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Chapter 4: Citizenship in America: What’s wrong & how to fix it

May 17, 2012

“It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error.” —Robert H. Jackson, US Supreme Court Justice

 “When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.” —Thomas Paine, author and one of America’s founders

 “I do encourage you to question authority, apply logic, and think for yourself. Look at the forest, not the trees. And the centuries, not the months. Or you might risk being led willingly, as a sheep, to the slaughter.” —Rick Gaber, author

What’s wrong with citizens

  • We’re coasting on the sacrifices of previous generations. America is in decline, and “we the people” haven’t figured out why it’s happening—much less how to restore its greatness. Our nation’s founders risked everything and sacrificed tremendously to win our independence and establish a limited government devoted to the protection of individual liberty, which in turn led to America’s greatness. But every generation since then has been—predictably—somewhat less passionate about those liberties and less appreciative of what we’ve been given, simply because it was given to us rather than earned.
  • The political elite overwhelm us. Politicians and bureaucrats get paid (by us!) to do their damage full time. Citizens can’t work full time at politics; we have to earn a living in the real world. This makes us more likely to fall for political rhetoric, demagoguery, knee-jerk opinions, clever slogans, and sound bites from charismatic candidates.
  • We’re drowning in red tape. Politicians and government bureaucrats—federal, state, and local—are drowning this nation in so many rules that no citizen can possibly know all of them, much less stay in compliance. And the cost of compliance—such as needing expert help to file a tax return—takes money out of every citizen’s wallet and puts an unnecessary drain on the economy.
  • Government schools are failing. As labor unions and bureaucrats strengthen their control over government-run schools, students increasingly come out of those schools conditioned to depend too much on government and are unprepared to become good citizens or to earn a good living.
  • Big Government. Politicians (in both major political parties) get elected and reelected by being “responsive to the people,” so they are happy to give us more bureaucratic complexity, wasteful spending, higher taxes, and political corruption.
  • Vicious cycle of spending and broken promises. When government programs don’t work well (and often make problems worse), citizens make more demands and politicians make more promises. No matter how ineffective they are, government programs are almost never eliminated. Instead the politicians promise to “reform” them—usually by throwing more of our money at them, even if the money must be borrowed at the expense of future generations.
  • We’re too busy. Life is complicated, and the political class keeps making it even more complicated. Most of us work hard just to earn a living and raise our families. The typical citizen simply doesn’t have much time to spend on politics. This has not served us well because the average citizen has a lot more common sense than the experts to whom we have delegated our political decisions. This is a key reason for this nation steadily losing its greatness.
  • We’re all part of the problem. Too many citizens have become dependent upon—and beholden to—big government. We want programs that benefit others to be cut, but we don’t want to see any cuts to our own benefits. Special interest groups have become adept at identifying and rallying the segments of the population that are united by their government benefits and then using these groups to gain a majority in elections.
  • A majority of “takers”?  We are close to the time when a majority of voters can vote themselves benefits at the expense of the minority. And that’s why this once-proud nation now teeters on the brink of bankruptcy.
  • A downward spiral. The political elite will obviously not give up this game because they are the primary beneficiaries. The question is whether American citizens will wise up and insist on less government control and more individual freedom in time to restore this nation to its former greatness. The outcome is in doubt.

How to fix what’s wrong with citizens

  • Government by the people. Citizens must learn to be suspicious of all career politicians and both of the major political parties. They are motivated by power and money, not by genuine and selfless public service. As citizens we must stop falling for the sound bites that are fed to us by the career politicians and their hired (at taxpayer expense) public relations flacks. (See the related chapters “Freedom,” “Democracy,” and “Political Parties.”)
  • Rein in the political elite. We must stop honoring our political leaders and return them to their rightful place as servants of the people, not masters. Political service should always be something a citizen does for love of country and with some sacrifice—not for profit. Public service should always be temporary; it should never be a career. (How? See the chapters “Career Politicians,” “Election Reform,” and “Congressional Reform.”)
  • Limited government. We must recognize that governments—especially big governments—don’t do anything very well and often make matters even worse. Informed and intelligent citizens must insist on individual liberty and limited government. That’s precisely what they did in the glorious first 150 years of our nation’s history—when America thrived at home and provided inspiration around the world. (See the related “Government” chapter.)
  • Pay attention. Citizens get the government they deserve, so we had better start paying attention. We make a huge mistake when we ask for a federal solution for every problem. Politicians are always happy to oblige by giving us even more bureaucratic complexity, more wasteful spending, higher taxes, and more political corruption. When it comes to government, smaller is better and less is more! If citizens are too lazy to pay attention, America’s decline and eventual collapse are inevitable. (See the related chapters “Individual Responsibility,” “Education,” “Democracy,” and “Freedom.”)
  • Don’t vote if you don’t understand. “A lot of bad policies pass by popular demand,” says Bryan Caplan, a professor of economics at George Mason University and author of The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. “Be honest. If you know nothing about a subject, don’t have an opinion about it. And don’t reward or penalize candidates for their position on an issue you don’t understand.”

“Don’t vote; it only encourages them.” —Author unknown

“It is sobering to reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence.” —American historian Charles A. Beard

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