“If you ask what is the single most important key to longevity, I would have to say it is avoiding worry, stress and tension” – so observed George Burns, who managed to live just past his 100th birthday. George J. Heideman apparently never got that memo. Now 102, the not-quite-retired Heideman has been doing a lot of worrying lately.
He’s come out with a new book published by NLPC called “To Restore American Liberty: A 21st Century Patriot’s Declaration of Personal Independence.” A 280-page collection of essays, observations, and letters to newspaper editors, congressmen and at least one president, the book is a credible primer in natural rights for our political class. His goal: restoring lost liberties.
George Heideman, Illinois-born and bred, served his country honorably in the Navy during World War II. He’s seen a lot in his 10-plus decades of living. But rather than fade away at his Palm Beach County, Florida redoubt, the author, an accountant by training, has a need to convey his conviction that government is a servant of people, not the other way around. A great many people still believe this. Everyone, from Left to Right, in fact, on some level professes fealty to the ideal of liberty. Yet in practice, many jump ship. One can thank the overpowering pull of the modern welfare state, which began in earnest a century ago. Claimants from corporations to pensioners to welfare recipients regularly assert a right to receive aid from government, and assume that “someone else” will pay the tab. That someone else, of course, is taxpaying households and enterprises. Those who pay the most, and receive the least, are those who lack political access, which is a premium in Washington, D.C. That’s the whole point of hiring lobbyists.
Heideman can be seen as a lobbyist for the people. He realizes that our elected representatives, backed by executive and judicial authority, have the means of maintaining the illusion of political peace by subsidizing the most noisy and dissatisfied, while the general public clings to the hope that the latest round of government intervention is the last. Which in the end, it isn’t. The aggressive growth of government has made the American people ever more competitive with each other in acquiring and protecting entitlements. This is why the federal budget alone is approaching $4 trillion a year, or nearly a fourth of our Gross Domestic Product.
The author is highly perturbed about this. And he believes that the main reason has been the gradual abandonment of the principles of the U.S. Constitution and the moral-philosophical principles upon which it is based. Drawing mainly upon Aristotle, with a sizable influence of Locke, Smith and Jefferson, Heideman recognizes that maintenance of limited government depends on moral self-regulation. People, in other words, have a responsibility to take care of themselves and their families. If they can’t or won’t, they will demand taxpayers do the job. Family and philanthropic generosity have limits. Government, at once impersonal and coercive, has become the natural default setting for people seeking to close the gap between present conditions and desired outcomes. By nature, it is easier to play with other people’s money than with one’s own. The problem is that through a series of misguided laws, regulations, court decisions, political influence and economic theory (especially Keynesian), we have granted government the authority to do things that it couldn’t do for generations. Over the course of the 20th century, we evolved an approach to problem-solving that rests on an assumption that the State has the capacity to fix any problem, great or small. The only major obstacle is the availability of resources (money from a consenting public). Over the long run, this view typically solves problems by exacerbating them over the long run, placing the main burden upon future generations.
The proverbial keeping of “two sets of books,” argues the author, isn’t just a private-sector pursuit. It’s one of the key ways in which we make the modern welfare state appear benign. Heideman is most convincing in his dissections of Social Security, the Affordable Care Act and the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, each of which involves accounting sleight of hand as well as avoidance of constitutional principle. Here are brief summaries of each:
Social Security. Arguably more than any one “entitlement” program, Social Security is transforming us into a debtor nation, setting us down the road to an unsustainable set of commitments. Based on cash flow rather than accrual accounting, the program, by its very nature, cannot be run like a business. As an antidote, the author recommends that we move toward a voluntary retirement system in which participants, grouped by age brackets, make contributions in a manner similar to holders of Individual Retirement Accounts.
Health Care. The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), argues the author, is unconstitutional. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution stipulates that federal levies “shall be uniform throughout the United States,” yet the new law is imposed only upon those who do not purchase mandated insurance coverage. And the act disguises its subsidies so as to minimize the true long-term cost. To insure the uninsured, Heideman calls for privatizing health care coverage over each individual’s lifetime. Medical cost control inherently must deal with the prospect of dying too early or living too long. The private sector deals with the first problem reasonably well, but falls well short in the second area (the author should know!). The antidote: Alter the tax code to encourage insurance companies to issue multi-year contracts that cover catastrophic, but not minor health expenses.
Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Enacted in 2002 in the wake of the Enron meltdown, this law has tethered the government accounting to Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). As GAAP affords unscrupulous accountants plenty of opportunities to distort the numbers, the ultimate achievement of the Sarbanes-Oxley law appears to be punishing innocent companies with needless and expensive paperwork. And it’s likely unconstitutional. Heideman writes: “To the extent that (Sarbanes-Oxley) law forces accountants and lawyers to do things that their professional disciplines do not countenance, that violates their constitutional right to establish a contract, not to mention violation of the due process requirements surrounding the contract.”
The author makes a passionate populist case for rolling back government size and scope to something more sensible. Our current arrangements invite political favoritism, and in the process, they erode accountability among elected and unelected officials. Leaders in both major parties may invoke high principle come election time, but all too often cast it aside when their own career prospects are in peril. George Heideman is a reminder of Thomas Jefferson’s admonition that an educated citizenry can be the best defense against encroaching despotism, however well-meaning. Longevity can be a bonus. “I have lived for 40 percent of the existence of this nation,” he writes, “and with this lengthy background, I believe I am entitled to present my commentary on it.”