|History Repeats Itself, First As Tragedy, Second As Farce|
In West Virginia, the 1960’s are often referred to as the Barron Era. Several prominent members of Governor Barron’s administration, Attorney General Robertson, and State Treasurer Kelly were all convicted on kickbacks or extortion charges. Governor Barron was acquitted at his trial but only because he bribed the jury, the crime for which he was later convicted. During this era, every possible way of trading government service for under-the-table payments was exploited. Even state employees were given coupon books and "asked" to contribute (in cash) two percent of their salary to the flower fund.
If state government ran like an organized crime syndicate in the 1960’s, the wide-open corruption of the 1980’s took the form of Haitian looting. The players went their separate ways to find storefronts of their liking. Governor Moore, Attorney General Brown, three Senators and two Delegates were prosecuted by the Feds. The reason I refer to this period as "Haitian looting" is that the US Attorney’s office convicted nearly 100 public officials for various crimes. And beyond that, you can add the impeachment of State Treasurer Manchin.
It can be claimed, then, that West Virginia politicians fulfilled at least one of Karl Marx’s philosophies—that of history repeating itself. The Sixties were tragedy, the Eighties farce.
Though the Eighties may seem ancient, it would do well for us to remember that only a decade has passed since the last round of public corruption trials concluded. We are a long way from being out of the woods. Nevertheless, we have arrived at a turning point and the time is right to ask ourselves, "Are we due for another embarrassing, bidecadal housecleaning?"
I posed this question to my 8-ball and the black orb cautiously replied, "Better not tell you now."
One could argue that my trusty psychic errs because democracy is alive and well in the state. There are record numbers of candidates running for office in the upcoming primary election and, on its face, broad competition for public office is a good thing. But are a multitude of candidates, by themselves, enough to avert another disaster? Not unless they are nearly unanimous in overhauling state government.
Our state has used the same business plan since anyone can remember. Government has grown despite promises to shrink it and taxes have soared to unimaginable heights. Next year, over $8 billion will be spent on a population that has shrunk to fewer than 2 million. Yet the answers given for our current problems are the same as they were for our past problems—grow the government by taxing or borrowing and all will be well.
When it comes to funding a centrally-planned society, all roads lead to Rome. And like the Roman model, our capitol has sucked dry the lifeblood of the provinces in order to maintain its grip on power. Our cities risk bankruptcy because of antiquated taxing authority and growing pension debts. Our counties are relics from antebellum days and, aside from their judicial function, courthouses are not much more than clerical offices that cost a small fortune to operate. In the mean, the powers to tax, to spend, and to decide the fate of the economy are concentrated at the state level in the hands of a select few autocrats. The provinces be damned, render all tribute unto Rome!
Lord Acton said, "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." His observation is as timeless as it is true. And it is this very same observation that Hayek used to introduce the chapter, "Why The Worst Get On Top."
What more could I add other than "Three strikes and you’re out."?
David G. Allen, Clarksburg, WV
"History Repeats Itself." is Part 7 of a continuing series based on "The Road to Serfdom", by F. A. Hayek and appeared in the April 2, 2004 issue of the WV State Journal. "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce." is attributed to Karl Marx.
Copyright 1990-2005 David G. Allen