“Civilizations rise and fall,” Dave said and I turned around to see if he was talking to me, but he was still staring at his monitor. I looked over at Mac who was sitting at one of the other computers. He was playing a game. He didn’t seem to hear what Dave had said.
Dave is Dave Duffy, the fellow who publishes this magazine, and Mac is O.E. MacDougal, Dave’s poker playing buddy who lives down in southern California. I guess it’s fair now to say Mac’s my friend, too. He’d come up to the lake for another visit.
“The civilizations of ancient Egypt, Athens, Rome...gone. What happens?” Dave asked.
I looked at Mac. He was still playing the game. I was going to give him some pointers—strategies I had worked out over the last few months—but he seemed to be picking it up rapidly and was doing quite well.
“Ever think about why Athens and Rome fell?” Dave asked.
“No,” I said.
“Sure,” Mac said without interrupting his game.
“Will the United States ever fall like Athens, Rome, and those other countries?” Dave asked.
“Of course it will,” Mac said.
I was surprised to hear him say that and I stopped what I was doing. Dave turned around, too.
“You’re a real ray of sunshine,” I said.
“Do you really think so?” Dave asked Mac.
“Sure. And it’s interesting that you mention the Greeks and Romans. Not only because they’re the ones we’re most familiar with, but because they have had such a powerful influence on western civilization: our customs, governments, languages, and the way we think. And the failures of both Athens and Rome influenced the Founding Fathers of this country when they formed our government.”
“Well, what happened. I mean, what was it that brought down Athens and Rome?” Dave asked.
“To a large degree, both fell as a direct result of defects in their political systems.”
“What were the defects?”
“With the Athenians it was the excesses of democracy.”
“That sounds dumb,” I said. “How can you have too much democracy?”
Mac looked up at the ceiling for a second. “What do you guys know about the Athenians?”
“Not much,” Dave said.
I shrugged when Mac looked at me.
The Athenian democracy
“First you should know that the Athenian democracy was different from modern democracies. It was a direct democracy.”
“Meaning...?” Dave asked.
“What that meant was that all the enfranchised voters were entitled to meet in the town square and voted on nearly every issue. There was no congress, no parliament, and the citizens had a direct voice in almost all matters. Of course, women, slaves, and people of foreign birth, no matter what their contributions to society, could not participate in the Greek democratic process. So, in that respect, it was a limited democracy. That left only about 10% of the adult citizens of Athens who could vote. This meant a mere 5% of the adult population could determine policy for everyone else. And almost everything was determined by a simple majority vote—even trials.”
“Just seven out of twelve people could convict you of something?” I asked.
“Seven out of twelve?” he asked. “Oh, no, decisions in trials were determined the same way in which other public matters were resolved, with the crowd. Often hundreds of people came to hear the trials and if you were one of the enfranchised citizens who had come to hear a trial, you were also a juror. Socrates was tried in just such a manner. His exact crime was misleading the youths of Athens by encouraging them to question the state, its laws, and its religion. His jury, as I recall, was about 800 citizens and he was condemned to death by a vote that ran something like 500 to 300.”
“What about the right to free speech?” Dave asked.
“Individuals had no rights as we know them today. Any rights you had were subject to the whims of the crowd. There was no freedom of speech, religion, or freedom from government intrusion into your life unless the crowd decided you were entitled to those rights—and tomorrow they might change their minds.”
“So, ancient Athens had a democracy without any rights,” Dave said.
“Except the right to vote—and that, only if you were enfranchised, and very few people were.”
“It’s hard to think of a democracy and the lack of freedom coexisting,” I said. “It sounds contradictory.”
“Ever read Claire Wolfe’s book, 101 Things to Do til the Revolution,” Mac asked.
“We ran a review of it,” I said.
“She pointed out that most dictatorships today are democracies. And she’s right. Today’s dictatorships are very often countries in which democracy exists but the people are without freedom and without a basic bill of rights. All of the former Communist Bloc countries and almost every third-world dictatorship hold elections, but no one would call them free countries.”
“I never thought of it that way,” I said.
“Did the Athenians see the flaws in their democracy?” Dave asked.
“Sure they did. Plato was among those who pointed out that democracy leads to tyranny—and it did so in Athens. But the proposed solutions for the problem, including his own solution, were usually to junk the democracy and replace it with some kind of benign tyranny. For Plato, the rule of the people should be replaced with the rule of ‘philosopher kings.’
