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PERSPECTIVE

They Don't Make Revolutions Like They Used To

It's Remarkable How Little Elections Accomplish

NOVEMBER 01, 2000 by SHELDON RICHMAN

Another national election is here and will soon be gone. When you consider the resources sunk into elections, it’s remarkable how little they accomplish. Shakespeare’s phrase “sound and fury, signifying nothing” comes to mind.

The latest evidence for electoral indifference issues from Cato Institute analysts Stephen Moore and Stephen Slivinski, who write that the “Republican revolution” ushered in by the 1994 congressional elections was something less than revolutionary. Its architects promised less government, and the candidates campaigned on that promise. If a mandate can ever be discerned in an election (a dubious proposition at best), the 1994 election seemed to be a mandate for cutting government drastically.

So what happened?

“The 106th Congress is well on its way to becoming the largest-spending Congress on domestic social programs since the late 1970s when Jimmy Carter sat in the Oval Office and Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill was Speaker of the House,” Moore and Slivinski wrote in July. “. . . A major reason for all the new spending is the inability or unwillingness of Republicans to eliminate virtually any government program. Many of the more than 200 programs that the Republicans pledged to eliminate in 1995 in their ‘Contract with America’ fiscal blueprint now have fatter budgets than they had before the changing of the guard.”

The authors point out that 95 of the biggest programs targeted for extinction have actually grown by 13 percent. “Many of President Clinton’s favorite programs have received substantial budget increases, often in excess of what the president has proposed,” they wrote. When the GOP Congress exceeded its own spending caps by $187 billion, the leaders applied the standard remedy: they raised the caps. But they overshot them too, by $40 billion.

Among the more egregious increases highlighted in the study: the budget for AmeriCorps increased 248 percent since 1995, bilingual education by 80 percent, and the education program Goals 2000 by 112 percent. “In the past three years, the Republican discretionary budgets have exceeded the White House requests by a total of more than $30 billion,” the report stated. This includes the Department of Education, which the Republican platform no longer opposes. Support for term limits was also a casualty of the revolution.

Remember that as you go to the polls—or as you don’t go.

* * *

In this political season bumper stickers are in full bloom. Jon Sanders interprets an especially popular genre of auto adornment.

The automotive age is nearly a century old, but never have the car’s enemies been more determined to impose restrictions on people’s transportation mode of choice. The attack on the automobile is an attack on freedom, writes Ralph Clark.

Cars traverse roads, of course, which today are almost all government operated. Leigh Jenco goes back to a time when roads were the product of private enterprise.

The lords in Washington brag that they are responsible for putting 100,000 policemen on the streets of America’s communities. If so, they have wasted a lot of resources, write Dan Alban and Frank Stephenson.

In ordering professional golf to let Casey Martin ride a cart during tournaments, the courts have intruded not only into private matters but also into a grand tradition. Ray Keating relates this disgraceful chapter in the annals of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Over the years economic liberty has waxed and waned in the hands of the U. S. Supreme Court. Progress in one area has co-existed with retrogression in others. Norman Barry leads us on the constitutional roller coaster.

In communist countries nothing is as it seems. The economy has nothing to do with economics; education teaches slavish absorption of official doctrine; and psychiatry is political discipline. Miguel Faria takes a close look at psychiatry in the island bastion of Marxism, Cuba.

Despite a multitude of diagnoses about what ails the government’s school systems, it is only rarely pointed out that what the schools lack most of all are—customers. Darcy Olsen explains.

The law of comparative advantage says do what you do best and trade for the rest. Ted Roberts found that law the surest way to ripe tomatoes.

Globalization is on everyone’s mind, but this is not the first time the world has lived through the phenomenon. The late nineteenth century saw increasing economic integration and liberalism, which perished in world war. Ian Vásquez compares today with that earlier period of freedom.

Before Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations, the Scottish professor of moral philosophy wrote a book on a different subject. Or was it so different? James Otteson examines Smith’s other book.

Our columnists have prepared a sumptuous intellectual feast. Donald Boudreaux discusses two radicalisms. Lawrence Reed says government discourages ambition and self-reliance. Doug Bandow assesses the regulatory overload. Thomas Szasz discourses on geniuses and madmen. Dwight Lee continues his discussion of putting a price on human life. Mark Skousen remembers E. F. Schumacher. Charles Baird champions union-free professors. And Roy Cordato, hearing consumers blamed for higher oil and gasoline prices, inveighs, “It Just Ain’t So!”

Books that have occupied this month’s reviewers contend with the illusion of the illusion of prosperity, America through war and depression, the Titanic, the causes of financial crashes, public finance, and subsidies to scientific research.

—Sheldon Richman

ASSOCIATED ISSUE

November 2000

ABOUT

SHELDON RICHMAN

Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and TheFreemanOnline.org, and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families.

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