A Trillion Wrongs Don’t Make a Right

(Editor's note: This commentary first appeared Feb. 17, 2009, at www.fee.org, the Web site of the Foundation for Economic Education.)

The pork-laden national disgrace being sold as a "stimulus" bill may say more about the country that swallows it than it does those who passed it. If Americans can be suckered into shackling themselves and future generations with trillions of dollars in new debt, shame on us.

The turpitude of the subsidy-seekers and handout con artists in Washington, D.C., should rattle Americans of conscience to their very core. At the most basic level, it's simply and inexcusably wrong to rip off a dollar from the innocent or the responsible and pass it on to the guilty or the irresponsible. Does it somehow become right if we do it a trillion times? Quite the contrary. It simply becomes a trillion times more wrong if not worse because the sheer magnitude means we can't dismiss it with the palliative that "it's only pocket change."

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This is a sign of neither strong character nor a sustainable economy. It reeks of the same moral cowardice and fiscal insanity that doomed great civilizations of the past. The bread and circuses that helped mightily to bankrupt ancient Rome come to mind. Where are the men and women of courage and integrity who will keep their hands in their own pockets?

As the fiscal alarm bells are going off, even state governments that once jealously guarded their financial independence are hearing dinner bells instead. Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina is virtually alone in resisting the "come and get it" mentality.

Consider House Concurrent Resolution No. 2 of the 85th General Assembly of the State of Indiana, passed by that state's House and Senate in January 1947. Written in the quaint, commonsense vernacular of the day, its sentiments probably couldn't muster more than a handful of votes in the state legislatures of 2009. It begins thus:

"Indiana needs no guardian and intends to have none. We Hoosiers — like the people of our sister states — were fooled for quite a spell with the magician's trick that a dollar taxed out of our pockets and sent to Washington will be bigger when it comes back to us. We have taken a good look at said dollar. We find that it lost weight in its journey to Washington and back. The political brokerage of the bureaucrats has been deducted. We have decided that there is no such thing as 'federal' aid. We know that there is no wealth to tax that is not already within the boundaries of the 48 states.

"So we propose henceforward to tax ourselves and take care of ourselves. We are fed up with subsidies, doles and paternalism. We are no one's stepchild. We have grown up. We serve notice that we will resist Washington, D.C. adopting us."

The resolution urged the legislatures and citizens of all the states to "restore the American Republic and our 48 states to the foundations built by our fathers."

If we had listened to the Indiana legislature in 1947, we might be several trillion dollars freer today.


Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education and president emeritus of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the Center are properly cited.

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