Big Government at Home and Abroad

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Practically everywhere we look there is a crisis. Public schooling: crisis. The drug war: crisis. Social Security: crisis. Medicare and Medicaid: crisis. Immigration: crisis. Iraq: crisis. Terrorism: crisis. Federal spending: crisis. The dollar: crisis.

So many crises! Yet there is a common denominator to all these crises. Focusing on that common denominator provides the key to extricating ourselves from all of them. In doing so, our job is much like that of a physician. A person comes into a doctor’s office feeling pain. It is the doctor’s job to arrive at a correct diagnosis of the problem, for a correct prescription or course of treatment for an ailment almost always depends on a correct diagnosis of the problem.

Once the doctor arrives at the diagnosis and prescribes the treatment, the patient is free to accept or reject what the doctor says. Oftentimes, a patient will go into denial. “There is no way that I have cancer, Doctor. I don’t need chemotherapy or radiation treatment. It’s just a minor pain that will go away on its own.” Of course, the patient knows that while he is free to disregard the doctor’s diagnosis and treatment, he must nonetheless accept the consequences of disregarding the doctor’s advice.

The public-schooling crisis

Public schooling. Or as some more accurately term it, government schooling. After all, public schooling is a government program and teachers and administrators are government employees.

Until the advent of home-schooling several decades ago, every family was mandated by law to send its children, beginning at age 6, into either a public or a government-licensed private school. The students would then be subjected to 12 years of government-approved teaching by government-approved schoolteachers using government-approved textbooks following government-established curricula.

Although home-schooling and private schools have succeeded in removing many children from the government-run schools, most children still attend the government schools despite the fact that nearly everyone agrees that they are in crisis. This is despite the fact that they are an absolute mess, especially for those families who live in lower-income cities or parts of town. Washington, D.C., is a good example. Year after year, the public schools in our nation’s capital become a bigger and bigger disaster.

It would be difficult to find a better example of socialist central planning than government schools. Just as with the shoe factories of the Soviet Union, where central planning proved to be such a disaster, the public schools are run in a top-down, command-and-control manner. There is a board of politicians or bureaucrats running the system either at the local level through a school board, or at the state level through the state department of education, or at the national level through the U.S. Department of Education.

So why should it surprise anyone that public schooling is such a mess? Haven’t free-market economists such as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek told us for decades that socialist central planning is inherently defective and will produce nothing but perversity and failure? Didn’t we learn from the Soviet experience that they were right?

Nevertheless, Americans simply won’t let go. They are bound and determined to make socialist central planning in education succeed. Thus, they spend their lives, energies, and resources in a fruitless quest for the reform that will finally prove to the world that socialism can work after all.

Their efforts, of course, are doomed because, again, socialism is inherently defective no matter who happens to be in charge of it.

The drug-war crisis

The drug war. Here we have a perfect example of what economists call interventionism. It is a process by which government officials address a social problem by enacting a law to deal with it and then proceed to enact new interventions to address the problems caused by the previous interventions.

Here’s how the process has worked in the drug war. For whatever reason, some people in society begin consuming such drugs as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin. Viewing this as a growing problem, public officials decide to intervene with a law intended to put a stop to the drug consumption. They make it illegal to possess or consume drugs.

Over a period of time, state officials discover that the law isn’t working. People are disregarding the law and continuing to consume the illegal drugs. Rather than repealing the initial intervention, they enact a new intervention. They make it illegal to sell or deliver drugs, thinking that if people can’t sell or deliver drugs, they won’t be able to consume them.

State officials soon discover, however, that the second intervention isn’t working. Becoming angry and frustrated, they decide that the solution lies in increasing the criminal penalties for both possession and sale of illegal drugs. That produces another unforeseen phenomenon. The harsher penalties cause prices of drugs to increase, which inevitably attracts new sellers into the market, all of whom have an incentive to get as many new customers hooked on drugs as possible.

