Beware Greeks bearing gifts” is an old saying that dates back to the Trojan War. For those that don’t recall, the Greeks, who were led by their cunning leader Odysseus, constructed a huge wooden horse whose belly was packed with soldiers, and left outside the city gates of Troy as a peace offering. The Trojans, believing that the horse was a gift of surrender, opened their gates and wheeled the massive structure inside their city walls. Once inside, and the Trojans asleep, the Greek soldiers emerged from the structure and killed the Trojans in their beds. A victory over seemingly impossible odds, and one of the great stories of ancient mythology.
Fast forward to the twentieth century. In order to preserve his power, and even expand it after the election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt enacted a series of reforms aimed at lessening the pain of the Great Depression. Packaged together, they formed legislation referred to as the New Deal, a package of aid, job creation, taxation, and spending designed to bring an end to the misery so many Americans found themselves in after the stock market crash of 1929. Every young person in school is exposed to a unit on Roosevelt’s New Deal, with most American History teachers singing its praises, and informing their charges that the New Deal was largely a rousing success for America. It created jobs, they claim, and provided money for people when they needed it most, all of which seemed good on the surface.
Recent history and research has shown those assumptions along with the whitewashed textbook versions are not only misleading, they are flat out incorrect. In fact, when examined closely, as Burton Folsom did in his work New Deal or Raw Deal, the picture is quite clear. Not only was the New Deal a failure in shortening the Great Depression, but it actually extended it by some seven years. Further, Roosevelt, in his grab for power, used the New Deal to attempt to pack the Supreme Court (which ultimately failed), expand government power and influence, and literally buy votes in order to get representatives elected that would be sympathetic to his agenda. Job programs were initiated in battle ground states to get votes, and in many instances, once the election was concluded, the money and jobs disappeared.
Interestingly enough, Roosevelt also used the IRS as a weapon against his political rivals, even some in his own party that didn’t support his expansion of government power, or against non-sympathetic newspaper reporters to bring them to heel.*
The key parts of many New Deal programs were jobs, the creation of the minimum wage, and public handouts from the government, handouts to states in order to create those jobs through public works programs. Ironically, in the states that received the lion’s share of the money, democratic strongholds or battleground states, votes for Roosevelt not only went up, but those that he wanted elected to Congress generally happened. Roosevelt directed where that money went and his rivals knew it. Vote buying? You bet, and it worked.
The direction of money has always been part of the process of elections anywhere there is representative government. Whether we like it or not, it will always be part of the process, especially when difficulty arises in a nation. Politicians know that the surest way to re-election, or to regain control of government is to steer money to the locations that need it most in order to secure the vote of that location. It’s the illusion of the government “working for you”, and is the surest way to prove one’s worth as a politician.
“Yes, Congress is terrible, and we need to vote them all out of office. All of them except mine as mine is the only good one. See how much money they bring back to our district?”
The standard party line is that “we’re doing the work of the people”, or “bringing much needed jobs to the people of our district”, or, well, you name the cliché.
Lest you think that Republicans are any different, Herbert Hoover greatly expanded government spending in an attempt to right the ship once the crash of ‘29 happened. It was against his principles, but he did it. Ironically, Roosevelt, in the ’32 campaign, said that government spending should be reigned in, belts should be tightened, and spending watched carefully. He quickly abandoned that position once he took office. Sometimes, things change when one gains power, as the New Deal was to prove.
One can even make the argument that the Tax Relief Act fostered by President Trump and approved by the Republican Congress in 2016 was another attempt at securing power for the Republicans, by giving a tax breaks and putting money back into the pockets of the population. **
It is a temptation that every government official can’t resist, and one of the ways the gullible voter, starved for real help, is placated. Free money is a band aid on a head wound, and the politicians know it. Real help comes in the form of jobs and careers, not handouts that will drive us further into debt, and at this point, a debt we have no chance of getting out of.
What the politicians don’t tell you is that programs such as the HEROES Act are something akin to that Trojan Horse of Greek lore, a present designed for one purpose…to garner your vote. Further, we live in an age of pork, where bills such as the HEROES Act are loaded with line-items that are targeted to further agendas of those that write the bills, and in the case of the HEROES Act, the Democrats. While there are certainly noble and needed relief provisions contained, such as rental help, and furthering the $600.00 weekly Federal unemployment benefit. However, it also provides some $915 billion in unrestricted aid to states that have mismanaged their budgets, like Illinois, which will serve as a bailout for them. The spirit of FDR is still alive and well.
Since the office of the Presidency doesn’t have the power of line-item veto (where the President can “cross off” pork that he doesn’t like yet still pass the legislation as a whole), the other body of Congress, in this case, the Senate, has to go through a re-write process, and both houses have to come to a compromise on the bill, which in this polarized time we live in seems more than difficult. The process of compromise is long and tedious, and while Rome burns, Nero, the part played by the Congress, fiddles, each trying to pack a simple bill with as much pork as they can. It doesn’t matter though, as both parties are feeding at the trough of the population’s money.
Here’s the point. Be skeptical whenever government is planning on handing out money. Yes, this pandemic and the associated lock downs have caused significant economic disruption. Small business owners are losing what they’ve spent their lives building. In a few short weeks, over thirty million people have joined the roles of the unemployed. The effects of the economic downturn have yet to be fully recognized as at the current, those that are of the working classes and labor are the most affected, especially among the Black and Hispanic communities, both of which were celebrating significant employment gains prior to the lockdowns.
When joblessness begins to hit the white collar workers, the managers who no longer have anyone to manage, then we will see the full effect of this downturn. With that said, the government already stepped in to provide one stimulus opportunity/check. Now, as during the New Deal era, everyone has their hands out, including states, and who can blame them? When you need to pay the rent or buy food and are prohibited by government to work, of course people will wait with their hand out. Government didn’t cause the pandemic, but government has caused the unemployment situation.
Further, the media has fueled the fright of the pandemic, which is seeing numbers of dead revised down as in the case of both Colorado and New York, regardless of how one feels about the severity of the government proposed solution. But…
Now many are standing in line again, as are state government, Illinois being one of them, for more, and state governments are continuing to lock down locations. The Feds? A new stimulus package proposed by the House, locked and ready to go. No matter what’s in the bill, as long as we get our checks. Yes, the purpose is to keep small business afloat as well as to provide for those that are not working, but for how long? Indefinitely? If the mayor of Los Angeles has his way, until there is a cure…of which no viral cure has ever been found.
No, while the stimulus checks and bailouts have merit on the surface, there is a bigger delusion going on here, and it’s creeping into our lives as quietly as it can. We are becoming reliant on the government, reliant on bailouts, reliant on big brother to fix that which ails us. Give ourselves over, and allow the government to provide us all that we need. Need money? Here ya go. A job? Got that covered. How about pay off all of the voluntary loans that you’ve acquired? No problem. All I want in return is your forever support, your vote, your…everything.
Beware Greeks bearing gifts? Taking into consideration the Greek economy, I’d not be too worried about that, so let’s amend that statement. Beware governments bearing gifts.
*See the case of Moses Annenburg, a columnist in Pennsylvania who wrote disparagingly against the President. He was careless with his finances and Roosevelt authorized an IRS investigation that landed him in jail.
**There is much wrangling about who the tax program benefitted most…the rich, the middle class, the poor. There is too much there to argue as it always breaks down along party lines, and is a much larger topic for another day. The point made is still valid, however.