Sound Off !
June 3, 2014
Category: Society > Government and Politics
[Written and sent, just prior to the 50th Reunion, to Howard Gillette, the moderator of the Thursday panel, “a discussion of four issues that have engaged us throughout the half century since we graduated from college.”]
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” (The Declaration of Independence)
Finally, I have lined up my affairs in such a way as to permit me to attend the Reunion. I've even signed up for golf, which should be quite a challenge for a well-meaning but mediocre duffer like myself. I look forward to seeing you and many others.
Hopefully, you will also be glad to see me despite what I am about to say about the program. Having reread the organizers' email of April 22 and noted the discussion you will be leading, I am a little disheartened about the list of topics chosen. I would love to know how they came to be chosen. I presume you had a hand in this. Were they chosen because people were available to discuss them? Volunteered to discuss them? Certainly they address events of our lifetime but I wonder if they are truly representative of the historic upheaval which we are now experiencing. Recognizing that I am being a little snarky, but unable to control myself, it seems like the kind of list that might be compiled by the editors of The New York Times or the producers of the Charlie Rose show.
What is missing, I submit, is a subject that might be called Leviathan. Not only is this an issue that has "engaged us in the half century since we graduated from college," I believe it is the overriding issue of our time. Leviathan is the seemingly unstoppable growth of government and its increasing intrusion into our lives. Leviathan has undermined our democratic institutions and shredded the Constitution. It has increased the primacy of interest-group politics and divided the citizenry into hostile camps. It has weakened our economy and left the Federal and many state governments insolvent.
In the short life of the 21st Century, we have seen our healthcare system, our financial system, and our higher-education financing system come under the control of the Federal government. Unelected regulatory institutions accrete power; Congress cedes power and becomes increasingly irrelevant. Federal regulations and policies undermine 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, and 4th Amendment guarantees. Nine unelected officials will settle these matters. State and local governments likewise expand their regulation. Building codes metastasize. Private property is taken for private use. Zoning protections fall before expansive wetland definitions. (I have some personal experience with some of these results.) Public servants become rulers and arrogant toward citizens in a way not imaginable 50 years ago. When everything depends on government, people seek protection through political action and political contributions. Crony capitalism and corruption flourish. Entitlements resist reform. The relationship of the individual to government is fundamentally transformed.
We pay for Leviathan with debt. Federal finances are unsustainable; this is not only a financial problem, it is a moral problem as debt is passed to future generations. See usdebtclock.org. The 1964 dollar is worth 13 cents today. Many state and local governments are insolvent. Public service pension systems, the fruit of political deals, have state and local governments teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, with some toppling over.
I could go on, but that's enough I think.
I am interested in what people have to say about civil rights, the women's revolution, national security, and global warming, although I suspect my take on these may be different than most of my classmates. I will listen with interest to see whether there are others alert to what I consider today's most important and immediate issue.