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Turning freedom into free lunch

By W. James Antle III
web posted June 17, 2002

Only in a free society would people hold their freedom so lightly. Similarly, only in a society that enjoys the prosperity freedom creates would people entertain the illusion that a cradle-to-grave welfare state is not only desirable but also indefinitely feasible.

Take a look at the birthplace of Western civilization. Throughout Europe, economies have struggled under the massive tax and regulatory burden their governments have imposed yet serious efforts at reform provoke strikes and street demonstrations. France actually had to reduce the workweek to induce job creation, seeking employment for the idle by forcing businesses to hire two people for jobs that once would have required only one. The bureaucrats of the European Union seem likely to consolidate and institutionalize the continent's statist failures. When Ireland saw a surge in economic growth fueled by lower taxes, the EU's response was to push for the "harmonization" of high taxes throughout Europe.

After a certain point, big government becomes self-sustaining even when it becomes obvious that it is no longer in the aggregate economic interest of the nation. This is something the United States should want to avoid, though it is not certain that it will.

How often have you heard people say that last year we passed a tax cut that we can't afford? This clamor has only grown louder as the record budget surpluses have faded into thin air. Yet the federal government is set to spend more than $2 trillion this year and has gone on a wild bipartisan pork-barrel binge. The tax cut in question involves less than 6 percent of federal revenues over ten years and only one percent of the economy. After the tax cut is implemented in its entirety, the top statutory tax rate will still be higher than it was in 1993. Then in 2011, it will expire. This modest tax cut is too much for the American people to afford?

If so, the government must have a preemptive claim to every American's earnings and there is no situation in which lower taxes would ever be justified. Should taxes be lowered to encourage innovation, risk-taking and job creation during a recession? Apparently not. Should they be lowered during surpluses? Again, apparently not. We have yet to hear a scenario when real tax cuts - as opposed to refundable credits paid to people with no income tax liability and a Byzantine scheme of tax breaks for people who behave in bureaucratically approved ways - are actually justified.

Ellen Goodman had a column in The Boston Globe where she was appalled that people were concerned they might have to pay the estate tax. Didn't they know that the "death tax" is only imposed on the super-rich? The very idea that middle-class Americans identified with the idea of becoming rich and amassing substantial estates made her indignant.

It is bad enough when editorial writers and political activists speak this way. But when real people make such statements, it is maddening. When people say that it is the government's role to fix the economy with new spending programs and regulations, ask them how the government creates wealth and where the money the government spends comes from.

Unfortunately, too many Americans don't look to their members of Congress to uphold the Constitution and protect their earnings from socialist who schemes to redistribute income. How many congressional districts could Ron Paul get elected in? Instead, voters send robber barons to Washington to go take money from other people. No matter how much they pay in taxes, they are pleased when their representative manages to get some hapless taxpayer in some other state to foot the bill for an expensive bridge or a museum in their district. Some of the states that voted for Al Gore for president and send the most liberal politicians to Congress are precisely the ones that are paying more in federal taxes than they receive in federal spending.

It is always depressing to see people who are willing to give up their hard-earned wealth and constitutional liberties. One of the few heartening events in recent months has been the increased realization on the part of the American people that gun control only prevents law-abiding citizens from defending themselves and does little if anything to reduce crime. The Million Mom March from a couple years ago was an appalling spectacle of Americans demonstrating in Washington against the Bill of Rights!

Tip O'Neill used to say that the Democrats' New Deal reforms made people rich enough that they could afford to vote for the Republicans. On the contrary, the United States' legacy of freedom has made the country wealthy enough to afford to pay for the growth of government. Let us hope we wake up before the statist tapeworm kills its capitalist host.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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