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Save the Children–from Government

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The cynical political exploitation of children continues apace in Washington. The calculated abuse of children in order to accumulate power knows no limits. But since it is the government itself that is guilty of this child abuse, there is no one to stop it.

President Clinton reminded us the other day — we may be forgiven for having forgotten — that he has proposed a $22 billion plan to subsidize child care for families in which both parents go off to jobs. (Am I the only one who is still not used to government’s tossing billion-dollar bundles around like bricks of cheese at a relief center?) The money will also be used to meddle in the child-care industry and to bulk up programs such as Head Start, the biggest snake-oil scam since Dr. Feelgood’s Elixir.

The five-year program is of a piece with Clinton’s relentless efforts to nationalize other people’s children through new health-insurance schemes. We are not terribly far from the time when children will spend their days in government day-care centers and get their medical treatment there from government-employed doctors. And American parents will be ever grateful.

All that the Republicans can say in response is that the Clinton plan neglects children who have at least one parent at home. To them the GOP offers the usual: tax credits. But the Republican bill takes much of the Clinton plan under wing.

When will the bleating about the beleaguered family end? I don’t say this because the family isn’t beleaguered. On the contrary, I say it because the Republicans and Democrats are bunko artists whenever they claim to save the family. If they meant what they said, they’d have junked the gimmicks and removed the dead weight of the state from the backs of the American people.

Parents, like everyone else, suffer from onerous government. If the burden of federal, state, and local taxation were removed, they could more easily afford good child care or, better yet, the mothers who want to stay at home would be able to do so. The American people don’t need subsidies and tax credits, or Head Start and federally regulated child care. They need the freedom to keep what they earn. They need tax repeal.

But look at it from the politicians’ point of view. What kudos will they get if they simply let you keep your money as a matter of simple principle? It may occur to you that they should have done this long ago. You may end up resenting them for squandering your money. No politician wants that.

That’s why they prefer tax credits and subsidies. A tax credit is the politician’s way of saying: “Do precisely as I say and I will reward you.” If you please the Republicans and Democrats, you keep a few dollars more. Otherwise, off the money goes to the treasury.

And observe how easy it will be to use tax credits and subsidies to herd children into federally approved or operated child-care centers. All the regulators have to say is that you don’t get your subsidy or credit if your children attend renegade centers.

We need to rediscover two lost ideas: people should be free to keep what they earn, and parents are responsible for their own children. At least since 1913, when the permanent income tax was enacted, we have lived with the de facto idea that the government owns everything. If it wants to take more than 90 cents of the marginal dollar, it may do so. If it shows some mercy and drops the rate to 40 percent, be grateful, but don’t go thinking you’re entitled. Whatever you keep is purely by the grace of the U.S. Congress and the President.

To call that idea immoral and contrary to the founding principles of America is an understatement.

As for taking responsibility for one’s own children, this is an idea the President and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton abhor. “There is no such thing as other people’s children,” Mrs. Clinton likes to say. That’s why they wish to tax everyone for their schemes to transform other people’s children into national resources.

Enough already of this idea that reeks too strongly of every despotism the world has ever known.

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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.