As the problem increases, the interventions keep growing in number and intensity. Mandatory minimum sentences. Unreasonable searches and seizures. Violations of financial privacy. Asset-forfeiture laws. Snitches. Expanded police agencies and powers. Militarization.

With each new intervention, government gets bigger and bigger and increasingly more powerful.

Moreover, we should note the underlying philosophy of the drug war. The best way to do that is to imagine a beehive. Every American is considered to be a drone in the hive, existing for the primary purpose of serving the greater good of the collective. If someone is on drugs, he’s hurting “society” because he isn’t being as productive as everyone else. The idea that an individual exists for his own sake, free to pursue happiness in his own way, is anathema to the hive. Each individual must submit to the paternalistic care of the state for his own good and the good of society.

Yet, as we have seen over the past 30 years or longer, no matter what reform is adopted, the drug war has been a total failure in terms of its supposed purpose — a drug-free society. Everyone, without exception, admits that the war is a failure because no one is saying that the drug war can now be ended. Instead, despite the failure and all the collateral damage it has produced — violence, drug gangs, infringements on civil liberties, burglaries, muggings, and corruption within the police and judiciary — the drug war plods on, year after year. Americans are bound and determined to make this interventionist and paternalistic program succeed, no matter how high the cost.

The Social Security crisis

Social Security. Here is your classic socialist program. Through the force of taxation, the state takes money from one group of people — the young and productive — and gives the money to another group of people — the elderly. Isn’t that how Karl Marx described socialism: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”?

In fact, the U.S. Social Security program has its roots in German socialism. It is not a coincidence that on its website the U.S. Social Security Administration has a picture of a bust of Otto von Bismarck, “the Iron Chancellor of Germany,” rather than of Jefferson, Madison, or Adams. It was Bismarck who originally adopted the idea of social security from German socialists and imposed it on the German people.

Contrary to what so many Americans have convinced themselves of, there is no Social Security fund. The money that the government has collected over the years from Social Security taxes, it has spent. The Social Security tax money that is collected from people today is not put into a savings account for their benefit but instead was used to fund the retirement of older people. Today’s Social Security recipients are following the same course of action. They are collecting Social Security payments that are coming from the income of young people, many of whom are struggling to make ends meet, buy a home, and start a family.

Even the government admits that there is no Social Security fund and that no one is “owed” Social Security. When the government publishes its balance sheet, future Social Security payments are not listed as a liability. Why not? Because the government takes the position, correctly so, that no one is legally owed anything and that Social Security can be repealed at any time.

The problem, of course, is that the number and size of payments to the recipients are becoming an ever-growing financial burden on the young. When public officials claim that Social Security is “running out of money,” what they’re really saying is that the system might finally get to the point where the Social Security tax burden on the young and productive is so heavy that they can no longer carry it.

Why would anyone expect Social Security not to be such an enormous mess? After all, it is a socialist program, isn’t it? Yet, Americans simply won’t let go. Their solution is, as always, reform, reform, reform. Everyone has his favorite Social Security reform plan. Everyone thinks that he is going to be the big hero who finally proves to the world that socialism can, in fact, work. Of course, given that socialism is inherently defective, all such reform efforts are doomed to fail.

The health-care crisis

Medicare and Medicaid. Here are two other classic socialist programs. The government taxes nearly everyone and uses the money to subsidize the medical expenses of older people or the poor and needy. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” When these massive federal interventions into what used to be the finest health-care system in the world were proposed, critics predicted, accurately, that they would ultimately cause health-care costs to soar.

Today, as everyone knows, American health care is an absolute mess. Costs continue to soar, the overall quality of health care continues to drop, and an ever-growing number of physicians are leaving the profession earlier than before out of disgust, frustration, or fear of being prosecuted for Medicare or Medicaid fraud or some other technical violation of the ever-growing maze of bureaucratic regulations.

But what is nearly everyone proposing as a solution to the health-care crisis? You guessed it! More interventions. Some are even proposing a total government takeover of health care, just as in communist Cuba. When it comes to socialism and interventionism, hope springs eternal among socialists in countries everywhere.

