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Clinton’s State of Mind Address

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President Clinton tells the American people that the “era of big government is over” and that “government is not the solution,” but considering what he had to say in his State of the Union Address, he surely does not believe it.

Clinton’s speech was little more than a laundry list of things he wants the national government to do. He thinks it should determine how long women stay in the hospital after mastectomies, whether employers give workers time off for parent-teacher conferences, and what children are taught in school. He even ordered parents to read to their kids! Are there no bounds to what government will get involved in? Clinton seems to have little appreciation of what America once demonstrated to the world: that a free society runs itself without central direction.

To see the Clinton philosophy in action, look at his “very targeted” tax-cut plan. He would give people limited tax credits and deductions to send children to college, to obtain health care, or to buy a home. What’s wrong with this?

Very simply, the targeted nature of the plan indicates the president’s belief that our income actually belongs to the government and not to us. The government takes a big chunk up front. Then, if we think it has taken too much, we are allowed to keep a little more-but only on one condition. We have to do what the government tells us to do. If you send a child to college, fine, you can keep some. If you buy a house, you can keep a little more. Need health care? Okay, here’s some of your money. Oh? You want to buy a car? New clothes? Or take a vacation? Sorry, you can’t use your money for that. Try again.

Shouldn’t Americans be slightly uneasy with that? Whose money is it, anyway?

The Clinton plan betrays a mind set that is much like that of the bureaucrats who ran the centrally planned economies that fell apart in recent years. Of course, he doesn’t take the idea as far as others have. He doesn’t call for nationalizing industries. (Although I didn’t hear him call for privatizing already nationalized firms, such as Amtrak and Conrail.) But the principle is the same: the government knows better than you how to spend your money.

Clinton takes it for granted that your own money should come with strings attached. When he ran for president in 1992 he criticized the modest tax-rate cuts of a decade earlier by saying they were “something for nothing.” In other words, you have to earn your money twice, first at the workplace and then again in the eyes of the government.

When the government taxes your income, it forcibly deprives you of the fruits of your labor. It makes you, in some sense, a slave. And it has to intrude into your most personal affairs to do so. For that reason alone, we shouldn’t be cutting the income tax. We should repeal it. Even the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Bill Archer, thinks so.

Look how manipulative the income tax can be. Why should government stimulate college attendance through tax credits and deductions? In a free society, people should make those decisions without a push from Washington. Clinton’s plan won’t even accomplish his goals. Tax preferences for college end up mostly helping people who would have gone to college anyway. The tax help will merely bid up tuitions. Tuition inflation has been dramatic in the last few decades, primarily because of all the government money flowing to colleges and universities. Clinton is also wrong to think everyone should have a college education. To bring that about, the diploma will have to be so devalued that it won’t mean what it once meant. Look what has happened to the high school diploma. It doesn’t even indicate that someone can read.

The best route to a prosperous and well-educated society is to let people keep what they earn and make their own decisions, about education and everything else.

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    Sheldon Richman is vice president of The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.