January 18, 2006

Goldwater: A government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away

George Will has written an editorial entitled For the House GOP, A Belated Evolution in which he makes the following comments:

…And now among House Republicans there are Darwinian stirrings, prompted by concerns about survival.

In Washington, such concerns often are confused with and substitute for moral epiphanies…

The national pastime is no longer baseball, it is rent-seeking -- bending public power for private advantage. There are two reasons why rent-seeking has become so lurid, but those reasons for today's dystopian politics are reasons why most suggested cures seem utopian.

The first reason is big government -- the regulatory state. This year Washington will disperse $2.6 trillion, which is a small portion of Washington's economic consequences, considering the costs and benefits distributed by incessant fiddling with the tax code, and by government's regulatory fidgets.

Second, House Republicans, after 40 years in the minority, have, since 1994, wallowed in the pleasures of power. They have practiced DeLayism, or "K Street conservatism." This involves exuberantly serving rent-seekers, who hire K Street lobbyists as helpers. For House Republicans the aim of the game is to build political support. But Republicans shed their conservatism in the process of securing their seats in the service, they say, of conservatism.

Liberals practice "K Street liberalism" with an easy conscience because they believe government should do as much as possible for as many interests as possible. But "K Street conservatism" compounds unseemliness with hypocrisy. Until the Bush administration, with its incontinent spending, unleashed an especially conscienceless Republican control of both political branches, conservatives pretended to believe in limited government. The past five years, during which the number of registered lobbyists more than doubled, have proved that, for some Republicans, conservative virtue was merely the absence of opportunity for vice.

The way to reduce rent-seeking is to reduce the government's role in the allocation of wealth and opportunity. People serious about reducing the role of money in politics should be serious about reducing the role of politics in distributing money. But those most eager to do the former -- liberals, generally -- are the least eager to do the latter.

A surgical reform would be congressional term limits, which would end careerism, thereby changing the incentives for entering politics and for becoming, when in office, an enabler of rent-seekers in exchange for their help in retaining office forever. The movement for limits -- a Madisonian reform to alter the dynamic of interestedness that inevitably animates politics -- was surging until four months after Republicans took control of the House. In May 1995 the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that congressional terms could not be limited by states' statutes. Hence a constitutional amendment is necessary. Hence Congress must initiate limits on itself. That will never happen.

…a few institutional reforms milder than term limits might be useful. But none will be more than marginally important, absent the philosophical renewal of conservatism…

Roy Blunt of Missouri, the man who was selected, not elected, to replace DeLay, is a champion of earmarks as a form of constituent service…A salient fact: In 15 years in the House, Boehner has never put an earmark in an appropriations or transportation bill.

Since Will wrote his editorial, Congressman John Shadegg of Arizona has announced his candidacy for the Majority Leader role in the House. Here are some excerpts from his Wall Street Journal editorial entitled The Spirit of 1994: Republicans need to look again to the examples of Goldwater and Reagan:

Ten years ago, the American people put Republicans in control of the House of Representatives for the first time in more than 40 years. It was a historic achievement, made possible because we stood for the principles the American people believed in: smaller government, returning power to the states, lower taxes, greater individual freedom and--above all--reform.

Some Republican leaders in the House seem to have lost sight of those principles, though the American people still believe in them...

Republicans promised the American people two things in 1994. First, we promised to rein in the size and scope of the federal government. Second, we promised to clean up Washington. In recent years, we have fallen short on both counts. Total federal spending has grown by 33% since 1995, in inflation-adjusted dollars. Worse, we have permitted some of the same backroom practices that flourished in the old Democrat-controlled House...The recent scandals involving Duke Cunningham and Jack Abramoff have highlighted the problem, but this is not just a case of a few bad apples. The system itself needs structural reforms.

