A recent email exchange with a group of brothers, on the subject of government spending, led to one of us observing that it would be hard to cut spending. I replied:
Hard, perhaps, but scarcely impossible. The American economy managed somehow to muddle through without the Federal government providing welfare, well into the 20th century. It was LBJ’s Great Society that kicked the government into high gear. (It was also his “guns and butter” policy that institutionalized the lie that we could have high government spending without raising taxes, that we didn’t have to make choices in what the government does. The government, like God, was seen as omnipotent, capable of doing everything all at once. Of course, with omnipotence comes the omnipresence of government, which trait becomes more prominent by the day.) In fact, the economy did sufficiently well that we were able to get away with “having it all” for quite some time. We accomplished this by spending our inheritance. (If only we had bargained harder, we might have gotten at least a mess of pottage in exchange. Instead, all we got was a mess.)
We need to return to first principles. This may well require vigorous debate as to what those principles are, or should be, in today’s society. Fine. Almost any set of principles would be preferable to the ad hoc government we have had. Merely establishing the idea that principles exist would be a major step forward in our nihilistic materialistic culture.
From those principles would then flow the actions and choices we make in how we choose to govern ourselves.
I offer as a starting point that individual freedom should be the organizing principle. For individual freedom to thrive, individuals must also be responsible actors, vulnerable to the consequences of their choices. Any government action which reinforces the principle of individual freedom could be enacted. Any government action contrary to the principle would have a high hurdle to clear before it could be enacted. (Example: drafting people into military service is contrary to the principle, but may be necessary to protect the long-run survival of the principle.)
Of course, to do this, we need principled leaders. Such creatures are thin on the ground right now. So I return to an older idea, that we should vote against all incumbents, until we are certain that we have discouraged those who conceive of “public service” as the public serving them.
Of course, to do that, we need principled citizens. Too many of our fellow citizens are unaware of an alternative to the nihilistic materialism in which we currently stew. In many cases, all it takes is for one person to speak out. There have been experiments performed by psychologists, in which they are able to get people to deny their own senses, if they are in a group which is unanimous in support of a lie. (For instance, selecting which line on a chart is longer.) Those experiments have down that if just one person expresses a view contrary to the group consensus, the subject of the experiment is more likely to go against the consensus. Just one. One.