Government: "A Seedy Circus... Perpetually In Debt"

Originally posted at Monty Pelerin's World blog,

Larsen E. Whipsnade, aka W. C. Fields

As a card-carrying curmudgeon, I have always been a fan of W. C. Fields. His pessimistic view of the human race and its foibles rivalled that of H. L. Mencken, another favorite. In 1939 W. C. Fields wrote and starred in “You Can’t Cheat An Honest Man.” Wikipedia describes the plot:

Fields plays “Larsen E. Whipsnade”, the owner of a shady carnival that is constantly on the run from the law. The whimsical title comes from a line spoken by Fields about ten minutes into the film. Whipsnade says that his grandfather Litvak’s last words, spoken “just before they sprung the trap”, were: “You can’t cheat an honest man; never give a sucker an even break, or smarten up a chump.” … The character name is obviously a play on “larceny“, a point which Fields reinforces at one point when someone calls him “Larceny Whipsnake”.

Another website, IMBd, described the storyline in this fashion: ”Larson E. Whipsnade runs a seedy circus which is perpetually in debt.” [Note, it is unclear whether the first name coined by Fields was spelled Larsen or Larson. Both appear in various places.]

A Seedy Circus Which Is Perpetually In Debt


I was struck by the latter description. Is there a better phrase to describe modern government than “a seedy circus which is perpetually in debt?” It is perfect.

Government is exhausted. It, like Whipsnade’s circus, is  out of resources, ideas and solutions. Government has painted itself into a fiscal and financial corner from which there is no escape.

As a result of its profligacy, government is no longer able to sustain itself. That is the real reason for the Fed’s quantitative easing program(s). Taxes and traditional government bond sales no longer provide enough money to run the monster. QE, more properly described as counterfeiting, is a euphemism to disguise the insolvency of the government. Without the Federal Reserve, government would have to pare down dramatically. There is not enough money to meet the levels of military spending, social spending, entitlements, debt service and other commitments.

QE was sold as a basis for stimulating the economy. While that may have been a consideration, it wasn’t as important as pretending the government was not bankrupt. Of course no economic recovery has occurred, which most anyone not infected with Statist economics (feel free to substitute Keynesian) predicted.

Government is now hopelessly indebted. It cannot honor its current debt obligations and social promises. Additional debt is issued to cover the debt service on existing debt. This practice is the equivalent of borrowing against your Visa card in order to make an American Express payment. It works for a short period, but it reflects the debt death spiral that has overtaken government. As Herbert Stein intelligently observed: “something that cannot continue will not.”

An economic Armageddon is coming. It is up to government whether this shows up in the form of fire (massive inflation) or ice (a collapse of the economy). Regardless of what the entry phase looks like, the ending is a massive Depression. The problem is beyond governance or economics. Mathematics has assumed control and mathematics is cold, unemotional and relentless.

Government is insolvent. It will ultimately dishonor many of its obligations. The longer it postpones this reckoning, the bigger the defaults will be and the greater the pain.

Larson E. Whipsnade, aka Government

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Larson E. Whipsnade is now running the failing circus we call government. He is doing his best to con the people in whatever way fits his advantage. Unfortunately, this is not a comedy and our current Whipsnade is hardly a hapless, likeable con man.

Government has been reduced to a smoke-and-mirrors machine. There is little substance left (other than raw tyrannical power) and tools are limited. Those which might be beneficial are politically unpalatable and will not be used.

What we get from government is little different than the routine of the carnival barker. A major difference is the carney only grabs a portion of our wallet. Government is playing with our entire wallet and the future of our children.

Government is now a facade, with guns. It has failed miserably at governance and shifted its focus to survival. It is doing and will do whatever it perceives can enhance its survival chances. Citizens are considered mere marks to be exploited, fodder for the power class to use as they see fit.

Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff, two famous hucksters, were mere gnats compared to the schemes that the American public are facing. A desperate and dying dinosaur is trying to avoid its fate and it does not care what it has to do to accomplish this end. The damage it inflicts will make Ponzi and Madoff appear compassionate with respect to how they treated their victims.

George Washington had no delusions about government:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Since the time of our first president government has broken virtually every restraint the Founders imposed. The Constitution is little more than a curious artifact. The Rule of Law is routinely violated and headed for the same historical graveyard. Washington could not imagine the “fearful master” we all face today.

A century-long rampage has seen government break virtually everything it touched. Every program enacted has failed in terms of original and revised goals and objectives. None have stayed within budget. Many have produced results 180 degrees from intended. Many are bankrupt in the sense that they cannot be sustained much longer. Many will be defaulted upon. Finally government has driven itself to the precarious position of so many of the programs it manages. It too is broke and unsustainable.

Government itself is broke and unsustainable. Fittingly, it has reached the same state as most of its programs.

Examples of Con Artistry

Larson E. Whipsnade is now running this failing circus and doing whatever he can to con the people. The issue is no longer whether you can cheat an honest man. The government believes, probably correctly, that they can deceive tens of millions of honest men.

To do so, government is engaged in an unusually blatant propaganda campaign. Economic recovery, so we were told, began in June of 2009. That was a lie. We still haven’t recovered and only the Great Depression took longer than this to recover from (and we are not out of this yet).  There are still 5,000,000 fewer people working today than would be considered normal yet the media echoes the government line as faithfully as Pravda once did.

Incredible statistics are routinely reported with a straight face by bureaucrats. Websites like provide information as to how this is accomplished and the gap between the reported numbers and what they consider the true numbers. Lying with numbers deliberately misleads and is a reflection of the ruthlessness of those in power. But these prevarications, while shameful, likely cause little economic harm. They are intended to keep the masses happy with whomever happens to hold office.

There is other deception in terms of price manipulation which is very harmful. I am not talking about gold price manipulation or other market fixes designed to enrich Wall Street. These are illegal and should be punished to the full extent of the law. Rather I am referring to something more subtle and devastating in its effects on the people of this country.