Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Increasing Government Power Decreases Individual Freedom

John Stossel points out what should be fairly obvious--Increasing government power decreases individual freedom.
Government is taking us a long way down the Road to Serfdom. That doesn't just mean that more of us must work for the government. It means that we are changing from independent, self-responsible people into a submissive flock. The welfare state kills the creative spirit.
Freedom is more than simply doing what you want so long as you don't harm your neighbor or impact his rights (which is my definition of basic individual freedom). But we live in a constitutional republic that is supposed to be have a limited government, the reason being that a limited government of specifically defined powers is supposed to prevent the government from infringing on individual freedom.

When people complain about the nanny state (as I often do), what they are really complaining about is government intrusion on their freedom. Every time the government passes a rule or regulation that requires some action by us or prevents us from taking some action, they have limited our freedom. The problem is that many of the rules that are passes are imminently sensible, things like mandatory seat belt laws. Hey that sounds great--wearing seat belts saves lives (as a former paramedic I can tell you that I never once unbuckled a dead person). But then comes the next step, hands free cell phone use, no texting while driving, etc. Now, I am not saying that these activities are safe nor should they be engaged in while driving, but when the government tells us what we can and cannot do, the government has taken away the consequences of our behavior--i.e. our responsibility.

So how did I get from individual freedom to individual responsibility? They are inverse concepts. With individual freedom comes individual responsibility. But we are no longer living in a society that understands rights AND responsibilities. All we care about is our rights and increasing our "rights" seem to include getting something for nothing. Stossel notes:
According to the Tax Foundation, 60 percent of the population now gets more in government benefits than it pays in taxes. What does it say about a society in which more than half the people live at the expense of the rest? Worse, the dependent class is growing. The 60 percent will soon be 70 percent.

Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin seems to understand the threat: He worries that "more people have a stake in the welfare state than in free enterprise.
More people have a stake in the welfare state than free enterprise--more people are dependent upon the government than upon themselves. Such a concept is staggering, more than 3 out of 5 people depend on government handouts, getting more out of the system than they put in. That leaves 40 percent, soon to be 30 percent, of the rest of us to provide for that segment of society that takes more than they give.

What this reminds me of are the claims of a perpetual motion machine, a machine that supposedly puts out more energy that is put in. Such machines violate the known physical rules of our universe, usually the First Law of Thermodynamics which says, essentially, that you can't get more energy out of a machine than the energy you put into the machine.

Applying the first law of thermodynamics to the political realm you end with a basic proposition, you cannot get more out of a government than you put in. Thus if you believe that you have a "right" to government aid, then someone has the "responsibility" to provide that aid. But remember the beginning of this piece, when I said that increasing governmental power decreases individual freedom? If you are among those who receive more government assistance than you put in to the system, you are asking the government to increase its power--not necessarily over you (but that is a fiction as well since all government aid comes with some strings attached), but over someone else. Thus not only is the government impacting individual freedom, those on the government dole are impacting individual freedom as well.

Now, this isn't an argument, necessarily, for gutting government aid programs. But we really do need to take a good hard long look at how we got here. We have gotten here because we have come to believe our rights trump our responsibilities as individuals. We do not have a perpetual governmental aid machine, we simply cannot sustain government reliance over the long haul. But by allowing government to grow unchecked, we have failed to exercise our responsibilities not only to ourselves, but to our children and beyond.

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