“Other philosophers also had their own solutions. But, in reality, those who really succeed in becoming tyrants are anything but philosophers.
The Roman Republic
“Later, the Romans, saw the problems of the Greek democracy—the most salient of which were that there was no stability, because the crowds that showed up to vote could be inflamed or impassioned temporarily, and that the voters couldn’t always be available to vote on every issue at hand. So the Romans created a representative form of government to put a buffer between the electorate and the decision making process and to ensure that there was a permanent body in place on a daily basis to conduct the business of the state. This way state policy didn’t vary from one day to next on the whim of public opinion. The crowd still voted, but they voted to elect those who were to represent them, just as we do today.”
“That was the origin of the Roman Senate, right?” Dave asked.
Mac nodded. “It was one of the world’s first legislative bodies. It’s also the reason we called early Rome the Roman Republic—republics are essentially representative forms of government.”
We nodded knowingly. I don’t know why I did because I was feeling like an idiot.
“But the trouble was,” Mac continued, “those elected were self-aggrandizing and, as history would show, the republican form of government itself all too often turned into tyranny, too.”
“And did Rome become a tyranny?” Dave asked.
“By the time of Julius Caesar the Republic was falling apart as men clambered for power. Caesar had himself made emperor, but there was still enough resistance so that, when he went to the Senate, men who didn’t want an autocrat running the country assassinated him. But that didn’t stop other men from wanting to be tyrants and, eventually, Rome was permanently led by an emperor—an absolute tyrant—the first of whom was Augustus, Caesar’s nephew. From then on, the Roman Republic didn’t exist and we speak of the Roman Empire.”
“So a representative form of government wasn’t enough to prevent tyranny,” Dave said.
“That’s right. And that’s why centuries later our own Founding Fathers, seeing the major defects of both the Athenian and Roman systems—that the individual was still at the mercy of the state, whether it was the crowd or the emperor—created the Constitution. Our Constitution lists the powers of the state. Any powers not specifically given to the state—in this case, the federal government—are reserved to the people and the separate states that make up these United States. And very soon after the Constitution was adopted, they added 10 amendments which guaranteed that we, as individuals, had certain rights upon which the government could not infringe.
“Our Bill of Rights was the first and only time this kind of bill of rights has been adopted in history. It makes the United States a quirk among nations. Never before, nor since, and perhaps never again will people have the rights Americans have.”
“Don’t people in other countries have rights in their constitutions?” Dave asked.
“Of course they do. The British do, the Canadians do...any number of other countries do. But, in every other country with a constitution or a bill of rights, the rights of the citizenry—that is, the individuals—is at the discretion of the government.”
“But not here?” Dave asked.
“I wish you guys would read our Constitution. It’s a recipe for how the federal government is allowed to govern. It’s a document that limits the power of both the central government and the crowd. Then read the first ten amendments, what we call The Bill of Rights, and you’ll discover that it’s not a bill of rights at all, but a set of restrictions against the government. It never says the people can do something like have free speech or bear arms; it says the government cannot prohibit them.”
“What’s the difference?” I asked.
“If the source of our rights is the government, then the government can take them away. But, the way the Constitution and, in particular, the Bill of Rights is written, the Founding Fathers assumed our rights exist apart from the state because they exist within us—they’re inherent. The state cannot take them away because the state did not grant them.”
“So, let me see, what you’re saying is, as incongruous as it sounds, democracy confers neither rights nor freedom,” Dave said.
“You don’t sound as though you think freedom is going to last in this country,” I interrupted.
“No, I don’t. In the first place, the Constitution is in shambles. There are all kinds of laws, passed by those who govern us, that contain exceptions to the Constitution—and we put up with it. In the second place, there is a power our Founding Fathers did not anticipate.”
“What’s that?” Dave asked.
“Bureaucrats?” Dave asked.
Dave and I didn’t say anything for a moment. I was just trying to think of what this all meant and I guess Dave was too.
Finally, Dave asked, “Do you really think bureaucracies can bring a country down?”
“Bureaucracies have been the reason for the stagnation or collapse of several civilizations,” Mac said.
“How?” Dave asked.
