There is rot, corruption, and greed in our political system. On this point there seems to be universal agreement. Our personal disposition may blame one faction more than another faction but that is irrelevant. A problem exists.
Too, near universal agreement seems to exist on the source of this problem. It is money. There is too much money in politics and government. Candidates spend their time raising campaign dollars. Lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) throw around wads of cash. Money gains access and buys influence. We live with bribery and crony capitalism, pork barrel spending and a pervasive sense that politics is no place for a good man.
In search of a solution we have erected a melange of “good government” measures. We have lobbyist filings, candidate disclosures, ethics committees, campaign finance reform, public financing of campaigns, restrictions on PAC activities, and on and on and on. Yet the problem only seems to get worse.
One should be reminded of a story. There are various versions, but all start with a man who has a simple problem. The man has a mouse in his house. To get rid of the mouse he gets a cat. The mouse problem becomes a cat problem solved by a dog. Then there is a dog problem. The situation escalates into absurdity, finally ending with a lion sitting in the living room licking his lips, having devoured the man.
The story never addresses why the mouse was there in the first place, but we can imagine. The mouse was there to eat. Perhaps our man was untidy, leaving crumbs around the counter. The mouse, being a mouse, did what mice do. The mouse came for easy meals and made lots of little mice.
The problem of money in government is exactly the same.
The government has grown big. It purposely throws crumbs around. At first, small vermin is attracted. In time bigger animals crowd out the vermin and demand their own easy meals.
Today our government doles out goodies at an unprecedented level. There are sugar subsides and money for ethanol. There are competitive bid exemptions and preferential treatment for MWBE (minority and women business enterprises). Senior citizens get theirs, and students want more. The states fight each other, and citizens push and shove. Taxes are cut for some and raised on others. It goes on and on until it resembles the scene in Soylent Green where faceless government workers are throwing the eponymous wafers to a riotous crowd.
The solution is as obvious as it is simple.
We must shrink the government. As Henry David Thoreau said, “that government is best which governs least.”
If there are no goodies and giveaways, unions, corporations, lobbyists, and so forth will not have to buy access and influence. If there is no favor to give there will be no favor seekers.
This additionally has the benefit of restoring a fundamental American ideal, that of fairness and equality. If each citizen is treated – by law – the same as every other citizen the government will not be corrupted by those seeking advantage.
The cycle of escalation led to the demise of our man when all he need to do was keep his kitchen clean. By reducing our government the incalculable energy and treasure spent in pursuit of government largesse can be directed to meaningful enterprise. The Heritage Foundation calculated that small businesses spend $1.75 trillion in 2010 complying with federal regulations. With small government people will create and innovate, rather than scheme and manipulate.
If the answer is so simple, why then do the men and women charged with protecting all citizens, and defending our republic, continue encouraging ever larger predators to patrol?
Simple. The elected officials, being as human as the rest of us, seek their own advantage. With a voluminous tax code comes more power to the office holder. He or she becomes more than a representative of some Podunk district. He or she comes powerful. He or she is flattered and lavished with praise and contributions. It seems certain that had Senator Robert Byrd lived but a few more years the entire state of West Virginia would have been renamed in his honor.
A small government – “the less government we have the better,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson – solves the problem of corruption and money. A small government ends the debate over term limits and “reforms” that restrict enunciated rights.
The founding fathers saw this. They knew this. So they balanced parts of the government against other parts of the government, and set forth a clear Constitution that is not easy tampered with. To enforce this they placed a judiciary, and by exempting them from the vices begotten of elections, charged them with holding the line. It was their job to order the politicians to wipe clean the countertops.
We have come a long way from that ideal. Lest someone accuse the author of a false nostalgia for a moment that never really existed, I confess that all that is known. Yet it does not change the fact that the closer we move to the ideal, the smaller the disease will become.
It is not too late to apply the harsh measures needed to halt the spread. Shrink the government like a doctor would shrink a cancer. There is pain and sorrow with the treatment, but the results is more and improved life. The alternative is to wait to be devoured.