Blessed by Government

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by Doug French by Doug French

New president Barack Obama’s $3.55 trillion budget serves notice that if you thought government couldn’t get any bigger or more intrusive, think again. The budget "represents real and dramatic change," according to the President. But really the Obama plan is just more of the same, with the federal government expanding its role in education, foreign policy, energy policy, health care, and environmental policy.

"The eyes of all people in all nations are once again upon us — watching to see what we do with this moment; waiting for us to lead," Obama told the assembled and adoring senators and congressmen. "Those of us gathered here tonight have been called to govern in extraordinary times." The new president believes government can fix the economy and anything else it sets its collective mind to; after all, "we aren’t quitters," repeated the president.

But as Paul Cleveland explains, what Obama believes is a lie — a sacred lie. "The first, and biggest lie, is the notion that the institution of government is capable of successfully and adequately addressing all human problems," Cleveland writes in his book Unmasking the Sacred Lies. "The truth is that such collectivism hampers human progress because it opens the door for many flagrant abuses of people and their property rights."

So while in Obama’s view a big government is needed for a healthy society, Cleveland thinks all that’s needed is a tiny state government. In his view, the family and other voluntary associations like churches and schools provide all the governance we need.

Using insights from the Austrian School and public-choice theory, the Birmingham-Southern College economics professor takes a historical look at America’s economic policies, providing a clearly written analysis of how America has digressed from the "land of the free and home of the brave" to the "land of the slaves and home of lawlessness." Because the nanny state seemingly takes care of everyone, nobody cares that the "average person is made a slave of the political elites," Cleveland explains.

In his opening chapter, Cleveland uses the work of Robert Higgs to make the point "that government authorities have used opportune occasions to consolidate power and control." Proving the point, Obama’s chief of staff Rahm Emanuel famously said in late 2008, "You never want to let a serious crisis go to waste," signaling that the new administration will use the current economic (or any other) crisis to expand the size and scope of government.

Cleveland then focuses on fiscal policy and rightly casts the blame for government’s expansion on the widely accepted policies of the current economist hero, John Maynard Keynes. Going hand-in-hand with Keynesian policy is central banking, and in his next chapter the author considers monetary policy, providing the history of banking in America, drawing from the likes of Murray Rothbard, Clarence Carson, George Selgin, and Tom DiLorenzo. Of course, a new history of government involvement in banking is being written daily with the government bailout of that entire industry.

The middle of Unmasking the Sacred Lies provides the history of policies that the current administration has its sights set on changing — and not for the better. Although Obama says he wants to cut subsidies to big farmers, after reading Cleveland’s chapter on agricultural policy, you’ll be skeptical that any cuts can be made to the Department of Agriculture bureaucracy, or that price subsidies can be quashed or trimmed. As the author points out, the politicians and lobbyists have too much to gain, and the American public is clueless.

More money and federal government control is slated for education, while government has no business being involved. In fact, government isn’t really interested in education. "Like [Horace] Mann, [John] Dewey embraced the common school movement as a means of socializing people into a common pool," Cleveland explains.

Union leaders are licking their chops thinking about the further help the government will provide them during an Obama administration. But American labor laws have been tilted against freedom of association and contract since the 1930s, resulting in "distorted labor markets, increased unemployment especially among the least skilled members of society, and prejudicial hiring practices."

The environment is big on the Obama agenda and Cleveland’s chapter on environmental policy shows why green is the perfect issue to expand governmental power. A generally prosperous people cares about the environment, so it votes for green candidates. Since the issue attracts votes, it attracts money, and ultimately "if carbon dioxide is classified as a pollutant, then every breath we take can be regulated by government." That sums it up perfectly.

All of these laws put on the books to further policies for political ends, Cleveland explains, really amount to lawlessness. And lawlessness ultimately leads to a decline in civilization. The author would like to turn this trend around and have America return to a "nation founded upon the belief in natural law," with people having rights — to life, to the freedom to act, and to property.

The real trouble, as professor Cleveland points out, is that the vast majority of people have accepted big government as the solver of all problems, thus Obama’s overwhelming election victory. Education is what is needed to fix this problem. It won’t happen overnight, but if more young people read sound, well-written books like professor Cleveland’s, the nation will ultimately return to its roots.

This article first appeared on Mises.org.

Doug French [send him mail] is executive vice president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and associate editor for Liberty Watch Magazine. He received the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center for Libertarian Studies. See his tribute to Murray Rothbard.

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