelihood of the tyranny of the majority and that is why they included a Bill of Rights that was intended to pre-empt that tyranny. For the longest time those individual rights were adjudged sacrosanct and politicians simply declined to challenge them. However, beginning in the Twentieth Century presidents and Congress began to accumulate and centralize power in the federal government and as a result they kept seeking exceptions to the rules rather than reinforce their primacy. In the aftermath of World War II, states, having seen the success of the federal government, began to do the same thing.

Those politicians discovered quickly the weakness in the Bill of Rights – a lack of limitations on the ability of the government to tax. In fact, that lack of limitations extended to a) the form of the tax (income, property, excise or transactional), b) the amount of the tax (absolute, percentage or graduated – some pay more than others) and c) the purpose for which the tax is levied (California continues to test the extent of that by new proposals to tax such things as water, text messages, and carbon emissions).

As a result of an unlimited ability to tax, the governments determined that it could regulate the conduct of individuals, including creating “rights” never previously recognized in law or in federal or state constitutions. For instances, the federal government mandated the creation of a “retirement program” now known as the Social Security System. But as we now know the taxes collected in furtherance of that “retirement program” were never used to create a retirement fund, rather those taxes became a part of the federal general fund and in their place there is a vague promise to make payments based on the availability of current funds. Not only was the original purpose thwarted but the program was enlarged to include benefits to other than those of retirement age thus increasing the dependency on government.

The same is true for poverty programs. It is a moral obligation of a country as wealthy as the United States to care for those who cannot care for themselves – it is not a constitutional obligation. Those programs have been extended not just to those who cannot care for themselves but also for those who will not care for themselves. So engrained have these welfare programs become that that multiple generations have been seduced into an easy life style without work or responsibility and the responsibility is to create shiftless, irresponsible people wholly dependent on the government for their subsistence – free food, free housing, free medical care, free cell phones, free everything. And the contribution to society is less than zero.

But it isn’t just poverty programs. There are subsidies to businesses regardless of their wealth. Elon Musk has tapped state and federal treasuries for billions of dollars for solar panels, electric cars, space travel, and now high speed trains. The agricultural industry is paid millions each year to not grow certain crops, or to grow crops that are favorite by the current administration. Livestock raisers are subsidized by providing low cost access to state and federal lands, even where the highest and best use would suggest that the land be sold and market rates be applied. There are subsidies paid to companies to produce solar and wind generated electricity. The subsidies come in the form of massive tax rebates and mandated use of “green energy” even though traditional electric generation is cheaper.

The lists could go on forever but they all have two things in common. They increase the dependency of individuals and business on the whim and caprice of the government, and they never go away. The federal government adopted a telecommunications tax in 1898 to help finance the Spanish American War. That war ended after three and one-half months in August of 1898 – the tax continued for 108 years until 2006. (The increased dependency results in voter loyalty to those who promise the most.)

But what underlies this phenomenon? It is envy, pure and simple envy. It is the nature of man to want what others have. At one time hard work was deemed the pathway to satisfying that envy but today more and more people and business have turned to government in order to sustain envy. And as more and more do, the process of government dependency and the resulting support for those who promise the most accelerates.

In states like California, which represents only twelve percent of the nation’s population, represents a third of the nation’s welfare recipients. In states like Oregon over half of the population is dependent in whole or in part on government payments. And in states like Washington workers for jobs such as picking apples and berries cannot be found because the difference between welfare payments and wages for those hard jobs is so small that it is easier for able bodied people to sit idle than to do the work. It is little wonder that every legislative session in those states begins with expanded welfare payments and the demand for new or increased taxes.

The Democrats learned early to tap into the “envy factor” and have now created class warfare as a means to election. The Democrats demand to redistribute wealth is best characterized by a recent statement by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio:

“Here’s the truth, brothers and sisters, there’s plenty of money in the world. Plenty of money in this city,” the mayor said, flanked by screens with graphs of productivity outpacing compensation. “It’s just in the wrong hands!”

And the Republicans stand by and wring their hands and allow it all to happen.

Hard work, achievement, resourcefulness, and fiscal restraint are out the window. Just vote for Democrats and the world will be your oyster. And the sad truth is that more and more citizens not only believe that but practice it and there is no retreat from where we stand today. At best, we can slow the progression but we cannot retreat from it. It is the nature of man.