A good April Fools editorial from the Acton Institute - An Ode to Power

An Ode to Power

by Kevin E. Schmiesing Ph.D.

"Power permits people to do enormous good," Lord Acton once said, "and
absolute power enables them to do even more."

This wisdom from the nineteenth-century's champion of state prerogative
applies as well today. Politicians are crippled by the lack of the one
thing they need to yank our hobbled economy out of the mire of
recession: adequate power. It is our duty to grant it to them.

Yes, from time to time this commentary space has been critical of
government meddling in economic affairs, surmising, for example, that
trying to cure poverty by funneling more money through Washington would
do less to assist the poor than to pad the salaries of middle-class
bureaucrats. We have emphasized the effectiveness of private and
faith-based charity, of its capacity at once to use resources
efficiently and to respect the individual's dignity. We have argued that
persons, morally formed, acting freely, and operating within the context
of a rule of law, will generate a bountiful and equitable economic
environment without counterproductive interference by the state. We have
posited that our current difficulties derive from a combination of moral
turpitude and government bumbling.

We were mistaken.

Personal conviction of right and wrong is unnecessary, so long as really
smart and well-meaning people think very hard, deliberate long enough,
and erect the right kind of rules (and lots of them). People like our
representatives in Washington, who can be counted on to act solely with
the public interest in mind and without regard to the 35,000 registered
congressional lobbyists whose offices line the streets of the capital.

The Madoff affair could never have happened if all stock trading and
investment activity were controlled by a government board composed of
the nation's finest financial experts. A Bureau of Investing and Finance
(BIF) would take all the risk out of the market, and there would be no
danger of unscrupulous crooks taking advantage of others by fraudulent
schemes. Valuable investment dollars would be directed only to the most
promising and viable private enterprises, just as federal transportation
dollars are now targeted only to the most sensible and critical
road-building projects.

Or take Fannie and Freddie. The whole mess could have been avoided if we
had simply done away with the real estate market long ago. A federal
Department of Residence, Architecture, and Building (DRAB) could supply
the housing needs for the nation's populace, abolishing private home
ownership and all the problems that go with it. No more oily realtors,
annoying school levies, or marital discord over living room decor.
Painful decisions about relocation would be eliminated because we would
be told where to live. That government can handle this sphere of the
economy with dexterity and competence has been repeatedly demonstrated
by such signal achievements as the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago, the
Pruitt-Igoe projects in St. Louis, and the beauty queen of Europe,
eastern Germany's Halle-Neustadt.

The dustups over executive compensation and AIG bonuses are similarly
misguided, their attendant debates over boards of directors and
confiscatory taxation merely tangential. Salaries should be determined
by impartial boards of government officials, Committees to Regulate
Occupational Compensation (CROCs). These panels would study each
industry and generate guidelines for pay. It would naturally be too
cumbersome to evaluate every employee individually, so all workers would
be paid according to a nimble and easily comprehensible category system.
This would furnish welcome relief for some of the thorniest workplace
problems. No more annual reviews, no more stressful striving to meet
production, sales, or other performance benchmarks, no more fodder for
office gossip about who is making what.

Few objections to these eminently reasonable proposals can be imagined,
with one exception: how to pay for the army of new public workers? This
problem is easily addressed by reference to the model supplied by one of
our government's most hallowed and successful programs, Social Security.
Let the next generation worry about it.

If the history of the human race has taught us nothing else, it has
proven that people in positions of power are apt to use their clout
beneficently for the common good. In light of this lesson, it is
imperative to widen the circle of government to include an infinitely
expanding number of employees, and to unburden public officeholders by
cutting away the moral and legal shackles that limit the scope of their
authority. Government can solve our problems--all of them--if only we
have the good sense to get out of its way.

Kevin Schmiesing is a research fellow at the Acton Institute. This
commentary was published on April 1st.