“First of all, throughout all of history bureaucracies have had more power than most people realize. In every civilization of consequence they’ve reigned supreme. In ancient Egypt the pharaohs were just figureheads. Egypt itself was ruled by one of the first great bureaucracies.
“It was the same with the kings and queens of Europe; they were, with just a few notable exceptions, figureheads while the nations themselves were run by the bureaucrats. These figurehead rulers—the pharaohs, the kings, the emperors—lent an air of legitimacy to the government, but the actual machinery almost always lay in the hands of the bureaucrats. And no one who has ever wanted power has successfully ignored the bureaucracy for very long. If they were unaware it existed before taking power, they soon learned of its existence and importance. And, if they wanted to retain power, they had to leave it in place.
“Alexander the Great understood the importance of making friends with the bureaucracies and he kept them intact in every city and country he conquered.”
“I thought they just slaughtered everyone during their conquests during those days,” I said.
Mac shook his head. “Alexander understood the importance of political organizations and made sure, after each conquest, that he preserved the bureaucracy that had been in place. They were the ones who had managed it before he appeared and he knew they were the ones who could keep it running smoothly after he went on to conquer the next city or country. And this was how conquerers would behave throughout most of history.
“Centuries later Niccolo Machiavelli in his book, The Prince, warned that when you conquer a country you should keep the bureaucrats in place and not make the mistake of trying to stick your own cronies in there. And he explained why.”
“What were his reasons?” Dave asked.
“Like Alexander, he knew that in the bureaucracies the real power lay but that, historically, bureaucrats have always been willing to switch their allegiance from an old regime to a new one—as long as you paid them and let them retain their power.”
“You know, that actually makes sense,” Dave said.
“Of course it does. History is full of examples where conquerers came and went, but the bureaucrats never changed.
“Very often nations have been shaped, for better or worse, by what the bureaucrats desired, even if it was counter to the welfare of the state.”
“Can you give an example?” Dave asked.
“The best one I can think of was in China. Today, China should be the preeminent power in the world, but because of its bureaucracy it didn’t happen.”
“What did they do?” Dave asked.
“Six hundred years ago, China was much further along technologically, militarily, and culturally than any European country. With their wealth, the size of their navy, the seaworthiness of their ships, and their command of navigation, both North and South America should have been discovered by the Chinese and become Chinese domains.
“During the reign of a Chinese emperor named Yongle, the years between 1405 and 1431 were filled with Chinese exploration. His chief admiral, a eunuch named Zheng He, sailed with more than 300 ships and almost 28,000 men all the way to India, the Persian Gulf, and even Africa. Some of his ships were 30 times the size of any of Columbus’ three ships. The Chinese were on the verge of dominating all of the world. Europe should have had Chinese ships entering their ports to trade rather than the other way around. But it didn’t happen. And it was clearly not because the Chinese were incapable of it. They could have gone on and on and ruled the entire globe.”
“So, what happened?” I asked.
“The Chinese bureaucracy is what happened. It was one of the most powerful that ever existed and wouldn’t let it happen.”
“Bureaucracies are, by their very nature, extremely power hungry while at the same time very conservative. I don’t mean conservative in the political sense we mean today, but in maintaining the status quo. And with the growth of their trading fleet and the rise of a merchant class in China, the bureaucracy saw the first real threat to their power in centuries.
“Even though we, today, can see how the rise of a merchant class and a trading fleet would have benefited China as a whole, the bureaucrats saw them only as threats to themselves. And, since they wielded considerable influence with the Chinese emperor, they induced him to forbid further exploration. They put a limit on how far and to what ports the trade merchants and explorers were allowed to go. They also had almost all of the records of their astounding feats of navigation and exploration destroyed so it would not happen again. They wanted to forever squash any threat to their place in Chinese society and, for all the effect the feats of the Chinese explorers have had on how China developed since then, it may as well never have happened.
“As a result, the Europeans became the world explorers and traders and their power expanded far beyond what one would have thought possible in the years before Columbus sailed. And now the Chinese are playing catch-up.
“There are other examples of bureaucratic power that involve religion, corporations, and military power.”
“Religion?” I asked.
