The 20th century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up….We Americans are the only ones who didn’t get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of 18th century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.–Neal Stephenson in his book, In the Beginning Was the Command Line.
It’s really pretty simple–tell me your vision of the role of government and I will respond by pretty accurately estimating the degree of fiscal solvency or lack thereof over time. Tom Sowell wrote a great book 20+ years ago in which he outlines the essence of the problem in terms of its title–A Conflict of Visions. It’s the best book I have ever read on the conflicting worldviews that underlie almost every current policy debate. As I ponder the essential differences between the budget plans and implied social contract of the Obama administration and the plan advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan, this is the question–do we want to balance the federal budget at federal spending of 25% of GDP or limit it to 20% or less? This difference makes all the difference in our solvency over time, and it involves choices that are, at their core, moral choices. Dan Henninger boils it down to the questions, “who do you trust”? or “who is we”?
In a recent essay, Hadley Arkes understands the issue just as our founders did, that limits on government are essentially moral limits, and that the well-intended notions of the Tea Party and other patriots to return to constitutional enumerated powers, however meritorious, are futile without moral reasoning on the choices to be made. I know that I have visited this issue a number of times and that many readers are probably weary of it. The founders assumed that we would never be without this reasoning, but they didn’t count on a couple of generations of intellectuals who miserably failed us. And the truth is that there is no underlying principle, not even the well-founded principle of subsidiarity, which calls for government to be as close to the people as possible, that we can look to for the hard and fast limits on government intrusion, coercion, and dependency.
Again, it’s not a math problem; it’s about who we are.