Government Is Free!
(After Tax Freedom Day)
Gartner is the sort of journalist bound to receive accolades and
applause within today’s dominant media. That is to say, not only
do his views exemplify unquestioned and unqualified statism, but
the very hint of questioning statism or setting limits on the powers
of the central government, say, on its power to tax its citizens,
brings forth not a thought-out, carefully argued response but a
torrent of ridicule.
for example his column in the April 23 USA Today. Gartner
observes that today some Americans are celebrating Tax Freedom Day
– the day we all stop working to support government and start working
to support ourselves. Gartner inverts this by telling us that as
of today, “The government is free!” Whatever can this mean? I’ll
let him explain it: “For the rest of the year, you pay nothing
for police protection. You pay nothing for the military. You pay
nothing for Medicare or Medicaid. You pay nothing to keep our rivers
navigable, our air paths clear, our highways patched. You pay nothing
to keep our courts open, our campgrounds safe, our water clean.
You pay nothing to house the poor or feed the hungry or clothe the
needy. You pay nothing to finance our wars on cancer or poverty
or terrorism. You pay nothing to finance government – local or
state or federal.”
is Gartner’s representation of Tax Freedom Day. We are, of course,
supposed to find it ridiculous. But “no more ridiculous than the
reverse, which is to say that until Saturday every penny you earned
this year has gone to pay taxes.”
follows is a continuation of all the good government supposedly
does – “even after Tax Freedom Day.” According to Gartner, we are
actually getting a bargain: the millions of miles of roads and
streets governments (federal, state and local) maintain, the millions
spent in medical benefits, the millions spent on the poor, the billions
spent on job training, the millions spent on Social Security, and
so on. In light of this, Gartner wonders why anyone would have
cause to complain about yielding “one third of our income” to government.
“Why isn’t it Tax Bargain Day?” he concludes with the rhetorical
flourish of one who clearly believes he has dispatched an opponent
unworthy of his journalistic prowess.
one reason is the belief at least some Americans still have in their
inherent right to keep and dispense with their earnings as one sees
fit, without reporting every penny to a government agency that had
no hand in producing the wealth that actually makes the economy
flourish. Perhaps Gartner believes, along with all other statists,
that individuals and their earnings both belong to government, to
dispense with as politicians and bureaucrats see fit. According
to statists, after all, politicians and bureaucrats know better
how to spend the individual’s money than the individual himself
does. “Do I own my life, or do I belong to the State?” is unasked,
therefore, but certainly answered.
use of phrases like tax burden by conservatives is supposed to be
ridiculous, in light of all this, as are the calls for tax reform. (Lord
only knows what kind of verbal apoplectic fit Gartner would serve
up against anyone suggesting tax elimination – or against those
wondering if the IRS is even a Constitutionally legitimate agency!)
screed illustrates a point many of us already knew: one does not
have to have even the most rudimentary grasp of economics to be
a respected journalist in today’s America. (In fact, a grasp of
sound economic principles is more likely to hold you back in today’s
newsroom and editorial environment.) This, of course, leads to
what is missing from Gartner’s stance: the very idea that anyone
other than government is suitable to fulfill the tasks listed.
This is, indeed, Gartner’s stance, that without the heavy, intervening
hand of government, food would be inedible, water would be too dirty
to drink, planes would fall out of the sky, our homes and workplaces
would be unsafe, our streets and roads would disintegrate, our elderly
neglected, our sick untreated, our children unschooled, etc., etc.,
Gartner actually had any grasp of economic reality, he would realize
that this is a losing proposition, and that his “bargain” is one
of the great illusions of our time.
if we look at certain of the endeavors only government is supposed
to be able to do, we find it is doing them poorly, and there may
well be valid reasons for thinking the private or nonprofit sectors
can do them better. For example, many of the streets and roads
it supposedly maintains are in shambles. This is minor league stuff,
however. After 9-11, federal power took a quantum leap. The new
reigning dogma became that only the federal government could run
airport security. People continue to get weapons through the checkpoints
staffed by illiterates who are searching 80-year old grannies and
confiscating nail-clippers from bespectacled computer nerds. This
sort of thing has done incalculable damage to the airline industry.
Many people are simply refusing to fly if they can drive – not because
they fear more terrorism but because they don’t want to put up with
procedures that in all likelihood wouldn’t have stopped 9-11.
then there are those activities that arguably the federal government
shouldn’t be doing at all. Social Security is now the most longstanding
coercive federal program for redistributing wealth in U.S. history.