“Historically, when the churches held great sway in the political world, they were an ideal place for ambitious individuals to rise to power through the bureaucracy. Let’s face it, a young man from a poor family had no chance of becoming a prince and being in line for the throne of England or some other country. But poor young men of ability and ambition often rose through the ranks of the Church to positions of power. And though many who went into the church were sincerely religious, many others seemed mesmerized by the political power they wielded. It was because of such political power that the Inquisition was possible.”
“Are there any positive contributions of bureaucracies?” Dave asked.
“Absolutely. Writing was invented by bureaucrats. Not for the writing of novels or the enlightenment of the masses, but to take inventories and the census, to keep track of taxes, record laws, notate maps, etc.
“And no one—not in China, Europe, or even this country—formed a bureaucracy to tie civilization down. They were meant to make civilization run more efficiently. They were intended to serve as a tool, a means for getting work done and achieving society’s objectives. But, historically, they have become an end in themselves and, instead of the servant, they have become the master. This is what happened in the communist countries and, though not to such a degree, it’s what’s happening in the west.”
“Is that what you think is happening here?” I asked.
“Yes. Wherever they are they have gained power, it has been at the expense of the individual. This is how they’ve operated throughout all of history, so there is very little reason for me to think they will operate any differently in the United States—and the evidence is that they are not.
“In fact, how a bureaucracy arises, expands, and aggrandizes power can be seen right here in the United States. We started out with virtually no bureaucracy. When the capital was moved from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., in the year 1800, all that had to be moved were exactly 12 boxes of paperwork.
“But, after that, the bureaucracy began to grow and assume more power, and more branches of government were formed and each needed its own bureaucracy to support it.
“How did it grow?” Dave asked.
“Originally, there were only four cabinets to support the Executive Branch...”
“What’s the Executive Branch?” I asked.
“That’s the Presidency.”
“Oh,” I said.
“...they were the Treasury Department, the Attorneys General—now called the Department of Justice, the Department of Foreign Affairs—now called the State Department, and the Department of War—now called the Department of Defense. A little later, the Navy Department was created, but it was eventually incorporated into the Department of Defense.
“For almost a half a century, no new cabinet departments were added, and we still had a relatively small government. But eventually, new ones were added and they changed the way we are governed.
“In 1849, James Polk, one of the Presidents I admire, formed the Department of the Interior.”
“For what reason?” Dave asked.
“Under his administration, the United States gained more territory than under any administration before or since. It was an amazing amount of land, over a million square miles, more land than has made up most countries that have ever existed. So, to manage it, he formed the Interior Department.
“It was never intended that this department was to last forever, nor was it intended that the federal government permanently own almost 30% of the United States. The Founding Fathers didn’t want the central government to hold that much land and forbade it in the Constitution. But once the Interior Department was formed, it was foreordained that the federal government would never relinquish its power. I’d like to say, in Polk’s defense, I don’t think it occurred to him the federal government would decide to hold onto the western lands in perpetuity. But they have. It was a blunder on his part.
“After that, the federal bureaucracy continued to grow. Today, there are 14 cabinet level bureaucracies, and they will never go away. And they, along with all the bureaucratic machinery in this country, have become the unelected and invisible government, and each year they assume more power.”
“I never thought about it like this,” Dave said.
“You’re not alone. I find it funny that so many people in the press, in Congress, and in the electorate, think of reasons why we should limit the terms of office of those who govern us. We limit our presidents to two terms and we’re talking about constitutional amendments that would limit the time a senator or representative can spend in Congress. But no one is saying anything about the permanent government—the bureaucracy. The personnel in this permanent government have no term limits, yet they pass regulations that have a profound effect on how our lives are conducted, and they are by default largely unaccountable for their actions.”
“What about the department heads appointed by the President?” I asked.
“Each time a new President is elected, there are appointed positions to be filled. And these positions very often go to political cronies and large campaign contributors. But the appointees are often ignorant of what their departments do. The result is that the bureaucrats have to train their bosses how to do their jobs. And, when they do, they train them to do it ‘the way it’s always been done,’ so the new appointees rarely if ever bring any meaningful innovation. Then two, four, six, or eight years later a new regime is elected and a new set of appointees replaces the old ones and they have to be trained. In the meantime, the bureaucracy goes on doing what bureaucracies do.”
“Don’t you think that they mean well?” I asked.
“No. If they were presented with evidence that what they were doing was harmful or wrong, do you think they’d say, ‘Well, let’s close up shop and go down to the employment office and file claims.’ Of course not. They have mouths to feed, mortgages to pay, credit card bills that come due. They have their jobs and they want to keep them.
