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Balancing the Budget Isn’t Enough

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One of the things that distinguish libertarians from conservatives is with respect to moral principles, a phenomenon that is reflected in the current debate over federal spending.

Notice that conservatives focus exclusively on the fact that the federal government is spending more than what it’s bringing in. They rail against the deficit spending, the borrowing, and the ever-growing national debt, which now amounts to about $43,000 per American.

Up to this point, libertarians agree wholeheartedly. We too oppose the deficit spending, the borrowing, and the ever-growing debt.

But this is where the commonality ends. Conservatives would be content if the budget were balanced, while libertarians would still not be satisfied, owing to certain moral principles that libertarians hold that conservatives do not hold.

Libertarians believe that it’s morally wrong for government to forcibly take one person’s money in order to give it to another person. Conservatives believe that it’s morally right for government to do this. That’s why conservatives support such welfare-state programs as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which are the biggest component of federal spending, while libertarians oppose them.

Libertarians believe that it’s morally wrong for government to regulate, monitor, or control peaceful activity. Conservatives believe that it’s morally right for government to do this. That’s why conservatives support the drug war while libertarians oppose it.

Libertarians believe that it’s morally wrong for government to go abroad and kill people for the sake of democracy. Conservatives believe that it’s morally right for government to do that. That’s why conservatives support the indefinite (and expensive) occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, while libertarians oppose them.

Thus, as long as government’s tax revenues are equal to its expenditures, conservatives are happy. That’s why you often see conservatives preaching such mantras as “I favor smaller government” or “We just need to cut spending across the board.” In their mind, the problem is deficit spending, not the fact that the government is engaged in immoral activity.

Balancing the budget by “slashing spending” would still leave in place such socialistic programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education grants, farm subsidies, community grants, foreign aid, food stamps, public housing, SBA loans, and all other welfare-state programs, projects, departments, and agencies. Sure, the budgets would be smaller and dole recipients would be receiving a smaller dole than before, but the programs and the dole would continue.

That would be fine with conservatives. All that would matter to them is that the budget would now be balanced.

But it would not be fine with libertarians because the government would still be engaged in immoral activity, albeit possibly on a smaller scale than before. The government would still be forcibly taking money from people to whom it rightfully belongs in order to give it to other people. That is anathema to libertarians. We hold that people should be free to keep their own money and decide for themselves what to do with it.

The same with the drug war. With a balanced budget, there would be less money to enforce drug laws. Nonetheless, the drug laws would still be enforced. Lives would still be ruined. There would still be the violence associated with the black market. Libertarians are not interested in a down-sized, streamlined DEA. We’re interested in ending the war on drugs because we believe that freedom entails the right to ingest whatever people want to ingest. We want to dismantle the DEA and repeal laws criminalizing the use, possession, or distribution of drugs.

The same with the U.S. government’s overseas empire, including the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Of course, this is an area in which most conservatives would oppose any reduction in expenditures. That’s because they are firmly committed to empire, to militarism, and to unlimited, omnipotent government in foreign affairs, under the rubric “a strong national defense.” Libertarians, on the other hand, support a limited-government, constitutional republic. We wouldn’t be happy with a downsized occupation force in Iraq and Afghanistan or a smaller empire. We say: bring all the troops home and discharge them and abandon all the overseas military bases.

Why is our nation mired in perpetual crises and chaos, in both domestic and foreign affairs? The reason isn’t only because the government is spending more than what it brings in, as conservatives often suggest. It’s also a moral crisis, one in which Americans have rendered unto Caesar — the state — things that should never have been rendered unto Caesar. Once Americans confront that reality — once they realize the fundamental immorality of the welfare-warfare state way of life — they will see that balancing the budget just isn’t enough to get our nation back on the right track.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.