The End of the Republic?

The End of the Republic?
Walter E. Williams applies ‘tragedy of the commons’ phenomenon to U.S. debt

Walter E. Williams, Ph.D., is the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. He holds a Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia Union University and Grove City College, Doctor of Laws from Washington and Jefferson College and Doctor Honoris Causa en Ciencias Sociales from Universidad Francisco Marroquin, in Guatemala, where he is also Professor

Our nation is rapidly approaching a point from which there’s little chance to avoid a financial collapse. The heart of our problem can be seen as a tragedy of the commons. That’s a set of circumstances when something is commonly owned and individuals acting rationally in their own self-interest produce a set of results that’s inimical to everyone’s long-term interest. Let’s look at an example of the tragedy of the commons phenomenon and then apply it to our national problem.

Imagine there are 100 cattlemen all having an equal right to graze their herds on 1,000 acres of commonly owned grassland. The rational self-interested response of each cattleman is to have the largest herd he can afford. Each cattleman pursing similar self-interests will produce results not in any of the cattlemen’s long-term interest – overgrazing, soil erosion and destruction of the land’s usefulness. Even if they all recognize the dangers, does it pay for any one cattleman to cut the size of his herd? The short answer is no because he would bear the cost of having a smaller herd while the other cattlemen gain at his expense. In the long term, they all lose because the land will be overgrazed and made useless.

We can think of the federal budget as a commons to which each of our 535 congressmen and the president have access. Like the cattlemen, each congressman and the president want to get as much out of the federal budget as possible for their constituents. Political success depends upon “bringing home the bacon.” Spending is popular, but taxes to finance the spending are not. The tendency is for spending to rise and its financing to be concealed through borrowing and inflation.

Does it pay for an individual congressman to say, “This spending is unconstitutional and ruining our nation, and I’ll have no part of it; I will refuse a $500 million federal grant to my congressional district”? The answer is no because he would gain little or nothing, plus the federal budget wouldn’t be reduced by $500 million. Other congressmen would benefit by having $500 million more for their districts.

Join WND’s Joseph Farah in holding GOP members of Congress accountable. Demand that the federal government stop borrowing – No More Red Ink!

What about the constituents of a principled congressman? If their congressman refuses unconstitutional spending, it doesn’t mean that they pay lower federal income taxes. All that it means is constituents of some other congressmen get the money while the nation spirals toward financial ruin, and they wouldn’t be spared from that ruin because their congressman refused to participate in unconstitutional spending.

What we’re witnessing in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and other parts of Europe is a direct result of their massive spending to accommodate the welfare state. A greater number of people are living off government welfare programs than are paying taxes. Government debt in Greece is 160 percent of gross domestic product. The other percentages of GDP are 120 in Italy, 104 in Ireland and 106 in Portugal. As a result of this debt and the improbability of their ever paying it, their credit ratings either have reached or are close to reaching junk-bond status.

Here’s the question for us: Is the U.S. moving in a direction toward or away from the troubled EU nations? It turns out that our national debt, which was 35 percent of GDP during the 1970s, is now 106 percent of GDP, a level not seen since World War II’s 122 percent. That debt, plus our more than $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, has led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade our credit rating from AAA to AA+, and the agency is keeping the outlook at “negative” as a result of its having little confidence that Congress will take on the politically sensitive job of tackling the same type of entitlement that has turned Europe into a basket case.

I am all too afraid that Benjamin Franklin correctly saw our nation’s destiny when he said, “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.”
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If only our founders had left us with some kind of guiding and binding document outlining exactly what congress can, and cannot do.

If only our elected officials could read this document and possess the integrity to submit and adhere to its limitations.

If only our nation’s citizens had the wisdom, courage and principles to uphold such a document and hold their representatives accountable to it.

If only there were enough Americans that knew what Ben Franklin meant when he responded to the question of the type of government the founders had given us by saying, “A Republic, if you can keep it!”

Michael Liu

The one flaw in our Constitution is that, while it was written by noble men of high moral character, they failed to fully anticipate that it would be inherited by the ignoble men of no moral character that we have today. The Constitutional restrictions on government should have been far more explicit and well-defined, particularly when it comes to fiscal powers, both revenues and spending. And that “general welfare” clause should have been excised for it has been twisted and contorted beyond recognition by corrupt politicians using it to justify anything they choose to do with our money and our liberty.

hammondhankTop 10

America has been taken over by ungoldy anti-Americans, plain and simple. When an illegal alien acting as President gives the Medal of Freedom to socialist radicals, when we have trillions of dollors of debt and trillions more added to it each year and they won’t/can’t cut spending, and the so-called GOP ‘opposition and thge MSM don’t even make a peep in defiance, the republic is over. Let me repeat, IT IS OVER.


Thank you for reiterating John Stossel’s Tragedy of Commons, Dr. Williams!

Our founders hoped for men of honor and integrity who believed in God’s guiding principles. In that, they were wrong. We got just plain old men with all the foibles of everyone else.


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