On Jan. 20, 1981, when Ronald Reagan delivered his inaugural address to a nation battered by high inflation, punitive taxes and a stagnant economy, he said famously, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
“Yeah, right!” said all the sophisticated socialists in politics and media who assumed Reagan knew and cared as little as they did about limited government, free market capitalism and individual freedom.
Reagan's libertarian rhetoric was better than his actual governance or his ability to derail or even downsize the speeding train of Big Government. But his complaint about government is truer than ever.
Behind virtually every major social problem, financial crisis or corruption scandal that afflicts us lies the heavy hand or leaden foot of government, which today in all its levels gobbles up more than 50 percent of our annual GDP and controls more of our lives than ever.
The list of current government fiascoes and crises is long and bipartisan.
The Iraq War: Whether we “win” or lose, whether it was a bloody $3 trillion strategic blunder or a brave moral crusade, it could be brought to us only by Big Government and the politicians in charge of it.
The Energy Crisis: Our increased dependency on foreign oil and $4-a-gallon gasoline is a result of nearly 30 years of failed federal energy policy, which for political reasons has put us at the mercy of the thugs who run places like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.
The Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac Crisis: As expert Peter Wallison recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, you can put the blame squarely on Congress for not only failing to regulate Fannie and Freddie but also for encouraging them to make irresponsible investments in housing that have exacerbated the subprime mortgage mess.
The Dollar Crisis: No greedy Big Banks to blame. The only entity in America with the power to depreciate our money or wreck our economy is the federal government.
Ongoing federal fiascos – far too numerous to count in their entirety – include our failed, wasteful and/or hideously distortive agriculture, transportation, immigration and health-care policies; the homeland security mega-bureaucracy in infamous; the war on drugs is lost; our national forests are permanently mismanaged.
And let's not forget our state and local governments. Pennsylvania’s government -- famous for high taxes, mismanaged state highways and a bloated, corrupt and self-serving Legislature – has no peer. And Pittsburgh, like most big cities, is tortured continually by the waste, inefficiency and incompetency of its government mass transit systems and public schools.
Government invariably causes problems and does harm to some at the expense of others, no matter where it treads, because it is an evil mix of power and politics. The only solution -- as every libertarian knows -- is to severely limit the power and scope of the state.
Reagan naturally understood that. So did the great classical-liberal political theorist Herbert Spencer. He tried to warn about the "proper sphere of government" way back in the 1840s.
Government, Spencer wisely wrote, should not be used to do such impossibly complex things as regulate commerce, educate the people, provide charity or even make roads and railways.
It should be used "simply to defend the natural rights of man -- to protect person and property -- to prevent the aggressions of the powerful upon the weak -- in a word, to administer justice. This is the natural, the original, office of a government. It was not intended to do less: it ought not to be allowed to do more."
Too bad nobody listened to old Herb. It would have saved us a lot of problems.