What Your Government Is Doing for (to) You

by Harry Browne

December 17, 2004          

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

I 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.

I 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 place).

  • 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.

  • (Back 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.")

    Meanwhile, Back at Reality . . . 

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

    The 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.

    I'm 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 online at the Sun's website, but you have to sign up for a paid subscription first.)

    Since 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.

    How Did This Happen?

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

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

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

    Once 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.

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

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

    And 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.

    There's No Limit

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

    You 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.

    So 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.

    And 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.

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

    Fixing the System

    Nor 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.

    And 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.

    The important first step in changing the system is to stop supporting anyone who is making 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).

    Then 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 fall for 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.

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

    And 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.