The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


“Sustainability” is a term that is used quite freely today. In it’s simplest interpretation, it implies the ability to endure—to achieve a long-term level of existence that can be maintained across years and generations.

Many people use the term when they write or speak about the environment, ecology, population, food, living spaces, and communities. Ideally, almost everything that humans encounter in their world should be sustainable. As a concept, sustainability is reasonable enough, although a bit vague when we move from philosophical discussions to actual implementation in the real world.

In the millions of words that have been written about sustainability, those who espouse the concept rarely discuss sustainability of our current federal government. Leo Linbeck III writes:
The US is facing a tremendous challenge in the coming years, one that will test the mettle of our nation. We have allowed too much power to become concentrated in Washington DC, and that power has dangerously corrupted our system of governance. The federal government spends too much, regulates too much, borrows too much, and is on an unsustainable path. [emphasis mine] Lobbyists, politicians, bureaucrats, and the “bigs” (big corporations, big unions, and big special interest groups) love and abet this concentration of power, as it enhances their own power, prestige, influence, and net worth. The result is a self-reinforcing cycle of power to get the money, and money to protect and accumulate the power.

Most of us in the Center agree with Linbeck’s sentiment. But how does all this relate to sustainability?

In general, proponents of sustainability argue that it can be achieved by going small. For example, they distain “big” corporations, suggesting that we do business with small “locally-owned businesses.” They criticize “big” agriculture, suggesting that we “buy from local farms and cooperatives.” They lambast “big” pharma, advocating government controls on pharma profits. Yet when it comes to “big” government, they never seem to consider sustainability.

Big government in its current form is simply not sustainable. The number of dollars required to feed government’s ravenous growth cannot be raised through borrowing or taxing—at least not without ruining our economy and our children’s future. Sure, massive borrowing and heavy taxes would postpone the day of reckoning for a while, but continuing to feed big government’s current demands for more and more spending is just another way of kicking the can down the road. The road will end, and when it does, big government programs that many take for granted will come to a painful halt.

Reducing the size of the federal government is all about sustainability—and you’d think that would be something that the everyone would enthusiastically support.