The Next Birth of Freedom
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said that the "arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." He might as easily have said: the arc of government is long, but it bends towards freedom.
It is fair to judge the design for reforming American government proposed here by applying the traditional tests.
Is each change clear? Taken as a whole, do the reforms leave gaps, or fit together? Do any create perverse incentives, e.g, discourage work or marriage? Do the numbers add up? Will the financing mechanisms generate enough revenue?
All good tests.
Yet the ultimate test--the most important test--is the freedom test. Will this proposed design for putting government in its place greatly increase Americans' freedom?
The answer is: A lot.
Jobs > Freedom
Ensuring that all adults who can work have either an immediate offer of wage-paying employment, or an actual job, is essential to freedom. Human beings are programmed to work. The Bible commands us to work: “Six days you shall labor, and do all your work,” reads the 3rd or 4th Commandment, depending on which Bible you read.
Germany's Nazi tyrants, who twisted everything, also twisted the connection between work and freedom. They cynically emblazoned the slogan "Arbeit macht frei" on the main gate to Auschwitz, their most infamous slave labor and mass murder camp.
But Dr. King understood that, in a democracy that has abolished slavery, a wage-paying job is the ticket to freedom. Without earnings, you can't afford to sit anywhere on even an integrated bus, or buy a Coke at even an integrated lunch counter. The most famous photograph of Dr. King at the Lincoln Memorial, taken the day he spoke of his dream of racial equality, shows him wearing a button that reads: "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom." We need to march again on Washington for wage-paying jobs for all who want to work, because the ability to earn a living (not in theory, but in the real world) is the foundation of freedom.
Decent Wages + Well-Structured Earning Supplements > Freedom
Decent wages--which in the U.S. today, means a much higher minimum wage--will also increase low-income Americans' freedom. Supplementing earnings, so that full-time employment always yields a work-based income that is far above the poverty line, is also critical to ensuring that a job is a freedom-creating experience.
Adequate Incomes for Persons With Disabilities and Retired Seniors > Freedom
For those whose disabilities prevent them from working, or who have worked for decades and retired on Social Security, it is essential to guarantee that that their disability benefits or Social Security payments are large enough to lift them well out of poverty. We owe our fellow citizens who simply cannot work, or who have worked a lifetime, an income that frees them to maintain a decent living standard.
Health Insurance > Freedom
When struck by illness or hurt in an accident, it is essential for people of ordinary means who face expensive treatment to have excellent health insurance. Without it, they will forgo needed care, or get treatment only at the price of penury or bankruptcy. We can debate whether health insurance is a right or a privilege. Surely, however, it is a necessity that frees us to return to our lives without crippling our finances.
Education > Freedom
We want our children to be well educated for many reasons. One of the biggest is to "free them up" to achieve their full potential and make the largest possible contribution to society.
Repealing Welfare > Freedom
Welfare programs provide meager dollops of cash, Food Stamps, and other benefits to the poor. But welfare requires grown-ups to be poor (or near-poor) to get help, and creates perverse incentives to cheat, fudge, and avoid work and marriage. Welfare is a prison, which is why both Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan hated the dole. Ending means-tested welfare programs, in conjunction with providing universal methods of lifting the poor out of poverty, liberates both the trapped adults and their children.
Ending Cost Externalization and Government Subsidies > Freedom
Allowing firms to dump on the environment, injure workers, harm consumers, and trick investors means exempting firms from competing on a level playing field. When businesses get away with thus "externalizing" their costs, neither they nor their competitors have a "free shot" at success based on their creativity, prices, and quality.
Meanwhile, the subsidies that government injects into the economy create a lite version of Lenin's dictate that government should occupy the "commanding heights" of a centrally controlled economy. Such subsidies, as often as not delivered via a maddening tax system in the form of "tax expenditures," mess up market demand, supply, and price.
Ending cost "externalization," together with ending all subsidies for politically favored types of consumption and investment, is not just about fairness and efficiency. Getting rid of both is also essential to make America's market a truly free market--one in which consumers' undistorted preferences freely shape the market's operation and future.
Tax Reform > Freedom
Reforming the tax system--first, by subjecting all property, sales, and income to taxation; and, second, by eliminating special exemptions, deductions, and credits--does more than allow tax rates to decline. Such tax reform, by increasing the typical American's disposable income, helps to place the economic and cultural decisions of the majority in greater control of the nation's economy and culture.
This enhancement of "regular folk's" economic and cultural power is also a form of freedom. Who should own America, the land of the free? The American people.
Truly Limited Government > Freedom
Beyond guaranteeing (1) public safety, health, resources, and infrastructure, (2) economic security and economic opportunity, and (3) an effective market, government should do very little. By carrying out these three limited functions in a sensible manner--as spelled out in this redesign of government--government can shed most of the other tasks it performs.
Reforming government as proposed also implicitly means--but let us make it explicit--that individuals and firms can fully enjoy their inalienable rights to "the pursuit of happiness" that our Declaration of Independence defines.
Steady work, decent incomes, excellent health care, a sound education, a well-regulated and undistorted market, and a simple and fair tax system combine to make it dramatically easier for all Americans to pursue our own happiness...including making the decisions we think best about religion; what to read, watch, write, or say; whom to wed; how we raise our children; and dozens of other personal, medical, economic, and cultural choices.
Government involvement should be extremely limited within this vast realm of private decision-making. Freedom--extensive and growing freedom--must be the norm.
Conclusion: What Lincoln Might Say
We usually do not connect government with freedom. But there is a powerful link. Only by putting government in its proper place--by defining with precision what government should do, how the dollars should be raised, and how public functions should be delivered--can government both carry out the necessary policies and avoid the unnecessary intrusions that together create a truly free society.
Abraham Lincoln, one of greatest champions of freedom that America has ever known, would not necessarily agree with every detail that this redesign of government. But he would have understood its logic of freedom.
It is not too great a stretch to imagine that Lincoln might have called it the "next birth of freedom."