Monthly Archives: January 1995

Davy Crockett on Social Spending

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Committees of the US Congress have recently been discussing the cutting or elimination of certain federal spending programs. From beginning to end, the discussion seems to be centering on whether the programs are effective and aimed at a worthwhile goal. There seems to be little or no discussion of whether the programs are in the legitimate province of the federal government, as defined by the enumerated powers of the US Constitution. This is exactly backwards from the proper procedure. Yes, we need effective legislation aimed at worthwhile goals; but it is most important that all legislation stay within the limits set by the Constitution. The fact that a thing is worth doing does not mean that the federal government has or should have the lawful power to do it.

When Davy Crockett was a US Representative from Tennessee, he had an experience that drove this principle home for him. One day, while lounging on the Capitol steps with some other Congressmen, they saw a fire raging in Georgetown. Crockett and the others rode to the fire and worked to get it under control (imagine that happening now, if you can). When the fire was out, a number of people had been left homeless. The next morning, on the House floor, a bill appropriating $20,000 to relieve the victims of the fire was rushed through on a recorded vote. Crockett voted in favor of the bill.

The next summer, when he was up for re-election, Colonel Crockett went back to his home district to do some campaigning. People seemed happy enough with him, until he ran into a man named Horatio Bunce, a well-respected resident of the district. Mr. Bunce told Davy in no uncertain terms that he could not vote for him again. He accused the Congressman of not having the capacity to understand the Constitution, citing the $20,000 appropriation as evidence.

Noting that giving charity is not one of the powers of Congress enumerated in the Constitution, Mr. Bunce told Davy, “…while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he…If you have the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all; and, as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism, on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity. Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose.”

Thoroughly convinced, Davy incorporated Mr. Bunce’s arguments, and a confession of his own wrongdoing, into his campaign speeches. Re-elected without opposition, Crockett returned to Washington with a far better understanding of his duty to uphold the Constitution. When the opportunity came to vote on a relief bill for the widow of a naval officer, he offered in his speech to donate one week’s salary to her cause, but not to vote public funds for it. The House followed his lead in voting down the appropriation, but not a single other member contributed any of his own money (though they had been ready enough to contribute that of the taxpayers).

Oh, for a silver tongue like that of Horatio Bunce! To be able to convince citizens and Congressmen alike to respect the Constitution and the founding principles of our nation. Crockett’s biographer, Edward S. Ellis, passed on this story in his book, “The Life of Colonel David Crockett.”

Get US Out of the United Nations

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During this new year of 1995 the United Nations will be celebrating 50 years of existence. After half a century, I think it is time to take a look at where this organization has been, where it is headed, and whether or not we want to go there with it.

The original purpose of the UN is debatable. Americans have been led to believe that it was simply to prevent war by giving nations a forum for talking rather than fighting about international disputes. The UN Charter itself limited the organization’s scope to purely international affairs, prohibiting its getting involved in the domestic problems of nations. Americans never would have accepted our membership in the UN if its scope and authority were not thus limited.

Many who were involved in creating the UN, however, were far more ambitious for their brainchild. They saw it as the seed of a world government: something that could be gradually strengthened and given more responsibility, until finally no mere nation could challenge its global authority. John Foster Dulles wrote in 1950 that “The United Nations represents not a final stage in the development of world order, but only a primitive stage. Therefore its primary task is to create the conditions which will make possible a more highly developed organization.” This view became US national policy with the publication of “Freedom from War ( The US Program for General and Complete Disarmament,” by the Kennedy Administration’s State Department. Kennedy explained that this program would mean, among other things, “development of international institutions that would encourage nations to give up much of their national sovereignty…”

Looking back over the last 50 years, which explanation of the UN’s purpose is more consistent with the way things have gone? Have we had peace in any one of those 50 years? Has the verbal goose-stepping that constitutes discussion of issues in the UN forestalled conflict? Anyone who has kept even one ear tuned to the events of those years could answer that the UN has not contributed to peace. The vaunted forum for discussion has served only to put nations in the position of taking a stance from which it would be impossible to retreat without losing face. This kind of discussion is like that which precedes a barroom brawl: it leads to war, not peace. When the UN has taken an active part in a dispute, it generally ends up itself making a wider war than any that might have happened without its involvement. Take a look back at Katanga in the 1960’s or Somalia just two years ago.

