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Commentary: Bad government is hard to change

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 6, 2010 - During the 1940s, Flannery O'Connor wrote a deeply dark short story called "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I, however, am interested in something else again, that is, that a bad government is hard to change.

Walk into City Hall in downtown St. Louis. Count the employees who are working. Count the employees who are not working. Among those who are working examine how hard they are working. I intend no disrespect, but truth is truth.

Now imagine the fire storm if we actually tried to fire some of those people. First, the unions would go berserk. Second, the patronage bosses would go berserk. Then the laid off workers and their friends and loved ones would picket and cause disruptions. The mayor would end up reversing the reduction in force. His excuse would be that upon further review the firings would cause every house in the city to burn down and all parks in the city to be closed forever.

Over the past several decades, government has taken over charity's historic function of caring for the poor. Obamacare is a game changer because it is not about taxing the middle class to help the poor; instead it is about the taxing the middle class to (allegedly) help the middle class. That sounds like a cat scampering in circles while it chases its own tail, and with the addition of the bureaucrats is a negative sum game.

But once Obamacare is well underway each member of the middle class will be a beneficiary of the largesse of all other members of the middle class. Each will see his own benefit but be blind to the costs, and so will squeal at the prospect of ending the program. (I consider Obamacare to be primarily a way to employ lots of bureaucrats who will vote Democrat, all at the expense of good health care - but that is another article). My point is that once the middle class firmly grasps the government health care nipple, the suction will be strong and the middle class will not release willingly.

And what about those cute municipalities and other government districts in north St. Louis County? The scandals make amusing reading, but at some level the people have to pay for it. (The crass treatment of the working class in North County courts is far from amusing and is in fact a disgrace, but again, that is the subject of a different article). But even in the face of the waste, duplication, thievery and thuggery by which these places are known, they will be almost impossible to shut down.

The aldermen, mayors, city clerks, fire commissioners, utility district adjutants, assistant chiefs for the study of ants at picnics, etc., look forward to sitting on their podiums as their jolliest moments of the month. Ah, the sweetness of small power.

Accountability is nearly nil, and the members think they make a difference. They are certain the world will stop spinning if they halt their important work on the color of the carpet in the employee break room, and the need to tax the people to pay to replace the otherwise perfectly satisfactory yellow carpet with a fuchsia carpet.

Even as the private sector lays off employees, the liberals think the world will end if the government lays off a single inhabitant of a government cubicle.

I find this problem interesting because I think we are going to come to a day when there is no money. Over the past 40 years, the computer revolution has caused productivity gains that are mind-boggling. I believe that those gains have masked the problems associated with the growth of government expenditures and future promises, and have delayed crippling inflation. But one day the piper will be paid. And because the great productivity gains from computers seem to be behind us, the day of disaster seems to be on the horizon.

It is no secret that states are running out of money. Missouri's problems have been publicized; but, at least so far, they are nothing compared to the parallel problems in New York, New Jersey and California.

So let's assume that the money does run out and layoffs must occur, or, alternatively, that the inflation beast runs amok and the government workers stop working because the pay they receive will not purchase anything.

At that moment America will face its greatest trial since the Civil War. Will the people look in their hazy past, recall that the strength of the nation lies in individualism and thus reject the politics of envy that have led us to this point, or will the people just run around looting whatever they can get from one another, and will civil society thus break down?

I think it will come down to whether our citizens will have lost the nerve to live in a land of individual liberty and responsibility.

It doesn't have to be this way. Freedom and prosperity are within our grasp if we eliminate the policies that require each person to care for each other person. Most significantly, the voters must reject those who promise to take from others to give to them, and particularly reject those who assert that those who prosper in free-market capitalism by delivering good value to great numbers are the enemy.

While we should not delude ourselves into thinking that solving the "bad government is hard to change" problem will be easy, the hardships associated with changing policy now seem the better choice.

We still control our destiny. If we elect officials who have the jewels to withstand the withering problems outlined above, to fire about 50 percent of the bureaucrats, to enforce private property rights, to put in place some reasonable environmental regulations, to hire police who are subject to the Constitution, to institute a court system, and to build a few parks and roads, but to otherwise stay out of lives, we will have a chance for renewal of the American experiment.

These policies will produce a new economic revolution that will dwarf our successes of our past. We just need the nerve to enact them.

I return always to the same solution: Trust the People.

Bevis Schock is an attorney in private practice in Clayton.