JACK SPENCER: Taking stock on Uncle Sam’s birthday

Independence Day weekend 2014 would seem an appropriate time to reflect upon the United States; its place in the world and the general health of the Republic.

Here’s the good news —

As has occurred repeatedly over the decades, immigration reform, or the lack thereof, is in the headlines. This column will not address the intricacies of this tempestuous and often infuriating issue. However, there is a larger perspective to this topic worth contemplating when marking our nation’s 238th birthday. This perspective is simple; so simple in fact that it is usually obscured by the passions of the moment.

U.S. citizens are lucky. We live in the one place upon the Earth to which people seek refuge, opportunity and freedom in greater numbers than anywhere else. Concerns over our borders are never about preventing the multitudes from leaving; they are about how to deal with the millions who wish to live here. That is a fact that probably says more about our nation than all of the propaganda in the universe.

In a diverse society, subject to mind-numbing distractions, political divisions and 24-7 information and disinformation flow, it is easy to overlook the obvious. For all our troubles, the U.S.A. — founded in 1776 on the principles of self-government and liberty — remains a magnet, a goal and the shining hope in an even more troubled world. Incredibly it has been that way for more than two centuries.

Repairs and maintenance

Given the opportunity to provide a birthday present to the United States, we might choose the one that would have the greatest positive impact. Not surprisingly that should be something that would take our nation closer to its roots by untangling the grasping tentacles of government.

At first glance, the full value of this gift might be difficult to measure and its restorative properties underrated. Nonetheless, though the ills it could cure are often hidden, they are numerous beyond reckoning.

Nothing — absolutely nothing — would have a more profound and positive effect on our nation than a constitutional amendment clarifying that any form of corporate welfare is a violation of the Constitution.

Many believe that — based on the Equal Protection clause — corporate welfare is already unconstitutional. But the courts have not agreed, and that’s why a clarifying amendment is necessary. Incidentally, the founding fathers of our country wrote that they expected most future constitutional amendments to be “clarifying” in nature.

Corporate welfare means government giving special benefits to individual industries and companies through tax breaks, trade policies, and spending programs. A primary obstacle to comprehending the full corrosiveness of corporate welfare comes from focusing on the beneficiaries of the practice. Yet, the more significant damage corporate welfare inflicts is the power is bequests to government, which — like a Shah or potentate of old — decides who will and won’t get the favors.

The dynamic created by corporate welfare is precisely the opposite of what the United States is supposed to be all about. It replaces a system that treats everyone equally under the law with one based on the concept of currying the favor of the king. That is expressly not what the framers of our Constitution had in mind.

In addition, corporate welfare has probably done more to tarnish the image of capitalism than any other factor. This is particularly unfortunate because corporate welfare is actually anti-capitalist. Granting special status to the few at the expense of the many is a malignant disease common to all forms of human government; dating back to tribes and clans.

One good thing about corporate welfare is that perhaps more than any other issue it has the potential to expose which battle lines matter most. These battle lines are not between Democrats and Republicans or even between liberals and conservatives. The paramount struggle of our times is much the same as it was in 1776. It pits corrupted, influential and powerful elites, who collectively can be labeled “the government class,” against the rest of us.

Support of corporate welfare is the most prevalent violation of principle committed by lawmakers and other officials who claim to believe in free markets and free enterprise. The seduction often begins with the desire to serve a constituent by getting them a tax break or impress local voters by using tax credits to lure a new business to their district. The rationalization seems to be: “Hey, this is how things work — so why fight it?”

A properly-worded constitutional amendment would say: “Things aren’t going to work that way anymore.”

Jack Spencer is Capitol Affairs Specialist for Capitol Confidential, an online newsletter associated with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (MCPP). MCPP provides policy analysis. The political analysis represented in this column does not necessarily reflect the views of the Mackinac Center.