Earlier this week, I met with a group of South Florida business owners in town for meetings with lawmakers and executive agency officials. They were good people with a lot of great ideas. These type of meetings are a commonplace in this town, and happen just about every day of the business week. Members of Congress, for example, even though they participate in scores of these meetings every year, can make political hay back home from each of them (most do not, especially the newer generation). So can the visitors (again, most do not).
When I brief groups and people visiting the area for government-related meetings, I give an overview of the state of things, at least, as I see it. I learned long ago that my educated guess was as good as most. The one thing I never do, however, which may be a little different from what others do, is sugar coat things. I steer clear of the beltway “happy talk,” and make a concerted effort to go beyond the headlines. Decades of happy talk have given us a federal budget deficits, high taxes, and out of control social spending. Happy talk, if allowed to fester uncontrollably, will give rise in America to a permanent socialist state, at least one based in Washington, DC and supported by the large urban city centers such as New York, Miami, Chicago, and Los Angeles, among others.
In case you’re wondering, “happy talk” has really nothing to do with a state of being. If that were the test, the region would have better drivers and courteous people. “Happy talk,” as I explained to the South Florida delegation, is what one is usually exposed to when visiting with the political and professional Mandarin class. It happens in just about every country I’ve visited, with the possible exception of the French who, oddly, see gloom and doom in just about everything, especially politics.
Rarely, if ever, will you hear an original thought from a political or bureaucratic Mandarin, but boy, can they dish out the good-feel talking points. It is the art of defensive governing that has infected governments for centuries, especially those governments that have become way too large for their own good, and those of the people who pay for it. Remember folks, you pay for it. It is not free.
Thomas Jefferson, as were most of the Founding Fathers, was a big proponent of using the separation of the political branches to contain political power because they knew then, that if you failed to do so, really bad things would happen. Human nature, will make it so. Think, Lord of the Flies. While I do not share the pure Jeffersonian vision for America, Alexander Hamilton wins, no contest, the sage of Monticello was on point with many of his observations on human nature and the role governments. For example,
“Our country is too large to have all its affairs directed by a single government. Public servants at such a distance, and from under the eye of their constituents, must, from the circumstance of distance, be unable to administer and overlook all the details necessary for the good government of the citizens; and the same circumstance, by rendering detection impossible to their constituents, will invite public agents to corruption, plunder and waste.”
Jefferson inked these words around 1800 when we had a population, not counting the slaves, of just 6 million people. Florida was still in Spanish hands and the young nation was just 15 states strong. Yet Jefferson’s point was as valid then as it is today. The federal government remains unable to administer and oversee all the details needed for ‘good government,’ whatever you want ‘good’ to mean, and more so to the point, this noxious condition most certainly invites “corruption, plunder, and waste.” Need a more dramatic example than the Clinton family political machine? It is not just them, by the way. The Clinton Foundation problems just happens to be in the news this week, but Republicans are also part of the problem.
The rise of the social welfare superstate during the Great Depression, fueled by mostly Democratic presidents and Congresses, and some Republicans, is a major part of his problem. But it is not just the socialist wing of the government, President Dwight Eisenhower also warned of the defense industrial complex that has fueled, since the 1950s, or what today we call crony capitalism. Leftists cling to this failing federal bureaucracy as an alcoholic does to the bottle. Both are delusional, a hero in their own mind, but, usually, the alcoholic knows when to call it quits, especially after an intervention. Liberals will never let it go.
It is remarkable how so little reliable information about what really happens in this town makes it out of official Washington. With so many sources of information, it is truly amazing that so little makes it past the filters. Folks, twitter is not news. Yet most of the professional coverage is extremely distilled, especially television news. So that is why, when I talk with visitors to this fair city, I make it a point of speaking off script, or the latest narrative imposed on the process for mass consumption, and try to focus on what is truly important. For me, a lot of is economics and I lead with, what should be, as sobering as a cup of coffee to a drunk: the federal government is broke. Broke to a tune of $18,000,000,000,000.
That breaks down to about $154,000 per American. We’re under a sea of red ink, breathing through a straw (not even a snorkel). According to folks who follow these data for a living, the Federal Reserve, the people who issue dollar bills, has on reserve (i.e., the equivalent of cash in the bank) a paltry sum of $58,000,000,000. So if the value of assets held by the Fed falls by less than 2%, the nation will be, officially, bankrupt. I believe we already are bankrupt, and not just economically. So if you’re coming to Washington, DC looking for help, you’re already in deep trouble. The government is in no condition to help. We need to help it by eliminating outdated agencies, eliminating free market suffocating regulatory rules and generally containing the federal leviathan in place since the New Deal.
Few politicians will ever talk this way to constituents. It is not “happy talk,” and takes you way off script. So when people visit with legislators and executive branch officials, what do they hear? Most of the time, they listen, nod, make a few perfunctory feel-good statements, ‘happy talk,’ take a picture and send you on your merry way. If you’re lucky, you’ll be advised that times are tough and the cost-cutting is the new normal, but they’ll always add, ‘we’ll see what we can do.’ But that is rare these days. Again, if there is one thing that brings Mandarins a great deal of discomfort it is telling a potential voter or donor, no. So happy talk reigns supreme in these parts and piles of it are also shoveled daily on television and, some, radio talk shows.
Federal debt makes the Republic weak, but who wants to admit that? It goes to the “corruption, plunder and waste” that Jefferson was warning about, and that we have ignored for far too long. In happy talk Washington, no one wants to say no. To anyone or anything. The only President that had the guts to push back on all fronts was Ronald Reagan and I’m certain I’ll not see another one like him, at least in the foreseeable future, who will do the same. Why? Because, in part, we’ve been conditioned to accept ‘happy talk’ as a substitute for good governance. It is so ubiquitous that you’ll have a tough time sorting truth from fiction.
There is an antidote, yet it requires being upfront with people. It will feel a lot like those television prescription drug commercial. Only if you have the condition treated by the drug, would you be willing to tolerate the parade of horribles that come with treatment, the side effects. The side effects and long-term consequences of failing to tackle the federal debt should send chills up and down your spine. In addition to being frank with the American people, we’ll need new leaders at local, state, and federal levels of government, as well as business who opt for liberty and not dependency on the taxpayer dole. If we want top-notch leaders, we must demand more as voters and shareholders on this question. If the current lot is not willing to do so, find people who will.