America today is in trouble. We’re broke. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Our nation’s public schools graduate hordes of illiterates. Our pension systems are grotesquely underfunded. Despite the supposed cure of Obamacare, medical costs are malignant. Oh, and perhaps you had better think twice before drinking the water.
There is an old but wise saying: When you find yourself in the bottom of a hole, stop digging. I am not sure what the solutions are to our pressing national problems. However, given that the costs of all forms of government now equal roughly one-third of our annual gross domestic product, I’m dead certain yet more deficit borrowing to finance even more government “help” is not the answer.
Others disagree. They see more taxes and spending as the answer to all that ails us, and I respect their intense desire to use government as a tool to create safer and more comfortable lives for all. Nonetheless, after 50 years of increasingly expensive and intrusive government interventions meant to guide us toward the “Great Society” first outlined by President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, perhaps we need to recognize that government — no matter how much money and power we surrender to it — is simply not capable of creating the families and communities that we want for ourselves and our children.
It is not difficult for government to cross the line from protector to oppressor. For example, an article on Politico.com last year entitled “The Overcriminalization of America” focused on how we incarcerate people — particularly if they are poor and/or minorities — at rates that have turned our nation into the world’s largest jailer. Moreover, the astonishingly expansive regulatory state, as article last year in USA Today pointed out, now imposes criminal penalties for many thousands of infractions.
Oddly enough, all of this government oversight and overreach seems perfectly understandable to me because I see it springing from an intrinsic human need — for belief in a higher power. As the tide of religious faith has receded in America over the past 50 years or so, I believe the power and promise of secular state power has rushed in to fill the void. Just as so many once passionately believed in the power of God to improve our lives, so do many now apparently believe in the beneficent power of the state with equal ardor. However, the many heavy-handed government efforts to improve our lives seem to have inherent limitations that are only now becoming apparent.
First, there is no substitute for personal responsibility and initiative, but many well-meaning government programs tend to strip these away, which results in directionless and passive individuals who are increasingly dependent on state oversight and money. In addition, as people become progressively more dependent over time and generations, the need for government to create the administrative and financial infrastructure to support them increases, creating a societal death spiral of expense and irresponsibility. We need to quickly rethink our nation’s direction before we create our own utter collapse.
Also published in The News-Gazette (news-gazette.com) April 17, 2016