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Chapter 16: Big Government threatens America’s freedom & greatness

“The lesson that Americans today have forgotten or never learned—the lesson which our ancestors tried so hard to teach—is that the greatest threat to our lives, liberty, property, and security is not some foreign government, as our rulers so often tell us. The greatest threat to our freedom and well-being lies with our own government!” —American libertarian Jacob G. Hornberger

 “Freedom is not empowerment. Anybody can grab a gun and be empowered. It’s not entitlement. An entitlement is what people on welfare get, and how free are they? It’s not an endlessly expanding list of rights—the ‘right’ to education, the ‘right’ to health care, the ‘right’ to food and housing. That’s not freedom, that’s dependency. Those aren’t rights, those are rations of slavery—hay and a barn for human cattle. There’s only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.” —American author and satirist P. J. O’Rourke

 “The policy of American government is to leave its citizens free, neither restraining them nor aiding them in their pursuits.” —Thomas Jefferson, third US president 

What’s wrong with freedom

in today’s America

  • Governments stifle human greatness. Individual freedom and individual initiative have made America the most successful economy in world history, but misguided people are leading us in the wrong directions. When government makes the decisions—as it increasingly does in America—individuals are marginalized and individual initiative fades.
  • The human spirit wants to be free. Humans innately want to be free. Given the freedom to make our own decisions and reap the rewards of our work, the vast majority of individuals will generally make good choices, work hard, and become successful.
  • The human spirit wants to be generous. Most people are decent and well-meaning. We want our lives to be meaningful. We want to help those around us become happy and successful. The more successful we become, the more inclined we are to want to help those in need.
  • Socialism doesn’t work. It may sound good to many of us (especially in our idealistic youth), but socialism has been tried numerous times and just doesn’t work. As a journalist, I was able to visit and observe the Soviet Union at its peak. It was clear even then that central planners were failing in their efforts to turn people into mindless zombies. People want to be free. They want to make their own choices.
  • Free markets work. The only proven way to increase prosperity and reduce poverty is through individual liberty, capitalism, and free markets. Millions of people from around the world have wanted to come to America so they, too, could have the freedom to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own success.
  • We’ve forgotten what made us great. American greatness was achieved because the founders fought hard and sacrificed dearly for American independence, individual liberties, and limited government. They feared and distrusted rulers. They believed in the individual, so they created a Constitution that gave lots of freedom to individuals and sharply limited the role of government.
  • We didn’t have to earn it. American greatness is declining now because the country has drifted steadily away from individual liberty and toward an all-powerful and all-encompassing government. It’s natural that people who didn’t have to fight for their freedom would start taking it for granted. And some begin to wonder why—in such a wealthy nation—they can’t be taken care of instead of having to work for a living. It is important to remember that tyrants always use “the good of the people” as their reason for taking power away from the citizens.
  • Complexity kills freedom. “There ought to be a law!” That’s a common response—often from special interest groups—whenever somebody thinks there is a problem. Politicians happily oblige by passing a law, even though we all know most laws are poorly conceived, poorly drafted, and often counterproductive. There are far too many laws and regulations, and many are far too vague and complex; businesses and citizens are being overwhelmed by the volume of legislation passed each year. When there are so many laws and regulations that citizens can’t even be aware of all of them, every citizen is at risk of unintentionally being in violation of something.
  • Overlapping layers of government. What’s worse, all four levels of government (federal, state, county, and local) often create overlapping laws dealing with the same issue. Each law, in turn, comes with bureaucrats, fees, taxes, and rules and regulations intended to enforce the law. That’s why the typical citizen can’t fill out a tax return or government application without professional help. It also explains why most small businesses are overwhelmed by bureaucratic requirements. No free society can continue to exist under the weight of so much regulation and bureaucracy. This is one of the reasons why America is in decline.
  • An avalanche of laws and regulations. Laws and regulations almost never get repealed. The politicians and bureaucrats just keep adding more. There are so many laws that the typical citizen has no hope of knowing what they are. This means that every one of us is likely guilty of violating some vague and complex law or regulation and is therefore subject to arrest or harassment by overzealous or vindictive authorities. Ignorance of the law is no defense. When there are so many laws that virtually everybody is “guilty” of something—no matter how obscure the law may be—everybody is at risk of government oppression. Those in power—whether elected officials or government bureaucrats—can favor their friends and punish their enemies with selective drafting of laws or selective enforcement. When the political elite make rules that are too complicated for the typical citizen to cope with, the seeds of tyranny are planted.
  • Power corrupts. The bigger and more powerful things become, the worse they tend to get. Eventually, the people running the bureaucracy put their own interests ahead of the interests of the people they are supposed to serve. This is true of corporations, labor unions, special interest groups, and—most especially and most dangerously—governments.
  • Rules stifle common sense. The bigger an organization becomes, the more bureaucratic it becomes. As bureaucracies grow bigger and more powerful (as they inevitably do), more rules are imposed. Common sense, individual choices, and good judgment disappear. People are treated like cogs in a machine rather than as unique individual human beings. The brilliance and passion of individuals is stifled by the rules of the bureaucracy.
  • Bureaucrats cut deals to get more power. When powerful bureaucrats form self-serving alliances and cut deals—such as the ones between business and labor, business and government, or government and labor—everybody suffers except the bureaucrats in charge.

