Big Government Solutions Don't Work

Politicians throughout history have tried to solve every problem conceivable to man, always failing to recognize that many of the problems we face result from previous so-called political solutions. Government cannot be the answer to every human ill. Continuing to view more government as the solution to problems will only make matters worse.

Not too long ago, I spoke on this floor about why I believe Americans are so angry in spite of rosy government economic reports. The majority of Americans are angry, disgusted, and frustrated that so little is being done in Congress to solve their problems. The fact is a majority of American citizens expect the federal government to provide for every need, without considering whether government causes many economic problems in the first place. This certainly is an incentive for politicians to embrace the role of omnipotent problem solvers, since nobody asks first whether they, the politicians themselves, are at fault.

At home I’m frequently asked about my frustration with Congress, since so many reform proposals go unheeded. I jokingly reply, “No, I’m never frustrated, because I have such low expectations.” But the American people have higher expectations, and without forthcoming solutions, are beyond frustrated with their government.

If solutions to America’s problems won’t be found in the frequent clamor for more government, it’s still up to Congress to explain how our problems develop– and how solutions can be found in an atmosphere of liberty, private property, and a free market order. It’s up to us to demand radical change from our failed policy of foreign military interventionism. Robotic responses to the clichés of big government intervention in our lives are unbecoming to members who were elected to offer ideas and solutions. We must challenge the status quo of our economic and political system.

Many things have contributed to the mess we’re in. Bureaucratic management can never compete with the free market in solving problems. Central economic planning doesn’t work. Just look at the failed systems of the 20th century. Welfarism is an example of central economic planning. Paper money, money created out of thin air to accommodate welfarism and government deficits, is not only silly, it’s unconstitutional. No matter how hard the big spenders try to convince us otherwise, deficits do matter. But lowering the deficit through higher taxes won’t solve anything.

Nothing will change in Washington until it’s recognized that the ultimate driving force behind most politicians is obtaining and holding power. And money from special interests drives the political process. Money and power are important only because the government wields power not granted by the Constitution. A limited, constitutional government would not tempt special interests to buy the politicians who wield power. The whole process feeds on itself. Everyone is rewarded by ignoring constitutional restraints, while expanding and complicating the entire bureaucratic state.

Even when it’s recognized that we’re traveling down the wrong path, the lack of political courage and the desire for reelection results in ongoing support for the pork-barrel system that serves special interests. A safe middle ground, a don’t-rock-the-boat attitude, too often is rewarded in Washington, while meaningful solutions tend to offend those who are in charge of the gigantic PAC/lobbyist empire that calls the shots in Washington. Most members are rewarded by reelection for accommodating and knowing how to work the system.

Though there’s little difference between the two parties, the partisan fights are real. Instead of debates about philosophy, the partisan battles are about who will wield the gavels. True policy debates are rare; power struggles are real and ruthless. And yet we all know that power corrupts.

Both parties agree on monetary, fiscal, foreign and entitlement policies. Unfortunately, neither party has much concern for civil liberties. Both parties are split over trade, with mixed debates between outright protectionists and those who endorse government-managed trade agreements that masquerade as “free trade.” It’s virtually impossible to find anyone who supports hands-off free trade, defended by the moral right of all citizens to spend their money as they see fit, without being subject to any special interest.

The big government nanny-state is based on the assumption that free markets can’t provide the maximum good for the largest number of people. It assumes people are not smart or responsible enough to take care of themselves, and thus their needs must be filled through the government’s forcible redistribution of wealth. Our system of intervention assumes that politicians and bureaucrats have superior knowledge, and are endowed with certain talents that produce efficiency. These assumptions don’t seem to hold much water, of course, when we look at agencies like FEMA. Still, we expect the government to manage monetary and economic policy, the medical system, and the educational system, and then wonder why we have problems with the cost and efficiency of all these programs.

On top of this, the daily operation of Congress reflects the power of special interests, not the will of the people- regardless of which party is in power.

Critically important legislation comes up for votes late in the evening, leaving members little chance to read or study the bills. Key changes are buried in conference reports, often containing new legislation not even mentioned in either the House or Senate versions.

Conferences were meant to compromise two different positions in the House and Senate bills– not to slip in new material that had not been mentioned in either bill.

Congress spends hundreds of billions of dollars in “emergency” supplemental bills to avoid the budgetary rules meant to hold down the deficit. Wartime spending money is appropriated and attached to emergency relief funds, making it difficult for politicians to resist.

The principle of the pork barrel is alive and well, and it shows how huge appropriations are passed easily with supporters of the system getting their share for their district.

Huge omnibus spending bills, introduced at the end of the legislative year, are passed without scrutiny. No one individual knows exactly what is in the bill.

In the process, legitimate needs and constitutional responsibilities are frequently ignored. Respect for private property rights is ignored. Confidence in the free market is lost or misunderstood. Our tradition of self-reliance is mocked as archaic.

Lack of real choice in economic and personal decisions is commonplace. It seems that too often the only choice we’re given is between prohibitions or subsidies. Never is it said, “Let the people decide on things like stem cell research or alternative medical treatments.”

Nearly everyone endorses exorbitant taxation; the only debate is about who should pay-either tax the producers and the rich or tax the workers and the poor through inflation and outsourcing jobs.

Both politicians and the media place blame on everything except bad policy authored by Congress. Scapegoats are needed, since there’s so much blame to go around and so little understanding as to why we’re in such a mess.

In 1920s and 1930s Europe, as the financial system collapsed and inflation raged, it was commonplace to blame the Jews. Today in America the blame is spread out: Illegal immigrants, Muslims, big business (whether they get special deals from the government or not), price gouging oil companies (regardless of the circumstances), and labor unions. Ignorance of economics and denial of the political power system that prevails in D.C. make it possible for Congress to shift blame.

Since we’re not on the verge of mending our ways, the problems will worsen and the blame games will get much more vicious. Shortchanging a large segment of our society surely will breed conflict that could get out of control. This is a good reason for us to cast aside politics as usual and start finding some reliable answers to our problems.

Politics as usual is aided by the complicity of the media. Economic ignorance, bleeding heart emotionalism, and populist passion pervade our major networks and cable channels. This is especially noticeable when the establishment seeks to unify the people behind an illegal, unwise war. The propaganda is well-coordinated by the media/government/military/industrial complex. This collusion is worse than when state- owned media do the same thing. In countries where everyone knows the media produces government propaganda, people remain wary of what they hear. In the United States the media are considered free and independent, thus the propaganda is accepted with less questioning.

One of the major reasons we’ve drifted from the Founders vision of liberty in the Constitution was the division of the concept of freedom into two parts. Instead of freedom being applied equally to social and economic transactions, it has come to be thought of as two different concepts. Some in Congress now protect economic liberty and market choices, but ignore personal liberty and private choices. Others defend personal liberty, but concede the realm of property and economic transactions to government control.

There should be no distinction between commercial speech and political speech. With no consistent moral defense of true liberty, the continued erosion of personal and property rights is inevitable. This careless disregard for liberty, our traditions, and the Constitution have brought us disaster, with a foreign policy of military interventionism supported by the leadership of both parties. Hopefully, some day this will be radically changed.


Congressman Ron Paul
for The Daily Reckoning