Walter E. Williams
7/18/2001 12:00:00 AM - Walter E. Williams
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, "No one is as hopelessly enslaved as the person who thinks he's free." That captures the essence of "Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State," written by Sheldon Richman, a senior fellow at the Fairfax, Va., based Future of Freedom Foundation (fff.org).
We just celebrated the 225th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. We listened to speeches about the liberties bequeathed by our Founders. But according to Sheldon's convincing, compellingly marshaled evidence, we're not as free as we think. Yes, we can think of ourselves as free, but only relative to the rest of the world. In terms of the Founders' vision of freedom, we're little more than serfs.
You say: "What do you mean, Williams? I'm free!" Richman would ask you: Are you in charge of the amount of money you set aside for retirement and at what age you'll retire? No, the government mandates that you join its retirement program. If you insist on being left alone and don't obey, you'll go to jail or otherwise suffer at the hands of government. What's more, when government changes Social Security rules, unlike a private retirement plan, you can't sue for breach of contract.
Richman asks: Is it you who decides when your child will go to school and for how many weeks and study what? No, it's government that not only makes these decisions, it also attacks and undermines values taught at home. What if you think your child is capable of having a job at age 12, as I was? No dice. The government determines the age at which one can work, and for how long and at what pay.
Suppose you want to save money. Your money and privacy is subject to a web of regulatory offices, including the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve System and the Securities and Exchange Commission. If you make deposits or withdrawals of $5,000 or more, your bank must report it to the government. If you attempt to stop government's prying eyes by making deposits and withdrawals just below the reporting threshold, you face fines and imprisonment for "structuring."
You own land, but you don't control it. You might have purchased land as an investment, only to find that when you retire and are ready to build or sell it, you can't. It might have been designated a wetland (swamp) by environmental authorities or declared a habitat for an endangered bird, rat or insect, whose rights the government deems more important than yours.
Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" has a chapter titled, "What Sort of Despotism Democratic Nations Have to Fear." He said citizens of modern democracies faced a despotism of a different character, which "would be more widespread and milder; it would degrade men rather than torment them." De Tocqueville went on to say, "I do not expect for their leaders to be tyrants, but rather schoolmasters." He adds, "It only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood." It does so by providing security and necessities, assuming responsibility for their concerns, managing their work, and more, "It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be the sole agent and judge of it."
Democracy gives an aura of legitimacy to acts that would otherwise be deemed tyranny. That is precisely why the Framers gave us a Constitution that sought to protect us against the abuses of majorities. That's what our Bill of Rights is all about, those congressional shalt-nots. It's just too bad that Congress, acting on the will of the majority, have abrogated those protections. "Tethered Citizens" is an excellent, informative and easily read 150-page book that would have been much shorter had Richman chosen to list our remaining liberties.