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Monday, January 25, 2010

The Spoiled System

 Do you feel disadvantaged? Is your volume of business down? Are you a member of a minority group and feel like you need an edge? Are you not a member of a minority group but wish you had your own bailout? Do you think that everyone's getting money from the government but you. Don't worry, there's a solution. The Spoiled System.


The art of politics is the art of patronage, as money and political support is invested in politicians as a down payment on the government largess that they will dispense back to their supporters once in office. As the size of government has expanded, the American spoils system has gone from encompassing jobs for a few thousand bureaucrats in the early 19th century to a spoiled system in which all Americans are expected to support politicians in exchange for a share of the government loot.

The health care debate is only the latest example of how the expansion of government has drawn up battle lines among Americans who are expected to fight over the latest episode of the Spoiled System. And is it only the latest. For if we declare that government provided health care is a legal right, then why not housing or internet access and cars? The Romans had a name for this sort of thing, panem et circenses, or Bread and Circuses, in which politicians dispense the spoils of government treasuries to the public in exchange for their support.

That sort of thing has an ancient history in America going back to the earliest days of government, in which politicians realized that to survive both individually and on a party basis, they would have to create their own base. And so they did. Back in 1800, Aaron Burr, the original Democratic party scoundrel, created an entire electorate with a bill to provide free water to New Yorkers, with a company that also doubled as a bank. Some 200 years later, variations on the same trick are being played over and over good, with the instruments of the public good being exploited in order to perpetuate the spoiled system. It is only now that the system is approaching its final breaking point, as out of control government spending fueled by corruption, party politics and 'bread and circuses' social spending, is bankrupting America.

The key ingredient of course is the size of government. To give away something, you must control it. And as political parties strive to secure their power base through giveaways to individual and entire demographic groups of supporters-- the entitlement arms race takes on a desperate note. Because not only do both parties have to spend money to reward their supporters, but when neither party is dominant, the spending increases two-fold, because the only thing more expensive than single party piggery, is bipartisanship in which both parties tack on the spending they want to get anything passed.

That is how Bush got so many bills passed, by dramatically increasingly spending in order to reward Democratic congressmen and Senators for their cooperation. It's why the NEA's budget shot up to new heights under Bush, and why the same Democratic Senators now assailing Republicans for their spending, were living high on the hog back then, literally. It's why Obama and congressional Democrats are now pondering how much money they're going to have to spend in order to buy off a few Republican Senators to get their agenda through. Because except for the occasional moment of genuine national solidarity in a time of crisis, bipartisanship mainly means twice as much theft.


It will be much harder though, because most Republican Congressmen and Senators understand that they can't afford to vote for much of Obama's agenda. Not because it's too expensive, frankly that has stopped very few politicians on either side over the last decade, but because it's not mere waste or the spoils system in action, but an attempt by Obama and the Democrats to use spending to create their own base. The fundamental difference between the bailouts and health care is that the latter represents a political power grab, that few but the loosest Republicans will go along with for any amount of bribery. And having an aggressive grass roots movement agitating for fiscal conservatism at their doorstep, only reinforces that.

But to paraphrase Marlene Dietrich, the problem with fiscal conservatism is that it doesn't pay... politicians that is. Fiscal conservatism looks good on the letterhead, but in the days when 99 percent of the reason to hold elected office is to bring home the pork, electing or getting elected in order to stop spending money is counterintuitive on both sides of the aisle. There are politicians who make fiscal conservatism their agenda, and some do a better job of camouflaging their earmarks than others, some like Ron Paul go so far as to insert the earmarks and then make a charade of voting against them, but none of them can really stop handing out public money to shore up their own base of support. They can't, because the entire political system is geared to reward those who grab the money.

It is the system itself that is spoiled. Soviet economic planning created a top down system in which the absence of a free market turned the entire economy into one big black market, in which everything belonged to the government, and everyone had to earn a living by stealing from the government and reselling it on the black market. But in fact we have the same system, it just runs out of D.C. and the politicians do all the stealing for us.

In our system you don't need to steal and resell office supplies or fish. Instead two or three politicians get up and promise to steal as much of the budget as they can on your behalf. And raise the debt limit so they can steal even more. The best thief goes off to the state capitol or Washington D.C. and the same game goes on. Most politicians disdain the system, but argue that since everyone does it, they have to deliver the pork to their constituents too. And they're right. How many politicians would get reelected if they actually didn't bring any of the money from Washington D.C. home? How many people would really vote for a man if he promised that their district wouldn't receive a single dollar in Federal money? In many parts of the country it would be easier to run as a convicted child molester than a politician who actually doesn't bring any money home at the end of the day.

