I was wandering through a used bookstore last weekend when I found a diamond in the rough — an original edition of Barry Goldwater’s 1976 classic The Coming Breakpoint.
I had read Breakpoint in college and, as I thumbed through the pages, I vaguely recalled Goldwater’s basic thesis that an expanding federal bureaucracy was becoming the main threat to American liberty. The inside flap on the dust jacket reflects Goldwater’s warning to “the American people that we have come to a crossroads” and offers a doomsday prophecy that if the government is left to its own devices, “the glory that is America may go the way of the glory that was Rome.”
I bought Breakpoint and re-read it in one sitting, highlighting passages and making notes in the margins. Amazingly, back in the year of our bicentennial, Goldwater succinctly described the main issue going into the 2012 presidential election.
“In short,” Goldwater writes, “I am plagued with wondering whether the few can provide for the many. Now, if we say they can, we are saying that the money produced by a decreasing percentage of our population is supporting an increasing percentage of the population. If this could happen to any degree, then where is the breakline? In other words, at what point do we find that the social order can no longer change solely as the result of an expenditure of money? Or, if we admit that the social order has not changed in geometric proportion or even in direct proportion to the expenditure of money, when does the whole structure break down?”
America is long past the point where money produces a proportionate change in the social order. The coming breakpoint is here.
The courage to say no
I wish I could have found additional copies of The Coming Breakpoint at the store. I would have had them shipped directly to the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction for its members’ reading enjoyment during the Labor Day recess.
Back in 1976, Barry Goldwater was seemingly writing about the so-called Super Committee and what it would be called upon to do. “I must say it is difficult for me to assess the reasons why the American people — blessed as they have been with liberty and the idea that liberty and freedom are gifts from God — have permitted the concentration of power and the restraints it places on individual action,” he wrote.
Goldwater pointed out that the problem with entitlements is that they have given “the money manipulators of Washington an almost life-and-death power over millions of Americans.”
Goldwater predicted that, under the weight of the ever-expanding bureaucracy of federal programs, “the average American wage earner and property holder will suffocate under the centralized power that our founders made such efforts to prevent.”
Goldwater understood politics. He knew that stopping the advancement of government into our lives would not be easy. And on that point, he offered some basic advice that the Super Committee should heed: You need to have the courage to say no. “If the courage to say NO is not in these places,” he said of Social Security reform, “then we are saying NO to a continuation of our strength, which has historically been our freedom.”