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Forget Reform

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Reforming federal programs that have bestowed upon Americans a multitude of problems would seem to be a good idea, but it’s not. The problem is not only that the programs will never work no matter how much they are reformed, but also that what the programs do falls outside the legitimate functions of government. The programs need to be abolished, not reformed.

“Reform” has been the clarion call of politicians who have claimed some affinity for “small government” for decades. The reason is simple — such rhetoric gets votes. I suppose there are some in Washington who sincerely believe that the proper role of government is limited to protecting the country from invasion, punishing those who commit violent crimes, and providing a judicial forum in which people can resolve disputes, but it seems they are few. Politicians today call for smaller government and reforming government programs simply because it will help get them elected. But when it comes time to actually take action to shrink government, there are few yeas for cutting budgets, and actually eliminating programs never even gets to a vote.

It is much easier and more popular to cut taxes. Cutting taxes is an easy way to claim that you have shrunk the size of government. At the end of the day, however, the direct tax burden is only one factor to consider. Of equal importance is how much money government spends, because that’s the amount that government must ultimately collect by taxation, borrowing, or printing the money (i.e., inflation). Each of those methods has adverse consequences and affects people in different ways, but they all share the common trait of taking money from those who have earned it so that it can be spent by those who have not. Using the state to take money from people to whom it belongs in order to give it to people to whom it does not belong violates fundamental principles of individual freedom, private property, and justice.

There are also pragmatic reasons for abolishing socialist programs, agencies, and departments, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, Amtrak, NASA, and on and on: They simply will not and cannot work.

Central planning, which such programs involve, has been tried and it has failed. The Soviet Union was a socialist monstrosity that kept its citizens in squalor and destitution. North Korea, another socialist paradise, is dimly lit at night because the state cannot afford to provide sufficient electricity for its citizens. China has been progressing away from socialism because it has recognized the economic disaster that central planning produces.

The reason is that central planning is inherently defective. No group of government officials, no matter how intelligent and well-meaning, can possibly plan a complex economic activity involving multitudes of people. They simply cannot accumulate, process, and apply all the information that the market conveys instantaneously through the price system. Because of that, socialist programs are doomed to fail, no matter how much they are reformed. Even worse, central planning inevitably leads a nation down the road to despotism and servitude — the “road to serfdom,” the title of Nobel Prize- winning economist Friedrich Hayek’s famous 1944 book on the subject.

The clarion call

There is something else to consider: the infighting, favoritism, and back-stabbing that are associated with politics are an inevitable consequence of the transfer society. What other way is there to divvy up the booty? Politicians are rewarded for bringing home the biggest slice of the pie, and the slimiest politicians oftentimes get the biggest slices.

If socialist programs are doomed to fail, what should be done with them? Abolish them! Repeal them. End them. Dismantle them, along with the departments and agencies that administer them. End them and the taxes, debt, and inflation that pay for them.

Abolish Social Security. Repeal Medicare and Medicaid. Dismantle NASA, the Department of Education, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and Amtrak. Terminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. End the Federal Reserve. Get rid of them all.

The clarion call for the small-government type should be “Abolish it all!” Clear the decks and leave peaceful enterprise entirely to the private sector and the free market. Each person’s money belongs to him and it is his right to do with it as he pleases. Moreover, freedom and free enterprise, unlike socialism, actually work.

This article originally appeared in the January 2011 edition of Freedom Daily

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    Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.