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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Welfare and the California Drought

by

The drought in California and Southwestern United States remind us of the two different economic systems in U.S. history, each of which involved fundamentally different roles for the U.S. government in the economic lives of the American people.

California Governor Jerry Brown has reached out to the federal government for help with the drought. That shouldn’t surprise anyone. Such a request is now considered an ordinary and normal part of American life. Something goes wrong, call the federal government for assistance. The federal government is rich. It is powerful. It is benevolent. It loves us. It takes care of us. It watches over us. With the exception of libertarians, no one questions these bedrock principles of the modern-day federal government.

Yet, how many Americans today realize that for our American ancestors, such a mindset was considered anathema? Eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century Americans didn’t view the federal government as a god or even as a benevolent saint. They realized that the only way that the federal government could get its money was by seizing it from people in the private sector. Our ancestors believed that it was not the role of the federal government to be good with monies that had been forcibly taken from others. They believed in freedom of choice and voluntary charity.

A good example of the mindset that guided our ancestors occurred in 1889, a period in which the state of Texas was suffering a severe drought. Showing how good and caring they were, the members of Congress appropriated federal monies to the suffering farmers of Texas. This was the period of time when socialist and interventionist ideas were beginning to percolate among the American people.

President Grover Cleveland vetoed the bill. Keep in mind that Cleveland was a Democrat. He belonged to the political party that today wholeheartedly embraces socialism and interventionism as its guiding creed. Consider what Cleveland wrote in his veto message:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.

So, there you have it: “The government should not support the people.” That pretty much sums up the type of government that the Framers intended to bring into existence with the Constitution.

Our American ancestors believed it was morally wrong for one person to rob another person of his money even if the robber intended to be good with the loot. They also understood that an immoral act could not be converted into a moral act simply by having the government perform the dirty deed.

Thus, they brought into existence a government that didn’t have the delegated power in the Constitution to forcibly seize people’s money through taxation in order to give it to people in need. They believed that that was what voluntary charity was all about, as Cleveland noted in his veto message.

Our ancestors also understood a practical point: that once government is given the power to dole out tax monies to people, the floodgates are open and there is no way to close them. From that point on, the demands for federal money and the number of people seeking federal money grow exponentially.

Obviously, Americans today live under an opposite type of governmental system from that of our ancestors, one in which the primary purpose of the federal government, on a domestic basis, is to tax most everyone in order to have a gigantic pool of money to dole out to people in need. Interestingly, this fundamental change in our governmental structure was accomplished without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment.

At the same time, the federal government has become a major arena of conflict, one in which taxpayers are doing everything to protect their money from the IRS and in which dole recipients are doing everything they can to get their hands on the loot that the IRS collects.

Moreover, given that the amount that the government doles out for both welfare and warfare far exceeds the amount it collects in taxes, federal debt continues to soar, with the federal government doing what it always has done to deal with the problem—inflating the money supply to pay the difference.

Of course, federal assistance for California’s drought sufferers will be only a drop in the bucket compared to the overall massive level of federal welfare-warfare spending, all which is taking our nation down the road to economic bankruptcy and monetary crisis.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.