Mises Wire

It’s Not All Trump: Congress Is a Disaster Too

One could hope that the recent acrimony in Presidential politics might engender a reappraisal of the inauspicious power granted that office.

But what about Congress? Even Keynes acknowledged a central point in Hayek’s acclaimed book, The Road to Serfdom: the inexorable tendency of the bureaucratic state to accretion of power. It can no longer be denied that Congress holds the cards to such power in Washington. Recent marginal concessions in tax, insurance mandates, and regulatory excesses hardly merit mention against Congress’s record of fostering and accommodating the plutocratic Washington agenda.

Foremost: increasing expenditures beyond the public’s level of tolerance for taxation —resulting in an accumulated debt exceeding $21 trillion; sanctioning an unlimited Fed license to bailout corporate financial irresponsibility and empowering the Fed to destabilize financial markets and interest rates; engendering a burgeoning of intrusive lettered agencies; failure to decrease rather than increase bloated Pentagon appropriations for continued interventions abroad; and failure to reverse corporate rent-seeking capture of the regulatory ministrations of our government.

Voices of reason can’t be heard over the clamor of the media aligned with officialdom conjuring divisiveness at home and enemies abroad. We’re assured that legislated enactments define progress — when more accurately they define means to power under the guise of legal necessity.

Congress, at the behest of banking interests, enacted the Federal Reserve Act in 1913, for the supposed necessity of central clearing and lender-of-last-resort functions, but which led directly to increased bank fractional-reserve leverage that took down the economy within two decades. Under this regime credit driven pro-cyclical excesses in securities and real estate continue unabated.

Among the worst of taxes, the Income Tax enhances Deep-State control of citizens with its congressionally sanctioned contravention of the 5 th Amendment, wherein innocuous indiscretions become felonious incriminations, at the arbitrary discretion of the IRS. Not counting costs of enforcement or economic disincentives, according to the Tax Foundation, (2016) private compliance costs exceeded $400 billion for revenue of $1.6 trillion.

Enactments have a life of their own, even after their perniciousness is manifest. For instance, the Attorney General reinvigorated the discredited Controlled Substances Act of 1970, long overdue for repeal. But mired down among inveterate enforcement entities and intertwined with crony immunized drug-crime syndicates and other vested interests, such as the prison industrial complex, the Federal posture is set. We must wait for the States with their liberalizing potential through nullification: see map and a related comment.

The accord reached in 1787 by delegates to the Constitutional Convention relinquished only powers enabled by the wording in the Constitution. But now Congress, without concurrence by amendment, takes license to exceed its authority. For example, it utilizes a misconstrued Commerce Clause to intervene in affairs reserved to the States. Worse, Congress accedes to acts of war, countermanding the Art. I. sec. 8 due process of a declaration of war.

In 1973, at the close of the Vietnam War debacle, Congress belatedly passed the War Powers Act—invoking a 60-day troop commitment limit. Shamefully, in the ensuing 45 years Congress has degraded to consistently financing outlays for the military-security-industrial complex’s botched policies of regime change and pre-emptive wars. And this with cold indifference to discomfiting numbers of civilian casualties and a seeming indifference to blowback.

Our Congress, oblivious to the risk of an accidental exchange from mounting mistrust, blindly delivers policies rekindling the Cold War. It accommodates the nearly 600 tripwire overseas bases. It countenances the compromising of U.S. moral and judicial integrity at Guantanamo Bay (under its 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force). It invokes sanctions injurious to countries posing no threat to the U.S., and it acquiesces to a globally destabilizing executive branch policy of trade interruption.

In a process long overdue for condemnation, Congress compliantly adopts laws drafted in K-street offices–followed by further administrative agency promulgation. This operates to favor select domestic and foreign interests and to stymie competition—a process anticipated by 19th Century Classical Liberals such as Adam Smith, and documented by Rothbard’s (recently published) The Progressive Era.

The list of egregious Congressional misdeeds goes on—from tolerating improper IRS scrutiny of targeted organizations, to serial reauthorization of the Patriot Act, for which its massive surveillance and thousands of warrantless searches revealed virtually no terrorist related criminality as it eviscerated the 1 st and 4th amendments.

We’ve had countless thousands of statutes passed by Congress since 1789. Some do routine intra-agency housekeeping or clarify earlier law; rarely do acts repeal or amend onerous measures. Abetted by an illiberal dogmata, net results get ratcheted toward a weighty legal regime imparting a recondite despotism of power.

As Hayek warned, elements of the state devolve for the worse. At the center of this process sits Congress. Whether or not one expects better, the U.S. Congress remains an embarrassment.

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