The immigration crisis

Immigration. Here is a classic example of a combination of socialism and interventionism. The socialism involves another case of socialist central planning. A government body, such as the U.S. Congress or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, claims to possess the requisite knowledge to plan one of the most complex markets in the world. These people think that they’re going to come up with the ideal mix of foreigners who will be permitted to enter the United States.

First, there is the issue of how many tourists to permit from each country around the world. Second, there is the much more difficult task of deciding which people shall be permitted to enter the United States for purposes of work. There are such issues as the age, sex, educational level, and skill level of each applicant; the number of people to be accepted from each country; and the demands and need for workers in businesses and industries all across the United States.

From a practical standpoint, there is one big problem with such a plan. It cannot work.

Why can’t immigration central planning work? Because as soon as the plan is put into effect, it is outdated owing to constantly changing market conditions and valuations. In fact, that was one of the major flaws of socialist central planning that Mises and Hayek pointed out during the era of Soviet socialist central planning. Hayek described the mindset of central planners as “the fatal conceit,” by which he meant the conceit that leads central planners to think that they actually possess the requisite knowledge to plan a market involving the complexity of constantly changing conditions and valuations.

Interventionism also afflicts the area of immigration. At the end of America’s era of open borders near the end of the 19th century, it was made illegal for certain foreigners to enter the United States without official permission. Immigrants, however, simply ignored the law and proceeded to illegally enter the country, primarily in response to the high wages offered in U.S. labor markets.

So the interventionists enacted a law making it illegal to transport illegal aliens. After all, if the Mexican illegal aliens, for example, couldn’t move north from the border, they would have little incentive to illegally cross the border. The problem with that intervention, however, was that it attracted black-market transporters who were willing to take the risk of criminal prosecution in return for the large financial return they were earning from transporting illegal aliens.

So the interventionists said, “If we can just criminalize the hiring of illegal aliens, that will finally solve the problem.” After all, if they can’t get jobs, they won’t come in, right?

But millions of illegal aliens later, the interventionists realized that none of their interventions was working, so they proposed building a Berlin Wall along the southern border and militarizing the border.

Despite decades of manifest failure, what do the immigration controllers advocate? You guessed it again! More socialism and more interventionism. They all have plans or reforms that they’re convinced will finally work. They simply block out of their minds that every reform inevitably fails to achieve its purported end and also inexorably moves in one direction — bigger and bigger, more powerful, more intrusive government.

So what is the real solution to all these ailments? Since the common denominator to all these problems is socialism and interventionism, it’s not difficult to figure out what the solution is. Let’s analyze how that solution will cure all of these societal ailments as well as the crises we have yet to examine — Iraq, terrorism, federal spending, and the dollar.

No matter how much we address the socialism and interventionism that pervade our nation on a domestic level, it will all be for naught if we fail to address the great big elephant in the room — U.S. foreign policy, including the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq. For unless we dismantle the U.S. government’s pro-empire, pro-interventionist foreign policy, Americans will continue to suffer a loss of liberty that arguably is greater than that lost as a result of socialism and interventionism under which we suffer at home.

For the last six years, we have been told ad infinitum, ad nauseam that 9/11 changed the world. That’s just plain nonsense. The 9/11 attacks didn’t change anything. On the contrary, they continued that which had been going on for many years.

Long before 9/11, we at The Future of Freedom Foundation were saying that unless there was a dramatic change in U.S. foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, Americans would continue to suffer terrorist attacks, including attacks on American soil. That’s not to say that we were brilliant predictors. After all, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that U.S foreign policy would continue to produce terrorist blowback.

Let’s not forget that 9/11 wasn’t the first time terrorists had struck at the World Trade Center. There was the 1993 terrorist attack on the WTC, the same target that was struck on 9/11. When Ramzi Yousef, one of the 1993 co-conspirators was brought before a New York federal judge for sentencing, he railed not against Americans’ “freedom and values” but rather against the U.S. government’s foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. The reason that Yousef was hauled into federal court was that U.S. officials recognized, properly so, that terrorism is a crime, not an act of war.

