Out of Control

Back when I was an economics professor, I was always amazed to hear faculty members complain that the United States was not more like Europe. They were enamored with the cradle-to-grave entitlements of the European welfare state.

Every society tries to find a balance between liberty and security. Europe has chosen to put more weight in security and subjects the individual to the needs of the collective. America is different. We value liberty highest, and this commitment to the individual is what makes America unique.

Our Founding Fathers designed a constitutional system based on the rule of law to protect the individual from an overbearing federal government. The government was to do only that which was both right and necessary; the rest was to be left up to the states and individuals.

An American’s freedom is based on individual, God-given rights guaranteed by the Constitution, and also on economic liberties that allow us to provision our families and pursue our own happiness.

For more than 200 years, American citizens have used their personal and economic liberties to pursue their dreams and provide for their families. Along the way we built a prosperous nation. American wealth was not an accident but a direct result of our freedoms.

The relationship between the private sector and the government is similar to that of a jockey and horse. The winning combination is a strong and fast horse with a nimble and light jockey. In this case the horse is the private sector and the jockey is the government. When the jockey grows too large, and the horse is starved, eventually the horse will collapse under the weight of the jockey.

Advocates of big government do not understand this. They take our freedom and prosperity for granted. We now find this commitment to personal and economic liberty being challenged by the size of government. President Obama and Congress are looking to “Europeanize” the United States through a legislative stampede of government control: the nationalizing of our health care system, cap and trade energy taxes, and aggressive unionization. How can it be that the United States government now owns banks and auto companies?

Milton Friedman warned us that the true rate of taxation is government spending. With trillion-dollar deficits projected for years to come, I fear the greatest threat to our freedom and way of life will come from our out-of-control deficits. Eventually you must pay the piper, and the government will either deflate our currency or impose catastrophically high taxes and institute a national sales tax. Or, even worse, it will pursue a combination of both bad ideas.

Higher taxes degrade our standard of living, leaving citizens with fewer choices and fewer dreams. Taxes and a bloated public sector rob the private sector of much-needed capital investment. Capital is like fertilizer: when it’s spread on the private sector it grows the economy; when it’s fed to the government it grows more government. This is the challenge handed to the new crop of freedom-loving patriots: government is growing too big and too costly, and it needs to be reined in.

The Greek debt crisis should be the canary in the coal mine. Greece is the first Western country in recent memory to experience a sovereign debt crisis. In 2009 the Greek budget deficit was 13 percent of GDP, and investors do not believe the Greeks can credibly get the budget under control. The Congressional Budget Office reported that our 2009 budget deficit was 10 percent of GDP. Clearly the United States is on an unsustainable path. In less than 10 years the interest on the debt alone will approach $500 billion. How long before the market loses its faith in our ability to pay?

Fortunately a new generation of citizen activists has stood up to demand political courage to get the budget under control. Commonly known as the Tea Party movement, these defenders of freedom have emerged in the last year to ask politicians to do what families do across the country: prioritize spending and live within a budget. Like the Reagan revolution and the Contract with America once were, the Tea Party movement is the next great conservative revolution in my lifetime.