Monday, July 07, 2008

From Independence to Dependence

The Declaration of Independence reflects not just a desire to gain independence from a tyrannical government, but to gain personal independence, or self-reliance. James Bovard writes in "The Capsizing of American Democracy,"

In the era of the Founding Fathers, few things were more dreaded than “dependency” — not being one’s own man, not having a truly independent will because of reliance on someone or something else to survive. One of the glories of America was the possibility that common people could become self-reliant with hard work and discipline.

The idea was seen particularly in the frequent allusions to the Old Testament prophecy of "every man dwelling safely under his own vine and fig tree." Bovard continues:

Prof. John Philip Reid, the author of The Concept of Liberty in the Age of the American Revolution, summarized 18th-century political thinking:

Property was independence; lack of property was servility, even servitude.... A man without independent wealth could easily be bought and bribed. A man of property had a will of his own.

This was part of the reason that many of the states initially required a property qualification for voters. Sir William Blackstone, whose work on the English constitution profoundly influenced Americans, observed that a property qualification for suffrage was necessary because if the property-less “had votes, they would be tempted to dispose of them under some undue influence or other.”

But in modern times, dependency is the highest political good — at least for politicians. Since the 1930s, politicians have striven to leave no vote unbought. Government aid programs have been endlessly expanded, and the government has sought to maximize the number of people willing to accept handouts. Government aid has become redefined as a symbol of self-actualization.

Political campaigns are now a head-long rush into dependency.

The key question for many voters is: How much is the candidate offering for my vote? Elections routinely degenerate into “an advance auction sale of stolen goods,” in Mencken’s apt phrase. There is vastly more interest during election campaigns in Social Security handouts and policies than in Justice Department cover-ups and FBI abuses.

During election season there is certainly more interest in government subsidies and benefits checks than there is in the issues that animated America in 1776.

Sums spent on government vote-buying usually dwarf all private campaign expenditures. Incumbents perennially use the machinery of state to bombard voters with government handouts, often on the flimsiest pretexts. President Clinton turned the Federal Emergency Management Agency into a permanent part of his reelection campaign.

FEMA now routinely blankets residents of swing states with lavish checks for dubious claims for damage from hurricanes and other bad weather. Florida was a key swing state in the 2004 election, and thanks to FEMA and four hurricanes and storms, Florida residents received more FEMA handouts than any state in history.

Bovard lays out the statistics on how FEMA passes out checks before elections to buy votes for the party in power. The scene is one of corruption on the part of government and a crippled sense of virtue and independence on the part of the People.

The Heritage Foundation created an Index of Dependency to measure the rising number of Americans reliant on government. Now, roughly half of all Americans are dependent on the government, either for handouts, pensions, or paychecks.

All of this is unethical. It is a species of theft to use government to transfer wealth from the haves to the have-nots. It is not charity. Charity is voluntary, from the heart. Government welfare is theft. And "democracy" creates a vicious cycle: dependent people want more subsidies, and ambitious, corrupt politicians are happy to provide them. Bovard appropriately quotes Thomas Jefferson's warning:

“Dependence begets subservience and venality, suffocates the germ of virtue, and prepares fit tools for the designs of ambition.”

Private charities appeal for donations based on success: "We transformed X number of people from dependency to self-sufficiency." Truly successful welfare systems will see the number of dependent people drop over time. Government welfare, by contrast, has created increasing dependency and wiped out virtue. Charles Murray demonstrated in depressing detail that government programs have led to an increase in poverty despite trillions of dollars in expenditures. In the "War on Poverty," he says, we've been Losing Ground.

Private charities will boast that they require less and less money to achieve greater results, just as the prices for nearly everything we use have gone down thanks to the Free Market. Politicians, on the other hand, say the exact opposite: "If elected, I promise to spend MORE on the such-and-such program." The "success" of a government program is not fewer people in poverty, but: "We're providing coverage to more and more people." Many politically-connected people undoubtedly sincerely believe this is a good thing.

America's Founding Fathers would disagree. It means more dependence, less independence, more tyranny, less virtue.

Bovard's conclusion:

American democracy is capsizing as a result of the vast increase in the number of government dependents and government employees. This has created a voting bloc that overwhelms every other potential force. H.L. Mencken quipped in the 1930s that the New Deal divided America into “those who work for a living and those who vote for a living” — a division truer now than ever before.

No comments: