Are we still The Land of the Free?
Our national anthem includes the words “…The land of the free…” But how free are we really? Eric Snowden brought to the public’s attention that our government is spying on everyone whether they have done anything or not. This runs completely counter to the Fourth Amendment and its guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure of property and personal effects.
That is not the only attack on our freedom and our daily lives. Perhaps a more personal example is the dramatic level of instability created when our government “shut down”. I put that in quotes because, despite all the headlines, over 75% of the government was still operating. Government at the federal level apparently has a strong hold on the individual or we would not have felt the effect so keenly.
A quick scan of estimated agency shutdowns yield some very interesting things about what our leaders think is “essential” to our nation. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms furloughed almost 93% of its employees, and a similar percentage were furloughed from the Chemical and Hazard Safety Investigation Board, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Those agencies would net almost 1650 furloughed employees. Across the government, almost 490,000 were sent home. This figure does not count civilian Department of Defense workers because the majority were called back shortly after furloughs by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
Even though these numbers are less than what was originally estimated, it still is a tremendous amount of people. When push came to shove, their services were not needed. So one would be tempted to ask, are they needed at all? One agency, the USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, told every single employee to go home, 154 people. While civil rights issues are important as we still live in an age of civil inequality, it would seem that this is an example of bloated bureaucracy that needs to be cut. Shouldn’t human resources within the USDA be handling this issue?
Also, our laws are written to prevent people working without pay. This makes sense from a labor relations standpoint, preventing abuse of employees forced to work against their will. However, it also forbids people who choose to assist voluntarily, such as with the Smithsonian Institute.
Another strange budget item is the Postal Regulatory Commission. The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 reset the way the United States Postal Service did business. It would no longer receive tax money from the US government except for a small reimbursement for handicapped mail services. Rather, it would support itself from its own revenue stream. However, the PRC would set rates for postage and services. This handicap has hampered the Postal Service’s ability to operate the past several years. But more significant, what started as a Board of Governors of nine people and an Advisory Board of 11, has grown to employing 70 people. All to do the job the Postal Service should be allowed to do on its own.
I am not advocating a mass termination of “non-essential” employees. There is a difference between non-essential in an emergency and an average day. What I am trying to emphasize is about half of the United States is directly dependent on the federal government in part or whole to get through their daily lives. In 35 states in the US, it is actually more profitable to get federal assistance than to hold a minimum wage job. Roughly 49% of households in America have at least one member who receives a direct benefit from the federal government. In 2010, according to one analysis, 60 percent of Americans were receiving more in government benefits than they paid in taxes. We are becoming a country where the number of takers is growing and the number of providers is shrinking. And since the takers receive their benefits from the federal government and not the producers themselves, our nation is increasingly enslaving itself to the whims of the federal government.
This is not what our Founding Fathers intended. Guided by John Locke’s ideas of the Consent of the Governed, Thomas Jefferson laid out in the Declaration of Independence the rights of people to throw off a government that impeded on people’s basic rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. In our modern times, over half our population either works for the federal government, or it supports them in their inability to find or perform work. When the government holds your life in the balance by providing your food, your home, and all your possessions, it is effectively cutting off your access to your right to Liberty. It could even be argued that if the federal government provides the money for all your basic needs, they are holding your very Life ransom. This ransom the federal government holds over many people certainly could be said to be impeding their Pursuit of Happiness as well.
Sadly, the American populace has brought this upon itself. There were no coups, no military juntas, no violent revolutions. Every election cycle, more and more people are voting to protect the handouts they receive by the government officials they choose. As time has progressed, America has followed the pattern of the modern parable that went viral through emails in October of 2008 comparing our national habits to an ensnared pack of wild pigs. As federal bureaucracy increases the number of people it employs and as more people receive some benefit from the government, more of the population will become directly beholden to the government that is supposed to be serving them. Eventually, nearly everyone will end up dependent on government money and very little money will actually be coming in. At that point the house of cards will fall. And all those shackled to their habits of taking from the collective fund without putting anything into it will be their own undoing. They will no longer know how to provide for themselves, and they will be the instrument of their own demise. Alexis de Tocqueville once said, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.” He also said, “Society will develop a new kind of servitude which covers the surface of society with a network of complicated rules, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate. It does not tyrannise but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”
That demise is swiftly approaching. The only real question, based on current trends, is not if this will happen but how long will it take?