Did America Ever Really Understand 'Limited' Federal Government?

Our 227-year experiment in self-government appears to be winding down. It may simply be too good a proposition to be true. It appears to be the case that eventually the people tire of vigilance and decide to trade freedom for the illusion of security.

The French political writer Frédéric Bastiat famously observed, as long ago as 1848, that the beginning of the end comes when the people figure out that they can vote themselves largesse from the treasury. That has happened.

It is often asserted that both parties use the federal budget as a means of buying votes. The observation is true enough, but the transaction can only take place when there are votes for sale. When citizens of the republic engage in serial petition of the government for "free stuff" and play "beggar thy neighbor" with their fellow citizens without consideration of the consequences for the society as a whole, then the society as a whole collapses.

But what must be understood is that welfare payments and entitlement programs are not the only sort of redistributive transfer payments which are problematical.

Donald Trump is the avatar of crony capitalism. He touts himself as a brilliant businessman, but that isn't quite true. What is true is that he has been brilliant at enriching himself at other people's expense. He has done this, by his own admission, by buying and selling politicians to get his way, by trying to abuse the law to get his way (eminent domain), and through serial bankruptcies in which his businesses fold, employees lose their jobs, and investors lose their money, but somehow he comes out whole. Not to speak of outright fraud (Trump University). His decision to launch Trump Mortgage 18 months before the collapse of the property market in 2008 demonstrates that he doesn't even understand the world of property investment in which he claims to be an expert.

For every one of his business failures, he gives one of two excuses:

  1. I wasn't really in charge of managing that operation; if I had been it would have been a success.

  1. I simply lent my name to the enterprise for branding purposes.

This offers us a window into how he would run his administration. None of his grandiose schemes would ever work out, but none of the failures would be his fault. There would be no accountability but plenty of vindictive government vengeance wrought upon anyone who attempted to assign responsibility to him. This is not how our political system was intended to work, nor is “Trumponomics” indicative of a genuine market economy, in which transactions freely negotiated between suppliers of goods and services and those who need such goods and services take place.