The Myth of “Limited Government”

E-Day plus seven… and the ballots are still being counted. Many will be recounted.

Others will undergo rigorous audit to determine their validity.

Chesterton — G.K. Chesterton — wrote of the “democracy of the dead.” Yet he did not suggest the dead should vote in current elections… as many allegedly did last Tuesday.

The president and his men are alleging colossal voter fraud. The challenger insists he won squarely and fairly.

Could they both be correct? We imagine it is possible. But we do not pretend to know.

Yet we are confident the challenger will be crowned United States president no. 46 come January.

The incumbent’s legal challenges will likely falter in the courts — justly or unjustly.

Which judges will award Mr. Trump the election after the national media has declared him the loser?

They would spend the next four years fleeing protesters with pitchforks in their hands… and vengeance on their minds.

Three Cheers for Gridlock

We are bitterly and ruthlessly bipartisan. That is, we denounce each party for its multiple atrocities.

Yet if you’ll allow us this one partisan deviation:

It is our sincere wish that the Republican Party retains its Senate majority.

That is, we are out for gridlock.

The other party is hot to “get things done.” Yet we do not want it to get things done.

That is because getting things done generally equates to massive raids upon our liberties… and our wallets.

If government is to get things done for A, it must first do things to B.

And so B is knocked about by his own government for A’s benefit.

If Democrats run the White House, Senate and House they would have two years to get things done — many things — until the midterm elections.

It is not yet clear if Republicans will cling to their majority. Yet we pray upon two knees that they do, and for the reason listed.

It is not because of their self-professed fidelity to “limited government.”

Government has grown, debt and deficits have mushroomed under Republican management as they have mushroomed under Democratic management.

Perhaps it was inevitable. And we do not necessarily fault them…

What Is Limited Government Exactly?

“Limited government.” It goes between the tongs of quotation marks for a reason.

It of course sounds infinitely agreeable. Who among us declares for unlimited government?

Even those who are for unlimited government keep it dark. Else they would be denounced as communist hellcats and packed off to the gallows.

Yet here we file our brief against “limited government.”

The term is as hollow as a jug, hollow as a drum, hollow as a congressman’s skull.

Never before have so many used a term… so often… that meant so little.

Government limited to what precisely? How does one define it in this, the 21st century?

Perhaps we can liken limited government to Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s 1964 definition of pornography — “I know it when I see it.”

Some see limited government when federal spending is limited to $3.9 trillion rather than $4.3 trillion… or 19% of GDP as opposed to 21%.

But do We the People truly desire limited government?

Thanks, but No Thanks

Ask the fellow next door if he believes in limited government. He will likely roar a hearty yes, bursting with the spirit of American independence. Proceed to ask him this question:

Should Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Education — to name some — be eliminated?

Not reformed. Eliminated.

Ask him if he would prefer greater retirement benefits or limited government…

Greater health care benefits or limited government…

Saving the planet — or limited government.

Up in smoke goes his belief in limited government. Next we come to the politicians themselves…

One minute they gloat about the virtues of limited government. The next minute they issue impassioned pledges to save Social Security or Medicare. Or to heave more money at the Department of Education.

Duller Than Dishwater

“Limited government.” The term is not merely meaningless…

It is duller than dishwater. It inspires as an Alan Greenspan lecture on accounting practices inspires. It excites as drying paint excites.

We hear it and applaud… politely. We nod our heads dutifully. Limited government, yes, of course.

But how dreadful.

There were two great orators of antiquity, the Roman Cicero and the Greek Demosthenes.

When Cicero spoke the people said, “What a great speech.” But when Demosthenes spoke? “Let us march,” said the people.

How many march for limited government? Who goes to the barricades for limited government?

Many will march for “Health Care for All.” “Save the Planet.” “Social Justice Now.”

These are the cries that awaken the blood. They summon the hormones.

They are calls to action that inspire us to run off and enlist… and charge into the breach.

Limited government inspires us to… snooze.

“Limited government” is a dismal marketing slogan. Would you wish to sell it for a living? Alas, you might starve.

Limited Government Is Defensive

Here is the cardinal sin of limited government: It is defensive.

The sob mongers and tear-squeezers forever shout about this crisis or that crisis. Only energetic government action can put it down and scotch it.

It may be the environment. Health care. Housing. Racism. Sexism. Income inequality. Bedbugs.

Anything, everything, A through Z.

This bunch is commonly perceived as the angels on our collective shoulder. They stand for social justice… and equality.

And who can come out against social justice and equality?

Certainly not politicians seeking office. And so they must budge.

Limited government therefore finds itself on the back foot, perpetually on the defense. Yet no successful defense can forever remain static.

The enemy ultimately punches through.

Limited government cedes ground year by year, decade by decade. It makes one tactical retreat after another. It gives a little here to gain a little there.

But it loses ground in the aggregate.

Thus limited government is a shifting line in the sand. It is erased and withdrawn as circumstances demand.

Goodbye, Limited Government

In the 1930s, New Deal critics sobbed and moaned about the end of limited government in America.

And not — we may add — without cause.

World War II was next. A nation mobilized for war is not a nation of limited government.

The national security state came along in the 1950s. Then the Great Society in the 1960s.

To talk of limited government at that point was to talk of unicorns, of pink elephants, of circular squares, of honest liars.

The surveillance state has since been riveted atop the administrative state.

Not a sparrow falls in these United States — as it was once known — that escapes Uncle Samuel’s eagle eye.

The Federal Register — meantime — runs to some 70,000 dense pages. It totaled 16 pages in 1936.

America is an empire now. Few dare whisper the word, of course.

But it is a strange kind of empire — an “empire of debt,” as our own founders Addison Wiggin and Bill Bonner argued in 2006.

It is certainly an empire in debt — some $27 trillion and counting.

The Most Important Election in Our Lifetime

Yet as the frog in the gradually warming pot of water, Americans have acclimated to the changes.

Even now, many “conservatives” croon about our superexcellent system of limited government… as if the New Deal, Great Society and the rest were mere trifles.

Twenty years hence, we hazard they will still be crooning about our superexcellent system of limited government… but that it will be lost to time if Democrats win the next election.

The 2040 election thus will be “the most important in our lifetime”… as were the 2008 and 2012, 2016 and 2020 elections.

But this we can predict safely:

Limited government will not be on the ballot…


Brian Maher

Brian Maher
Managing Editor, The Daily Reckoning

The Daily Reckoning