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Among the best examples of the dysfunctional nature of American society are the mass killings that take place on a regular basis. As everyone knows, many of them occur without any rational motive. Someone just decides that he is going to go out and kill a bunch of people.
Whenever one of these mass killings take place, inevitably there are those who call for gun control. If only America had stricter gun-control laws, or if only America could cause all guns to disappear, the argument goes, the mass killings would stop. It’s all because of guns, they say.
Yet, practically every family in Switzerland is armed to the teeth. The Swiss certainly don’t have daily mass killings. The same holds true for nineteenth-century Americans. They had virtually no gun-control laws, but they didn’t experience this daily mass-killing phenomenon. Moreover, some of today’s mass killings take place in states or localities that have strict gun-control laws.
If we are going to get to the roots of America’s dysfunctional society, it is necessary for the American people to do some serious soul-searching. We need to ask some fundamental questions, such as: What were the sound founding principles of our nation? To what extent were those founding principles abandoned by later generations of Americans? What have been the consequences of that abandonment? We need to explore whether the abandonment of those principles is the root cause of today’s dysfunctional society.
America’s founding principles
Let’s first acknowledge that there were some bad founding principles. Slavery was the biggest one. There were others, such as the denial of women’s rights.
But there were also some sound founding principles. Among these were no taxation on income. People were free to keep everything they earned, and there was nothing the federal government could do about it.
People were also free to do whatever they wanted with their own money. There were no programs based on coerced charity. No Social Security. No Medicare. No education grants. No SBA loans. No corporate bailouts. No welfare. No welfare state.
There was sound money. The official monetary system of the United States was based on gold and silver coins, not paper money “backed by gold.”
Our American ancestors rejected the notion of a national-security state, a type of governmental system that is characterized by omnipotent powers. They chose instead a type of governmental system known as a limited-government republic, one whose powers were limited to the few that were enumerated in the Constitution. Thus, there was no Pentagon, vast military-industrial complex, CIA, or NSA; instead, simply a relatively small military force.
America had a system of open immigration, one that respected the right of everyone anywhere in the world to freely come to the United States to live, work, visit, tour, invest, or open a business.
There were no public (i.e., government) school systems. No compulsory school-attendance laws. No school taxes. No school boards. No school buses. Education was private and based on free-market principles.
There were no drug laws. People in America were free to possess, ingest, or distribute whatever they wanted, without fear of being punished by either the federal government or the state governments.
There was a foreign policy of noninterventionism. That founding concept was that the U.S. government would not go abroad to invade, conquer, and occupy foreign nations. It would also not involve itself with the internal affairs of other countries, including backing foreign candidates or parties, bribing foreign public officials, or initiating coups, state-sponsored assassinations, or other regime-change operations. There were no sanctions and embargoes. America wished all foreign nations well but avoided entering into entangling alliances with them.
Those were the sound founding principles of our nation. They lasted for more than 100 years.
The results were incredible. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, Americans were experiencing the most prosperous, charitable, peaceful, healthy, educated, and harmonious society in history. In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the American people had discovered the way to defeat poverty, which was precisely why thousands of penniless immigrants, many of whom could not speak English, were coming to America on a daily basis.
How we lost our republic
Critics sometimes claim that the fact that all of those principles were abandoned demonstrates that limited, constitutional government doesn’t work. They are wrong. Actually, it works very well. After all, a century is a very long time. And there is no denying that the sound founding principles of America lasted for more than a century.
But no system can withstand a tsunami-sized change in public opinion, which is what caused America to abandon its sound founding principles. The Constitution serves much the same purpose as a sea wall. A sea wall protects a community from high tides. That’s its purpose. If a tsunami hits and floods the community, it can’t be said that the sea wall failed, because that wasn’t the purpose of the sea wall. By the same token, the Constitution was designed to protect the nation against periodic assaults on the liberty and well-being of the people, but it wasn’t designed to protect America from a tsunami-sized change in public opinion.
I submit that it was the abandonment of America’s sound founding principles in the twentieth century that is the root cause of America’s dysfunctional society today. If we are to achieve the type of society most of us want — one based on liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony — it is necessary to reject the welfare-warfare-state system under which we live today and restore the principles of economic liberty and a limited-government republic on which our nation was founded.
One of the big problems we face today is that all too many Americans are absolutely wedded to the welfare-warfare-state way of life. They are steadfastly opposed to letting it go. As far as they are concerned, the welfare-warfare-state way of life is now America’s permanent system. Everyone is expected to accept that as a given and then simply come up with reform proposals on how to fix and improve the system.
In this essay, I will examine the reasons I believe that America’s welfare-warfare-state way of life is the cause of America’s dysfunctionality and also why measures to reform and improve this system are doomed to fail. In fact, they might even make a bad situation worse.
But before embarking on that analysis, it is important to note something about the legal ramifications of America’s conversion to a welfare-warfare state.
When the Constitution was established, the assumption was that the system could not be changed by legislative action or by executive decree. To change America’s founding system in a fundamental way would require going through the amendment process outlined in the Constitution. That’s an extremely arduous and difficult process, which is how our ancestors wanted it.
Nevertheless, America was converted to a welfare-warfare state without even the semblance of a constitutional amendment. The conversion occurred entirely through executive and legislative action, which means that the conversion was illegitimate from the standpoint of our constitutional system. After all, the Constitution is supposed to be the highest law of the land. It controls the actions of the executive and legislative branches, not the other way around.
The welfare-state way of life was adopted in the 1930s under the Franklin Roosevelt administration. This was the time of the Great Depression, when the American people were suffering extreme economic distress. Roosevelt used the crisis as an opportunity to convert the nation to a welfare state.
