‘What can I do?’

By Harry Browne

Recently a conservative fundamentalist preacher said on television that he opposes the campaign of homosexuals to be included in the Civil Rights Act. He said this would give them special privileges – allowing them to sue people whenever rejected for such things as jobs or home loans, a right not available to ordinary citizens.

Wow, what a novel concept! A special-interest group getting privileges not available to other people.

I wonder if the preacher has noticed that farmers get special government subsidies to “stabilize” their income.

Is he aware that corporations use the government to keep competitors – foreign or domestic – out of their markets?

Teachers’ unions push for federal programs that pad the salaries of teachers. Military contractors get paid to produce weapons long after the weapons are considered obsolete.

Are any of these privileges available to you?

Even policemen want special status. They push for greater penalties for killing a policeman than for killing an ordinary citizen.

And let’s not forget the preacher’s own special privilege: His church, no matter how wealthy or poor, is exempt from the income and property taxes paid by you. That means he can push for all sorts of government programs, knowing that his enterprise won’t be taxed to pay for them.

Special privileges, indeed!

The perils of democracy

The government has become exactly what Frederic Bastiat said it would be in a democratic society: “that great fictitious entity by which everyone expects to live at the expense of everyone else” – a free-for-all in which everyone tries to get what he wants by using the force of government.

The Founding Fathers recognized this threat. They knew that a democracy could work properly only until the citizens realized they could vote to steal other people’s property. So the Founders created a Constitution that limited the government to a few simple functions: defense of our borders, a post office, patent office, mint, and a few other trivial activities. They knew that anything beyond that would open the door to political chaos.

The system worked fairly well for about a hundred years. Sometimes the government overstepped its boundaries, but generally the Constitution held the government pretty much in check. In fact, at the start of the 20th century, taxes of all kinds at all levels of government comprised only 8 percent of the national income.

But then the floodgates opened. The income tax, the direct election of senators, regulatory agencies that protected the politically powerful, and the election of a president who thought he could create world peace by dragging America into a European war – all these elements combined to remove all the restraints from government. From then on, government was free to grow rapidly to satisfy the politicians’ desire for power.

Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were all just building on the foundation laid by their predecessors – a premise that government is there to do “what’s right.” Not what’s right in your eyes or in the eyes of the Constitution, but “what’s right” for those with the most political influence.

And so today taxes at all levels of government take 48 percent of the national income.

Reversing the trend

It can seem that the whole process has gone much too far to ever be reversed. And maybe it has.

But while I’m not optimistic, I remain hopeful. I can see ways that America can be turned around and restored to its former glory as the land of peace and liberty, the land of truly small government. I’m not saying this will happen, only that it can happen.

I’ll leave the details of my hopefulness for another time. But here I’ll offer a little advice.

If you don’t like big government, there’s an obvious first step to take: Quit supporting the people who are promoting big government.

When you vote for the “lesser of two evils,” you’re voting for evil – and you shouldn’t be amazed when government continues to grow at your expense. The person you vote for isn’t going to see your vote as a reluctant attempt to prevent some “worse evil.” He’ll treat it as encouragement for every big-government scheme he’s promoting.

If you vote for a Republican to keep a Democrat out of office, or vice versa, you’re voting for big government – no matter how you try to convince yourself otherwise.

If you’re going to vote, your motive is unmistakable only when you vote Libertarian. No, your candidate probably won’t win the election, but at least your vote will have told the world what you really want – and it might lead someday to positive results. After all, how can you expect to get what you want unless you ask for it?

If you can’t bring yourself to vote Libertarian, you can at least do the right thing and stay home on Election Day.

Anything else is registering support for all the special privileges, subsidies, intrusions and war-making that the Republicans and Democrats have come to proclaim as “the American way.”