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The War against Ourselves

by

Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, along with their vice-presidential running mates, are fighting hard to convince voters that they will support and defend Medicare to their dying day. All of these political candidates understand an uncomfortable truth about the welfare state: Once people are placed on the dole, they will be unlikely to vote for any political candidate who threatens the existence of their dole.

In the 19th century, the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States. He wanted to understand what it was that made America such a great nation.

When Tocqueville visited our nation, the United States was operating under an entirely different type of system than exists today. There was no Medicare or Medicaid. No Social Security. No welfare. No drug war. No economic regulations. No public-school systems. No foreign aid. No income tax. No central bank. No paper money. No immigration controls. No sanctions. No embargoes.

It was, without a doubt, the most unusual way of life in world history.

Why didn’t any of those programs exist? Because our American ancestors had a different conception of freedom than their present-day successors (libertarians excluded). They believed that genuine freedom consisted of the right of people to live their lives any way they choose, so long as their conduct is peaceful.

Thus, people have the fundamental, God-given right to engage in any economic enterprise without seeking a license, permit, or other approval of government officials.

They have the right to enter into mutually beneficial exchanges with anyone anywhere in the world.

They have the right to accumulate unlimited amounts of wealth and to decide what to do with it — donate it, invest it, save it, hoard it, spend it, or squander it.

The thought that government should force people into a retirement plan or a healthcare plan was anathema to our American ancestors. The same holds true with respect to government’s forcing Americans to engage in charity.

In his book Democracy in America, de Tocqueville marveled not only at the ever-growing standard of living of the American people but also at the unbelievable amount of voluntary activity that took place among Americans, including charitable donations, which were being used to build museums, universities, churches, and the like, as well as countless voluntary associations of people.

But de Tocqueville foresaw problems ahead for the United States. Consider his prescient words:

“The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

“A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship.”

Who can dispute that what de Tocqueville predicted has come to pass?

Owing to the efforts of those who believed in socialism, today there are millions of Americans who are, in one way or another, dependent on the government for their sustenance. Think of all the Social Security recipients. The Medicare and Medicaid recipients. The vast armies of contractors and sub-contractors around Washington, D.C., feeding at the trough of the military-industrial complex and national-security state. The thousands of bureaucrats and agents that work for the giant federal bureaucracy, both civilian and military. The students on federal education grants. The businessmen on SBA loans. The industries dependent on protection from foreign competition. The people on food stamps. The millions of Americans with children in the public (i.e., government schools).

Let’s face it: America has been transformed from a nation whose citizens once prided themselves on their independence from government to a nation of people who are frightened to death at the thought of losing their dependence on government.

The result? Multitudes of Americans scouring the daily pronouncements of candidates for public office for any hint that such candidates are going to tamper with, reduce, or end their particular dole. Woe to the candidate who does. He will incur the wrath and lose the vote of those whose dole he has threatened.

Meanwhile, America has been converted into a system in which Americans go to church on Sunday and war against each other the rest of the week, with one group of people fighting desperately to get their hands on the income and wealth of the other group of people, through the IRS and the welfare state’s multitudinous bureaucracies. The American system brings to mind the immortal words of Frederic Bastiat — that “the state is a great fiction in which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else,” while doing his best, of course, to protect his own income and wealth from being plundered.

The good news is that the system is cracking apart, and most everyone knows it. Everywhere you look, their beloved statist system is in crisis. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, foreign policy, the drug war, the dollar, federal spending, the national debt, taxes, and inflation. They’re all in a very severe crisis.

Why is that good news? Because it confirms that God has created a consistent universe — one in which an immoral and evil system — i.e., one based on plunder and looting — is inherently defective and does nothing but produce bad consequences — i.e., a nation of helpless, frightened, dependent people whose government is sending them over the cliff with its out-of-control spending and debt.

Obviously those on the dole aren’t going to let go. Public officials know that, which is why candidates for public office cater to them.

So, what’s the answer? It is incumbent on those who are on not on the dole to end the welfare state, whether the dole recipients like it or not. Our freedom depends on it. Our economic well-being depends on it. Indeed, our existence as a nation depends on it.

After all, we do live in a democratic system, one in which people have the right to change the system itself. People who are on the dole, including Social Security and Medicare, cannot legitimately claim that they have a “contract” that prohibits an alteration of their dole. Not only is a welfare program not a contract under the law, even if it was an implicit term of such a “contract” is that future generations of Americans have the right to establish their own economic system.

De Tocqueville wrote, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

In an era of plunder, looting, government dependency, coerced charity, invasions, occupations, rendition, torture, indefinite detention, assassination, denial of due process, support of dictatorships, embargoes, and sanctions, who can doubt that de Tocqueville was right on that count as well?

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.