“If you promise a week’s pay, an annual vacation, and a retirement and health plan, you can get very ordinary people to justify their jobs even when their jobs are inherently harmful; even when the job kills, maims, and ruins lives. The Soviet gulags were run by bureaucrats; the Nazi death camps were run by bureaucrats; and in this country, we’ve taken what is at very worst a critical health problem—drug abuse—and criminalized it. And to handle that, we have a bureaucratic system that runs our prisons very effectively.”
“You make it sound as if drug crimes are bureaucratic crimes.”
“They are. And because of it, the War on Drugs is a problem that will never go away. The huge bureaucracy that supports law enforcement wants it, the courts want it, and the prison system, as I said, wants it. And because of that, we imprison a larger proportion of our population than any other country in the world—more than China, more than Russia, more than any two-bit African or South American dictatorship.
“And the only reason we can imprison as many people as we do is because we’re a rich enough country to support these immense bureaucracies. As we get richer, I predict we will find more crimes to imprison people for...unless the American people call for a halt to it.”
“Do you think they will?” Dave asked.
“I’m very pessimistic.”
“How do these things get out of control?” Dave asked.
Why have bureaucracies?
“We create bureaucracies to solve problems. But that’s not why people become bureaucrats. What motivates the bureaucrat is the promise of a career, not public service. And once created, bureaucracies have a need to expand their power, and that has nothing to do with the political system of the country. The need to expand power is simply its nature. The folks who staff a bureaucratic institution may be capitalists, socialists, royalists, or whatever when they go home. But while they are at their jobs, they are bureaucrats, and expanding their power is their goal.
“Then, the larger a bureaucracy becomes and the more it has to manage, the less those who are subject to the bureaucracy can control it. Given the natural apathy of the majority, the bureaucrats become entrenched by default.”
“As they apparently did very well in China,” Dave said.
Mac nodded. “Not only that, but bureaucrats often make decisions that favor various special interests and they do so for personal reasons. In this country those interests could be anything from from corporations to environmental organizations, and they do it because of the prospect of getting hired by those organizations once they ‘retire’ from government. While all this is going on, the citizen—the taxpayer—is caught in the middle.
“Another problem with a bureaucracy is its approach to solving a problem. The fact is, it is often against the interests of a bureaucracy to solve a problem. Once solved, unless the solution has created more work for them, they’re out of business. So, they aren’t always interested in solutions.”
“Give me an example of a bureaucracy that wouldn’t go out of business,” Dave said.
“An easy one is the one John wrote about a while back. When Prohibition ended, did the enforcers go home? Of course they didn’t. They were sicced onto a problem that was out of the American mainstream—drugs.
“It was white America that brought Prohibition to an end. So, when it ended, rather than going home, the bureaucrats went after drugs because the only people doing them were blacks and Mexicans. No one cared who was getting thrown in jail until white college kids started seeing the inside of slammers in the ’60s. Now, fully one third of the electorate wants at least marijuana decriminalized.”
“Give me an example of a bureaucracy that should be scaled back, but it’s not happening.”
The Cold War is over, and it seemed as if defense spending would be cut back. But today spending is still up while new crisis are found.
“What do you mean? There have been base closures and layoffs...”
He got up and took the 1992 World Almanac and the 1997 World Almanac from the bookshelf.
“Let’s look at defense spending since the Cold War ended. In 1987, two years before the Cold War ended, total defense expenditures were about $274 billion. In 1995, six years after it ended, about $260 billion. That’s not much of a change.”
“I didn’t realize that,” Dave said and Mac handed him the almanacs.
“And when we try to cut bureaucracy by cutting their funding, the bureaucrats threaten revenge.”
“How?” Dave asked.
Mac thought a moment. “Let me start with a scenario of how government grows, and then what it does when we try to cut it back.
“From the very earliest days of this country, the citizens expected roads, police and fire protection, and education. Eventually libraries were even included. The enormous growth of government since then has involved everything from farm subsidies to grants to the arts. But, when the tax payers insist on tax cuts and less government spending, is it tree inspectors and artists we’re going to lose? No, they tell us they’re going to have to lay off police and firemen. The schools will be closed. They never say anything about sending the monumental bureaucracy home. And does the electorate stand up to them and call their bluff? Of course not. They believe this is what must be cut and they back away under bureaucratic threats.”
