Big Government Destroying the American Dream
This is an op-ed that will appear in the Detroit News this week
Big Government killing the American Dream
By Michael LeGault
Bill Clinton’s most precocious gift as a professional politician has always been his flexible relationship with truth. Interviewed recently at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting, Mr. Clinton opined that the American Dream is dying as a result of a “30-year anti-government rant.” It was a statement proving he has lost none of his talent for slippery rhetoric and sound-bite, sleight-of-hand.
The American Dream, a term coined by the writer James Truslow Adams, has always signified economic independence, freedom, social mobility, reward for work and hope.
In a 2010 NBC-Wall Street Journal poll, 63 percent of respondents said the standard of living will not get better for average families. Hope has been replaced by despair for tens of millions of Americans, the notable exceptions being those lucky enough to reside in Hollywood, academia, Silicon Valley, lawyer-ville or Washington D.C– ironically and perhaps significantly, the hotbeds of American liberalism.
For members of the liberal elite such as Mr. Clinton, there is surely a sense of urgency to get out ahead on this issue, spin the debate, cozy-up to their middle-class worry dolls and attempt to deflect the blame away from liberal ideals and policies and stick it to a conservative agenda. It is a strategy destined to be doomed by the facts.
Mr. Clinton errs by a decade with his estimate of the start of the decline of the American Dream. Real average hourly wages for American workers peaked in 1972, according to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics. It was also in this year that productivity growth declined sharply from the rate achieved in the post-war boom years of 1948 onward. Productivity is a key to a rising standard of living and, consequently, to the aspirations and optimism embodied by the American Dream.
So what happened around 1972 that slowly began to erode the standard of living of middle-class Americans? The short answer is that 1972 marks the dawn of the modern epoch of American history ushering in a huge, unprecedented expansion in the scope, size and power of the federal government.
The Environmental Protection Agency was signed into existence by Richard Nixon a few years before, an event foreshadowing the sobering truth that this brave new era of government growth would occur under the watch of both democrats and republicans. It had taken over 30 years for the Code of Federal Regulations to reach 48,000 pages in 1969. In the space of a single decade, 1970 to 1980, it more than doubled in size to 102,000 pages. Today the CFR checks in at a Himalayan-like 164,000 pages. The U.S. Small Business Administration estimates that the cost of complying with all federal regulations is about $6,000 per employee at a medium-size firm and even more at a small company. These regulations shackle all businesses and households with a hefty, invisible tax.
The net result of this expansion of government over the past 40 years has been a seismic transfer of wealth from the private to the public sectors. Five of the seven richest counties in the U.S. are now suburbs of Washington D.C., and today the average federal worker takes home more than double the wages and benefits than a worker in the private sector.
This has to be one of the most puzzling moments in the history of populist, anti-government rants; one that accomplished exactly the opposite of what it intended to do.
Later in the same interview Mr. Clinton also claims “there is not a single, solitary example on the face of the earth,” where economic growth has flourished without an active role by the government. Alas, hewing to fact, not spin, would require Mr. Clinton to acknowledge that there is not a single example of a nation or economy that has survived the persistent, heavy hand of Big Government, a main case in point being present-day Europe. The Greek debt crisis, which is threatening to wreak even more havoc on the world economy, is just the tip of a catastrophic iceberg that has been building for 50 years under the spell of delusional socialist policies in Europe.
As in Europe, the American government has shown it is most adept at consuming, not creating wealth; and along the way sowing dependency and dysfunction. With the 2012 elections approaching, Americans must not buy into the lie that more government is needed to fix the American Dream.
Michael LeGault’s new book, The Next American Revolution: How The American Government Stole the American Dream and How We Can Get It Back, is being released this week.