After the American Revolution, King George asked, "What will General Washington do now?" He was told that Washington would likely return to his Mount Vernon home and farm. Understanding man's lust for power better than most, King George replied, "If he does that he will certainly be among the greatest of men."
Some still believe that great nations are run by great leaders who wield great power. But history is clear - power corrupts - and there is no substitute for the rule of law. America's Founding Fathers feared the power of government with good reason, and they wisely crafted a system of governance intentionally constricted by checks and balances in anticipation of the worst of human nature. So aware of the power of power to corrupt that they quickly added the first 10 amendments - the Bill of Rights - to the Constitution, whose express purpose was to amplify beyond debate the sovereignty of the individual and the subordination of the state to the consent of the governed.
Today our freedom is threatened not by death-worshipping terrorists, but by people in government who worship themselves. Far too many of our "elected representatives" think that nothing should happen in America without their benevolent blessing. May I ask Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., where the Constitution entrusted Congress with responsibility for "restoring the integrity of baseball"? Many of us who knew Barry Goldwater are certain that if he were alive today, he would go ballistic on anyone using the seat he once held with such abhorrent disregard for the 10th Amendment.
Economic Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek explained this phenomenon 60 years ago in his classic work "The Road to Serfdom:"
"As the coercive power of the state comes to decide who has what, the only power worth having will be a share in the exercise of this directing power."
We need not wait long nor look hard for current evidence of Hayek's observation. It used to be that American business made money by investing in producing things that people wanted to buy. Today business hires lobbyists to mine the corridors of Congress in search of handouts from the public trough - a trough largely filled with borrowed cash from China because the $2.3 trillion we pay in taxes is obviously not enough. When Chrysler was going broke because nobody wanted to buy their cars, Washington bailed them out. Yet, when Sam Walton and Bill Gates succeeded by selling people things they actually wanted to buy, they were awarded Federal Trade Commission investigations for making life too difficult for their competitors.
Washington's message is clear: Contribute to the right campaigns, hire the right lobbyist and above all apologize for your success and the coercive power of the state won't be used against you - unless, of course, we are offered a better deal and change our minds.
As government continues to absorb more power and more of our money, we are also losing the freedom inherent in our right to choose the conduct of our own lives. This not only diminishes us as individuals, it breeds a "Let the government take care of it" culture that can only open the door to accelerated diminishment of our liberty, further reducing us to timid sheep dependent on a benevolent shepherd. And history knows well what happens to benevolence once possessed of power.
Rich Shields of Scottsdale teaches economics at the Keller Graduate School of Management.