Is there evidence, on the other hand, that the UN and its promoters have been building a world government on the UN foundation? Examine the steps toward global hegemony outlined in the “Freedom from War” document mentioned above. The progress of disarmament treaties, the growing practice of placing US troops under UN command, the innovation of our recent Presidents’ asking the UN, not Congress, for what amounts to a declaration of war before committing troops: all point to a progressive shift of sovereignty from our nation to the United Nations. The approval of NAFTA, GATT, and other such arrangements also contributes to our loss of control over our own affairs. The most serious obstacle to world government (the independence of the world’s only superpower, the US) is rapidly being eroded.

What are the next steps on the road to the New World Order? There are recurring proposals to create a UN “peace force,” in line with the “Freedom from War” plan. The UN has plenty of treaties ready for us to ratify in a moment of Senatorial weakness. These would give UN bureaucrats control over everything from environmental pollution to child rearing. Our own Senator Lugar is on record as enthusiastically supporting some of these. It appears to me that plans for world government are proceeding apace.

The United Nations on its fiftieth birthday is on its way to fulfilling its founders’ dreams of world government. Americans who value their freedom under the Constitution should be getting nervous about that. We should heed the words of former Senator Robert Taft of Ohio: “The United Nations has become a trap. Let’s go it alone.” If we were to sever our connection with the UN and its various subsidiaries, the whole structure would come tumbling down. Wouldn’t that be a good way to celebrate this unhappy birthday?

We Would be Better Off Without Social Security

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One obstacle to reining in our runaway Federal government is that certain programs are considered sacred. Foremost among these is the Social Security system. The conventional wisdom says that retirees are so dependent on this program that they will never listen to any discussion of alternatives. Well, I have a little more respect than that for my parents’ generation. It’s time we had some serious talk about this issue.

Let me say at the outset that I am not going to propose that we take away the benefits of anyone who relies on Social Security for retirement income. Rightly or wrongly, our government instituted a Social Security tax that millions of us have paid for decades, with the promise that we would receive retirement benefits in return. It would be wrong to break that promise after using it to justify taking so much money from our citizens. What I do want to say is that it was unconstitutional to institute Social Security in the first place; that it is a bad financial investment rapidly becoming a disaster; and that upcoming generations of retirees should not be forced to rely on it for their security.

Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution enumerates the powers given to Congress. It should not surprise readers of this column that providing for citizens’ retirement income is not listed among those powers. Since it is not to be found among the powers of Congress, the Tenth Amendment applies: this power is reserved to the states or to the people. I would maintain that it is the responsibility of each person individually, not the states, but that is a subject for another column. Suffice it to say that Social Security is not authorized under the US Constitution, and should therefore never have been instituted.

The quality of Social Security as a long-term investment to provide retirement income is a complicated subject. To fully explain it requires showing comparisons between Social Security and private investment plans, for several age and income groups. There isn’t room here for that, but I’ll try to make the point anyway.

There are two kinds of investment return to consider: the buildup of principal and the monthly payment. With Social Security, the government takes the principal. In a private plan, the principal remains the property of the investor. Thus, when Social Security benefits end at death, the “investor’s” principal is gone forever. With a private plan, the investor or his estate can recover the principal. This amounts to a difference of anywhere from over $100,000 for current retirees, to several times that for younger workers (because they are paying FICA taxes at a higher rate than current retirees did).

For current retirees, the monthly payments produced by Social Security are about the same as they would have been for a private plan, or even a little more. Future retirees (those now in their twenties, for these figures) are scheduled to receive the same monthly benefit (adjusted for inflation), after paying about twice the taxes. This yields a monthly return of about half that from a private plan.

Combining both principal and monthly benefit, current retirees receive $1.30 to $1.75 per dollar invested. Younger workers will receive benefits totaling less than the taxes paid in. Even a passbook account earning 2% interest would pay back $1.60 per dollar invested over a period of 45 years (age 20 to age 65). Social Security surely qualifies as one of the worst investments of all time. If a bank or insurance company operated this way, its officers would be spending their retirement in a federal penitentiary.

Americans need to admit to each other that Social Security is a bad idea; that it needs to be replaced by a system in which investments are managed by private entities, even the worker himself if he so desires. This should not even be controversial. After all, whom would it hurt? Current retirees would see no change in their benefits. Future retirees would see a vast increase in theirs. The economy would benefit as money that is now used to fund the growth of the federal government would instead be invested in founding new businesses or improving existing ones. Our voracious federal government would be forced to do without our FICA taxes to fuel its growth. I call that a win-win situation.