The Center Drifts: In What direction?(COMMENTARY)

Article excerpt


With today's midterm election, with most candidates clinging to the "safe" center, terms like "left," "right" and "center" clatter in final campaign oratory.

Yet these terms, along with kindred words like "conservatives" and "liberals" (the latter spun into "progressives," "moderates," and "centrists" today), are relative and passing. In particular, our political "center" shows over time a leftward drift, especially since the 16th Income Tax Amendment in 1913 and the Supreme Court's approval of Otto von Bismarck's Welfare State idea in 1937. Yet while this trend is bipartisan, subtle and mostly unrecognized, it spells a risk to human liberty. It can't happen here - or can it?

Nobel economist James Buchanan of the Public Choice School (seeing government as a sub rosa rent-seeking and -granting vehicle for private ends) sees this risk, per his op-ed line of "Socialism is dead, Leviathan lives" in 1990 when Eurocommunism was crashing from East Germany to the Soviet Union. Nobel economist Milton Friedman also sees risk in his idea of "the tyranny of the status quo," a status shifting ever leftward.

This trend of unsaid Leftward Ho toward a not-so-distant land of "serfdom" (Friedrich Hayek's term) is seen in the growth of government, especially at the federal level with its welfare policies like Social Security and Medicare. Check the Cato Institute's figures on federal taxes as a percent of gross domestic product based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and Census Bureau. In 1900, it was 3.0 percent; in 1920, 7.3 percent; in 1940, 6.8 percent; 1960, 17.8 percent; 1980, 18.9 percent; and in 2000, 20.8 percent or almost a sevenfold increase since 1900.

Or check the Ninth and 10th Amendments, still on the books, for what the Fathers had in mind regarding the federal government, noting their firm play on states' and individual rights, twice mentioning theAE"people" and so implying, per the Federalist Papers (1787, 1788) and Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" (1835,1840), a doctrine of freedom and free markets:

"The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

"The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

Or check a new book, "Dependent on D.C.," by Boise State economist Charlotte Twight, with doctorates in economics and jurisprudence, in which she tracks the rise of federal control and "evisceration" (her word) of the rule of law over the lives of ordinary Americans - clearly moves to the left. …