This has been clear for some time. I did not discover reform as an issue--like Saul on the road to Damascus--when I entered the majority leader race. It has been an integral part of my record, not at one time a decade ago, but constantly, year in and year out since 1994. Yesterday John Boehner wrote on this page about a proposal to reform the earmark process offered by Rep. Jeff Flake. While Mr. Boehner is suddenly talking about this idea, I was one of the first co-sponsors when it was introduced last spring.

We need sunshine in the earmark process, and an end to secret, backroom deals. According to Citizens Against Government Waste, the total number of earmarks in 2005 was nearly 14,000--compared with only 1,439 in 1995. Earmarked money is often spent without the oversight and consideration in the regular appropriations process, so waste, abuse or even fraud is more likely...

Every year Congress adopts a budget, and every year we exceed it. Cheats and dodges--supplemental spending without offsets, "off budget" spending--hide this expenditure, but it is added to our national debt, a legacy of irresponsibility to burden future generations. We are still using a budget process that dates from 1974, when Democrats ruled the House and the government was a fraction of its current size. We need reforms in our budget rules to force Congress to stay within the budget it adopts...

I grew up watching the example of Barry Goldwater, who worked closely with my father. He taught me that "a government that is big enough to give you all you want is big enough to take it all away." That philosophy guided me when I ran for Congress in 1994. I was thrilled to be part of the Revolutionary Class of '94, and the sense of hope and mission of the early days after the American people elected a Republican majority in the House is still with me...

...The party of Ronald Reagan exists not to expand government, but to protect the American people from government's excesses. President Reagan once said, "If you're afraid of the future, then get out of the way, stand aside. The people of this country are ready to move again."...

While a well-intentioned man of principle and the best person for the Majority Leader job, Congressman Shadegg's reform ideas don't deal vigorously enough with the core structural problem raised by George Will. The structural problem is influenced by how money flows into politics in the first place (see here) and why there are no incentives for politicians and bureaucrats to make any changes to that status quo (see here).

Why does all of this matter? Because, as is noted in a posting highlighted below:

...Big government means there are plenty of spoils to divide among the many powerful pigs at the public trough.

The next time your Senator or Congressman tries to impress you with the spoils he or she is bringing home to your district, take a step back and remember that the true price you are paying for any suggested benefit must also include the pro-rata cost of feeding every other pig across America who eats from the public trough.

Most importantly, what is often forgotten is that the spoils they are so eager to divide up represent a meaningful portion of the incomes of American working families and retirees - who are usually unrepresented at the table when these spoils are given away.

We must never forget that all families pay quite a price for these giveaways: It means less of their own hard-earned incomes is available to be spent on their own tangible needs, on things such as food, clothing, medical care, education, etc.

And that is why big government means less freedom for American working families and retirees.

Here are some earlier postings on Anchor Rising about pork, Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay, and the lack of conservative principles behind many actions these days in Washington, D. C.:

Misguided Incentives Drive Public Sector Taxation
Pigs at the Public Trough
Big Government Corrupts, Regardless of Party
More on the Misguided Incentives in the Public Sector
Pigs at the Public Trough, Revisited
Corporate Welfare Queens: Destructive Parasites Which Deserve to Die
Favors for Everyone Except the Taxpaying Masses
Tapscott: Has the GOP Lost Its Soul?
Rancid Pork Leaves a Bad Taste in Your Mouth, which links to numerous other postings on the highway bill, energy bill, etc.
Has the GOP Lost Its Soul? Part II
Drinking the Kool Aid
Senator Chafee: Is This How You Define Fiscal Conservatism?
Cutting the Fat: The New Porkbuster Site

Andrew has also done some extensive writing about pork, including:

Is Rhode Island ready to step up for New Orleans?
Rhode Island's Initial Pork-Reduction Goal should be at least $50,000,000
Federal Pork's Dubious Return per Dollar Spent
Defeating the Logic of Pork
Pork Comparison of the Day
More on the Injustice of Pork
Steve Laffey’s Prescience on Pork