For more than 50 years there has been a drumbeat of propaganda downgrading government: Government can do nothing right, and government is the problem.
At first the attack was on the size of government and all its employees. From the Great Depression through World War II, government needed to employ those whom the private sector would not. During WWII, many were needed to conduct the war effort. Some of those were dollar-a-year men volunteering to work for that sum as a service to their country.
In the post-WWII years, government remained large, helping other nations to recover from the devastation of the war years (the Marshall Plan). By 1954, a Cold War mentality had become the norm in our society, and the war in Korea required the continuation of a war bureaucracy.
The John Birch Society emerged, creating fear of communism using George Kennan’s Domino Theory as a threat of what was going to happen to this nation.
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Today, conservatives of all stripes continue a disdain for government. Disdain hides the real issue behind all of this. Small government means no government. Take back the Constitution means reinterpret that document to appeal to special interests. A social safety net means a sanctimonious morality for a few. Citing a fear of socialism means ending Social Security and Medicare. Privatize everything. Never admit there are limits to privatization.
Some conservatives believe they understand the Constitution because they have memorized that document. I doubt they have read “The Federalist Papers.” The language is a little antique to read comfortably. Yet Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay made the Constitution very clear for all, including our own generation. As our revolution ended, the Industrial Revolution was escalating in England.
Essays written by these men stated that government is good, necessary and has utility. Writing to explain the Constitution, they said: preserve the governments of the states, preserve the union and encourage improvements in infrastructure — to speed growth in a young nation in debt.
Hamilton was the one who clearly understood that governments do not function without income. Eventually Hamilton instituted a national bank, a prototype of today’s Federal Reserve. His idea was that a public/private bank would give those with wealth a stake in the new nation. Taxation is essential.
These men recognized the federal government had a role in equitably distributing tax funds across the states. The men of the Federalist Papers and creators of the Constitution were not socialists per se, but they understood the limits of states to provide all that was needed.
The private sector was perceived as a partner, not a preferred substitute for government. Colonists were never overtaxed any more than we are today. They did have similar problems regarding those who wanted young businesses to be independent of English regulation. In fact, the Boston Tea Party was really about bailing out the East India Co. from near bankruptcy in exchange for a small increase in taxes (Wall Street and the auto industry today).
Change is accelerating faster than many can cope with; therefore, the assumption is that things were easier and simpler in the past.
We face global competition today, mind-boggling technological change and fear that society is losing something of value. Individuals fear government is cheating them of freedom.
For the young, there is a great deal of hope, and many are on the frontier of change that will provide both progress and a social safety net that will ease economic disruptions.
Can we afford it all? Yes. Many overseas investors still value this nation’s economy, primarily for safety, and will continue to loan us money. National fear is unfounded.
Martha J. Pierce is a member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org