"The natural progress of things is for liberty to yeild, and government to gain ground."
- Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, Paris, 27 May 1788
Liberty Protects Against Corruption
We are too distracted from the most essential matters in government by the often successful attempts by political operatives to keep us narrowly focused on various causes that they represent. We notice how these political operatives become quite animated when causes dear to them are at stake and we notice how silent they are when it comes to the government spending our children’s money and its inability to save for a rainy day. We need to relentlessly keep the pressure on politicians in all parties that we will not stand for irresponsible management in our house. We need to be on guard against the massive efforts by the political intelligentsia to disguise the corruption that takes place daily in our government. Let us not be swayed by elaborate intelligent arguments and smooth talking elites, but let us rather demand simple wisdom. Let us not be intimidated by their titles and degrees from various institutions, but let us rather judge what they say using common sense. If what they say aligns with common sense, then we can listen further and learn. If not, we shoud be very suspicious. For example, any politician who defines cutting expenses as reducing the rate of spending increases should be viewed as a deceiver and should be replaced regardless of title or honors bestowed upon them by various institutions. Let us not allow ourselves to be pushed around by violent voices and let us instead focus on results. Let us not pay attention to polls which too often are designed to manipulate public opinion. Our lives and our children’s futures have been significantly affected by the inability of our elected politicians to govern responsibly. It is up to us as individual citizens to put an end to political corruption. The real hope starts with us and not within our government. We must not forget who we are and where we came from.
The fundamental Achilles’ heel of mankind is the inability to learn sufficiently from our past. Our children have a strong tendency to think they know best and often have to learn painful lessons which could have been easily learned by paying close attention to the advice of their elders. This tendency is so strongly ingrained into us that even as adults we easily ignore the advice of others. We just go by our feelings. If it sounds good and feels good at the moment, then we accept it. This is what much of our political system has been reduced to. Most political campaigns have been reduced to battles of emotional arguments about which politician is best able to enact new legislation for various causes. Whether they will really work or whether we can pay for them is almost irrelevant in the political arena. Some lip service is given to fiscal responsibility, but extremely rare is the politician who follows through. Politicians understand the effectiveness of appealing to our emotions (“I feel your pain”). Emotions are important but they have to be held accountable by reality. In reality most politicians do not feel our pain as they for instance often exempt themselves from the very laws they pass. It sure sounds good to say that we want the government to help every person in need for instance, but is that realistic? It has been demonstrated over and over again in every context imaginable that just giving money to people does not help them and that it actually hurts them in most cases. It sounds cold to say that, but again we must not be swayed by emotional arguments and strive to see things as they are. Results matter more than our feelings and we cannot let loud and aggressive voices fighting for their own personal interests overcome reality. Learning and earning engenders confidence and a healthy sense of pride that leads to greater and greater accomplishments and general good for mankind. Indiscriminate giving leads to a sense of entitlement and laziness and a drag on society. Again it sounds cold, but we don’t have to look further than our children for proof. An entitlement based society will go bankrupt. Prior generations have already figured this out and it is our responsibility to be aware of those lessons and not make the same mistakes. This is not to say that we do not wish to help those in need (shame on those of us who have the means to help and do not try).
Benjamin Franklin said, “I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. (From On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor – Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin)
By making earnest efforts to understand our history, we will be inspired to find sustainable solutions to the problems we have today. Our problems are not new. There are good reasons why the founders of our country were very wary of central government. Central government is necessary, but it needs to be limited to protect against catastrophic corruption. In an ideal world, central government could be the most effective way of managing our various resources and taking care of one another. There would be less duplication, better communication and people would get more for less. History has shown repeatedly that centralization is too risky as it is too vulnerable to corruption, because alas, there do exist people with very bad motives. To ignore that is foolish. The more money that is sent to central authorities in exchange for services that we may desire, the more attractive that central place becomes to unscrupulous people. All it takes is a little bit of deviousness strategically executed to cause a great deal of damage. As the saying goes, a rotten apple spoils the barrel. We make it easy for corruption to take place in that we conveniently bundle up a huge chunk of our livelihood and put it in a few central places. This is true not only for government, but in most places where there is a concentration of resources. For example, there would not have been a 2008 financial collapse if we were investing and managing more of our money locally rather than entrusting so much of our livelihood to Wall Street and the government. As we all know there are corporations and individuals who abuse their powers (very often with the help of the government). Government is by far the riskiest however as it has the unique ability to make law and enforce it, thus giving it the ability to sell laws which is the ultimate threat to our liberty. No wonder why we have so many laws! We want to distribute risk, not centralize it.
The good news is that most of our political conflicts are unnecessary once we realize that liberty allows us to pursue the goals of caring for our families and one another. If we focus our energy instead on cultivating within ourselves and our children a proper understanding of liberty, then opportunities will abound for us. A proper understanding of liberty is summarized by Benjamin Franklin who wrote that “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” It is important for us to understand that people in general are good, but do make mistakes and can be deceived. We must therefore govern ourselves accordingly and plan for corruption to take place. The best way to deal with corruption is to distribute power and do as much as we can locally within our own communities. This provides many significant barriers against corruption that we do not take advantage of today.
- By distributing power we automatically reduce the incentive for someone to be tempted by that power as there is not nearly as much of it.
- If corruption does take place, it will be much more localized and easier to recover from (neighboring communities can pitch in and help, etc.).
- Because we will need to do more locally, we will be much more in contact with one another providing more opportunities to work together. It is much harder to be dishonest with respect to someone you see regularly as opposed to people that you will never come face to face with.
It does boil down to the simple saying “Give a person a fish and they will be hungry again the next day. Teach a person to fish and they will feed themselves for a lifetime. “ And not only that, but they will teach others to fish! Our government should be in the business of inspiring people and not promising to take care of them. The role of a good government is to secure liberty for the people so that they have the opportunity to earn a living without it being taken from others. We always hear our leaders proclaim how good the American people are. This ought to raise the question as to whether our leaders really believe what they are saying! If we are that good, then why can’t we be relied upon, encouraged and inspired to take care of ourselves within our communities? Why do we need mountains of laws to govern our activities? And if we are not that good, why should anyone think that we are capable of electing good people? If we did not give away so much of our energy to the government, we would not even have to ask these questions. Everything would be in its proper place and we would have a great deal more energy that we could devote to our local communities.