Lord Acton, the British historian, said: “All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
That, in my opinion, is the source of our present political, economic and cultural crisis. This nation has drifted far too close to a system that is approaching absolute power. And those exercising that power are, as always, yielding to the temptations of that power.
This quote makes it clear that the more power is concentrated in the hands of one individual, or a small group of individuals, the greater the chances are that corruption will develop. Our Constitution was designed to limit the concentration of power and its corrupting influence. That is why the Constitution sets specific limits on the power of the federal government, leaving the bulk of political power in the hands of the “States or the People.” By keeping these powers dispersed among the many states, communities and individuals, it was their hope to limit the corrupting effect of that power.
Our first Constitutional President, George Washington, set the example by refusing an offer to be crowned king of America. He warned against the kind of corruption that centralized power could produce, as well as the development of political parties. But his warnings were ignored, leading to the current crisis.
But from the start, there were people who wanted to expand the power of government, and use that power for their own purposes. Among those were Alexander Hamilton and Senator Clay who were proponents of “The American System” that wanted to use the central government to support Northeastern businessmen at the expense of the more rural majority.
Once they gained power in the federal government, they created a punishing tax system that put the burden of federal taxes on the rural population, especially in the South. By the middle of the 19th century the Southern rural states were paying approximately 80 percent of all federal taxes. Half of the federal revenue came from four Southern states. This money was then used to build infrastructure and to pay supplements to northern business tycoons. When Lincoln ran for President, his big promise was to greatly increase these already overburdening taxes on the South and other rural areas. That was what led to the Southern rebellion, not slavery.
We have apparently learned nothing from our history. The banking crisis today is being driven by the same greed and corruption that caused America’s most bloody war. The fraud was simple. Push as much political and economic power as possible into the hands of a few giant banking companies. Promote a series of ill conceived plans to entice low income people to sign home loans that they cannot possibly pay, then sell those loans to the quasi public institutions. Then siphon off as much of the money as possible driving the big institutions into bankruptcy and dump the entire mess in the lap of government with demands that the taxpayers “save” the “valuable” institutions.
Well, I say let the big banks fail. Recover as much of the money as possible from the corrupt officials who pocketed it. Then return to the original banking system where local banks were expected to service their own loans, and only those people who demonstrate the ability to pay their mortgages are allowed to qualify for the loans. To assure the diversity needed to block centralization of economic power, turn over the regulation of financial institutions to the states. (Andrew Jackson was right!)
Absolute power corrupts absolutely. We must decentralize our political and economic power base if we the people every want to regain control over our nation.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. His website can be accessed at http://frankgillispie.tripod.com/