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Old Wisdom Applied to Current Spending Proposals

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This will sound like the start of a bad joke, but please bear with me: What do Everett Dirksen, Otto von Bismarck, H.L. Mencken, and “The Preacher” in the book of Ecclesiastes have in common?

Well, if you’ve gone to college and studied multiculturalism or been taught that western civilization is nothing special, you might answer with condemnatory annoyance, “They’re all dead white males.” That’s true, but I had in mind something even less consequential.

Reading a report about various Democratic spending proposals caused me to think of famous, oft-quoted pithy statements attributed to the four aforementioned persons. (Note the word “attributed.” The provenance of some of these statements is uncertain and the exact wording may be different, but even if they are folklore, I am using them as they have come down to us because of the astute insights they provide.)

Here are the four quotes and how and why they pertain to Democratic spending proposals:

“A billion here, a billion there, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.” ~ Dirksen

Indeed, today’s grandiose spending proposals show that it’s time to tweak Dirksen’s quip to, “A trillion here, a trillion there…”

Democrats have proposed $40 billion “to connect all of America to affordable high speed Internet” (you mean AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, et al., need subsidies?); $25 billion for mass-transit grants (those famous infrastructure projects that always run way over budget and end up serving far fewer people than would make the projects economical); $3 billion for “charging and refueling” stations for electric cars (when federal money wasn’t needed to build gas stations); etc., etc., as various members of Congress seek to add another trillion dollars to the federal budget.

Most recently, every presidential candidate in the recent Democrat party debate affirmed that illegal immigrants would be covered by their proposed health care plan. Apparently, it doesn’t concern them that Uncle Sam already is more than $22 trillion in debt. (Why not spend a few million more for a global advertising campaign promising free medical care to any non-American who evades detection by our border patrol agencies?)

“Laws are like sausages — it’s better not to see them being made.” ~ Bismarck

Indeed, some of the proposals are very sketchy — almost as if they had been tossed into the mix as an afterthought designed to placate a particular special interest group — “Hey, we’d better add a billion for ‘Indian irrigation projects.’” And one can almost visualize the exertions and contortions of the lawmakers as they strive to carve up the spending and channel it in hopefully acceptable proportions to partisan constituencies — e.g.,14 percent to workers with disabilities, x-percent to businesses owned (not operated?) by a female, etc. Bismarck would have nodded knowingly.

“Every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods.” ~ Mencken

Ask yourself why members of Congress fall all over themselves in the frenzied effort to spend even more money that we don’t have. It’s simple: They do it to get re-elected. Voters want — no, demand — Congress to subsidize their lifestyles in a variety of ways, whether as individuals or as businesses. While it is easy for us to point a finger at the politicians as the source of the problem, they are not. The real culprit is found by looking at “We the people.” In this article, I have mocked specific Democrat party proposals, but let us not forget that when Republicans controlled the White House and both houses of Congress under both George W. Bush (2001–2007) and Donald Trump (2017–19) budget deficits rose.

“There is no new thing under the sun.” ~ The Preacher (Eccl. 1:9 KJV)

The story of popular government is the same in every age: politicians seek to gain popularity and advance their careers by bribing the people with the people’s money. The impulse for those in power is to try to be all things to all people and to use force in the attempt to make their plans come to fruition has been tried (and found wanting) many, many times over the centuries.

The only cure for this tired old syndrome of government spending more and more of other people’s money is to live by the moral code that America’s founding generation adopted. I refer, of course, to a society in which each person’s innate right to be safe in the enjoyment of his own life and property is accepted, and in which the proper role of government is to uphold those rights impartially rather than to violate the rights of some in order to indulge the wants of others.

Mark Hendrickson is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College. 

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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