Tom Patterson: Is Limited Govt a Spent Force

Are Americans backing away from their trademark commitment to limited government? “Limited government“ isn’t a sexy catchphrase. But it is the enabler of the principles and policies that have made our American experiment in self-government a success.

Limited government implies a positive vision of society in which each individual has the freedom to manage their own life choices, where merit and hard work are rewarded and where the opportunity to join the good life is open to all. 9591371_orig

Human failings are recognized. None are allowed to fall too far, but personal responsibility, to the limits of one’s ability, is rightly expected of all. Government is restricted to those duties it does best and which can’t be accomplished otherwise.

That’s not the government we have today, of course,. A powerful government that takes our money and regulates our lives has robbed us of our economic vitality and enfeebled the mediating institutions of society, like churches and families. As we have seen, if the government provides care for the young and the aged and performs the functions families and communities once took upon themselves, the bonds are naturally weakened.

Yet Americans since the New Deal have become increasingly convinced that government is an effective solver of social problems. Today, large numbers of millennials admire socialism in spite of its history of producing poverty, oppression and death.

Maybe that can be ascribed to a simple failure of education. However, even among Republicans a recent study showed only one in six considered smaller government and lower taxes a priority. Candidates favored by such voters have mostly failed since the days of Ronald Reagan as Phil Gramm, Steve Forbes and Fred Thompson have all lost decisively in Republican primaries, in spite of qualifications far exceeding the eventual winners.

Disinterest in the discipline of fiscal conservatism has inevitable consequences. We now have our second president – one from the Left, one from who-knows-where – who appear indifferent to any present or future consequences of the federal debt and aren’t about to undertake any heavy lifting to do something about it.

On the contrary, at a time when we desperately need to strengthen our economy and lift the heavy hand of government, both the socialist Sanders Left and the Trump administration are pushing for…mandatory paid maternity leave for both genders! It’s the same old story, Big Government knowing better than businesses themselves how to structure benefit programs. Meanwhile, businesses get hit with a hidden tax, politicians take the credit and jobs become more scarce.

Our taste for more government and less liberty has led to a doubling of the national debt, from 35% of GDP to 77% and rising over the last decade. No candidate campaigned for this, voters didn’t demand it. Liberty recedes if there is no resistance, as Thomas Jefferson told us.

The urgency of addressing this blight on our future now can hardly be overstated. The likelihood is great that the next Congress will be unwilling to produce the massive momentum shift still necessary to stop our decline.

For starters, any tax reform must be designed to produce economic growth, even at the expense of other priorities. Business taxes must be cut, with any revenue loss offset by eliminating special interest deductions like mortgage interest and non-federal taxes. We have to stop the bleeding in our social programs with an eye to maintaining a true safety net while avoiding welfare and disability programs that complete successfully with work.

We must reduce the overbearing role of government in medical care with a system of catastrophic insurance and medical savings accounts, subsidized when necessary.

Finally, like it or not we must address entitlement spending, especially Medicare and Social Security. Common decency requires leaving something on the table for future generations with moderate but potent reforms like raising the retirement age.

This is no time for liberty conservatives to forsake their values. Rather than treating the problems caused by Big Government with yet more government, we should emphasize making the benefits of economic freedom available to all Americans. We must never neglect the poor and truly vulnerable, but limited government is still the key to empowering individuals to lead lives of worth and dignity.