Potential Problems with Freedom

Potential Problems with Freedom


A: I’ve got some qualms about all this freedom.  There are bound to be some problems.

B: Yeah?  Like what?

A: For example.  An entity will not endeavor to educate citizens from whose ignorance it stands to profit.

B: The government is no exception to this, being run by people who want to turn some kind of profit, be it monetary or otherwise.  In the Free Market, however, an entity may see that it can gain a competitive edge by educating those people whose ignorance leads to another entity’s profit.  In fact, we see this displayed regularly in commercials emphasizing a certain product’s strengths in comparison to the “leading brand’s” product, or pointing out their competitor’s product’s weaknesses.  If, however, that particular market is monopolized by the government, where any competition is outlawed, the citizenry may never be educated about it unless they find out about it somehow on their own, and even then may not have the choice to do anything about it except by means of (typically violent) revolution.

A: Well here’s another one: nobody should profit from people’s ailments.

B: Again, the government, should it run health care, would be no exception to this idea.  If it is turning a profit of some sort – and why wouldn’t it try (the more people who are dependent on the government, for instance, the more money/power the government has) – it would be no less susceptible to one implication of this claim (viz., the temptation to intentionally injure or poison a person so that it could increase that profit) than a health care corporation would be.  I have not known this to be a problem with private health care companies in the past, and it doesn’t seem to be or have been a problem in the United States over the past couple of centuries.  And why don’t health companies try it?  Quite simply because they would have to have “hitmen” secretly administering injury or poison to prospective victims, and if one of those hitmen were ever caught, they might confess the whole ploy to their captors, unleashing a public outrage, and the scheme would fail, tarnishing the corporation’s image, and possibly leading to their going out of business.  The very real possibility of this, and its high probability – if not their own moral standards – keeps this from happening.

A: Well, also, the idea that if you give government an inch, it will take a mile, is false.

B: I seem to recollect an assertion that government was given a few inches in the 19th century with a handful of new acts and departments, and has since taken more than quite a few miles.  I’d have to do some more research to verify this, but supposing it was true, what would suggest that this behavior would change?  Usually, when a new governmental program is instituted, those involved in it seek to increase that program’s power and range.  This is not unique to governmental programs, but to any program at all, be it private or public.  Programs are not generally initiated with the intention that they will be ended after a brief time.

Furthermore, what about the legal implications of new governmental benefits?  If one group is favored because of their circumstances, can’t another group argue that they should be similarly favored?  Otherwise, the government is unfairly favoring one group over another.1  All the new group has to do is generate enough support for their cause, coupled with some legal arguments, and they get the law they want.  We see this with various so-called “Civil Rights” laws today.  For instance, abortion was legalized a few decades ago.  Now gay rights activists feel that they should be accorded certain privileges.  Who’s next?  Bisexuals, with the right to marry one person of each gender?  Psychopathological murderers, with the right to kill certain people to answer their insatiable desire?  Government may feel like it has no choice but to appease these groups’ desires, since it began granting unique privileges to special interest groups in the first place and yet wants to be just to all.

Why don’t we consider a few examples with the U.S. government.  First up, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the dollar off the gold standard in 1933.  Before this change, a dollar was equivalent to about 5% of an ounce of gold.  With the dollar untethered to gold, however, the price of gold has generally increased, now to well over $1000 per ounce, rarely dipping below.  The dollar is therefore now worth less than 2% what it was before the amendment was made.  Why the increase in price of gold?  Because the money supply has vastly outdistanced the gold supply, and this was enabled by the fact that money was no longer being tied down to gold.  The result, of course, is that people’s money is far less valuable.  Since the government took our currency off the gold standard and prints all the money, they are to blame for pilfering over 98% of that value.  In this case, the “inch” that was given to the government was the aforementioned action of Pres. Roosevelt’s; the “mile” the government took is the overwhelming majority of the value of money.

Second, the 17th amendment, which enabled popular election of U.S. senators.  While it may not seem like such a bad thing that the people would elect their senators directly, one thing to remember about democracy is that sometimes it can be akin to a kind of “mob rule.”  Ironic, I’d say, that a nation once referred to as “Christian” may have effectually ratified that kind of rule to take charge on occasion, which is the very same power by which Jesus of Nazareth, called Christ, was condemned to death.  To see how this amendment removed some checks on the popular vote, let’s begin by recalling that the U.S. Constitution introduced checks and balances of various governmental powers, including within its legislative branch, which is divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate.  The House is accorded its representatives proportional to each state’s population and thus represents the people of the nation.  But there are two senators from each state in the Senate, which thus represents the states.  Before the amendment was passed, senators were elected by state legislatures instead of directly by the people.  The effect of the amendment, however, has been that the people are now doubly represented in Congress, and the states are significantly less so, leading to further power for the federal government.  As this amendment has been in force for over a century now, the federal government has had and taken ample opportunity to increase its power and reach at the expense of the states.  There may be several examples of the federal government overriding the wishes of the states where they couldn’t before, but I am far too ignorant of this issue to adequately expound on it.  You might consider this paper and the references it cites for further detail.

Third, the 16th amendment, which opened the way to the graduated income tax.  As implied by quotes of relevant text in the foregoing link, before the passing of the 16th the Constitution mandated that all had to be taxed equally.  With this, the federal government gravitates toward taxing the wealthy more heavily than the masses of others, because it wins them the majority of votes (since the very nature of wealth assures that the wealthy will always be less numerous than those that are not), thereby keeping them in office and giving them more power than they had before.  Unfortunately, too many people see this as an acceptable injustice that financially benefits them, and they vote according to desire instead of principle.

In each of the foregoing cases, we see that government has been given relatively miniscule leeway in the form of some amendment or act, which it has since blown open into a gigantic hole through which floods into its grasp an egregious amount of power.

  1. Again, see pp. 6-7 and 50-51 in the pdf of Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law” at this site.

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