The Federal Temptation

As a follow-up to a recent article, I thought a related idea was in order. A large part of what is involved in getting government out of our daily lives is getting us out of government. Leonard Read makes the point:

Prosperity breeds a peculiar temptation—the temptation to solicit economic privileges from government. I am acquainted with many Americans, outstanding in their specializations, who seek special privileges—living off others by coercive governmental interventions. They yield to temptation, in some cases unwittingly! … In this lack of understanding we find an explanation for the growing governmental interventions. Politicians—not statesmen—take credit for the bounties Creation has wrought throughout history, and will continue to confer upon humanity.

Far too often, those griping about the extent of government—especially the federal government—are also those who benefit in some way from governmental intrusion. Liberals love to point to such hypocrisy when they find it—like when particular politicians or candidates have business or personal ties to governmental bids and contracts. In their minds, situations like this prove that everyone is dependent on the government to some degree, even those who loudly proclaim that they aren’t. And in many ways they are correct. Government has become so bloated and involved in nearly every facet of daily life that it is nearly impossible to escape its influence. While this may indeed show how deep government intervention goes, it does not prove that it is necessary. The mere existence of something does not justify its necessity or usefulness.

However, many generally right-thinking individuals justify their own feeding at the government trough by saying that “someone is going to get the money, may as well be me.” Well, yes and no. You can’t cut off the flow of water and get a drink at the same time. It may currently be true that someone is going to get the federal dollars, but those federal dollars will never stop being allocated if someone doesn’t stop taking them. Government is largely a bureaucracy and bureaucracies simply allocate what they have been given.

Politicians grab the credit for what Creation has wrought. While no degree of temptation justifies any degree of sin, millions of politicians yield to temptation. Believing that they are the source of the bounties of our not-yet-destroyed freedom, they “think” that these gifts are theirs to dispense. Results of this gross ineptness? They become predators—”plundering or robbing.” They indulge in legal thievery, having written the very statutes that make their actions legal!

But this “legal thievery” is taking place with our own money. Be reminded that government has no money of its own; government can only give what it has first taken in the form of taxes. Not to mention that fractional-reserve banking and the Federal Reserve Bank literally create “money” out of nothing, driving down the value of the dollars currently in your wallet. The theft takes place at the front door by the taxman, and at the back door by the banker. Taking dollars from the government with the excuse that “someone is going to get the money,” is akin to leaving your front and back doors unlocked with the combination to the safe and a thank-you note on the dining room table. It is being complicit in the “legal thievery.”

So what to do? Edmund Burke is helpful here:

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity; in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite is placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be of it without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate habits cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

Well, maybe helpful isn’t the right way of saying it, but Burke certainly is correct. It starts with us (again). Complaining about government and voting particular individuals out of office is important, of course, but the size of government is directly linked to the size of our appetites. Just as my expanding midsection points to my lack of pushing away from the table, so an expanding government points to a people that have forgotten how to say no. Robert Winthrop was prophetic: “Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled, either by a power within them, or by a power without them; either by the Word of God, or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible, or by the bayonet.” If we are not willing to control ourselves and keep our own appetites at bay, then we can hardly point to others who lack the same restraint. Like Jacob Marley, we are forging our own chains, one link at a time. The first step to freeing ourselves is admitting that we are enslaving ourselves. It is easy enough to point at the other side as the problem, but real progress can only begin when we seriously confront our own lack of self-control.