Today’s US presidential election concludes a campaign that has lasted for 18 months, and cost some $4 billion. And all for a binary choice between the most despised candidates in recent history. No wonder people are so desperate for change.
One of the remarkable things about this election isn’t how different the candidates are, but how much they actually agree. The contrast in tone masks a surprising similarity of substance.
For the first time in decades, the candidates of both major parties support protectionism in trade. Both back leaving welfare spending unchecked – in spite of unfunded liabilities that, by some estimates, stretch into the hundreds of trillions of dollars. Both advocate a non-interventionist foreign policy that may end the era of Pax Americana.
But the real issue is that the presidency is such a big prize at all.
When the United States was founded, the federal government’s executive branch employed fewer than a hundred civil servants. Today, it employs nearly 3 million.
The reason billions are now spent on the presidential election is because the winner gets control of this vast bureaucratic empire – and the astonishing array of powers to direct people’s lives that come with it.
It’s no coincidence that, as government grows, the gulf between establishment elites and the people across the West is expanding too. Increasingly, the burning inequality today is one characterised less by wealth than by power. It’s the gap between the government and the governed.
The growth of government threatens free society itself. As one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, wrote 200 years ago:
“What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalising and concentrating all cares and power into one body, no matter whether of the autocrats of Russia or France, or of the aristocrats of a Venetian senate.”
Perhaps the question we should be asking today isn’t: who should be in charge of the bureaucratic leviathan? But, why are we ruled by it at all?