Monday, March 13, 2000

Week of 03/13/2000

The High Price of Government
- by David Matthews 2

When the Berlin Wall fell, people rejoiced. It was one of the key symbols of hostilities between America and the Soviet Union. A single city, divided into two halves, in a country that was also divided into two halves. With Berlin unified, it wasn’t long before Germany itself became whole, and again, the people rejoiced.

Soon after Germany was reunified, the Soviet Union itself collapsed. The Cold War was over. Again, people rejoiced. Fifty years of hostility ended with a whimper and not with a thermonuclear bang as so many have feared.

But when the fanfare and the celebrations were over, the people of the former Communist Bloc found out the hard way that there was a high price to pay for communism. The high price was living in a country that could not compete in a capitalist-dominated world.

This is the ugly and bitter truth about the fall of the Soviet Union. The Cold War ended with a whimper not because of the vast superior military strength of the United States and NATO forces. It did not fall because they trembled in sudden fear of the vast thermonuclear power they had collected, and their capacity to obliterate all life on the planet.

No, the Soviet Union and most of the Soviet Bloc withered like leaves in autumn because they could no longer support themselves.

Consider, if you will, how the communist system operates. The government provides everything for the citizen. Food, clothing, shelter, medicine, transportation… each according to their talents, each according to their needs.

Of course, like the pigs in George Orwell’s "Animal Farm", the governing body and those in charge of protecting the state got the lion’s share of the provisions, while the workers struggled for the rest. The state, after all, needs their political leaders to run the country, and it certainly needs its defense forces to keep the people safe and secure. And both have to be well provided for in order to do their respective duties.

Over the years, though, there were fewer and fewer provisions available for the state to distribute. Those in charge did not want to make sacrifices "for the good of the state", so the people had to. Black markets soon developed as a means to help provide for things the state failed to provide as part of their duties. Eventually, government could no longer support itself, and it collapsed.

It is clear where the problem lies with communism. The problem is a combination of greed on behalf of their leaders as well as the tremendous burden put on government to provide for the people. The combination of which spelled the death knell for a system of government once heralded by its creator as "the natural evolution of society."

So aside from a few straggling countries like China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, the once-great Soviet Bloc is no more. Capitalism and democracy have beaten back communism. Game over, right?


In fact, the very factors responsible for the downfall of those communist countries are being seen elsewhere… including the United States.

Now let’s get brutally honest here. I’m not talking about communist spies or some grand conspiracy that would make Senator Joe McCarthy smile from the bowls of the hereafter. Rather, I am talking about the seductive trend towards the lesser form of communism, namely socialism.

There is very little to separate between communism and socialism except the degree of government being involved in a person’s life. Both operate on one key question - what can government provide for the public?

Socialists treat government like a magic genie, able to give them whatever they so wish. Need schooling? Government will provide. Need to put your kids through college? Government will provide. How about school meals? Government will provide. How about work? Government will provide. How about unemployment benefits? Government will provide. How about free vacation days? Government will provide. Health care? Government will provide. Retirement? Government will provide. Whatever it is the socialist wishes, there is government program that will provide for them.

Of course, such things don’t come for free, even though many naïve socialists are led to believe that it should be. Some European countries, for instance, love to gloat about how they have "free" health care, "free" retirement programs, and "free" paid vacations via the government. Truth is, they’re not "free" but are paid through heavy taxes. Ever wonder why the price of gasoline is about five dollars a gallon in Europe compared to a dollar-fifty in America? Two words - gas tax.

Then the question is do you get what you pay for? Here in America, one only has to look at this "glorious" retirement program called Social Security to see whether or not you do get what you pay for. Whole generations of Americans have paid fifteen percent of their hard-earned paychecks into a plan that pays them back about $200 a month if you are disabled or if you are over the age of 65. Certainly not enough to retire on, even when $200 a month was a lot of money. In order to be able to have enough to retire on, one still has to take out a separate pension program.

So why keep that program going? Because it is tax money, which to the politicians is like manna from the heavens. And because a whole group of Americans have been conditioned to believe that somehow Social Security still works.

But the wishing doesn’t stop there. In the 1950’s, politicians used to jokingly talk about a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage. Today, politicians seriously talk about laptop computers for every child, classical music for every expecting mother, and every home wired to the Internet. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently speculated it would be oh-so nice if the poor would be able to have cars of their own instead of relying on public transportation. Mind you, this is the same publication that criticizes Atlanta for their already crowded infrastructure.

I hope you can see a pattern here. The more "feel-good" programs and "wouldn’t-it-be-nice" wishes being added to the scope of government sends it right down the path traveled by the late Soviet Union. A path that leads to a complete collapse of the infrastructure.

That is not a place for any government to be headed towards, especially one that claims to cherish freedom.

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