How to fix what’s wrong

with freedom in America

  • Return to common sense. Americans must regain some common sense. With the nation in steady decline, it must happen now—before it’s too late. We must recognize that the government can’t take care of us, and that the politicians and political elite who make such promises are only doing so to enrich themselves and ensure their reelection. (See also the chapter titled “Career Politicians.”)
  • Don’t ask for government solutions. Government solutions often make the problem worse, so let’s stop saying “there ought to be a law” and instead work with other citizens and the private sector to find solutions. (See also the chapter titled “Citizens.”)
  • Limit the role of governments. Let’s carefully define the legitimate role of each level of government so we don’t have four layers of government—local, county, state, and federal—all trying to solve the same problems.
  • Especially limit federal roles. The federal government’s roles should be strictly limited, as discussed in more depth in the chapter titled “Government.” Most things are best left to smaller units of state or local government, or—even better—to the people themselves.
  • Simplify the rules. Freedom is being overwhelmed by the thousands of new laws that are passed each year. If we limited the number of bills that each lawmaker can introduce, citizens would have a better chance of actually understanding society’s rules. (See the “Congressional Reform” chapter for more details about this proposal.)
  • Legalize suicide.  In a free society, suicide must be a personal choice.  Laws against suicide should therefore be repealed. (See more about this in the “Religion” chapter.)
  • Get rid of career politicians. A nation that wants to remain free will choose its leaders from among successful citizens who would serve temporarily and then return to productive society. (How? See the “Career Politicians” and “Election Reform” chapters.)
  • Individual choices. Make sure every organization to which you belong respects the individual rights of every constituent. When an organization becomes too big, too bureaucratic, too powerful, too complex, or too unresponsive, leave and consider joining or starting a rival group.
  • Keep it small and local. As discussed more fully in the chapter titled “Government,” decisions should be made at the most practical local level where bureaucracy can be kept to a minimum and people are best equipped to recognize political nonsense.
  • Return to our roots. To stop America’s decline, we must return to the roots that made this nation great: a maximum amount of liberty for individuals and a minimum amount of government.

“Although we give lip service to the notion of freedom, we know that government is no longer the servant of the people but, at last, has become the people’s master. We have stood by like timid sheep while the wolf killed—first the weak, then the strays, then those on the outer edges of the flock, until at last the entire flock belonged to the wolf.” —Gerry Spence, lawyer and author, From Freedom to Slavery

“Regulation hurts the people the politicians claim to help. People once just went into business. But now, in the name of ‘consumer protection,’ bureaucrats insist on licensing rules. Today, hundreds of occupations require expensive licenses. Tough luck for a poor person getting started. Once upon a time, one in 20 workers needed government permission to work in their occupation. Today, it’s one in three. We lose some freedom every day. This is not what America was supposed to be.” —American author and journalist John Stossel

 “When you see that trading is done, not by consent, but by compulsion—when you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing—when you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors—when you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don’t protect you against them, but protect them against you—when you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice—you may know that your society is doomed. —Ayn Rand, author, Atlas Shrugged

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