Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do You Still Have All of the Liberty You Were Born With?

Think back to when you were growing up. What things could you do then that you can no longer do now? What things did you have the liberty to decide for yourself that is now a mandate? How many federal, state and local laws were passed since you were born? How many new bureaucracies and agencies have been created since you were born? How many new regulations have they imposed? How many tax increases have you seen in your lifetime? How many new government programs have replaced your ability to do it yourself?

Every single one of those things increases the government’s power over you and reduces your liberty by a corresponding amount. Every dollar that you pay in taxes is a dollar that you do not have the liberty to spend as you see fit (including donating to charity or just helping a neighbor). Every dollar you pay in taxes represents minutes taken from your life -- the time you worked to earn it. The government is literally taking your life, dollar by dollar, minute by minute. The truths that our founders once felt were self-evident -- life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness -- statists today are taking incrementally in ever-increasing quantities.

Every bill passed by congress imposes a mandate or restricts your activity in one way or another. Legislators legislate. It is what they do. It is in their job description; they cannot help themselves. Every time someone says “There ought to be a law”, they express another wish to impose their will on the rest of us. When are we going to say, “Enough is enough?”

Statists took some of my liberty before I was born. Social Security was supposed to be a retirement insurance trust fund. Participation is mandatory. I have been paying into it for my entire working life. It has not been compounding interest. If it were, I would be rich by now, and I could retire today. As it is, I probably can never retire. The government has been stealing my retirement savings in a legalized Ponzi scheme for the past 35 years. At least in private Ponzi schemes, participation is voluntary. It was sustainable during the post war years, because the baby boomers were a huge workforce, each paying into their Social Security retirement account for a comparatively small number of retirees. The number of deposits far exceeded the number of withdrawals. Well, now the baby boomers are coming of retirement age, and the next generation is not remotely large enough to support us. The government squandered my liberty to retire and enslaved my unborn children while I was still growing up.

The next big infringement on my liberty came when I was in grade school, with the Great Society – primarily Medicare, Medicaid and the beginning of the federal takeover of public schools. Every one of those initiatives reduced my liberty – the first two by costing me ever-increasing taxes, and by government intrusion into the formerly private medical industry. Prices have increased, and choices diminished. Now, they're getting ready to finish the job. The federal takeover of public schools introduced a completely new uniformity (uniformity is the opposite of diversity) and reduction of local choices in school curriculum.

Richard Nixon spawned the Environmental Protection Agency while I was in high school. This bureaucracy is empowered to make regulations having the force of law, without any responsibility to We the People: We do not elect EPA bureaucrats. The EPA has infringed on private property, private enterprise and plain old everyday liberty, all in the name of the environment. I understand that we need to preserve the environment. That is what the first amendment is for: If you have concerns about the environment, you get on radio, television, on the Internet and in print, and bring your fellow citizens around to your point of view. We are then at liberty to fall in line, or to ignore you. That is what liberty is all about. You don’t always get what you want. You do not get to use the force of government to coerce your fellow citizens to follow your agenda against their will. That is the very definition of tyranny.

While growing up, I watched gun control legislation at all levels of government erode the second amendment. What part of “infringe” do they not understand? Infringement does not just mean taking my guns; it means, eating away at the fringes of my liberty. I am a responsible, law-abiding citizen, who happens to like firearms and marksmanship. I used to enjoy going off into the fields after school and plinking, or target practice. Today, guns and ammo are so expensive that shooting is nearly unaffordable, assuming I can find a place to go shooting anymore. Infringement comes in many forms: direct restrictions on the right to carry, registration requirements, banning of certain types of “bad” weapons, the high cost of guns and ammo caused by government actions deliberately designed to limit availability. It should be self-evident that regulations do not apply to the bad guys, but it has a tremendously bad effect on the citizen who has both the responsibility and the explicit right to bear arms against tyranny, for self defense, and the defense of his community, should the need arise.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act began reducing my liberty while I was in high school. Again, I understand that unsafe working conditions are a bad thing. Nevertheless, top-down, collectivist rules and regulations, mandates and standards do not make society better if the hidden costs make society worse. That is one big problem with government regulations: They pick a priority and drive it all the way to the top of the list, while they completely ignore conflicting needs and unintended consequences. Sometimes another government regulation or agency takes up the cause of the problems caused by the first. If government were less intrusive, politics would be less divisive.

Not one year ago, our government saw fit to bail out the automakers at great expense to taxpayers and future generations (remember, taxation erodes life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness). Why did the auto manufacturing industry fail? We can trace most of the reasons to intrusive government. For one thing, the economy collapsed because of mismanagement of government run financial institutions, which the Constitution does not authorize it to run. Government has been hobbling the car companies for years with safety and environmental regulations. Who can oppose safety and the environment? Well, I can, for one, when the regulations are imposed by government, and not by consumers demanding product features in the free market. You might argue that consumers do demand it by electing politicians who pass those regulations, and create the regulatory agencies, but no. The feedback loop is far too long and slow for there to be any real responsibility. Once the bills are passed and the agencies created, it is nearly impossible to remove them, regardless of how well or how poorly they work, or how many unintended consequences they create. The free market is much faster, more adaptable and nearly immune to political pressure. Everybody votes with their dollars every day of the year. Moreover, special interests do not control the election, which is maddening for the special interests.

Seat belt laws and helmet laws came along after I graduated from college. Seat belts and helmets are good ideas. I have used them religiously all my life. But not every good idea needs to be a law. I am an adult. I can reason. I can prioritize. As an individual, there might be good reasons why I would not want to use my seatbelts. On the other hand, maybe there aren’t. Why is it anyone else’s business? The argument I hear most frequently is that when I am killed or injured (not a given, with or without seatbelts), it costs society money. Well, it wouldn’t, if society wasn’t so all-fired busy taking care of me. If I could be responsible for myself, it would not be anyone’s business but mine. Again, if you think I should be wearing my seatbelts, you can use the first amendment to convince me. Don’t take my liberty; it’s mine, you can’t have it!

Ever since I was born, I have seen the alphabet soup of government initiatives, agencies and regulations come and not go. Each one adds to my tax burden, adds mandates and reduces degrees of freedom. How great it would be if, for every new law that congress passes, they had to remove three.

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