The nature of the welfare state
What is a welfare state? It’s a type of political/economic system in which the government is charged with taking care of people. Keep in mind that this was precisely the type of system that the American people had rejected when they approved the Constitution. They didn’t want the federal government to be taking care of people. As far as they were concerned, that was not a legitimate function of government. They brought into existence a system in which people were free to take care of people, on a voluntary basis, without governmental involvement.
Obviously, in America’s founding system, people were free to say no to helping out others. Our American ancestors understood that that is what freedom is all about. When people are forced to care for others, there is no way that they can genuinely be considered free. A free people are free to say yes or no to helping out their fellow man. As I indicated earlier, this type of system brought into existence not only the most prosperous period in history but also the most charitable period in history. When people were free to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth, many of them used it to build hospitals, museums, schools, libraries, opera houses, and more — all on a voluntary basis — not to get an income-tax deduction, because there was no income tax or IRS.
FDR’s New Deal program, which ushered in the welfare state, changed America’s founding system to one based on coerced charity. From then on, Americans would be forced to participate in a system in which government was caring for people. Americans became convinced that this type of collective governmental system reflected their goodness and compassion.
The cornerstone of the welfare state
FDR’s premier welfare-state program was Social Security. Today, this program remains the crown jewel of America’s welfare state way of life. It is considered untouchable, especially by seniors. People are free to come up with ways to reform or improve it, but calling for its eradication is considered beyond the pale of legitimate political discourse.
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, Social Security is a socialist program, just like all other welfare-state programs. In fact, the notion of Social Security originated among socialists in Germany in the late 1800s. Having read the socialist works of Karl Marx, much of the world, including Germans, was excitedly embracing his ideas. When American students went to Germany to study in the late 1800s, they brought back socialist ideas with them, among which was Social Security.
Social Security is based on using the government to seize a portion of people’s income through taxation and use it to fund the retirement of older people. In other words, money is forcibly taken from one group of people and given to another group of people. It is a classic example of the Marxian principle: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
Ever since the advent of Social Security, generation after generation of seniors have steadfastly maintained that they “put their money” into a retirement account and that they are simply withdrawing their money from that account. At the risk of stating the obvious, the first generation of Social Security recipients back in the 1930s couldn’t claim that.
But the fact is that Social Security has always been nothing more than a welfare program, no different from food stamps, public housing, education grants, and corporate bailouts. It has never been a federal retirement program, one in which the government taxes people and then places the money in a special account where it earns interest.
The reason that some people convinced themselves that Social Security is a retirement program is that they were forced to pay FICA taxes, in addition to income taxes. That caused some people to believe that the FICA taxes were going into some sort of retirement account. But in reality, the FICA tax is just another way that the government raises revenue. Like other federal taxes, the money raised with the FICA tax is spent as soon as it is received. In the case of today’s seniors, the money they paid in FICA taxes was spent on such things as the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, the war on terrorism, the drug war, and all other welfare-warfare-state programs, including sending money to seniors for Social Security.
Social Security works the same as all welfare-state programs. The federal government taxes everyone and then gives the money to selected people. Those who are producing wealth are taxed so that the federal government can help those it considers need the money more. This is all part of the process involved in having the federal government helping people, which is what the welfare state is all about.
One big problem with this process is one that people don’t like to confront and talk about. But it needs to be confronted and talked about because it’s part of why we now live in such a dysfunctional society.
One major point about the welfare state that needs to be confronted and talked about is that Americans are actually waging war against each other. It’s a subtle war, one that goes unnoticed and unmentioned. But it is a war nonetheless, one in which people are doing their best to seize other people’s income while, at the same time, doing everything they can to protect their own income from being seized.
Thus, on one side of the war are the producers of income. On the other side of the war are the recipients of government largesse. The latter group is waging a vicious and nasty war to seize income from the former group.
Of course, sometimes there is an overlap. You have people in the producing group that are also recipients of governmental largesse. This group of people does its best to protect its income while, at the same time, also doing its best to improve its position by using the government to seize income from other producers.
Meanwhile, everyone lives his life as if nothing is going on. Most everyone is courteous and cordial to others. Many people go to church on Sunday, where they pray for their fellow man. The rest of the week, however, the war to seize other people’s income continues apace.
With Social Security, it’s an intergenerational war that involves seniors using the federal government to wage war against their children and grandchildren, many of whom are struggling to start families, by using the government to seize large portions of their income and giving it to seniors.
This socialist program has contributed to the destruction of traditional family values, which are based on children honoring their mother and father on a purely voluntary basis.
Additionally, Social Security has produced a mindset of hopeless dependency among many seniors. They are convinced that if Social Security were to be repealed, they would die in the streets. Of course, we should bear in mind that our American ancestors lived without this socialist program from more than a hundred years, and no one died in the streets as a result.
Social Security is also a war that has racial implications. That’s because, on average, whites live longer than blacks. Since Social Security is a welfare program and not a retirement program, when a person dies, his Social Security payments cease rather than pass to his heirs. Thus, since blacks, on average, die sooner than whites, Social Security is actually a socialist program that is based on seizing and transferring money from blacks to whites.
Moreover, the welfare state has caused Americans to lose faith in themselves, in others, in liberty, and in God. That faith has been transferred to the federal government, to whom society has delegated the task of taking care of people through its coercive apparatus of taxation and its bureaucrat apparatus of welfare.
But where is the care and compassion involved in a system that is based on a coercive tax apparatus headed by the IRS and a faceless governmental welfare bureaucracy? How can people genuinely be considered good, caring, and compassionate simply because they live under a governmental system that is based on legalized robbery? And how is it possible to have a healthy, harmonious society when people are engaged in a nasty, ruthless, and vicious war with each other, a war that uses the Internal Revenue Service to seize people’s income in order to have welfare bureaucrats give it to the winners?
This article was originally published in the February 2023 edition of Future of Freedom.