Millions of American women are busy with July 4th preparations. They are dusting off picnic blankets, preparing potato salad, and making arrangements with friends and family for firework displays. Few have time to thinking about the meaning of our country's founding and how events today may change our country in important ways.
As any school child could tell you, our founders rebelled because they wanted to escape a too-intrusive government. Since then, we have allowed government to expand in ways the founders never contemplated. Presently, our government is expanding once again. American women should consider what that means for their families and our basic rights and liberties.
Federal spending has soared this past year. While it's justified as necessary to stimulate a flagging economy, it's worth asking why our government grew so big even before the banking and housing crisis hit. For decades, the federal government has spent nearly one of every five dollars in the economy. This year, it will climb to about one in four. To support this spending, the government is issuing trillions of dollars of new debt. They claim it's necessary to solve today's problems. But what about tomorrow's?
We are constrained today because our government is already so large and over-extended. That problem will only get worse. Due to promises the government has already made—most specifically spending on Social Security and Medicare—the share of the economy that government will demand is going to continue to balloon.
This isn't just a matter of dollars and cents. This means that your children and grandchildren will have less control over the money they earn and their property because they will have to pay off liabilities accrued this year. That generation will have less to meet global challenges and each family will have less to meet personal ones.
Government is also taking over important aspects of what was once considered private life. Today Congress debates how to reconfigure the healthcare system. We should all ask why we should expect, or want, government to be so involved in this critical aspect of society.
Government health programs are sold as providing access to medical care, but they also restrict access. The rules that govern Medicare discourage doctors from taking on elderly patients. Government health programs guide doctors away from some treatments, and steer them toward others. And, we know from other countries with government-run health systems, that if we go the route of a “public option” for health insurance, such rationing will get worse.
Many have applauded the new law that gives government more leeway to regulate cigarettes. Most mothers instinctively celebrate anything that promises to help keep their children from smoking. Economists and policymakers will debate if efforts to restrict access to cigarettes actually results in more healthy behavior: will kids really smoke less or will it encourage a black market, introducing kids to more dangerous people and products? That empirical question is important, but there's something more fundamental: Isn't it really our jobs, as parents, to discourage our children from smoking? Where does the role of government as parent end?
Such government action is often justified as necessary to promote good health and protect taxpayers since government picks up so much of the health care tab. Thus one expansion of government leads to another.
Once we accept that logic, why should government stop there? There are numerous behaviors that create public health costs, from eating fattening foods and drinking sugary drinks, to driving, hang gliding, playing football, sunbathing and having sex outside of marriage. Should government discourage these behaviors? Many will look at the list and find one that they think justifies government action and then shake their heads that it's absurd for government to be involved in the others.
But our heads shake at different things. The founders knew that. That's why they sought to limit government and leave the vast majority of decisions to individuals. Individuals were supposed to keep nearly all of their property so that they could provide for their own healthcare and houses, take care of their children, and pursue their idea of happiness free of government interference. That faith in the individual is the core of our country. It's worth celebrating—and preserving—today.