The hard truth about Big Government

As we celebrate Tax Freedom Day and finally begin working for ourselves, instead of the government, it’s a good time to face some hard truths about the government we’re paying for.  The first hard truth is that everything I’m about to say applies to every Big Government, no matter who presides over it.  It is a common romantic delusion to believe that the right leadership can correct these inherent flaws.

Big Government is not fair.  Tuesday is Tax Freedom Day for the “average” taxpayer… a mythical creature created by statistical analysis.  Some people pay far more in taxes than others.  About half of Americans pay no income tax at all.  Progressive taxation is inherently and indisputably unfair, because it levels penalties against Americans who have committed no crime.

A just government is one of limited, carefully enumerated powers.  Limited power requires precise goals.  There is no precise “fairness” goal.  Class warriors have never been able to cite a tax rate or amount they think would be “fair,” and they never will.   

A few months ago, there was a brief stampede of leftist thought – touched off by a “star-making” performance from Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren – toward defining “fairness” as taxing Americans in proportion to the benefits they have realized from the use of public resources.  This did not move the discussion one inch toward a firm and logical definition of “fairness.”  It’s just another way to wrap the lust for power in moralistic trappings.  It ends, as all such efforts do, with the government promising to respect boundaries that it draws for itself, and redraws at will.  The debate over “fairness” is held in a language the State makes up as it goes.

The application of coercive power is intrinsically unfair.  There are relatively few things the government can successfully force all of the people to do… at least, not when it has to face them at the voting booths.  The statist’s appetite for power will never be satisfied by such a meager agenda.  As soon as coercive power is focused upon selected minorities of the population, “fairness” becomes a political assertion, rather than a calculation.  That’s how yesterday’s alternative minimum “millionaire tax” ends up soaking forty million small businessmen.

Big Government is not transparent.  Even the people who pay no income tax pay plenty of other taxes.  Many of these taxes are applied indirectly, as private companies pass their own tax burdens along to consumers.  Other costs are imposed on the public through mandates, which are often misrepresented as “cost-free” or “deficit-neutral,” because the subjects of the mandate have to figure out how it will be paid for, not the politicians who issued the decree. 

As Big Government becomes hungrier for revenue, more of its costs are hidden in this way, because it needs a growing population of dependent voters who mistakenly believe that none of its fabulous promises are costing them a nickel. 

Big Government is inherently divisive.  Success becomes a matter of forming strongly bonded, aggressive political organisms, and using electoral strength to gain favor… at the expense of weaker collectives and individuals.  Great power and wealth can be found in the leadership of successful collective organizations.  The leaders will often turn to ugly methods for keeping their followers motivated and obedient. 

Meanwhile, the central governing authority has a vested interest in scapegoating private citizens for its failures.  It is no coincidence that Big Government’s acolytes constantly speak of waging “wars,” or protecting favorite voting blocks from “wars” waged against them.  The music of the total State always becomes martial.

Harmony does not exist under the rule of central authorities who pick “winners” and “losers.”  A free market, operating under the rule of law, is filled with customers and competitors.  When freedom is gone and only law remains, the resulting command economy is filled with enemies.  Everything the State gives you was taken from someone else.  There is little “statesmanship” to be found when votes become sharp instruments for carving our sustenance from each others’ hides.

We can place our trust in the State, or in our fellow citizens, but not both in equal measure.  The State’s increasing demands for faith and obedience always crowd out free association.  It’s no accident that Big Government spends so much of its time telling us, in countless different ways, to be suspicious of our neighbors.

It’s only natural that we hear soaring praise for mystical concepts of “true freedom” from those who would take away our economic freedom.  Money is freedom.  When it is taxed and regulated away, you are surrendering hours and days of your life.  You are losing options and choices.  Those who support a great and benevolent State are always surprised on the morning when they awaken and discover that all of their options and choices are gone.  The freedom to complain about it disappears swiftly thereafter.

Big Government is not efficient.  How often have you heard promises from politicians that they’ll save the taxpayers billions by cracking down on waste, fraud, and abuse?  But it never happens, does it?  Four years into the biggest government in Western history, the news is dominated by a jaw-dropping case of waste, fraud, and abuse, from an agency most private citizens were entirely unaware of.

Inefficiency and waste are baked into the government cake, because its agencies must either grow or shrink with every budget, and they can only grow by claiming they are currently underfunded.  Every penny must be spent, and a desperate need for additional dollars must be demonstrated.  Benefits must be disbursed with the greatest enthusiasm, and more clients for the State’s largesse must be relentlessly sought.  Efficiency is a fatal disease for a government bureaucracy.  Real armies claim success by winning their wars.  A bureaucratic army would be defeated if it actually “won” the War on Whatever.

Big Government is not prosperous.  Wealth is data.  A prosperous nation sits atop a rising tide of economic knowledge, discovering profit through the successful exploitation of many opportunities… and learning bitter, but valuable, lessons from failed ventures.  Every dollar of real wealth is a byte of data in a system of incredible complexity.

Politicized economies are stagnant because they learn nothing from failure.  If they can even be compelled to admit a failure occurred, politicians invariably blame it upon either their political enemies, or whatever remains of the free marketplace.  Our supply of economic data does not grow when it’s tended by those who pursue ideology at any expense, because they believe they have unlimited resources to absorb their losses. 

Big Government is inherently corrupt.  Promises of a “clean” government that manages the economy with Solomonic wisdom are laughable.  The barrier between Big Government and Big Business is always thin, and riddled with holes.  The laws of supply and demand apply to political power, too… and when its value reaches a certain point, it will be purchased.  When mighty industries are tied directly into the machinery of the State, where does “investment” end, and corruption begin?

Lastly, Big Government is not responsible.  Responsibility is contrary to its nature, because debt is an important tool of control. 

How did we come to have a $17 trillion national debt?  How has it grown with such dizzying speed in just a few short years?  It’s because commitments were made without concessions.  New benefits were not offset by corresponding cuts to anything else. 

The Democrat-controlled Senate hasn’t passed a budget in over a thousand days, but in truth, the U.S. government hasn’t truly had a “budget” for a very long time.  Budgeting is the process of allocating limited resources between competing needs.  When was the last time Washington honestly recognized the limits of its resources… or plainly informed the public how much they would have to pay in taxes, right now, in order to fund the government’s agenda for the coming year?

Unfunded liabilities and deficit spending are the only way politicians can control the future.  No current Congress can pass a law binding its successors, and amending the Constitution is difficult, but huge unfunded programs can dumped on the future with a few simple votes, and a presidential signature.  Eventually there might be some public outrage at Washington for living beyond its means… but Big Government has a better-than-average chance of harnessing that outrage and turning it back against the public, with demands for higher taxes. 

Isn’t that remarkable?  Given the average length of incumbency, many of the exact same people who built our crushing debt are now using it as leverage to demand more money from us!  A safe seat in Congress becomes a forge for hammering irresponsibility into even greater power.  The growth of government is “progress,” which means even the most horribly misplaced step can never be retraced.

All of these things are immutable components of Big Government.  You’ll be wishing more of these ills upon your children, if you succumb to the argument that not even a $3.6 trillion super-State, spending 40 percent more than it takes in, and borrowing over half of that debt from itself, is big enough.  If you vote to stay on this course in 2012, you’ll see your last April Tax Freedom Day in 2013.