Who has the Courage?

by Linda Bowles

November 9, 1999

If people are fed up with their government, disappointed, angry and disgusted about what it is doing to them, what are their alternatives? That's a question addressed by Dr. Robert Higgs in the summer 1999 issue of The Independent Review, a quarterly publication of The Independent Institute, a collection of scholars who strive to shed light on the underlying significance of critical public issues. In an essay entitled "Escaping Leviathan?" Higgs uses the terminology of Albert Hirschman to say that "people who are fed up with government have two options: exit and voice." That is to say, they can complain, petition, lobby and vote for representatives who promise to get the government (Leviathan) off their backs, or they can simply try to find a way to escape.

Higgs has no confidence in the vote as a vehicle of protest. He writes: "Scholars have been slow to appreciate that elections are, and always have been, largely a sham -- a mere ceremony intended to make people believe they have some control over their fate even as they are mercilessly bullied, bamboozled and fleeced by their rulers."

While Higgs doesn't believe ballot-box "voices" will tame Leviathan, he also does not agree with those who believe that governments will have to soften, that is to say, lower taxes, remove regulations and privatize services in order to be competitive with other nations in a burgeoning world marketplace.

Nor does he agree that there are effective routes of escape from confiscatory government by trading with electronic money, setting up parallel (black market) economies, and using creative high-tech devices that bypass oppressive laws and taxes.

According to Higgs, there is no serious threat to Leviathan's power and authority. He writes: "Each year, the more than 80,000 government entities in the United States spend vastly more money, take in vastly more tax dollars, and promulgate thousands of new regulations."

He reasons that "so far, at least in the United States, the pressures eventuating in the growth of government have manifestly overwhelmed all countervailing forces."

In a representative democracy, the growth of government power and control tends to be irreversible. In their book "The Tyranny of the Status Quo," Milton and Rose Friedman made the case that once a large government program is launched, it is almost impossible to get rid of it, no matter how badly it works, what damage it does, or what the people think about it.

Leviathan marches ahead towards totalitarianism on a one-way street, growing stronger with every step. It is clear that voters and potential voters are not clamoring for relief from big government. Millions of uninvolved, dumbed-down Americans do not have a clue or a care about what is happening in their society and to their country.

Other millions have a vested stake in big government as a source of security, handouts, employment, preferential treatment and business advantages; they are not fighting big government or running from it, but feeding off of it, while pretending not to know that it is at the expense of others.

And the millions of Americans who have withdrawn into apathy and cynicism are not executing "exit" strategies; they are not escaping government, but submitting to it, having become convinced that resistance is futile.

To the disappointment and dismay of many observers, accountability turns out to be a huge and corrosive problem in a representative democracy. When things go wrong in a dictatorship, no one has any trouble knowing who to blame. By contrast, in the American government, power is so diffuse and the bureaucracy so extended that it is often impossible to pin down just who is responsible.

Political corruption, bureaucratic malfeasance and flagrant violations of the Constitution are routinely exposed but almost never punished. The buck doesn't stop anywhere, just goes in circles, and never lands. It was the original plan of the founders that the people "own" the government, but it hasn't worked out that way.

The people of America are not owners of government; they are the subjects of it. Those who were to serve the people now rule them. At the turn of the century, Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes inadvertently prophesied the death of constitutional government when he proclaimed, "The Constitution is what the judges say it is." So it is.

The Constitution has been rendered irrelevant by declaring that it has no intrinsic reality of its own, that it can mean anything any five judges sitting on the Supreme Court at any given time want it to mean.

That once-revered, tattered old document no longer protects the people from over-arching government; it has become an instrument for government tyranny. Who among those asking to become president has the vision and the courage to rescue America from Leviathan?

Linda Bowles' 'take no prisoners' attitude has made her one of the few conservative women columnists in America with a large readership. She formerly managed Bowles Associates consulting firm, and has written speeches and been a researcher.



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19 nov 99