Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Freedom In The Welfare State ... More Government = Fewer Individual Freedoms
Should a free people be able to do what they are permitted to do by their government, or should they be able to do that which they aren't prohibited from doing by that same government?
That is the threshhold question for any nation of equals (equal in opportunities and not equal in results, since equal opportunities inevitably produce greatly different results), and the answer is simple. We can do everything that we're not prevented from doing. The presence or absence of government coercion is the key.
Which raises the follow-up question of how much should we be prevented from doing by our government? The answer can be found in the simple concept of how great the COERCIVE powers of government will be. Those must be severely restricted to only what's absolutely essential to maintaining a free and stable society and doing for individuals within that society only what can best be done in a collective or shared manner.
Let's start simple. Some limited government is necessary for a free people, and too much government interferes with the freedom of those same people. So how much is enough, and how much is too much seems like an appropriate question to ask.
My take is that clearly the area of national defense is the most necessary and appropriate arena for the collective action of government. When our citizens' safety and security is at stake, we all have a common interest in securing that safety and defending our individual freedoms and way of life. It's an existential matter.
Other things that come to mind as appropriate for government are roads, bridges, airports, clean air and water, and many other things that aren't susceptible to the workings of a free market based individual and entrepreneurial ownership society.
But when it comes to coercive entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and ObamaCare, why do people have to contribute to these programs? Why aren't people allowed to opt out of the government programs for themselves and choose the path of self reliance instead? The element of coercion is inconsistent with individual freedom.
And with respect to post office services and public education, including K-12 and college, if government wants to compete, why shouldn't private sector organizations be given an equal opportunity to compete with that government on a level playing ground? In other words, let people decide how they want to spend their money by givng them vouchers in education and subsidizing their postal purchases to the same extent that the government monoply is now granted? Then let the market and MOM, albeit subsidized MOM, decide.
And for those we're trying to "save" with government action, why not try to differentiate between what's necessary and what's nice to have? Let's help people who need our help through "collective" action, but let's limit that collective action to the needy and to those others who are willing to pay government to provide the benefits.
To the extent that government control or coercion grows, individual freedom shrinks. In other words, as we are required to submit to government rules, regulations and taxes, our freedom to do as we please becomes less. So let's limit it to where it's truly needed and where individuals truly choose to utilize its programs and services. Otherwise let freedom and the market take charge.
So how much and what kind of government we need is like the porridge in the Goldilocks story. Just as we need the porridge to to be not too hot and not too cold --- our government needs to be not too much and not too little --- just enough. But if we have to error, let's always choose to have a little too little. OK? It will help to keep our government's 'weight' down to a healthy and manageable level.
So now let's hear from Alexis de Toqueville on government and freedom in a welfare society.
The quoted excerpt is taken from Democracy in America, Volume II, published in 1840:
"Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident and mild. It would seem like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all care of thinking and all the trouble of living?"
Sign me up for accepting as my individual obligation and individual freedom the assumption of my responsibility and opportunity to live in the United States as a self reliant human being blessed with "all care of thinking and all the trouble of living." What else does a free society and nation of equals have to offer, if not that?
Sign me up as well for individual freedoms, including freedom of choice, and all the ills associated with those freedoms. Such as the freedom to fail but also the freedom to succeed. And the freedom to do bad things but also the freedom to do good things. And also throw in the freedom to learn but also the freedom to remain ignorant. And the freedom to work but also the freedom not to work. And all the other good and bad stuff that comes along with a life of liberty.
And sign me up as opposed to wanting to be saved by the government knows best gang. And opposed to the economic security provided by that same government. And opposed to not being allowed to fail, to make mistakes, to learn from those mistakes and even to profit therefrom. Finally, count me against the coercive powers of government and for the free market system of opportunity and self reliance.
That said, count me in the camp of wanting to do what I can to help those who need help. But to the extent possible, as a free individual helping out a fellow free individual.
The economic safety and security offered by the government aristocracy is illusory.
The reality is that what is presented as safety and security is in reality nothing more than an invitation to a life of dependency on others and a forfeiture of individual freedoms.
To me that's just too costly.