The 1993 attack on the WTC was followed by the terrorist attacks on the USS Cole and against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. All these attacks were committed with the intention of stopping U.S. meddling in the Middle East. The 9/11 attacks, although producing more death and destruction, were simply a continuation of those previous terrorist attacks.

U.S. foreign policy is guided by the same federal mindset that guides domestic policy. U.S. officials are intent on fixing other people’s problems, especially people who the officials think are unable or unwilling to fix the problems themselves. Whether it’s the drug addict who can’t kick his addiction or the Iraqi people who are unable to oust their dictator, U.S. officials are there to fix the problem, whether people want the problem fixed or not. And no price is too high to pay, not even in terms of the lives and well-being of those whose problems are being fixed without their consent.

The prime factors in U.S. foreign policy are control and regime change. Those Third World regimes that comply with U.S. directives are permitted to remain in power. Those that choose to go an independent route are subject to regime change.

The quest for control is akin to that which exists in domestic politics. Notice that federal politicians in Washington, from the president on down, are never satisfied with simply winning office. They immediately want control of Congress and the federal judiciary. But even that isn’t enough. They go out campaigning for members of their party at the state and local level, thirsting for more and more control, over governorships, state legislatures, and state judiciaries, as well as local and county offices.

The quest for control over foreign regimes is simply an extension of that insatiable quest for control on a domestic level.

The CIA, Iran, and Guatemala

Iran, 1953. The CIA surreptitiously ousts the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, a man named Mohammed Mossadeqh. He was a man who was highly respected by the Iranian people and beloved by many of them. He was also Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Because he would not kowtow to British and American officials, who feared he was pro-Soviet, he was targeted for regime change.

The CIA replaced Mossadegh with the shah of Iran, a cruel and brutal dictator who was more than willing to do the bidding of U.S. officials. The CIA helped the shah establish a domestic version of the CIA, which proceeded to terrorize and torture Iranians until the Iranian people rose up in revolution in 1979 and ousted the shah from power.

When Iranian students took hostages at the U.S. embassy during the revolution, most Americans had no idea of the depth of anger and rage within the Iranian people. Unlike Iranians, who were aware of the regime change that the CIA had effected in Iran in 1953, Americans had no clue what the CIA had done.

Suppose it was discovered that a U.S. congressman accepted a campaign contribution from the Venezuelan government. Wouldn’t the U.S. Justice Department go bananas? Wouldn’t federal attorneys immediately convene a federal grand jury to investigate and prosecute foreign meddling in U.S. elections?

Well, in Iran it wasn’t even a case of the CIA’s giving U.S. taxpayer money to a favored candidate (which it often does as part of U.S. foreign policy). It was a case in which an elected prime minister was actually ousted from office in a CIA-induced coup and in which a brutal U.S. puppet was installed in his stead.

Of course, when the Iranian revolution occurred and the hostages were taken in the U.S. embassy, the response of U.S. officials was predictable: We’re innocent! We haven’t done anything wrong. We were just minding our own business.

Guatemala, 1954. The CIA ousts the democratically elected president of the country, Jacobo Arbenz, claiming that he is too socialistic, notwithstanding the fact that his economic philosophy is no different from that of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s. The problem, again, was that Arbenz was too independent and, therefore, had to be replaced with a military dictator who would follow orders from Washington. Never mind that the CIA-induced coup ignited a civil war that would last for decades and that would ultimately result in the deaths of more than a million people.

Meddling in the Middle East

There is also the support of brutal dictators that is a core element of U.S. foreign policy. The shah was one example. Pervez Musharraf, the unelected military dictator of Pakistan, is another. An old friend of the Taliban, Musharraf took power in a coup against elected officials. He is another example of a U.S.-supported dictator. There are also the many dictators in the Middle East, as well as those in Latin America, who are recipients of U.S.-taxpayer aid, in return for which U.S. officials expect loyalty and allegiance.

