Descending into the rabbit-hole of the government’s apparent war on liberty and privacy, it’s easy to get lost. It’s dirty, deep, and as each new leak provides some illumination, the motives and actions of this government become ever darker. Whether it’s the IRS’s selectively targeting the administration’s political enemies, or the Department of Justice’s spying on major news networks, or the National Security Administration’s securing secret court orders to track and store the everyday phone conversations of innocent Americans, there can be no question -- America today is a dystopian visage of its former self.
If the scandals themselves do not evidence our predicament well enough, consider the unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers during Obama’s administration.
Tim Shorrock of The Nation offers, in this piece from April 15, 2013:
In the annals of national security, the Obama administration will long be remembered for its crackdown on whistleblowers. Since 2009, it has employed the WWI-era Espionage Act a record six times to prosecute officials suspected of leaking classified information.
By using the NSA to spy on Americans, [NSA whistleblower] Binney told me, the United States has created a police state with few parallels in history: “It’s better than anything that the KGB, the Stasi, or the Gestapo and SS ever had.” He compared the situation to the Weimar Republic, a brief period of liberal democracy that preceded the Nazi takeover of Germany. “We’re just waiting to turn the key,” he said.
Appraising why and how this bleak scenario came to pass is a quagmire complicated not only by partisanship, but by the sheer scope of it all. If you consider each scandal individually, it’s simply too much for an ordinary person to process. After all, if we were to join Obama’s lemmings in their leap of faith, we’d believe that the intricacies of bloated government bureaucracy left even Obama in the dark about some of this, despite it being his business to stay on top of such things in his administration.
So how could we average Americans have any in-depth understanding of all this? However much we might like the notion of individual liberty and despise the government’s suppression of it, we’re too busy with our menial jobs trying to produce wealth for ourselves, the government, and our neighbor that lives on the government dole, all the while fighting big government expansionists at every turn in efforts to make our progeny self-sufficient producers, in hopes that future generations might become something more substantial than a gaggle of Julia’s, feeding for a lifetime at a communal trough.
Is it any wonder that the flood of insidious details about these scandals drives the average American to indifference? I can think of no other reason that, according to Pew, 56% of Americans find nothing wrong with the NSA’s tracking and storing everyday phone conversations without reasonable cause. If asked whether they agree with the principles of the Fourth Amendment, I’d wager that a vast majority of Americans would answer in the affirmative. So what else but numbness could cause the majority of Americans to believe that the government has a right to willfully and blatantly violate it?
It is the natural tendency of government to manipulate the will and finances of the people to serve its own ends. This incontrovertible truth caused Thomas Paine to observe that “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.” And thwarting this natural tendency of government is the very reason that our Constitution, providing a rigid framework of limited central government, was penned.
When government overreaches its Constitutional boundaries, it becomes ever more “intolerable,” and individual liberties disappear. Given the Constitution’s explicit prohibitions, the government can’t simply set the Constitution alight and rebrand overnight without public outcry. Rather, it strikes liberties incrementally, under the guise of crisis management and benevolence, until one day -- a day like today -- the Constitution and its Amendments like the Fourth no longer have any meaning, and the people can’t even seem to remember why the Amendment was there in the first place.
Our government has done precisely this. And the primary method of its malevolence, to this point, has been to assume ever more control of your money and property via tax legislation, federal spending, and regulation. But that's not were it ends.
As Mark Steyn points out in a driving theme in After America: Get Ready for Armageddon: “It starts with the money. For dominant powers in decline, it always does.”
“It starts with the money,” he says, “but it never stops there.”
Steyn gives us an idea about where he believes it ends:
Conservatives often talk about small government, which in a sense, is framing the issue in leftist terms. They’re for big government, and when you’re arguing for the small alternative, it’s easy to sound pinched and mean and grudging. But small government gives you big freedoms. And big government leaves you with very little freedom.
The opposite of big government is not small government, but big liberty. The bailout, and the stimulus, and the budget, and the trillion dollar deficits are not merely massive transfers from the most dynamic of the productive sector to the least dynamic and productive. When governments annex a huge chunk of the economy, they also annex a huge chunk of individual liberty. You fundamentally change the relationship between the citizen and the state into something closer to that of junkie and pusher. And you make it very difficult ever to change back.
