February: A Month Of History

By Richard Eckstrom
S.C. Comptroller

The month of February has several notable holidays and observances.
There’s Valentine’s Day, a commemoration dating back more than 1,500 years. It actually started to commemorate a number of early Christian martyrs, but it has since evolved into a commercial holiday marked by cards, chocolates and flowers.
February is Black History Month, an annual observance used as an occasion to teach about — and reflect upon — the notable contributions of African-Americans.
And of course, on Feb. 2, we observed Groundhog Day.
The month of February also offers some unique opportunities to look back on America’s founding and remember the ideals on which our founders built this nation.
In addition to being Black History Month, February has been designated “American History Month” by the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization of women with a lineage containing ancestors who fought in the American Revolution. DAR promotes patriotism, preserves American history, and works to secure America’s future through better education for children. American History Month emphasizes the value of teaching American history to America’s youth.
Also each February, we observe President’s Day, which was established in 1880 to honor George Washington (it was originally called “Washington’s Birthday” and fell on Feb. 22, which is Washington’s date of birth.) Today, it falls on the third Monday of the month, and also honors Abraham Lincoln – and, indeed, all of our nation’s founding leaders.
Nearly two and a half centuries ago, men and women yearning for freedom embarked on an experiment in self-rule. Their goal was to create a better life, free from the shackles of imperial rule.
As they deliberated on how this new nation would work and how it would be governed, they seemed to agree that creating a better life meant creating a system of government that would do only those things that they could not do individually. They created a government with limited powers which, as Thomas Jefferson put it, “governs least.” They envisioned a system of government that provides essential services and then gets out of the way, so that its costs and powers don’t become burdens for citizens and so that government intrusion doesn’t become a hindrance to individual liberty and success.
The founders created a nation that rewarded hard work, rather than one that punished success. And that model has stood the test of time.
In recent decades, however, government has strayed outside the protective boundaries established by our founders. We’ve expanded our model of government to one that has become too powerful and too costly… so that now we have a government that encourages citizens to be dependent on public handouts rather than on their individual effort and hard work. A mindset has developed – at least for many in our nation’s capitol – that more government spending is the solution to every problem.
That mindset has become increasingly obvious over the past few years. I’ll give an example: This month marks the third anniversary of the unprecedented government spending spree known as the “Stimulus Act.”
On Feb. 17, 2009, America was in the midst of an economic slowdown, and Washington’s response was to pass a massive $800 billion “stimulus bill.” At the time, the bill was touted as a “jobs bill” that would immediately jump-start and get the economy moving again. In actuality, Washington used the economic downturn as an excuse to borrow money and spend on things politicians had been wanting. The bill was not only loaded with “pork” and special interest favors, it was done with deficit spending.
Because of how much it enlarged the federal government and the deficit, it permanently shifted resources from the private sector to the government sector. Such an ill-guided approach did nothing to stimulate meaningful job growth in the private sector, and as such the unemployment rate is much higher today than it was before.
Our nation faces daunting challenges, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that many of them – for example, the high debt and unsustainable deficits that threaten our national well-being – were conceived as a result of a shift from limited government as envisioned by leaders like Washington and Lincoln to big-spending government as promoted by the typical politician today.
Perhaps more than ever, there’s great wisdom to be found in studying America’s history and the bold and revolutionary vision of its founders.
Maybe, just maybe, our founders had it right.
Richard Eckstrom, a CPA, is the state’s Comptroller.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email