Among the major U.S.-supported dictators in recent times was the man whom many would come to recognize by the title “the new Hitler.” Google “Rumsfeld shaking hands” and you will see the famous photograph in which Donald Rumsfeld is shaking hands with Saddam Hussein, sealing a deal in which the United States would furnish aid to Saddam, including the delivery to him of weapons of mass destruction. Yes, that’s right — U.S. officials knowingly and intentionally entered into a partnership with “the new Hitler,” furnishing him WMDs, with the intention that “the new Hitler” would use such weapons against the Iranian people during the Iran-Iraq War. Of course, at that time Saddam wasn’t known as “the new Hitler” because U.S. officials considered him a loyal member of the U.S. empire. It was only later, when U.S. officials turned against their old partner, that they began referring to him as “the new Hitler.”

When Saddam invaded Kuwait without U.S. permission, U.S. officials turned on their former partner, but the Iraqi people bore the brunt of the U.S. reaction. Countless Iraqis died during the course of U.S. military attacks on Iraq. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there. During the war, the Pentagon knowingly and intentionally destroyed Iraq’s water and sewage facilities, knowing that such action would result in infectious illnesses and diseases among the civilian population. Compounding the problem, following the war the U.S. government enforced some of the most brutal economic sanctions in history, which prevented the Iraqi people from repairing those bombed-out water and sewage facilities.

As the Pentagon had predicted, the death toll from dirty water, infectious illnesses, diseases, and malnutrition skyrocketed, especially among Iraqi children.

The anger and rage in the Middle East were boiling because there was no way to break the iron grip of the sanctions. High UN officials resigned as a result of what they called genocide.

After several years of the sanctions, UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright was asked by 60 Minutes whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children from the sanctions had been worth it. She responded that while the matter had been difficult, yes, the deaths of those children had indeed been “worth it.” What she was saying was that the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children were worth trying to get rid of Saddam and replacing him with a ruler whose loyalties would lie with the United States. How cavalier is that? Not a single U.S. official condemned her callousness and, for that matter, not one U.S. senator asked her about her statement at her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, undoubtedly because they all shared her sentiment.

Albright’s answer reverberated all over the Middle East. I doubt whether more than 1 percent of Americans knew or cared about it. Her statement added further heat to the cauldron of anger and rage that was boiling over in the Middle East.

The no-fly zones over Iraq brought more bombs and missiles onto the country. One of them killed a 13-year-old Iraqi boy who was tending his sheep. Neither Congress nor the UN had ever approved the establishment of the no-fly zones.

There was also the stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, home to the holiest sites in the Muslim religion — Mecca and Medina. Never mind that this added fuel to the fire that was burning within many Muslims in the Middle East.

The attitude among U.S. officials was: “We can humiliate you and harm you, and your job is simply to accept it. As soon as Iraqis get rid of their dictator, Saddam Hussein, and replace him with someone to our liking, we will stop killing them and molesting them. Until then, get used to our actions. And don’t even think about doing anything bad to us in retaliation if you know what’s good for you.”

The fact was that U.S. officials were poking lots of hornets’ nests in the Middle East, and they knew it. What they apparently didn’t know is what every American schoolchild knows: If you poke hornets’ nests, sometimes the hornets will come out and sting you.

On top of all this, of course, was the unconditional military and foreign aid that the U.S. government has been providing the Israeli government (along with Arab governments) for many years.

Unforeseen consequences

Most Americans had no idea what their government officials had been doing in the Middle East, especially after the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the longtime official enemy that had been used to justify the enormous Cold War military-industrial complex. Thus, when 9/11 hit, most Americans immediately accepted the official story issued by U.S. officials before they even knew the identity of the hijackers: “They hate us for our ‘freedom and values.’”

U.S. officials then used the 9/11 attacks to do what they had been doing for decades. First, there was a regime-change operation in Afghanistan, which ousted the anti-American Taliban from power and replaced them with a U.S.-installed regime. Once that was accomplished, U.S. officials turned their attention away from Osama bin Laden and toward their next regime-change operation, the one that had bedeviled them for more than 10 years — Iraq. The 9/11 attacks enabled U.S. officials to accomplish with one invasion what more than 10 years of brutal sanctions had not been able to accomplish.

