Economic mission creep never ends well either

In my last column I expressed a New Year’s wish that everyone reflect on what is the true purpose of government. I am of the view that individuals have unalienable rights and that the government’s primary purpose is to ensure that those rights are protected. I would call that the original mission statement of the founding fathers of our great republic. Unfortunately, since then we’ve witnessed a monumental example of mission creep.

The term “mission creep” first appeared in articles published in 1993 in the Washington Post and New York Times describing the operations of the United Nations “peacekeeping” force during the Somali civil war. As to its definition, according to Wikipedia, “mission creep is the expansion of a project or mission beyond its original goals, often after initial successes. Mission creep is usually considered undesirable due to the dangerous path of each success breeding more ambitions attempts, only stopping when a final, often catastrophic failure occurs.” It goes on to say that the term “was originally applied to military operations, but has recently been applied to many different fields.” It certainly can be applied to government, particularly regarding the economy.

Economic intervention by government does not have a good track record. Fifty years ago this week the term “War on Poverty” was coined by President Johnson. According to the Huffington Post, in 2012 the poverty rate was the highest it had been since the 1960s and in 2013 it rose slightly. The government declared war on poverty and lost. Further, as government continues to grow, family incomes do not. In 1989 median family income was $51,681 adjusted for inflation. More than 20 years later, in 2012, it was $51,017, which was down from $55,627 in 2007, a drop of almost 8 percent.

Legislation often doesn’t work as planned. Posted on the website of the American Medical Association was this item – research suggests that Medicaid expansion may not lead to a reduction in emergency room use after all. According to the article, a CBS Evening News broadcast said that “…a new report out today calls into question one of the main goals of the Affordable Care Act — to get people to stop using the ER as their primary care doctor by making more of them eligible for Medicaid.”

Then there’s Obamacare, one of the most massive interventions into the American economy in history. Health care is estimated to be in excess of 17 percent of the gross domestic product of the U.S. In spite of the claims of the supporters of the legislation that it will lower health care costs, CNN projects that healthc are costs will increase by 7 percent in 2014. That is more than three times the reported rate of inflation. The economic dislocations this legislation is causing have become so obvious that the president unilaterally changed portions of the bill. This raises an even larger issue.

Jonathan Turley is professor of law at The George Washington University Law School. He teaches constitutional law. He is regularly published and quoted in the mainstream media – network television, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and so on. He served as a House leadership page having been sponsored by Rep. Sidney Yates, Democrat from Illinois. He has made numerous appearances on the Rachel Maddow Show criticizing the Bush administration. It is abundantly clear that he is not a member of the tea party.

Last month, Turley testified before Congress. He was asked by Rep. Goodlatte (R-Va.): “How does the president’s unilateral modification of (an) act of Congress affect both the balance of power between the political branches and the liberty interests of the American people?” Professor Turley’s response: “The danger is quite severe. The problem with what the president is doing is that he’s not simply posing a danger to the constitutional system. He’s becoming the very danger the Constitution was designed to avoid. That is the concentration of power in every single branch.”

As I’ve said before in this space, our founding fathers believed that the only check on federal power rests with the states. And more and more, state governments are rallying to the defense of their citizens against federal overreach. The attorneys general of 11 states led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey have banded together to challenge the constitutionality of the president’s actions. Morrisey sent a letter signed by the other 10 AGs stating that while they support allowing citizens to keep their health insurance coverage but said that “the only way to fix this problem-ridden law is to enact changes lawfully — through Congressional action.” It’s a sad day when we have to petition the government to be “allowed” to keep our health insurance plans.

Mission creep is insidious. It is hard to pinpoint when it starts or at what point it accelerates. However, mission creep “only stops when a final, often catastrophic, failure occurs.” That is what is likely to happen if we fail to answer the question, “What is the purpose of government?”


— Elliot Simon writes from Harpers Ferry


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