“You sure paint a bleak picture,” I said.
“We like to think that somehow we’re different from those older civilizations—those civilizations that got bogged down in their political machinery, that stagnated, then folded. As a country, we certainly started out differently, but we’re not different now. We’ve gradually let the bureaucratic superstructure evolve until, here at the end of the 20th century, we have more in common with the old world countries that have existed since the dawn of civilization than the America we started out with. That America, for better or worse, is gone and will never come back.”
“Can’t we get rid of the bureaucracy?” I asked.
“First of all, bureaucracies don’t ‘go away.’ They live on forever. Do you think the communist bureaucrats went home when the communists fell out of power? The bureaucrats just changed the title on the nameplates on their desks and continued right where they were.”
“As Machiavelli would have predicted they would have,” Dave said.
“Besides that, I’m not sure we want bureaucrats to go away. What we want to do is to control them.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We want them more responsive to our needs and we want the bureaucrats who screw up to be personally responsible for their mistakes.
“There’s no clear connection between the governed and the bureaucracies, so there’s very little input into any bureaucracies. That may be okay in France where the two most powerful forces are the President and the bureaucracy, but in this country the individual is supposed to reign supreme and the government is supposed to exist for his benefit. But the bureaucrats don’t see it that way, nor do the politicians, or even the electorate anymore, and because of that this country is becoming more and more European and less and less American.
“But there are steps we could take to make bureaucracies less of a threat the same way our Founding Fathers tried to make the crowd and the legislature less of a threat by giving us a constitution that limits the government’s ability to deprive us of our rights. The first way might be to stress accountability. Someone has to be in danger of losing his or her job—or even going to jail—if a bureaucracy screws up or violates constitutional rights.
“Second, not all bureaucracies allow their members to be unaccountable. The military has a bureaucracy to make it run smoothly and the difference between it and the civil bureaucracy is that the military bureaucracy accepts personal initiative—and responsibility. It allows the individual to override the ‘book’ but stresses accountability. In fact, that last one, accountability, may be the biggest difference of all. Military personnel who throw the book out risk dishonor when they fail and recognition when they succeed. In civilian bureaucracies, failure is ignored. We should, perhaps, apply principles like that to political bureaucracies.
“Another might be to make it mandatory that there be legislative review of all regulations bureaucracies enact. Let bureaucracies submit laws and regulations to Congress before they can be enacted. It may make things unwieldly, but this country was never meant to run efficiently, it was meant to be free.
“By the way, did you know that only about one percent of all bills proposed in Congress are enacted but that about 99 percent of all regulations proposed by bureaucracies are put into effect. How does that happen? Are we to believe bureaucrats know more about what the American people want than the legislators?”
We didn’t answer.
“It also has got to be possible to make a bureaucracy go away. To shut it down. First of all, a bureaucracy should have stated goals and, when those goals are met, it should be shut down.
“Perhaps it should also be possible to make a bureaucracy disappear by referendum so that bureaucracies are directly responsible to the public.”
“The I.R.S. would be the first to go,” Dave said.
Mac smiled and shrugged.
“But wouldn’t that be throwing power back to the crowd?” I asked.
“Yes, it would. But I say it only as a suggestion. Come up with something better. We need to get something going here so that bureaucracies are more responsive and the people have a greater say in what goes on in their lives.
“But what I think would be better would be to allow jury trials by informed juries when people are indicted for violations against bureaucratic rulings.”
“What’s an informed jury?” I asked.
“We’ve talked about this before. An informed juror is a juror who realizes that when a citizen is on trial, the law is on trial, too.
“Today, juries are routinely told that they cannot judge the law, despite the fact that they are legally entitled too. No judge can order you to find a defendant guilty when you feel the law is wrong—even when you realize the defendant actually broke the law.
“In fact, since the trials of the Nazis at Nuremberg, Germany, following World War II, it has been a felony in this country to imprison or execute someone when your conscience has told you it’s wrong.”
“But aren’t people always allowed jury trials now?” I asked.
“All too often there are no jury trials, as promised by the Constitution, when you are in violation of bureaucratic code. Two good examples are tax laws and family law.
