Editorial: The Role of Government
In his recent address to Hillsdale College at the Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar, "Competition or Compulsion? The Market Economy vs. the New Social Engineering," the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, Dr. Walter E. Williams addressed "The Legitimate Role of Government in a Free Society" (IMPRIMIS, V29, N8, Aug. 2000, a publication of Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI). In his address, Dr. Williams states:
"What did the founders of the United States see as the legitimate role of government? To answer that question, we should turn to the°°United States Constitution. Most of what they considered legitimate functions of the federal government are found in Article I, Section 8 of our Constitution, which says, in part: 'The Congress shall have the power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States°°To borrow money on the credit of the United States°°To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among several States, and with the Indian tribes°°To coin money°°To establish post offices and post roads°°To raise and support armies.' The framers granted Congress taxing and spending powers for a few other activities, but nowhere in the Constitution do we find authority for up to three-quarters of what Congress taxes and spends for today. There is no constitutional authorization for farm subsidies, bank bailouts, or food stamps-not to mention midnight baseball. We have made a significant departure from the constitutional principles of individual freedom and limited government that made us a rich nation in the first place°°"
According to Williams, it was not long after the Founders defined the good intentions of government that Americans realized that they could live off the government at the expense of other Americans through the tax system and the ancient practice of "privilege granting" (in more modern terms, political contributions). Taxes represent government claims on personal property, thus as taxes rise, you own less and less of what you earn. Taxation and regulation constitute the confiscation of some or all of the freedom you have to own and use your own property. What seems to have been forgotten, according to Williams, is that the Founders understood that free markets are the most effective form of social organization for promoting individual freedom.
There is no doubt that the freedom of individuals has been curtailed in many ways over the last two hundred years. And our freedom continues to be whittled away daily. Nearly every special interest group feels that the government owes it a special favor. Many of these favors are fulfilled politically at the expense of some aspect of freedom. The effect is that most government money is spent on things that Average Joe American could care less about and has no control over (a reminder here that the government has no resources of its own).
Americans spend more than 5.4 billion hours each year complying with the federal tax code-a code that allows money to be gathered for government use through coercion, intimidation, and threats. The cost to the federal government of hiring the 93,000 IRS employees to monitor this gathering of funds is $6 billion. Williams notes, "If these Americans weren't fooling around with the tax code, they could produce the entire annual output of the aircraft, trucking, auto, and food-processing industries combined."
As the November election draws near, it is important to remember that "We, the people of the United States," hold the ultimate decision-making power. There are never any perfect candidates on the election ballots, so we must ultimately choose between the lesser of two evils.
To that end, before you fall for the "big 1.5% tax reduction" that many politicians will try to sell you over the next month, why not ask them first to return just 5% of the 40% they take from you in the first place so you can spend it in the free capitalistic system that our Forefathers envisioned 225 years ago. They obviously have more money than they need to operate an inefficient government. Why shouldn't the U.S. government be held to the same earnings expectations and efficiency standards as our friendly, neighborhood Wall Street corporations. After all, isn't the U.S. Government the most publicly funded financial organization in the country. I urge you to ask these questions of your representatives and learn more about the ultimate goals of your elected officials before casting your vote.
D. Keith Patrick