What Your Government Is Doing for (to) You

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my article, "Congressional
& Presidential Irresponsibility
," I discussed the $388
billion spending bill passed by Congress without anyone in Congress
reading it.

pointed out that buried deep inside the mammoth bill was a provision
allowing the chairmen of the House and Senate appropriations committees
or their agents "access to Internal Revenue Service facilities
and any tax returns or return information contained therein."
In other words, these statesmen could look at your tax return or
the return of any other American taxpayer.

have since come to realize how petty I am. After all, I hadn’t
read the bill either. And I didn’t realize how many good
provisions were also buried in the bill. For examples:

  • There’s
    a $1 million appropriation for the "Wild American Shrimp
    Initiative." I don’t know about you, but I like shrimp
    – and anything that enhances their initiative is okay with me.
  • There’s
    also $515,000 for "brown tree snake management." I hate
    snakes, and I’m glad to see the government doing something to
    manage them.
  • And there’s
    $150,000 for the "Therapeutic Horseback Riding Program"
    at the Lady B Ranch in California. If it’s for therapy, I’m all
    for it.
  • There’s
    $150,000 for "Fishing Rationalization Research" in Alaska.
    I’ve only been fishing once in my life, and the fish didn’t seem
    very rational to me. So maybe it’s about time the government did
    something about that.
  • There also
    are generous appropriations for such things as the development
    of a curriculum for the study of mariachi music (making for better
    relations with our darker brothers), training students in the
    motor sports industry (keeping them off the street), a presidential
    yacht (which should be useful on the Crawford ranch), and relocating
    a kitchen somewhere in Alaska (I assume it’s now in the wrong
  • Perhaps
    most important, there’s $4 million for important research at the
    International Fertilizer Development Center in Alabama, as well
    as $2.3 million for the Animal Waste Management Laboratory in
    Kentucky. Good! Maybe they’ll finally do something to make the
    stuff smell better.

in 1951, Eleanor Roosevelt was visiting Bess Truman at the White
House. Mrs. Roosevelt asked where Harry was. Bess replied that Harry
said he was going outside to put manure on the plants. Mrs. Roosevelt
asked whether it would be possible to teach Harry to say fertilizer.
Bess replied, "My dear, it’s taken me 30 years to teach Harry
to say manure.")

Back at Reality . . . 

tongue is getting a bit tired, so perhaps it’s time to take it out
of my cheek.

items I’ve recited are, of course, just a few of the hundreds
(if not thousands) of pieces of pork residing in the $388
billion Omnibus Spending Bill.

indebted to John P. Avlon of the
New York Sun
for digging up these and other examples, and
reporting them in his article "Wanted: Wild-Hog Control."
(You can read the article
at the Sun’s website, but you have to sign up
for a paid subscription first.)

I’m convinced that the federal government could operate easily (and
more efficiently) on much less than $100 billion per year (with
much better national defense than we have now), the Omnibus Spending
Bill is by itself at least four times larger than the entire
government should be.

Did This Happen?

course, this sort of profligate spending has been going on for years.
How did it get started?

seeds of today’s runaway government were planted when it was
decided that government should help those who can’t help themselves.

that modest, compassionate beginning to today’s out-of-control mega-state,
there’s a straight, unbroken line.

the door was open, once it was settled that the government should
help some people at the expense of others, there was no stopping
it. If the coercion of government can endow one person with property
he hasn’t earned, then everyone will want to use government to get
something he wants. So it’s not surprising that, over the past two
centuries, more and more people have concluded that they
deserve government’s help.

those who can’t help themselves" is a paraphrase of Karl Marx’
famous dictum:

each according to his ability, to each according to his need.

once that principle is adopted, more and more people will want to
be part of the needy, rather than part of the able – because nearly
everyone prefers to be on the "to" side of transfers,
rather than the "from" side.

No Limit

can’t help a few people without everyone else wanting to be helped
as well.

can’t limit government’s coercion to just those transfers you believe
are fair, because you can’t give government the power to force good
on the country without also giving it the power to force enormous
evil on the country  – in fact, to do anything it wants. It
becomes a tool for obtaining whatever anyone can’t get on his own
– an instrument for every frustrated ambition.

it was inevitable not only that the government would grow and become
more powerful, but that the growth would accelerate – perhaps imperceptibly
at first, but then faster and faster. The potential beneficiaries
(as well as Congress, the executive, and the bureaucrats) have an
interest in pushing government to get bigger.

since politicians aren’t legally liable for the harm they do, there’s
no point at which they have a reason to stop expanding their own
power and wealth by expanding the government. Thus it’s no surprise
that after stripping us bare, they continue on and mortgage
our children’s future to pay for further expansion.

it’s no surprise that there isn’t a single area of our lives that
Congress would be reluctant to legislate and regulate.

the System

is it a surprise that people elected to change the system usually
join it instead. After all, once elected, these people have the
power of big government at their disposal  – and power is a
heady commodity. Few can resist the temptation to use it to "do
good"  – to receive the applause of would-be reformers
and the gratitude of those on the receiving end of government favors.

it should be no surprise that every attempt to reform government
simply makes it worse. "Reform" won’t transform a gorilla
into a lamb, and politicians and administrators who’ve spent their
lives seeking power aren’t suddenly going to decide not to use it.

important first step in changing the system is to stop supporting
anyone who is make government bigger – which includes the President,
the Vice-President, the 100 Senators, and 434 of the 435 Congressmen
(Ron Paul being the only exception I know of).

we must create a tidal wave of public opinion that tells the people
in Washington that we won’t tolerate what they’re doing. And don’t
be won over to the idea that people won’t help us because they’re
too enamored with what little they get from government. All they
have to do is look at their 1040 forms to see how much they pay
for so little in return.

is a scam. And like any other scam, it can be exposed for what it
really is.

once people see that there’s nothing substantial or valuable behind
the curtain, the game will be up – and we’ll have one generation
in which to find a way to "bind them down from mischief"
permanently – in a more secure way than the founders discovered
in 1789.

18, 2004

Harry Browne [send
him mail
], the author of Why
Government Doesn’t Work

and many other books, was the Libertarian presidential candidate
in 1996 and 2000. See his website.

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