If you were angry about the bailout for Wall Street, if you were angry about the bailout for the Big Three automakers, you should be equally angry about the bailout now being considered for everyone else, including Idaho. Our nation's Treasury is being treated as if it is a magical fountain that spontaneously spews money, fulfills dreams and shields us from economic hardship. That was never the intent of the designers of our system of government.
Unfortunately, even here in Idaho we're in danger of surrendering to the siren song of stimulus, and, as in Homer's "Odyssey," steering our ship toward the public trough for our share of financial deliverance.
Idaho's spending wish list is as long as it is absurd: bike lockers and bike racks in Downtown Boise.
Expanding the Idaho State Historical Museum. An alternative energy education building in Twin Falls. Bus shelters and benches. Stop signs and poles. Just last week, Canyon County commissioners gushed at the possibility of using federal stimulus money to build a new jail. But if the federal government can build a local jail, can install bike racks and expand a museum, what can't the government do? Nothing.
And if the federal government has the power and ability to pay for bike racks and jails and museums, it follows that it will also have the power to tell us how to build and use each. Since the founding of our country, we have feared the thought of a federal government with such immense power. Now we require it. We demand it.
Every time we cave in and allow the federal government to assume a duty that is our own, we surrender our freedom, become less self-reliant and grow the scope of the national government.
I have no doubt that there are thousands of people excited at the prospect of a stateside bailout, one that moves dirt, builds infrastructure and puts men and women to work. It is the ultimate gift for folks who are losing their jobs and are seeing a dearth of employment options. But it is a troubling path for us as well as our nation's leaders, who are eager to accept short-term economic gains to entice voters and donors at the expense of the kids and grandkids that will ultimately pay the debt that is incurred.
There's a certain "get-your-free-puppies-here" quality to this latest stimulus plan; every city, county and state in the country wants something for nothing, and everyone is turning up on the steps of the nation's Capitol looking to take home a prized pup. Still, these puppies are not free. Higher national debt. Higher taxes. A devalued dollar. A massive expansion of the federal government that will never be undone. These are our rewards for seeking a quick fix for our economic problems.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying the U.S. Constitution "doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself."
The "pursuit of happiness" that Franklin spoke of, along with life and liberty, make up the three inalienable rights of man included in the Declaration of Independence. These rights, the first Americans declared, come from God, and not from government. Now, 232 years after the signing of the Declaration, we're again turning to government to hand us happiness, when what we really need are the means to pursue it. And that's something we already have in spades.
In America, happiness will never be a bailout or stimulus or earmark away. If you want to keep America free, you need to avoid getting sucked in by the federal government's latest euphoric promise of happiness in the form of debt-financed trinkets and delights. As Odysseus did when he was tempted by the Siren song, tie yourself to the mast. Fill your ears with beeswax if you must. The sound of stimulus is more dangerous than it is pleasing. Don't be lured in.
Wayne Hoffman is the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank. E-mail him at [email protected].
(Published in the Idaho Statesman 2/9/2009)