Timothy R. Clark: U.S. needs a 'wise and frugal government'

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 13 2012 6:59 a.m. MST

The terrifying thing about the American presidency is that an untested person can become president. A person without a solid record of achievement or deeply held convictions can win on words. Equally terrifying is an American electorate smitten by those words. But of course, the day will come when we all sit down to a banquet of consequences.

Mr. Obama is a man of many scripted words, a man whose record stands in violent contrast to his words. His ideas brim with grandiosity. He speaks into the air and projects the appearance of success through a rhetorical presidency. He promised “a fundamental transformation of America.” That is a promise he has kept.

When Mr. Obama was sworn in, the sovereign debt of the United States had surpassed the $10 trillion mark. In four years, it has exploded to more than $16 trillion. The administration has implemented thriftless policies on the theory that we can spend our way to prosperity. If we don’t get serious about debt reduction, we will face a $20 trillion deficit in four more years, and we will pay out $1 trillion annually just to service that debt.

As a nation, we are insolvent. As a people, we have become intoxicated with dreamy egalitarian doctrine.

What is unjust is the hereditary penury to which our children are being subjected. At this point, it is grotesque self-deception to go on this way. As Nobel laureate Thomas Sargent has said, “What the government spends, the public will pay for sooner or later, whether in taxes or inflation or having their debts defaulted on.”

Apparently, most Americans believe in communitarian redistribution because we continue to embrace so-called gentle forms of collectivism in the name of compassion. But our current course is not compassionate. We must remember that poverty is a production problem before it is a redistribution problem. It is a personal problem before it is a social problem. The ranks of the poor have swelled in the last four years with 20 million more people on food stamps. One in five citizens in the most prosperous nation the world has ever known cannot feed themselves.

We are fostering a culture of dependency and a galvanic hope in government. Where is the call for responsibility, industry and self-reliance? Are we to worship at the altar of a benevolent, paternalistic state?

The economy is at stall speed because the government won’t get out of the way. We have tried the multiplier logic of stimulus and the economy roundly rebuked those measures. What should have been a V-shaped recovery has turned into a prolonged canoe-shaped recovery. As the small business goes, so goes the America economy. Yet there has been no serious attention to policies that nurture small business — the real engine of economic growth.

The near-trillion dollar stimulus package was like throwing sawdust into the meatloaf. It bulked up economic output for a time and then fizzled. The president has bailed out banks, invested in alternative energy start-ups, strangled domestic energy production and installed Obamacare. These are the patterns of a hobbyist and a utopian philosopher who believes that equality is a higher principle than liberty.

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson reminded us that our prosperity depends on “wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

Go back and listen to Mr. Obama's election victory speech. Do the exaggerated hopes and high-sounding promises really move you? Do you ask yourself who will pay for all of this?

We are kidding ourselves. Even the Canadians and the French, with their extravagant belief in the instrumentality of the state, are taking bolder actions than we are to rein in spending.

Let’s hold up a mirror. The economy continues to sputter. We face a looming fiscal cliff. Unemployment is chronically high. Not least, we want more entitlements. And the answer to all of this is to raise taxes?

Self-discipline, rather than self-deception, is the answer.

Timothy R. Clark is the founder of TRClark LLC, a management consulting and leadership development organization. His newest book, "The Employee Engagement Mindset," has just been released from McGraw-Hill. Email: trclark@trclark.net

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