Lewis Morris / April 28, 2020

Bigger Government Is Always Here to Stay

With every crisis, government grows. When the crisis is over, it never shrinks.

“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” —Thomas Jefferson

What made the Great American Experiment work for a long time was keeping government in check with a well-written Constitution and a strong, self-sustaining private sector. That strategy began falling by the wayside several decades ago, with government using every opportunity available to expand its reach. The China Virus has inspired a bold effort to take big government to the next level.

The federal government has spent over $3 trillion in the last few weeks to combat the pandemic, and more big spending bills are on the way. To put that into perspective, federal spending in all of fiscal 2019 totaled $4.4 trillion. Money is being spread across the economy to support medical care, help the unemployed, keep businesses afloat, bolster individuals and families, and shore up supply chains. Contra the limited powers enumerated in the Constitution, too many civically ignorant Americans want an activist government, but this sort of government activity in times of crisis has consequences.

The Great Depression and World War II provided cover for creating the “social safety net” and a permanent bureaucratic state, the likes of which Woodrow Wilson only dreamed of. The Cold War brought on what Dwight Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex.” September 11th introduced a new era of wide-ranging public monitoring and intelligence collection. Today, we’re incurring massive amounts of debt as the shutdown wipes out the economy.

Whether you agree or disagree with the reasoning behind these expansions, the point to remember is that government never shrinks back to normal size when a crisis passes. Whatever it was at the height of the crisis becomes the new “normal.” New rules established during the heat of battle don’t go away, and those can have unforeseen consequences that always work in the government’s favor and ultimately harm the country.

Since the federal government’s fiscal response to the pandemic began, Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have used raw political leverage to push their hyper-leftist agenda. Their latest move is an attempt to completely change the ballot process for the coming presidential election.

Leftists push for bigger government because power is their ultimate aim, and spending is the gateway drug to permanent big government. The more “free money” government dispenses, and the more people depend on that money, the more votes it buys. Unfortunately, Republican elites have been a party (pardon the pun) to this madness. They have been willing accomplices to so many massive spending bills that the GOP is generally no more trustworthy on fiscal issues than are the Democrats.

What about Donald Trump? Trump is many things, but he is not a fiscal conservative. The movement that propelled him to the presidency is a populist one, not a limited-government one. Populists are not as concerned with fiscal outcomes as much as they are with change-making results. Like all politicians, Trump occasionally talks about fiscal discipline while being a willing participant in the spending spree. Trump has to become more proactive on reining in government power. For every abuse uncovered, how many remain? Instead, he seems more focused on engaging in a misguided battle with the media that has essentially moved the crisis itself off-topic.

Big government is here to stay. Again. Did it ever really leave, though? Federal spending as a percentage of the overall economy has yet to fall back to pre-9/11 levels. It hasn’t even come really close. This latest crisis is sure to keep even that weak benchmark out of reach for the foreseeable future.

Rahm Emanuel, one of Obama’s top lieutenants and later mayor of Chicago, told The Wall Street Journal, “The era of Ronald Reagan that said basically the government is the enemy, is over.” Steve Bannon, one of Trump’s lieutenants in the early days, added, “The era of Robert Taft, limited-government conservatism? It’s not relevant. It’s just not relevant.” When two men of vastly opposing worldviews can come to a similar conclusion, one should sit up and take note.

No one political party is going to rein in big government. And what should be media watchdogs are actually complicit in it, so don’t expect much help there. The public has to stand up and watch what’s going on and support candidates who truly do believe in a government that should work in a smaller size.

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