Friday, March 26, 2010

A Dangerous Tipping Point

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years.” (Attributed to Alexander Tytler or Tyler, last name is a bit uncertain.)

I believe that the above quote does have core of truth and a warning for the United States today though it is, in my opinion, overly pessimistic. In fact it has usually been misguided elected officials who have led the way toward overspending on government largesse. Charismatic politicians such as FDR, Kennedy* and Obama have pushed through “reforms” that expanded government programs. While those programs usually failed to fulfill their intended purposes, they did increase the size and power of the federal government, and that is the problem. However the temptation is always there for voters to order up more largesse for themselves, whether the treasury can support that largesse or not.

There are many reasons to oppose new programs but one often overlooked is the sheer size and power they provide to the government. A dangerous (and again often overlooked) manifestation of that is the number of people who become dependent on government for all or part of their livelihood. We must recognize that voters who receive government money are more likely to vote for higher taxes and more government benefits. That is true whether the benefits they receive are in the form of welfare, earned payments, or pay for work. Social Security recipients are unlikely to support a roll-back of benefits. Government employees are unlikely to support a reduction in the size of government. Defense contractors seldom urge cut-backs in defense spending. All those people and more are dependents of government and will usually vote to continue their gravy train.

As the government reach increases, we should concern ourselves with the results of this increase in voters who depend on the treasury. What percent of voters are now government dependents? What percent will make it impossible to hold back government spending? Are we approaching that point of no return or maybe even past that point?

I do not claim to know where that “tipping point” is but obviously there is some point at which so many voters will be government dependents that they can control elections, regardless of how non-dependents vote. At that point, unless they show a restraint uncharacteristic of human nature, our government will become a tyranny of government over private citizens.

“Great nations rise and fall. The people go from bondage to spiritual truth, to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage” (Probably from Henning W. Prentis)

This country has gone from bondage through liberty and abundance and may now be in the selfishness/complacency stage. That complacency is allowing an unprecedented expansion of government powers and the creation of a dependent class. Unless we reverse course, the result will be a return to bondage. Indeed that may already be in process as government is now ordering people to buy insurance from the very insurers our president criticizes.

In fact there is probably no better example of government growth than the recent health care “reform.” It makes the entire citizenry into public dependents.

Is there a solution? If so what is that solution? Unless we expect human nature to change we cannot expect politicians to cease demagoguery, nor can we expect voters to suddenly become unselfish. No, we must look elsewhere and that elsewhere has been with us since 1787. It is the limited government built into our constitution but generally ignored since the early 1900's. The only way to limit government is to adhere to the restrictions built into that document. By that I mean all of the constitution, including the ninth and tenth amendments which have simply been ignored for decades. Unless we do that we are doomed to continue the cycle Prentis describes above.

*Kennedy did not actually live to see his “war on poverty” become law but was the driving force behind it when it was passed after his death.

Monday, March 8, 2010


What if a professional basketball team had injuries that put almost half the team on the sidelines, including both centers (one a number one draft pick)? And what if when they acquire another center he promptly sprains his ankle? That is the situation of the Portland Trailblazers this year. In fact at one point they didn't have enough players to practice effectively so the coach filled in as a player – and ruptured his Achilles tendon. He missed four games with that injury. Then they filled the center position with a trade and the new center promptly sprained his ankle. The whole team is starting to look like a hospital ward.

After all that, what would you think their win-loss record would be? You'd think they would collapse, do an “el foldo,” start losing games as fast as a politician tells lies. Nope. Would you believe that they have done at least as well as before the rash of injuries? I'm not really a Trailblazer fan but I have to respect them for that. Beyond respect, I have to wonder just how they did it. In fact I believe there must be a lesson there for all of us. We all face adversity in our lives. There are days when things just go wrong. Sometimes you think of the saying, “Cheer up they said, things could be worse. So I cheered up and sure enough things got worse.” The Trailblazers must have thought that when their coach went down with his injury. Yet they overcame the difficulty.

How did they do it? I don't know but I know what they didn't do. They didn't look for help from the rest of the league. They are in a very competitive business, other teams were probably quite happy to have an opponent handicapped. They didn't ask for any special favors. Instead they just went out and did it themselves. I would guess that the remaining healthy players reached down inside themselves and found something extra there. They went out and played their hearts out.

The lesson from the Trailblazers can apply to our individual lives. When things go wrong the natural human tendency is to complain, blame others, and hope something will get better. “Why me?” “Why do I always have bad luck?” “Somebody (fill in your favorite enemy) must have caused this.” “When will things improve?” “Why doesn't someone do something?”

While normal, such reactions get us nowhere. Yes, sometimes somebody will step up and help us if they feel sorry for us, but such help is usually temporary. After the help is gone we may be right back where we were. In most cases the helping hand we need is at the end of our own arm, that is the only one we control.

I doubt any of us can totally avoid complaining, it seems to be part of our nature. However we don't need to make a career out of our whining. The most effective people move quickly through that stage. I suspect the Trailblazer players and coaches did just that. They probably felt abused by the number of injuries on the team. However I'm confident that they wasted little time whining and complaining. They moved on. The injured players were still out of action but by taking control of their own actions, the others became so effective that they surprised a lot of people, including me. In fact I suspect that they are a good example of the survival attitude I've discussed here previously based on Gonzales' book, Deep Survival., cf two articles entitled “Health Care – Something's Missing” at

(Note that there is an unrelated article between the two about health care and Gonzales' book.)

If we can incorporate in our own lives the attitude that helped the Trailblazers, those lives will be much better. Furthermore, our country will be a better place to live.

Note: As I mentioned in my last post here, I might occasionally put up a new blog. However I am still not in position to post blogs regularly.