The public benefits here and there, a new road, a renovated museum and the occasionally helpful government service. But for every dollar of value that the general public receives, nine dollars are routed into kickbacks to contributors (often passed off as waste), funneled into an endless bureaucracy or just shredded as part of the long drawn out process in which the government's own size and lack of accountability results in more money being spent in a year than a committee of madmen loosed in a bank vault ever could.

But the competition ensures that the spoils system will go on. Imagine two greedy sons who open a safe containing all the money that their father left to them. They both look at each other, each brother suspecting that his sibling will go for the money. So naturally they both begin taking money, and as both shovel hundred dollar bills in their pockets, they begin grabbing the money faster and faster, as each one tries to grab as much as he can so the other one doesn't get it.


That is what we have now. A system in which politicians get elected in order to spend money by paying back their donors and constituents for their support. A system in which parties scheme to make the public more and more dependent on them, in order to control their support. Tammany Hall and the Carpetbaggers were two sides of the same coin. Government can't be reformed, because government is the problem. Fighting the War on Drugs always runs up against the problem that there are people who want drugs and people who want to profit by selling it to them. Fighting government corruption runs up against the same problem. To win the War on Drugs, you somehow have to convince people to stop using drugs or trying to profit from selling them. To win the War on Government Spending, you have to convince politicians to stop spending money.

As long as government can spend money it does not have, raise taxes to collect more money, go into debt to spend more money and has virtually unlimited spending discretion vested in politicians who are supposed to be the people's representatives, but instead have become their pimps, the crisis will only get worse. It will take more than a new election to change that, but a transformation in the relationship between the politicians and the people.

10 comments:

Mikec said...

The huge problem facing national socialism was where was the money going to come from? To keep the young men employed and to deliver on the party commitment for a 'better life' was very expensive. So we get the invasion of Austria, of CZ and of Poland in order to finance the (national) socialist agenda. Eventually we get a slave based economy in order to keep 'de volk' in 'pork'

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

yes indeed, they began with domestic robbery of the jews, and then went international. As did the USSR in its time.

Lemon said...

They will attack retirement funds and savings next like common thieves

Following Him said...

To give away something, you have to control it … hummm. Good point.
Obama has said that the Constitution is fundamentally flawed. Could it be that he wants us to believe that our Bill of Rights and all the freedoms it affords is coming from him and is under his control? In other words … we should be thanking him for all the stuff he is giving us.
I can see him saying Wednesday night … "Who's your daddy now?"

Keli Ata said...

Most governments in the world are legalized forms of embezzelment (re cuts to Social Security). Taxpayers entrust the gov't with their money and it gets spent and misspent.

People by nature are greedy. Isn't greed one of the seven deadly sins?

elrushbuni said...

How would this work in relation to concessions given to Islam as it is being done in Europe -- as I browse Arabic sites (translated by Google of course) I have seen hints that they way a lot of Islamic things have managed has been through bribery ...."obviously".

Jewish Orchestra said...

Great Post! Next post: how to convince politicians not to spend money?

Mikec said...

Bribery has two forms, one is acceptable, ie lobbying, the other is not.

But in the US there seems to be a 'third way', the acceptance of 'donations'.

Ignoring the corrupting concept of political donations, we have institutions like the 'Carter Foundation'.

The Gulf States are awash with money, and hence those in the Gulf who see the US as the great Satan can use their wealth as a strategic military asset.

It is really up to Americans to resist the temptation of easy money....., or die.

elrushbuni said...

So let me get this right,
The money America has
Goes to the Gulf States to pay for OIL
then
That same money comes back in the form of either a lobby, a donation or a bribe.

Islam buys the Great Satan with the Great Satan's own money
and Zakat.

Mikec said...

But it is not so much that Islam, when in the 'house of war', has no morality at all. It is that those in influential positions in the west, and particularly in the US seem to loose all sense of morality when offered 'donations'. Whilst they might not accept 'donations' from neo-nazis, they will accept money from suitably disguised islamo-fascism.

As long as there is plausible deniabily in the short term, there is no discernment as to the long term implications of accepting tainted money.

There will always be those for whom bribery is an acceptable business or political practise, the problem comes when society fails to take appropriate action against those who receive the bribes.

Just say NO!

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