Texas farmers are suffering severe drought conditions. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Congress has decided to help them out with U.S. taxpayer dollars to the tune of around $600 million. It should also come as no surprise that Republicans are as energized about sending this welfare as Democrats are. It’s just another reflection of the socialist, paternalist, welfare-state mindset that pervades both political parties.
It wasn’t always that way, of course. Americans once lived in a country in which this sort of thing was unfathomable. The idea of using government to tax people in order to send the money to other people was considered a moral abomination.
Consider, for example, President Grover Cleveland, a Democrat.
In 1887, Texas farmers were suffering the same severe drought conditions that today’s Texas farmers are suffering. Reflecting the early stages of the move toward socialism and paternalism that would culminate in the 1930s under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a majority in Congress enacted the Texas Seed Bill, which gave a welfare grant of $10,000 to the Texas farmers.
Cleveland vetoed the bill. Yes, he was a Democrat who vetoed that welfare bill.
Why did he do that?
Because he believed that it was not the proper role of government to use its taxing power to take money from one person in order to give it to another person. Cleveland believed that government should have absolutely nothing to do with charity. He felt that the helping of others belonged in the private sector.
Consider what he said in his veto message to Congress:
I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution; and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.
In his article, “Why Grover Cleveland Vetoed the Texas Farm Bill,” economic historian Robert Higgs writes: Cleveland went on to point out that “the friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied on to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune,” and indeed that “individual aid has to some extent already been extended to the sufferers mentioned in this bill.” Further, he suggested that if members of Congress really wanted to send seed to the suffering Texans, the congressmen might personally carry out this charitable transfer by using the seed routinely provided to all members for distribution to their constituents (at an expense of $100,000 in that fiscal year).
As Higgs also pointed out, Cleveland’s views reflected the free-enterprise views of other Democrats and, indeed, of mainstream Americans. Higgs quotes historian Richard Welch, who described those Democrats:
They were convinced of the superiority of free enterprise to any other economic system; they defined “reform” in terms of improvements in public morality and administrative efficiency; they advocated “sound money” and the preservation of the gold standard — but these convictions were shared by a majority of middle-class Americans. It is false to the historical context of Gilded Age America to see such concerns as indicative of collusion with big business.
Where are those Cleveland Democrats today? Well, they are certainly not in the Democrat Party, which continues to embrace the welfare state way of life notwithstanding its manifest failure and destructiveness and the out-of-control federal spending and borrowing that has come with it.
Alas, however, they’re also not within the Republican Party. Even as they decry President Obama’s socialism and spout their pro-free-enterprise libertarian mantras, Republicans are the ones who are leading the charge for sending federal money to the Texas farmers. No, they’re not making donations from their own generous congressional salaries. They sending the money that the IRS forcibly extracts from hard-pressed American taxpayers. After all, it’s election time, which means “pass out the candy” time. No doubt both the Republicans and the Democrats will be reminding voters of how good and caring they have once again proven to be with their welfare grant for Texas farmers. Of course, they’ll also be telling voters how terrible it is that the federal government is spending and borrowing so much money.
Today the people who are genuinely committed to free enterprise, private property, sound money, and limited government are libertarians. Government has no more business giving money to Texas farmers than it does giving money to Texas preachers. That simply is not a legitimate role of government in a free society. Charity should be as separate from the state as religion is.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of the Future of Freedom Foundation.