A colleague of mine sent me an email with this statement: “Let me just say that in a democratic society such as ours “government” is not a separate entity, rather it is the creation of the voters, i.e., citizens. I think it is wrong to blame the government when it is nothing but an extension of the people. The real question is why can’t the voters in a democratic society “solve” a problem (government) that is their own creation?”
My colleague poses a question that on the surface sounds reasonable. We elect the members of the government, those members do our bidding (or so it is supposed to work) and therefore the government is us, and if the government screws up, we are to blame. But this attitude ignores the reality of human nature (something that is often ignored by people who believe in big government and government programs). Let me explain.
It is part of human nature for some people to desire to wield power and influence over other people. We witness this every day, from the actions by corporate executives, military generals, and government leaders, to the bully on the playground. Even in small groups, on issues that are relatively unimportant, some members of the group will use their influence to direct the group to engage in activities desired by certain individuals. Ever been with a small group where say one member wants to eat at restaurant X, and even though most of the group would rather go somewhere else, sure enough restaurant X is where everyone goes?
We elect people to govern on our behalf. Some of those people are Mother Teresas, out do good in the world. But many have the very desire to wield power and influence mentioned above. So, when those people get into positions of power and influence, they slowly but surely change the system so that the government is less and less representative of the people, and more and more of what the government engages in is not on behalf of the people but designed to reward and continue the entrenched power of those who are in power. At that point, the government is no longer an extension of the people.
Further, the government is only an extension of the people when the people are independent enough to make rational judgements about the government. You cannot expect objectivity from someone who has a vested interest in the outcome. We recognize this with accountants. The government says that a CPA firm which opines an audit opinion, may not also do consulting work for that same client in case the fees generated from the consulting work influence the audit opinion. However, we have allowed the government to do exactly what we prohibit the accounting firm from doing–the government uses the tax dollars collected from those who pay tax, to engage in bribery and payoffs to purchase votes. Long ago those in power figured out that if you can purchase enough votes from enough people, you can stay in power indefinitely, and continue to use that power to the benefit of you, your family, and your friends.
Our founding fathers recognized this. They believed that even though the government is of the people’s creation, it would drift further and further away from that ideal, as it grew in size and as it entered more and more circles of influence to where it in fact became a separate entity, apart from the people who created it, much as the baby once born become its own separate entity, and through the years can no longer be controlled by those who gave it birth. The founding fathers believed that the citizen’s ability to control the government had an inverse relationship with the size of the government. The bigger the government, the less control by the citizens. Thus, they established a system of “limited government.” As the concept of limited government has been abandoned by people in power who have argued that the solution to problems large and small is an ever-expanding government, and that government is the panacea for all that ills, we now have a government that is not of the citizens. It is a government that represents the interests of those in power, and the interests of those who benefit the most from those in power.
The result is that government now has become a separate entity, strategizing to maintain power, enacting rules, and regulations to limit controls on it by the electorate, using its power to abuse and persecute those who disagree with it, and using its resources to purchase the votes needed to continue its existence. Recall the story of Frankenstein. Victor Frankenstein, with the best of intentions, creates a creature that cannot be controlled, that takes on a life of its own, and that wreaks havoc among men. As the story was published soon after the American and French revolutions, I wonder if it was not Ms. Shelley’s allegorical attempt to warn the people of the time to beware of what you create.