Spending Cuts

When President Polk left office, he was literally dying from the exertions of fighting Congress to get lower tariffs and to have California, Oregon, and all points in between them and the Louisiana Purchase admitted into the United States. His diary records that he was thoroughly sickened by “the endless stream of second-rate people wanting to feed off the public.”

Long lines of office-seekers paraded through his office, in greater numbers than any preceding President had to tolerate. Why was Polk so flooded with them?

Government jobs were the only opportunity such people could find. Canals, their management positions, and their lower-level jobs were being eliminated by faster, cheaper railroads. At the same time, hordes of teamsters, along with their teams of horses and wagons, blacksmiths, horse farms, wheelwrights, and wagon-makers were being put out of work. Stagecoaches and drivers were replaced with the railroads’ passenger cars. Steamships replaced sailing vessels, and with them, the armies of sail-makers, rope spinners, and others whose jobs were based on them. Telegraphs were eliminating courier services. It was a time when new technologies replaced more labor intensive ways of doing things more rapidly than ever. Such waves of technological advancement would cause periodic “busts”. They were followed by “booms” as the savings in labor percolated through the economy.

Many of the middle-class feared unemployment and poverty. “Aha!”, said throngs of otherwise unemployable people. “I’m going to get myself a government job!”

Things remain the same. Today, our Age of Electron Flow Control is eliminating all kinds of jobs. Amazon is destroying college and university bookstores. The internet is driving newspapers and magazines into irrelevancy and bankruptcy. We are producing more goods and services with fewer people than ever. In every area of employment and endeavor, things are changing. Jobs in old technologies are disappearing.

Many of the unemployed are living contradictions. They are over-educated and under-skilled. So, the long lines of supplicants for government employment is comparable to those in the Polk Administration. The only hope they feel they have is to get a government job. Those who obtain them soon understand that they are not among those in government who are allowed to do useful things. A debilitating rot sets in.

Their minds follow their souls into a paralysis that is only interrupted by spasmodic outbursts about the inappropriateness of “cutting spending”.