The Outstater

April 24, 2023

The Persistence of Despotism

HOOSIERS ARE FORTUNATE to have a legislature in supermajority. We can witness a real-life, real-time experiment in whether partisanship or just government in and of itself is the problem. Spoiler alert: It is government in and of itself.

As my colleague Leo Morris has observed, the majority Republicans (the party of fiscal responsibility, lest you forget) are considering new fees (taxes) to fund new programs in the midst of a revenue surplus. Thus our state legislators are aping Congress in ignoring what until recently were common-sense fiscal prescriptions.

They are telling us as plain as can be that the direst warnings of the great economic philosophers — Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, Richard von Mises, James Buchanan — were spot on. You can talk about democracy, rule of law and that stuff but in the end it’s about power. They have it and we don’t. It is now their money. We are subjects, not citizens, and that is the definition of despotism.

This corruption isn’t a new thing of course. In most of the world it has never fully been otherwise. But in America it only began in the late 1980s. Here is the historian Paul Johnson tracking its progress a decade later, quoted at length for his import and prescience:

“The United States had a long record of sound public finance, ever since Alexander Hamilton took over the Treasury in 1789 and introduced fiscal realism, balancing the budget for the first time. In 1835, President Andrew Jackson actually contrived to eliminate the debt altogether. Thereafter the debt fluctuated, as is reasonable, according to the emergencies through which the nation passed. The Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression and World War II all led to large-scale increases in the public debt. But the calms that followed these storms all saw it systematically reduced. During the last period of debt reduction, 1946 to 1975, it was cut by half. Then an odd and sinister thing happened. Without any emergency or world war or even a deep recession, the debt began to rise. At the beginning of Ronald Reagan’s Presidency, it had reached $914 billion; on his retirement, it was $3 trillion. Today, of course, the debt is closing in on $5 trillion, so it is not surprising that the dollar is at a historic low against the yen and the German mark. Indeed, it could be argued that the dollar’s reputation is more fragile now than at any time since the 1780s.”

The debt is $31.4 trillion now. Clearly, this isn’t going to end well. So what do we do about it?

You aren’t going to like the answer. It doesn’t conform to the armchair strategy of the last 50 years, that is, vote Republican and hope there are adults somewhere, perhaps on the Supreme Court, perhaps in the Oval Office, who will put things back in order.

For the last several years have taught us that nobody is coming to help — not anyone deep inside the three branches of government designed to keep this from happening in the first place, not certainly in the Indiana Republican Party, not in a charismatic figure rising from the hoi polloi, and as of today not with Tucker Carlson and an independent media. We are going to have to do it ourselves.

The blueprint for that was written long ago, too long ago for this generation to consider valid. Nonetheless, some of us will celebrate its sesquicentennial two years from now. It is “the unanimous declaration of the thirteen united states of America” known as the Declaration of Independence.

You don’t have to read the whole thing, although it is eloquent and wise from the first word to the last. The important part follows. Read it in the context of a state legislature that has, as King George III, degraded the meaning of citizenship. And read it slowly to carefully consider the implications:

“When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them (us) under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Does that sound like a lot of work and expense? We didn’t think you’d like it. — tcl


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