Couldn’t its purposes be far better served by allowing more individuals
to keep the fruits of their labors and place part of them in private
IRAs or similar interest-drawing accounts? After all, many of us
under 50 have paid dearly into it – it isn’t as if we had a choice!
– and are unconvinced it is still going to be there when we get
consider the plight of the poor and the impoverished, about which
collectivists such as Gartner profess such great concern. Without
the heavy hand of the welfare state and the dependency it has created
over several decades, perhaps there wouldn’t be so much poverty.
There would be more incentives to work – and more good-paying jobs.
It is a cinch that if welfare handouts are available, there are
people who will have their hands out. Moreover, without the family-destroying
tendencies of radical feminism, easy divorce, both parents having
to work to pay their expenses after taxes, probably more families
would have stuck together over the past half century, and those
that have stuck together would be somewhat less dysfunctional.
There would be fewer neglected elderly, and fewer neglected “latchkey”
the last analysis, we suffer economic woes because government (and
the Federal Reserve) labor under the illusion that the economy can
be micromanaged from a central point. If this idea were abandoned,
the economy would begin to flourish as never before. For if businesses
both small and large were not also being taxed to the cleaners,
perhaps their owners would be in a better position and have a better
incentive to create more and better jobs. Prices would be lower,
because there would be fewer taxes passed on to consumers. This
would mean more sales, greater profits for the companies, more expansion
and still more jobs. Entrepreneurs could thrive without fear of
the heavy hand of the IRS. All these factors, and more besides,
would result in fewer poor. Not to mention more freedom for everyone,
rich, middle-class or poor.
consider the military spending that Gartner trumpets. One reason
the federal government spends so much on the military is the need
by our global-minded elites to police as much of the rest of the
world as possible, whether in the name of the “war on terrorism,”
oil, simply because the elites like power, or (what is most likely)
all of the above.
of course, take not just the necessity but the fundamental benevolence
of huge, expansive government for granted, and we are supposed to
find contrary views ridiculous – worthy only of the Menckenesque
horselaugh. The real howler in Gartner’s commentary, however, is
this statement: “[Government] spends $360 billion a year on educating
47 million youngsters in public elementary and secondary schools.”
Countless observers and commentators have shown that government
schools are abysmal failures, and continue to fail despite one quick
fix after another. There is abundant and growing evidence that
homeschooled children and youth are outpacing their government-schooled
counterparts in every subject, including the mere ability to think.
This latter should be no surprise. Government schools do not teach
thinking but rote conformity – the fruits of progressivism, outcome-based
education, and other fads of the sort that only state-worshippers
are capable of producing. Now, with school-to-work programs everywhere,
a vocationalism aimed at producing human worker bees is quietly
burying the sort of traditional education that once produced citizens.
is completely beyond statists that if government at all levels were
out of the education business altogether, the result might be not
just citizens who are employable but citizens who are employable,
literate and independent-minded. Citizens capable of evaluating
for themselves the role they wish government to play in their lives,
that is, which may be very little or none at all.
the other hand, maybe the Michael Gartners of the world of contemporary
journalism do realize this, and it scares the dickens out of them
on a subliminal level. After all, they must know that many of us
are getting nearly all our national and international news from
the Internet, not the print editions of New York Times or
USA Today. They must know on some level that Christian homeschooling
is now the fastest growing independent educational movement in the
country. They must know that we would be laughing at the Ionesco-comedy
antics of airport security personnel – except that the destruction
of our liberties is not funny. They must know that some of us have
very grave doubts about Bush’s war, as we wonder why people are
still dying in Afghanistan even though Bush declared “victory” months
may, finally, ask where the U.S. Constitution authorizes the activities
Gartner lists. Gartner, of course, never mentions the Constitution.
(Surprise, surprise!) But he is hardly alone on that score. There
are no mentions of the Constitution in any recent eulogies to large,
expansive government written by major journalists today, or any
sign that major journalists have even read it. In today’s dominant
media culture where statists rule supreme – which includes nearly
every major outlet – the Constitution is a dead duck. Unless, of
course, some upstart questions their right to spread disinformation
and untruths to the public, whether the subject is the economy,
government schools, or the “war on terrorism.” Then they go scampering
under the security blanket supposedly provided by the First Amendment.
Yates [send him mail]
is a Margaret "Peg" Rowley Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute,
where he is writing a book entitled The
Paradox of Liberty.
He has a PhD in philosophy, and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994), and dozens of articles in both academic and nonacademic
periodicals. He has relocated to Auburn, Alabama.
© 2002 LewRockwell.com
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