In the end, it’s not about money, but about something more fundamental. Yes, you can tax people to the hilt, and give them free healthcare, and free homes, and free food, but in doing so you turn them into, if not yet slaves, then pets. And that’s the nub of it. Big government leads to small liberty and small men.
Liberty is profoundly tied to capitalism, free markets, and the eschewing of increased government control of wealth -- and while not the sole ingredients for liberty, they are necessary ones. Steyn has not been the first to notice this correlation. Milton Friedman said as much to an audience member in a taped appearance at Cornell University. At about 8:25 of this video, we see a gentleman in army fatigues ask:
I see society as more and more tending to the usurping of my individual rights and freedoms as time goes by. What do you see as the ultimate end of this, i.e., either in democracy or socialism, and why do you think the individuals within this society are letting this happen to them?
What is “the ultimate end of this,” in Friedman’s eyes? He isn’t one to mince words, and he implies that finding the end is the easier part of his question to answer. And like Steyn, he traces the roots of liberty’s erosion to government appropriation of wealth.
If we continue along the road we’ve been going on, of usurping more and more power to government officials to control our lives, I see only one end. And that’s the loss of anything that has any meaning as democracy, a loss of human freedoms, and a prison state. That’s the end.
Why are they letting this happen to them? That’s a much more difficult question to answer. I think that is largely because of ignorance about where they are going. A lack of recognition. I don’t believe they want to go this road. But I believe they are unwittingly letting themselves go down this road, because on each issue that comes up, people look at their separate special interest instead of the broader interest in governmental activity. Everyone wants to cut down government, provided that those things he has an interest in are maintained.
The solution is for people like you and me to talk. To ourselves, and to our fellows, and to try to persuade our fellow free men to be of like mind. To change the climate of opinion in these respects, to try to correct the political structure … I’ve been recently working on one particular proposal along those lines, which is to have a Constitutional Amendment setting a maximum limit on the amount that the government may spend. I won’t go into the details, but I think fundamentally, we are getting what the public at large has been asking for. And the public is asking for it, I believe, because they do not understand where it’s going to lead them.
It has led us to where we are today, an environment in which we have no idea which individual liberties the government will choose to recognize or ignore. We just know that this choice seems to be at the government’s discretion. And we are clearly not done traversing the path Friedman describes.
We never got that Amendment setting a spending limit for government. As a result, government has never been bigger than today, and liberty has never been smaller than today. After nearly a century of amassed government control of Americans’ wealth, we are but a turn of the key from a prison state, if NSA whistleblowers in the know are to be believed.
In the last century we have witnessed the reimplementation of a progressive income tax that supplanted tariffs as the chief revenue source of the federal government, the legislation of the redistributive Titanics called Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and the establishment and perpetual expansion of the welfare state, mimicking Euro-democracies that are now collapsing under that gargantuan yoke. In the last decade alone, government expansion has gone into hyper-drive, acting as broker for the taxpayers in buying billions in worthless assets for banks’ benefit, investing billions more taxpayer dollars in a stimulus package that did little to stimulate, and the government has procured administrative control of the healthcare industry, a significant driver of American GDP. Even as we speak, the government is seeking to legislate even more control over the American economy by granting amnesty to illegal aliens and granting previously legislated federal benefits to them as reward for their having broken our laws, increasing the liability of the productive class and ensuring the need for more aggressive redistributive measures in the future.
We don’t have time to be ignorant anymore about where we are headed, or the manner in which we’ve been cobbling the path to get there. It starts with the money -- it will end in a prison state, and the latter isn’t going to manifest itself decades hence, but at any moment. All it takes is the right crisis, real or manufactured.
It’s not enough that we wait around for 2014 in hopes to get the right people in office to support “big liberty” instead of “big government.” As Milton Friedman said in 1975, which he alludes to in the above-linked video and which Steyn cites in After America:
I do not believe that the solution to our problem is to simply elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.
This is why it is important that we work to change the direction of our public discourse. We must demand that our representatives recognize that the purpose of our government is not to provide Americans with collectivized benefits. The purpose of our government is to preserve Americans’ individual liberty. And increased government spending at this dire breakpoint, in any capacity, wholly subverts liberty.
And if the American people cannot be made to see that, well… our end is loosely written for us.