By Bob Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
Posted February 16, 2012
The week of Valentine’s Day featured several news reports that are unlikely to inspire many warm and fuzzy feelings of love among proponents of limited government, individual liberty, and personal responsibility.First, a new report showed that the longtime trend in which fewer and fewer people pay any federal income tax has continued unabated, with the non-payers now topping 50 percent of all tax filers. Meanwhile, the number of Americans who are dependent on some form of government assistance has continued to rise, topping 151 million – the highest number ever and a number that is still growing rapidly.Obviously, among citizens who pay no income tax and who are dependent on government largesse, there is little incentive to favor limited government. On the contrary, they may well imagine that it’s in their self interest to favor the opposite – a big and benevolent government – as long as they’re not paying for it. Exacerbating the dependency problem, a recent analysis of disposable income found that for many people, idleness is now more remunerative than gainful employment, which might cause them to give up their entitlements to various means-tested programs ranging from food stamps and housing subsidies to Medicaid.These trends – toward dependency and debt — have consequences for our liberty. If the popular slogan “less government, more freedom” is true, then it stands to reason that the opposite, “more government, less freedom,” is also true – a verity confirmed by the underappreciated lessons evident in the rise and fall of communism and other tyrannies based on placing control of political power and economic power in the same hands.Alas, the federal budget request that President Obama sent to Congress this week will do nothing to reverse the trend toward ever greater numbers of Americans who are dependent on government aid of various kinds, nor will it address the skyrocketing federal deficits. Indeed, the levels of debt as a portion of this nation’s gross domestic product are creeping toward the levels that caused an economic meltdown in Greece, gripped the Euro zone in a financial crisis, and threatenedAmerica’s fragile semi-recovery.Greece’s economy is smaller than Florida’s, so Europe’s bailout effort is akin to a burly lifeguard trying to save a panicky young child from drowning. On the other hand, the U.S.economy is by far the world’s largest. Even so, it is not too big to fail – only too big to bail. A debt crisis here would be akin to the aforesaid lifeguard trying to save a sinking ocean liner. Unfortunately, too,Washington,D.C. isn’t the only capital city with a spending addiction. In state capitals from Sacramento, California, to Springfield, Illinois, the inexorable growth of government has continued, despite chronic fiscal problems that downgraded credit ratings and have kept those states teetering on the brink of insolvency. A better course can be found inFlorida, where the rate of job growth in the private sector now exceeds the national average and the growth of government employment has been reversed – at least at the state government level, if not in all local jurisdictions. To see what is literally a graphic illustration, check out the divergent lines on the chart below. It leads to an inescapable conclusion: To create an environment in which the best job creator – the private sector – is freer to create jobs, the best thing the government can do is to downsize itself and get out of the way.