The other day I was perusing CNN's website when I saw the following commentary link: "Why be afraid of government?" Without hearing a person ask this question it is difficult to know what premise they are taking in regards to the question being asked.
Indeed, depending on the questioner's premise, one would expect certain body language to accompany the posing of such a question, such as a shrugging of the shoulders, or a shaking of the head, or slightly uplifted arms with palms up. The pronunciation or emphasis of certain words in the question would also give clues as to the intended line of discussion by the author or speaker. To just read the question only leaves doubt.
In this case, the question was posed by Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton. Having read Prof. Zelizer's prior commentaries, I knew exactly where he was going with this discussion. The subject was health care and the good professor argued that Medicare has been a successful government program simply because
only about 50 percent of Americans who were 65 or older possessed hospital coverage. Within five years of the program’s creation, 97 percent of the elderly had hospital coverage. The same changes occurred with physician’s coverage. Today, more than 40 million elderly Americans rely on the program — as do their families who don’t have to take responsibility for these costs. (emphasis added)
There you have it. The complete skinny on why none of us should fear a complete government takeover of the health care system in this country. Government set out to provide coverage for all those seniors and by golly, achieved that goal within a few years. Nothing about the costs of such a program, but that is to expected of historical analysis coming from the mind of a "gatekeeper" historian. As numerous contributors to this site have pointed out time and again, a majority of the historical profession completely ignores or trivializes the impact of economic forces on the movement of history and the actions of government.
Once historians become established and respected in the public mind they become even more dangerous as policy wonks and commentators on social, political and economic issues. Numerous players like the good professor act out their scripted roles across newspaper/news site op-ed pages and TV news programs across the land. So when a really smart guy from Princeton University asks, "Why be afraid of government?", the average mind can be expected to respond in a predictable fashion. The people feel assured, yet they feel a sense of urgency to "do something" at the same time.
Costs, both immediate and unforeseen, become irrelevant. Instead, they become devices employed by those who wish to stop progress and reform. The messengers of such warnings are demonized as mouthpieces for insurance companies, "rich" doctors and that ever ubiquitous, "status quo."
When libertarians or other anarcho-capitalist-minded individuals see or hear this question posed, there is usually a momentary pause followed by raucous laughter directed at the person asking the question. This reaction is quickly followed by an incredulous-sounding, "What, are you kidding? What kind of stupid question is that?"
Well, since the professor is asking, here are a few reasons to be afraid of government:
Healthcare: As noted in Zelizer's quote above, the cost of health care for the elderly was lifted from them and their families and foisted on everyone else decades ago. Now, the mushy-headed do-gooders want to turn the entire country into their notion of some idyllic hunter-gatherer village writ large where everyone is made to care for everyone else. As many opponents have stated on this issue for years, the threat to privacy in many respects is rampant under a national health care system. And, once you get too old or too sick, your desire to keep living or be healthy will be secondary to the needs of the greater good.
Three-letter Government Agencies: IRS, DEA, ATF, FBI, CIA, TSA, SEC, FCC and so on. No explanation is needed, especially for those who have had first-hand experience with the terror propagated by these government agencies.
The PATRIOT Act: How many opportunities for further oppression by government has this monstrosity created? It helped grow the security-industrial complex and to ensure continued profits for this sector of the economy for decades into the future. At some point in the future, the United States should surpass England as the most surveilled country on earth (security cameras per square mile).
The "cash for clunkers" program: As Peter Schiff recently pointed out, the "cash for clunkers" program is a "perfect example of how government policy can make the economy worse." Anyone with a brain, a job and money they hope retains its value into the future should fear any government policy designed to "help" the economy.
The Drug War: The long-standing domestic equivalent to the government's "war on terror." More responsible for the destruction of civil liberties than any other government program, one supposedly designed to "protect" communities from bad guys and bad stuff. And there is still a sizeable gaggle of idiots across America that says, "Hey, if you're not guilty of a crime or got nothing to hide, you shouldn't worry about cops conducting searches wherever they believe necessary. They serve to protect us and you should just be a good citizen and shut up and let them do their job."
Death by taser: Ah, nothing like "non-lethal force" in the hands of high-strung males needing to demonstrate the power given to them by the badge, uniform and gun; especially when some defiant motorist wants to know why they were pulled over and refuses to get out of the car.
Iraq/Afghanistan: Although they're only occupants in our latest colonial ventures, let's not forget the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who know better than any of us why any reasonable person should be afraid of government. On a daily basis, they get to see government doing what it does with great efficiency — killing and destroying. The more ignorant among us would say that those people deserve what they get for attacking us and shooting at American troops. Maybe these cheerleaders for tyranny should study why Whigs in Parliament hoped for George III to suffer defeat in his struggle with the colonies, lest be become a tyrant at home. Such is always the outcome of empire building overseas; it inevitably leads to increasing tyranny at home.
Back when I was teaching government, one of the first few days of each semester was occupied reading and debating an essay that appeared on this website in October of 2001. In "The Essence of Government," Doug Casey concisely summarizes all a reasonable person needs to understand and accept about the institution of government saying
Government sponsors untold waste, criminality and inequality in every sphere of life it touches, giving little or nothing in return. Its contributions to the commonweal are wars, pogroms, confiscations, persecutions, taxation, regulation and inflation. And it's not just some governments of which that's true, although some are clearly much worse than others. It's an inherent characteristic of all government.
Why be afraid of government? You can't say it any better than that.
Harry Goslin [send him mail] lives in Arizona.