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Serfs Up

In 1800 our federal government spent less than $3.00 per person and federal employees were numbered less than 5000.  These trends were steady for the nation’s first 50 years.  While the populations rose, the amount of money per person and national employees per capita were relatively stagnant.  Ironically, it wasn’t until the limited-government Jackson took office that our discretionary spending started to escalate.  Still, even until 1850 we were under the $3 per person mark.

In Larry Schweikart’s book “Seven Events That Made America America” he says,

“The remarkable hands-off approach of government to the economy, however, simultaneously resulted in per capita income growth of just about 1 percent per year prior to 1850, while government grew at only a rate of three-quarters of 1 percent per year.  Put another way, even though government grew slowly but inexorably in the early 1800s, it shrank relative to the personal income growth of most Americans.  This was no only because public expenditures remained light, but also because the young nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) was an astounding $700 million, or seven times the gross public debt of $91 millions.”

Imagine a nation where the wealthy don’t have to pander to the politicians because their wealth depended on their own work and not the impotent hands of government.  That was us then, compare it to us now.  We now have an annual mandatory burden of $3.6 trillion – or more than $9000 per person.  That’s not counting our annual discretionary spending which, as of last year, added around $1.4 trillion.  How did we go from $3 per person to more than $10,000 per person? 

The philosophy of our founders wasn’t a philosophy of no federal government; quite the contrary.  The first dominant party of Washington took the name “The Federalists”.  The idea about expanding the federal government wasn’t foreign to them, nor contrary to many of them.  Even Thomas Jefferson, an opponent of the Federalists, agreed that the fed had roles to play for the greater national good – often citing military security to justify national spending on roads, canals, and harbors.  The congruent theme between them was that the national government was there to keep the peace between the states and for the United States. 

Of course, times have changed.  When Thomas Jefferson proposed that we build a national highway for $10 million dollars, Congress shot his proposal down with scorn.  No way were we going to pay that much money for a national project.  He didn’t even receive the support of most of his party members.  Now we give up $10 million to study the pheromones of honey bees and no congressional member on either side of the isle will bat an eye.

The great irony is that America’s first men and women left a land that had matured only slightly from serfdom only to see this new land scratch and crawl its way back to that primitive existence.  We fled the manors of Europe and now wish to re-institute the old custom only replacing our lords with federal entities.  With 45 million on food stamps, $45 billion going to public housing, $800 billion for Health and Human services, $700 billion to Social Security, and countless other programs that literally take care of us; how long before we too own nothing but our bellies?


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