Thomas Jefferson had this to say about elected officials and the accumulation of public debt:
I have thrown out these as loose heads of amendment, for consideration and correction; and their object is to secure self-government by the republicanism of our constitution, as well as by the spirit of the people; and to nourish and perpetuate that spirit. I am not among those who fear the people. They, and not the rich, are our dependence for continued freedom. And to preserve their independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our callings and our creeds, as the people of England are, our people, like them, must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give the earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread, we must live, as they now do, on oatmeal and potatoes; have no time to think, no means of calling the mismanagers to account; but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers. Our landholders, too, like theirs, retaining indeed the title and stewardship of estates called theirs, but held really in trust for the treasury, must wander, like theirs, in foreign countries, and be contented with penury, obscurity, exile, and the glory of the nation. This example reads to us the salutary lesson, that private fortunes are destroyed by public as well as by private extravagance. And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for a second; that second for a third; and so on, till the bulk of the society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery, and to have no sensibilities left but for sinning and suffering. Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia, which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.
– Thomas Jefferson, excerpt from his letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816
If that’s all a bit too technical, here’s the gist: There’s nothing holding the joint up.
So Washington cannot be saved from itself. For the moment, tend to your state, and county, town and school district, and demonstrate the virtues of responsible self-government at the local level. Americans as a whole have joined the rest of the Western world in voting themselves a lifestyle they are not willing to earn. The longer any course correction is postponed the more convulsive it will be. Alas, on Tuesday, the electorate opted to defer it for another four years. I doubt they’ll get that long.
Steyn wasn’t specifically addressing Jefferson’s letter but it was a nice segue.
Reaching The Galt Point
Free men can and often do forge their own chains of oppression. Jefferson made the point that a pressing duty of men vested with the public trust is to prevent the forging of such “public debt” chains for the general public, rich and poor alike, out of the metal intended for coins. Our representatives in government are today piling debt upon debt in order to keep living a lifestyle that cannot be paid for even of all the wealth of the upper 10% of income earners was confiscated. It is folly and is only supported by the ignorance of the people who vote for such foolishness.
Even confiscatory rates levied on “the rich” will only postpone the inevitable because there is a event horizon with respect to government – a “Galt” point when those who reach a level of intolerable taxation will find ways to avoid (or evade) taxes. There are several truisms of “progressive” governance that cause the achievement of this “Galt” point – they believe that there is never too high a tax, never too high a spend, never a program too ineffective to fund (or keep funding) and never a burdensome policy too unconstitutional to enshrine in regulation and law.
The political elite have been successful in illegitimately shifting blame and responsibility to private citizens (let us not forget that the “rich” are citizens just like every other) when culpability rests squarely on their shoulders. Do not forget – if you are a “progressive” who credits Clinton and blames Bush for success and failures of the national economies experienced under them – you are assigning responsibility to the governments that these men led, not personally to them as individuals. In that light, Obama owns this current economy by virtue of his (ineffective) actions.
No One Escapes The Burden, Not Even the Obama Voters
The reason that Jefferson wrote what he did is that elected public service is temporary – the effects of that service if not conducted responsibly, is longer and far reaching. Our children and grandchildren will feel the effects of the 2012 election long after it becomes text in a history book. When the few make decisions for the many (and with debt, we are making decisions for future generations as well), there is a moral obligation that is inexorably intertwined with those decisions.
This catastrophic burden will eventually fall on all of America through a crashed monetary system, inflation and a shrinking economy and it will fall hardest on those of modest means. There is no “quick fix”. There is no escape. As Steyn put it, the electorate opted to defer it for another four years but I, too, doubt it will take that long to see the error.
Heed these words of Jefferson:
Then begins, indeed, the bellum omnium in omnia [the war of all against all – Ed.], which some philosophers observing to be so general in this world, have mistaken it for the natural, instead of the abusive state of man. And the fore horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.