Dennis Prager has recently added a pearl of wisdom to his repertoire of truths—“The larger the government, the smaller the individual.” The biggest danger from President Obama’s march to bigger government rests in what this means to the grounding principles that have made America great. Will America renew its commitment to individual liberty and personal responsibility or give in to government dependence and control?
As current Tea Party demonstrators would agree, Benjamin Franklin criticized King George’s high taxes to pay for the welfare entitlements of his time, “I affirm that there is no country in the world in which the poor are more idle, dissolute, drunken, and insolent. The day you passed that act (taxes for welfare), you took away from before their eyes the greatest of all inducements to industry, frugality, and sobriety, by giving them a dependence on someone else than a careful accumulation during youth and health, for support in age or sickness. In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness, and you should not now wonder that it has had its effect in the increase of poverty.”
Franklin preferred “responsible” caring, "I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it…. Repeal that law (taxes), and you will soon see a change in their manners. Labor…will again be looked upon as a respectable precept; industry will increase, and with it plenty among the lower people; their circumstances will mend, and more will be done for their happiness by inuring them to provide for themselves, than could be done by dividing all your estates among them."
Thomas Jefferson concurred, "A wise and frugal government...shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government." Abraham Lincoln stressed common sense, “The worst thing you can do for those you love is the thing they could and should do for themselves.”
Our free-enterprise economy has served for over 200 years as the greatest anti-poverty program in human history because it encouraged work, and discouraged idleness, more than any other. Citizens have been free to pursue their American Dream based on the principle that men are created equal in their rights and their responsibilities.
President Obama finds such values outdated. America must go beyond equal rights and responsibilities to guarantee equal outcomes and entitlement programs to ensure that. As a result, if you work hard, save, postpone gratification, and take care of yourself and your family, you lose. Not only must you support your family; you’re “forced” to support many others. Americans have no trouble providing temporary help, but they expect most to bounce back and lift their own weight.
When caring for your neighbor becomes a compulsory obligation imposed by government instead of voluntary, charity turns to confiscation and freedom to achieve to involuntary servitude. To liberals, compassion seems to be defined by how many people are dependent on the government; to conservatives, it’s defined by how many people no longer need help. One promotes dependence, the other freedom, responsibility and achievement.
There is no moral or Constitutional justification for taking money honorably earned from a neighbor to pay for what some citizens can’t afford. With one half of American voters no longer paying income taxes, wealth redistribution has turned envy into legitimized confiscation.
America has always been known for its national optimism--that sense of unlimited possibility. Only a society that allows individuals to secure the rewards from applying their unique talents will ever reap the benefits of human greatness. It’s a tragedy that so many Americans today no longer believe they can realistically achieve their dreams without electing politicians who will take from other citizens to pay for what they can’t provide for themselves.
Incentives matter. You’ll never strengthen the weak by weakening and taking from the strong. Our messy but free republic works because people are free to create value instead of becoming perpetual burdens.
In the midst of a recession, Ronald Reagan said to Americans, “I’m not taking your time this evening to ask you to trust me. Instead, I ask you to trust yourself. That is what America is all about… It’s the power of millions of people like you who will determine what will make America great again.”
Our commitment to individual freedom and responsibility is one of the anchors that has held our country together through our history’s worst economic storms. President Obama would be wise to reaffirm that anchor if he wants our economy to turn around with the resilience that only freedom can produce.