power is the essence of government as we know it. It's not as easy
as it once was. As public trust in government has plummeted, and
resistance to central rule has grown, officials invent ever-new
rationales. Here are just a few of the newest benefits the central
state promises us if we relinquish more power to Washington:
Will Make Us Smarter. The market for learning is among the most
distorted hardly a surprise given more than a century of
federal involvement. These very distortions provide a rationale
for a parade of fixes, though the political parties disagree on
how to "solve" our education woes.
Democrats want national standards an idea first proposed
by neoconservatives in the Republican Party. The Republicans want
school vouchers a scheme originally concocted by left-liberals
seeking to co-opt and thus destroy the private-school industry,
at taxpayer expense.
the dispute, the two positions are compatible. If the federal government
pays for private education through vouchers, national standards
would immediately follow. Indeed, the public would demand them,
since people reasonably want some control over where their money
goes whether in arts, welfare, warfare, or education.
with national standards comes the abolition of educational innovation,
the loss of independence, the imposition of national conformity
in thought, and the complete politicization of education. Who doubts
that these are the actual goals of the program's architects?
positions of both parties assume the goal of educational centralization
under the control and supervision of federal bureaucrats. This abandons
the American tradition in which education is the responsibility
of families, communities, and individual states. Both ideas expand
egregious policy precedents like the G.I. Bill and the creation
of the Department of Education. No one seriously believes the federal
government can make kids smarter quite the opposite. It's
merely an attempt to grab power.
Will Make Us Healthier. The hullabaloo about cigarettes is not
really about health (government, after all, is the leading health
hazard; consider war, for example). It's about gaining a new source
of revenue. Government is salivating at the prospect of more billions
to splurge, justified as an effort to end teen smoking.
it's not enough that government is attempting to ban a substance
used by perhaps a third of the public. Government is also going
after the beef industry, which it apparently also regards as evil.
For a variety of reasons, left-liberals have long hated the cow.
Glickman, agriculture czar, wants the power to shut down any food
processing plant by his own edict, and to impose fines of $100,000
a day on any plant not obeying his orders. His demand came in the
days following a Colorado incidence of nine upset stomachs, caused
by E. coli. Though the bacteria were never definitively traced to
Nebraska's Hudson Plant, Glickman recalled and destroyed 25 million
pounds of its beef, leading to bankruptcy and takeover of the plant.
says the tummy aches were not an anomaly. He would have us believe
that the nation's food supply is being poisoned by business moguls
who put profits ahead of safety. He can save us from poisoning and
disease, but only if he is given totalitarian power to destroy any
food business on his personal whim.
this do any good? Of course not. No one has a stronger interest
in protecting the public from disease than food processing plants.
If a company is responsible for poisoning, even in the absence of
any government regulatory oversight, it can be bankrupted by sheer
market pressure. The pursuit of profit and the pursuit of safety
are in a host of areas from food to air travel, bound up with each
really at issue is whether the government or the consuming public,
together with competitive business are going to determine the winners
and losers in the market economy. In fact, increased government
intervention has the perverse effect of making food processing less
sanitary. Plants are forced to expend resources on obeying dictates,
however irrational, as versus serving the public with a quality
product efficiently produced.
Will Save Our Children. Hanna Arendt, writing in the aftermath
of the Second World War, decried the "politicization of children"
all over the Western world. She had seen this under the Nazi regime,
where government invoked the interests of children as pawns in its
political game. It was true in the U.S. too, she said, where children's
interests were invoked as the excuse for overriding states' rights
in education (and on these grounds she denounced Brown v. Board
of Education, thereby earning the eternal enmity of the left).
the Clinton administration whips up public hysteria about a supposed
nationwide epidemic of child abuse. HHS head Donna Shalala demands
huge new powers to investigate families, grab children, and pay
for foster care. Neoconservatives, including Newt Gingrich, have
proposed starting a string of government orphanages to house kids
taken away from parents.
fact, 55 percent of the cases of child abuse these people cite fall
under the category of "endangered," meaning no abuse has actually
taken place, and only 7 percent refer to actual physical abuse.
Meanwhile, two-thirds of 2 million reports of child abuse per year
are later dismissed as unfounded. But that doesn't take away the
trauma of parents who are publicly humiliated and have their kids
stolen, or of children put in government-approved foster "care."
Somehow, the statutes against kidnaping don't apply to government.
in the name of helping children, in the 1997 budget agreement, Republicans
and Democrats eagerly passed the biggest expansion in medical welfare
since the 1960s. It allocates some 25 billion tax dollars to buy
insurance from private markets for children who don't already receive
it from Medicaid. If no insurance can be purchased, government will
families who presently have private insurance can qualify for the
new program when they don't qualify for Medicaid. For every 100
children enrolled in the program, another 70 are likely to drop
private coverage, and enroll in the free, tax-paid program instead.
Private coverage then becomes more expensive and more restrictive,
which further drives people into government arms.
program also seems calculated to lower the costs of having children
for the poor, as if those costs were not artificially low as it
is. For years, conservatives have denounced AFDC as the source of
the explosion in out-of-wedlock births. There's truth here, but
just as crucially especially for people who think only about
the short term now more of the poor don't have to arrange
payment for the medical bills that accompany their children.
allegedly reformed AFDC by giving the program to the states, under
federal control. In its place, it has created a new and centralized
entitlement that will further socialize the medical industry, harm
private companies, and use children for political purposes.
Will Make Us Virtuous. Not a day goes by when someone in government
doesn't attack the Internet, ostensibly because of filth on the
medium, but actually because it is an unregulated source of information.
In league with naive religious conservatives, regulators propose
that the Internet be subject to political censorship. Government
will be able to prosecute individuals for saying things the government
who knows anything about this medium knows it can't be done. No
one knows how large the Internet is, and there is no law a politician
could write that will accomplish the goal of policing it. But government
would like the power to crush certain groups at will. Passing new
censorship laws wouldn't make us more virtuous, but they would grant
new oversight powers, so that we could no longer have easy access
to politically incorrect information.
has used the decline of morals to its own advantage in many ways,
even while it has been the largest contributor to the rise of cultural
degeneracy. For example, government likes pornography that is paid
for by the taxpayers, either through the National Endowment for
the Arts or through the U.S. military, the world's largest customer
for dirty books, dirty magazines, and dirty videos.
laws against "discrimination" in the workplace. EEOC says that one
wrong decision on hiring and promotion should make a company vulnerable
to bankruptcy by lawsuit. How can the government know the discrimination
is invidious? It pretends to know the intentions of managers. But
lacking the ability to read minds, it consults political interest
groups on their opinion.
what's the point of EEOC's crackdown on discrimination? As with
education, health, and children, it is mere pretense, an excuse
to deprive the owners of property of their authority. It is a power
grab, taken at a time when the old rationales for state power are
all but exhausted.
correct way to counter these and other arguments for expanding government
power is not by merely demonstrating their futility. It is our primary
task to unmask the real intent behind these campaigns, which is
not to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise, but to transfer power
from us to them. Once we understand that, we will have begun the
process of beating them back.
Enemy, The State by Albert Jay Nock (New York: Hallberg
Publishing, 1983 ); On
Power: The Natural History of Its Growth by Bertrand de
Jouvenel (Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1993); "Child Abuse: Threat
or Menace?" by Douglas J. Besharov, Slate (October 3, 1996)
and "Beware the Real Agenda," New York Times (August 5, 1997).