President Ford's Vindication

Clive Bundy's range war shows how to make it hard for government to take everything you have.

Poor President Ford!  If he's remembered at all, it's for being a klutz and a clown.  Like Sarah Palin more recently, many Americans' view of Ford was formed more by Saturday Night Live than by reality.

Which is a shame, because he had some profound wisdom, but even that is often not credited to him.  Ever heard this saying?

A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything that you have.

Now, to be fair, Mr. Ford claimed he heard it early in his political career, and it's been used by many conservative politicians from before Barry Goldwater until today.  But for popularizing a sentiment powerful enough to be wrongfully attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Mr. Ford really deserves at least a few kudos - he certainly doesn't get them for anything else.

This week, all America got to see yet another spectacular demonstration of its truth.  Of all places, the Washington Post reported the travesty:

A few weeks ago, with no notice, the U.S. government intercepted Mary Grice’s tax refunds from both the IRS and the state of Maryland. Grice had no idea that Uncle Sam had seized her money until some days later, when she got a letter saying that her refund had gone to satisfy an old debt to the government — a very old debt.

When Grice was 4, back in 1960, her father died, leaving her mother with five children to raise. Until the kids turned 18, Sadie Grice got survivor benefits from Social Security to help feed and clothe them.

Now, Social Security claims it overpaid someone in the Grice family — it’s not sure who — in 1977. After 37 years of silence, four years after Sadie Grice died, the government is coming after her daughter.

The article goes on to say that an obscure change in the law a few years back removed a statute of limitations on collection of government debt.  Our ever-greedy masters are digging through the backfiles to ferret out even the most tenuous claim.

This certainly shouldn't be a surprise.  Our government has shown over and over that their venality and greed know no bounds.  What's relevant here is that they were able to simply snatch the money out of the air, without warning, by attaching the unlucky Ms. Grice's tax refund.

Why was this possible?  Because it was a tax refund - that is, your refund is your money which is already in government hands.

Don't Make It Easy For Them!

Consider what might have happened.  Suppose the Social Security Administration had done everything just as they actually did - dug out ancient debts, tracked down modern heirs, and so on.  But instead of fortuitously discovering that the government already held some of Ms. Grice's money and confiscating it instead of giving it back to her, they had to go out and get it in the normal way.

She would have received the bill and probably ignored it as ridiculous.  She would have gotten a second notice, maybe taken it to the media, perhaps retained a lawyer.

If she never paid it, the Social Security Administration would have had to go to court to get a judgment against her.  Getting a judgment means they'd have to prove, in front of a judge, that the debt was real and that she owed it, not someone else.  On the information supplied by the Post, no judge on earth would enforce this "debt".  They'd have been laughed out of court, which probably means they wouldn't have bothered to go to court in the first place.  Ms. Grice would have suffered heartburn but nothing more.

Because our tax system is set up in such a way that, for most people, for most of the year, the government has actual control of their money, however, none of the fuss and bother of due process was needed.  One government agency simply waved a wand and the money magically was confiscated.

Our Founders certainly couldn't have imagined the details of this case, but they definitely understood the potential problem.  That's why they were so adamant that government be both divided, and small - divided so that different government centers would be less likely to gang up on the citizenry, and small so that the citizens had more power to resist injustice.  Neither is the case today.

Hope in a Time Of Tyranny

Which brings us to this week's other notable case: the story of the Nevada "range war," in which a Western cowboy entered into, and won, a standoff against the Federal government over a payment disagreement.  This bears striking similarities to Ms. Grice's situation - an old, disputed debt, and excessive use of government power to collect it.

The differences are even more striking: unlike Ms. Grice, Clive Bundy and his family received notice from the Feds about the debt and had multiple days in court.  They've lost three times, but even so, they were able to take their case to the court of public opinion and receive help from neighbors and sympathizers all around the country.

What's more, because the Bundys had possession of their assets and the government did not, the government had to take visible action to physically go out and collect his assets.  They had to hire a bunch of trucks and haul off the Bundy's cattle, after first rounding them up, and then put them somewhere until they could be turned into cash.  This is a big, frustrating, expensive task, easily foiled by protesters as actually happened.

Because they were more financially independent of the government, the Bundys were able to prevail.  Becuase the government had control of Ms. Grice's money, she had to make do without it.  Although the Post reports that the Social Security Administration has suspended this type of enforcement, she still doesn't have her cash and it's anybody's guess when or if she'll ever get it.

Mr. Bundy, in contrast, still has his property.  He can sell his cattle and use the money for lawyers, or to flee the country.  He can breed his cattle to make more of them so the government will have an even harder time rounding them up in the future.  He can even try to train his cattle to attack anyone wearing a uniform - yes, longhorn cattle can be very mean and very deadly to the non-cowboy.

The point is - he has a lot more options than she does.  It's all an illustration of why limiting the power and reach of government is so vitally important.

What's the bottom line?  If government has any particular power - it will be abused.  Eventually, when they've finished stealing from everybody else, it will be used against you.

The only way to prevent this from happening is to make sure government doesn't get that much power, and when it does, to forcibly pare it back.  Mr. Bundy and his family has proven to everyone that this is still possible - quite frankly, we didn't believe it was.  What a relief to know that we were wrong!

Now it's time to apply this lesson far and wide - peacefully, orderly, courteously, and fairly, but no less firmly for all that.

And maybe, to give President Ford just a wee bit of credit for pointing out the problem, and with it the solution.  Cut spending!  Starve the beast!

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

This Social Security case, wherein an agency screwed up and tries decades later to reclaim money, is so far outside American legal tradition and understanding that it defies explanation.

I've personally been on the receiving end of that very bureaucracy reclaiming money it sent me in error, and the effect was to keep my shoes nailed to the floor for years.

Across generations, though, is insane; the logical end of thinking like this is to charge the descendants of perpetrators who died unpunished with the crimes of their ancestors.

April 18, 2014 12:24 PM

Good point, Brother John - there's a lot of people that believe we are already at the logical end of that thinking. The argument goes that welfare is exactly that - reparations for slavery from the descendants of slaveowners paid to the descendants of slaves.

Reality is more complex, but certainly there are a lot of supposedly mainstream academics that very much believe in intergenerational compensatory "justice" as you describe.

Of course that is explicitly unConstitutional - the Constitution specifically bans "tainture of blood" in which descendants must pay the price for their ancestor's crimes. But nobody cares anymore.

April 18, 2014 12:27 PM
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