Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding." The freedom of individuals from compulsion or coercion never was, and is not now, the normal state of human affairs. The normal state for the ordinary person is tyranny, arbitrary control and abuse mainly by their own government. While imperfect in its execution, the founders of our nation sought to make an exception to this ugly part of mankind's history. Unfortunately, at the urging of the American people, we are unwittingly in the process of returning to mankind's normal state of affairs.
Americans demand that Congress spend trillions of dollars on farm subsidies, business bailouts, education subsidies, Social Security, Medicare and prescription drugs and other elements of a welfare state. The problem is that Congress produces nothing. Whatever Congress wishes to give, it has to first take other people's money. Thus, at the root of the welfare state is the immorality of intimidation, threats and coercion backed up with the threat of violence by the agents of the U.S. Congress. In order for Congress to do what some Americans deem as good, it must first do evil. It must do that which if done privately would mean a jail sentence; namely, take the property of one American to give to another.
According to a Washington Post article (6/22/05), there were nearly 35,000 highly paid registered lobbyists in Washington in 2004 who spent $2.1 billion lobbying the White House, Congress and various agencies on behalf of various interest groups. Political action committees, private donors and companies give billions of dollars to political campaigns. My question to you: Do you think that these people are spending billions of dollars to assist presidents and congressmen to better perform their sworn oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the U.S. Constitution? If you do, you're a fine candidate for a straitjacket. For the most part, the money is being spent to get politicians and government officials to use their coercive power to create a favor or special privilege for one American at the expense of some other American.
If we Americans didn't give Washington such enormous control over our lives, I doubt whether there would be 10 percent of the money currently spent on lobbying and campaign contributions. This enormous control that Congress has over our lives also goes a long way toward explaining much of the government corruption that we see in Washington.
If the average American were asked whether he wishes to return to mankind's normal state of affairs featured by arbitrary abuse, control and government dictates, I am sure he would find such a suggestion repulsive. But if you were to ask, say, the average senior citizen whether Social Security, Medicare and prescription drug subsidies should be continued, he would probably answer yes. The same would be true if you asked a college professor whether higher education should continue to be subsidized, or a farmer or a dairyman whether their products should be subsidized, or a manufacturer whether there should be tariffs and quotas on foreign products that compete with his product. The problem with congressmen producing favors and privileges to all interest groups is that it creates what none of us wants: massive control, numerous dictates and micromanagement of our lives.
There is no question that if one were to ask whether we Americans are moving towards more liberty or more government control over our lives, the answer would unambiguously be the latter -- more government control over our lives. We might have reached a point where the trend is irreversible and that is a true tragedy for if liberty is lost in America, it will be lost for all times and all places.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at Creators Syndicate - Celebrating 20 Years as a World-Class Syndicate Of Talent