(‘76 Contributor) Our great nation faces a crisis, as threatening as Pearl Harbor or Southern secession … and more pernicious because self-inflicted: too many in government have made promises that we cannot keep; too many citizens expect, even demand, more than we have to give.
Editor: Colorado business entrepreneur and civic leader Terry Considine made these remarks in accepting a lifetime award from the Leadership Program of the Rockies, which he helped found in 1987. He spoke on Feb. 24 at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs to hundreds of current and former class members in LPR’s annual course on applying America’s founding principles in contemporary politics. Considine is also a member of the Centennial Institute Business Council and a CCU trustee.
In one sense, this is a simple problem, a matter of arithmetic. Government undertakings, both federal debt and unfunded entitlements, approach $100 trillion, far, far more than we can ever hope to pay. Their weight burdens economic growth. Their failure will disappoint those who rely on them. Their resolution may well require a ruinous inflation.
A century of expansion of government is failing economically because, as Lady Thatcher wisely noted, “eventually, you run out of other people’s money”. Today, “government efficiency” is widely seen as an oxymoron… and as the punch line to wry observations that society just does not work as well today as it once did… before the cancerous growth of laws and regulations, bureaucracy and public employee unions, taxes and government controls.
In a deeper sense, our crisis is not our economics, but our values. We stand seduced by the unworthy hope to reap where we did not sow, to spend what we did not earn. What are we thinking when we believe what never was and never can be: that we are “entitled” to such benefits as unlimited and “free” health care? Or home prices that do not go down? Or business cycles that only go up?
Wilsonian faith in “government by experts” has undermined the characteristic American values of hard work and self-reliance, prudence and thrift. Wanting something-for-nothing, we turn away from the truer faith in our families and ourselves. The very offer and acceptance of these “entitlements” diminish our dignity as independent and self-governing individuals, made in the image and likeness of God.
Government grown too large, divorced from the discipline of free markets, can never be efficient.
Government grown too large, founded on the inherent coercion of the state, cannot be compassionate in any true sense.
Government grown too large, intruding on personal autonomy, makes hollow our boast to be proud and free.
Such government will always overreach and will always fail. We saw it two decades ago in the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union. We see it now in the travails of Greece and the European Union. And I fear that we may see it here “soon and very soon”, as the Gospel song has it.
There will be hardships aplenty when we confront the futility and collapse of utopian fantasies. But, it can also be a time of revival. We can say “enough” to “TARPs” and “stimulus” and “bailouts”. We can say “enough” to subsidies, whether “green” or farm, whether for your business or mine. We can say “enough” to mindless regulation and IRS intrusion. We can end the magical thinking that we are “entitled”. We can turn again to that older creed, to what we know as common sense gained from experience and tradition, to our historic belief in Constitutional restraint and limited government, free markets and free people, individual liberty and personal responsibility, faith and family.
Then, in that hard time, there will be need for the men and women of LPR, and for those who are likeminded. We will have need of you if you hold public office…and also in your higher office as private citizen, where you can influence the political process and make more important contributions in the private, voluntary sector by building a business, helping a neighbor, raising a family.
You will be our leaders…and you will be pressured to acquiesce and compromise and postpone. You will be tempted to “grow in office”.
In those difficult times, we cannot be certain of success, but we can be true to our deepest beliefs. Then, as our Founding Father George Washington spoke in the Constitutional Convention, we can hope to say: “Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair. The event is in the hands of God.”
My hope, in fact my prayer tonight, is that at that time of trial you will call to mind what you learn here; that you will be well-grounded, knowing what you believe and why you believe it; that with conviction, you will have courage to do what is needed and what is right; that with faith in your fellow citizens, you will trust in the ability of each to manage his own affairs; that in those dire circumstances, you will stay true and rise to the moment, fighting the good fight, finishing the race, keeping the faith.