At the dawn of the 20th century this nation was in trouble. The vast majority of its citizens lived in desperate conditions. Vast amounts of wealth were concentrated in the hands of a few individuals such as Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and J.P. Morgan. Although the Sherman Antitrust Act had been enacted in 1890, it had been little used to challenge the use of trusts by men like these to amass incredible wealth. But when President McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and Teddy Roosevelt became president, things changed.
Roosevelt went on to become one of our greatest presidents in part because he directed his attorney general to challenge the Northern Securities Company, a railroad trust established by Rockefeller and Morgan. Roosevelt did not oppose all trusts, only bad ones. Roosevelt believed the Northern Securities was a monopoly that sought to control all railroading from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest. When the case reached the Supreme Court, Roosevelt won 5-4. Roosevelt had become a “Trust Buster.”
A century later the nation is again in trouble, and there is another trust that needs busting. It’s a trust that is both bad and good. It’s enormous in size and scope. Its activities penetrate every corner of American life. It has the power to both self-finance and, when that is insufficient, to print money. Worst of all it is accountable to no one.
It is the federal government. It makes Northern Securities look lame by comparison. Its worthy actions need to be preserved. Its unworthy, unnecessary, or outdated actions need to be terminated. We need another Teddy Roosevelt.
The Constitution provides for the most direct way to deal with this problem through the Congress’ power of the purse. Ideally Congress would terminate funding for federal programs that are counterproductive, outdated or don’t work. But instead when bad things happen, the executive branch comes to Congress and says it needs more bureaucrats and more money to fix the problem. And Congress complies.
The only effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff is through major surgery.
Federal support for things like responding to natural disasters such as forest fires and hurricanes is essential. So too is provision for the national defense, but not for unneeded weapons systems. Care for Veterans is essential, but not by a socialized medical system that has killed veterans while serving itself. Medicare and Medicaid are vital, but not when it’s staffed by folks who are incapable or uninterested in accurately answering a telephone call. Tax collection is necessary, but not by an IRS willing to put politics in front of its mission.
The next president needs to do to the executive branch what Teddy Roosevelt did to Northern Securities – break it up. It would be best if both parties agreed on the necessity of this undertaking. Unfortunately, they don’t. The Democrats are the handmaidens of government growth. They see that growth as an appropriate way to bring about desirable social and economic change.
But among the Republicans, a rising star is Carly Fiorina. She does not miss an opportunity to address how she would reform the federal bureaucracy. Such an effort must emanate from the White House and include control over the appointment of every department’s undersecretary. That’s the person who actually manages the day-to-day affairs of each department. The effort must also attempt to reinstate the president’s power to impound, not spend, money appropriated by Congress.
If Fiorina ends up president, vice president, or the appointed Trust-Busting Tzarina of the next administration, the fat will be in the fire! It’s long overdue.
Goldman worked on Capitol Hill and at the National Institutes of Health. He has retired to Flat Rock and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.