“Let me ask you something, how does the accused stand when accused of a crime by the government?”
“You’re guilty until you’re proven guilty,” Dave said.
“I don’t know how many Americans realize this, but you are actually assumed guilty when prosecuted by the I.R.S. and, not only do they not have to prove you’re guilty, they are under no obligation to show cause for indicting you. And, if you can’t prove your innocence, you lose. The I.R.S. even admits this is so. I know it runs counter to our system of justice, but they do it anyway.”
“But,” I said, “They have to do it this way.”
Mac looked at me as if in expectation that I had more to say on the subject.
“If they didn’t do it that way, nobody would pay their taxes...it’s the only way to see that they can collect taxes efficiently so that the government runs efficiently...”
“This is in the name of efficiency?” Mac asked.
“When our Founding Fathers founded this country and wrote our Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they placed several things far ahead of government efficiency and among them were liberty and personal freedoms. People have died for those freedoms, but the I.R.S. finds them inconvenient.”
“And you feel jury trial...
“...with jurors who are chosen at random from among our peers as guaranteed by the Constitution, and who are informed of their rights as jurors to question the fairness of the law...”
“Okay, okay” I said. “But that might create new problems.”
“Every solution creates new, and often unforeseen, problems,” he said. “But we can’t let that stop us from trying to solve the problems we have. But I can’t help but think that allowing juries to be a buffer between the individual and the state can’t be all that bad, even if it does create new problems.”
“What’s the future?” Dave asked.
“The ultimate bureaucracy will be the U.N. It now has a governing body, it has a standing army, it has overturned the democratic elections in one country, Bosnia, and though it currently gets its money from national governments, there is already in place the machinery to allow the U.N. to get its finances through direct taxation.”
“Kind of an emerging world government,” Dave said.
“Yes. But those who advocate one world government don’t have history on their side. Whenever and wherever government has acquired too much power, it has invariably become oppressive.
“I used to think if we could take the U.S. Constitution, intact, as the guarantee for individual liberty, that one world government would be okay. But we have the Constitution and it’s already been subverted by our own government—in particular, the bureaucrats”.
“Do you think that if we had a one world government it would be a democracy?” I asked.
“Would it matter? I’ve already pointed out that most dictatorships are democracies. But that would just be one facet of the problems a worldwide government would create.”
“What else do you think would happen?” I asked.
“How long do you think it would be before poor countries could take away the things we, the so-called rich countries, have worked to produce, to benefit themselves. In a worldwide democracy without inherent rights—and we are the only country that has such rights—it will be just a matter of time before we have welfare on a global scope, administered, of course, by bureaucrats whose very existence will depend on them doing their job right.”
“Whose fault is all this bureaucratic takeover?” I asked.
“Yours,” he replied.
“Really. Ultimately, the responsibility for the abuses of bureaucracies lie with you, me, Duffy...and 260 million other Americans. If the American people said they really wanted more limited government, it would go away. But, though they say they do, they really don’t care and they won’t do anything about it. If they really wanted it tens of millions would vote Libertarian—even if only for one or two elections—and either elect people who are bent on reducing the size of government and its bureaucracies or just scare the hell out of the Democrats and Republicans so they would actually give us the smaller government they have been promising us for decades.”
“Those more-freedom-less-government people. But the fact is, Americans don’t really care. No politician or bureaucrat need lose any sleep tonight over what the American people say about wanting less government because the American people don’t really care and they’re getting the government they deserve. The problem is that I too am getting the kind of government they deserve.”
Dave laughed. “There must be some solutions,” he said.
“I often wonder how different things would be if on the back of the tax forms we fill out there was a ballot by which we vote for everyone from President to dog catcher,” Mac said.
“That might give politicians and bureaucrats nightmares.”
“It might. People would be casting their votes when the problems of government was still fresh on their minds.”
Dave looked serious now. “How long before the United States is no more?” he asked.
Mac shrugged. “That’s not an easy question to answer. China never fell, it just kept changing. The fall of Rome took centuries and, even after there wasn’t any Roman Empire left, many Europeans considered themselves Romans. The United States will probably go on for centuries to come, but I guess we’ll be able to say it’s gone when we can say, ‘not one of the Founding Fathers would be able to recognize their creation any more.’”
“That doesn’t sound good for us,” Dave said and Mac went back to his computer game.