What they failed to realize, of course, was that in the process of getting Saddam, they themselves would get mired in Iraqi quicksand. The fact is that U.S. troops are now trapped in Iraq. There is no way out because above all else President Bush must protect his presidential legacy. He is not about to “cut and run” from an occupation that resulted from a war of aggression that he himself started. Moreover, given the position of most of the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates, it is likely that U.S. troops will remain in Iraq for several more years, killing and dying for nothing.

The irony is that the invasion, while successful in securing the ouster of Saddam Hussein, had a perverse outcome, at least from the standpoint of the U.S. regime-change goal. Rather than installing a U.S. puppet in power, the U.S. invasion succeeded in installing a radical Islamic regime that has actually aligned itself with Iran, which U.S. officials still resent for ousting the shah from power and replacing him with a regime that was independent of Washington control.

The fall of empires

On top of the socialism and interventionism at home and the empire and interventionism abroad is the threat of severe financial crisis. For the past several years, federal spending has been out of control. Much of the money for the spending spree has been borrowed. That’s why the Chinese communists now own so many U.S. debt instruments.

Ultimately, the Federal Reserve must print the money to pay off all that debt because there is no way that federal politicians are going to raise income taxes to do it. Instead, they’ll resort to the inflation tax because they know that most people will never be able to figure out that federal officials are behind the ever-rising prices that come with the debasement of the currency. We can already get a glimpse of what is likely to be ahead, with prices rising at the grocery store, the dollar at an all-time low in international markets, and the Chinese communists threatening to dump their dollar holdings all at once.

This is what always happens to empires. Do you recall what conservatives used to say about how they brought down the Soviet Union? They said that they made the Soviets spend their way into national bankruptcy. They’re not talking like that now because they realize that the principle is a universal one.

In a Fourth of July speech to Congress, John Quincy Adams summed up the foreign-policy philosophy of our American ancestors. There have always monsters in the world — tyranny, dictatorships, oppression, and starvation. But America does not go abroad “in search of monsters to destroy,” he told the Congress.

Instead, the idea was that America would bring into existence the freest society in history — one to which the rest of the world could come, no questions asked. That’s what open immigration was all about. We won’t come and help you with troops, bombs, and missiles, but we will leave our door open for you should you escape your situation.

Unfortunately, that limited-government foreign policy was ultimately abandoned in favor of an extensive overseas empire, one which now stations U.S. troops in more than 120 countries and in which the federal Leviathan now serves as the world’s international policeman, invader, occupier, torturer, and executioner.

Equally tragic is how U.S. officials, with the support of many Americans, have used the blowback from U.S. foreign policy to suspend the freedoms of the American people. There is spying on Americans, including monitoring of phone calls and email. There are secret courts and secret judicial proceedings. There are “signing statements,” which enable the president to ignore laws enacted by Congress. There are “executive orders,” which enable him to rule by decree.

Worst of all, there is the “enemy-combatant” doctrine, which now authorizes the military to take any American into custody, torture him, and keep him incarcerated for the rest of his life, despite what the Bill of Rights says about due process of law and trial by jury. With its direct military power to arrest, torture, and detain indefinitely, the enemy-combatant doctrine easily constitutes the most direct assault on American liberty in our lifetime.

Is there a way out of all this? Yes, but it involves a return to the founding principles of our nation, not just in domestic affairs but in foreign affairs as well. Private property. Individual liberty. A limited-government republic. The Constitution. The Bill of Rights. Due process of law. Habeas corpus. Trial by jury. Such principles constitute our heritage. Herein lies the key to extricating ourselves from the morass into which we have been plunged.

Out of chaos comes opportunity. We have the opportunity to lead the world out of the chaos and toward the highest reaches of freedom ever witnessed by man. What greater gift could we bequeath to ourselves, our children, and those coming after us?

Jacob Hornberger [send him mail] is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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