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 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.
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.
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.