One of the signal economic thinkers of the 20th century was the Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman. His many books and papers, interviews and television specials have left us a valuable trove of thoughts and observations that should serve as guideposts during our current difficult economic times. His death has left a void that no contemporary thinker has been able to fill. That is most unfortunate, especially now.
Recently, I revisited my copy of Professor Friedman’s signature work, Free to Choose. It is still as pertinent, fresh and poignant, as it was the day it was first published. His reasoned defense of economic and personal freedom, strictly limited government and the rule of law need to be reviewed and protected fiercely by each citizen that values these sacred rights.
“Thank heavens we do not get all of the government that we are made to pay for”, stated Professor Friedman in one of his most oft quoted observations. The simple, but powerful clarity of these 17 words serve as testament to the deep understanding and concern he possessed about the ever-expanding role of centrally planned, distant government and the excessive price we pay for it. We see the detritus of insatiable government in every aspect of our lives, and yet, we seem incapable of slowing, preferably stopping the rapid growth of this corrupt, inefficient monster.
The Federal Government is nearing a 3 trillion dollar annual budget. No one really knows the exact amount of deficit spending we incur each year, but it is massive and growing. The more revenue the government realizes, the faster spending increases. We have un-funded liabilities of somewhere around $53 trillion for Medicare and Medicaid, and $25 trillion for Social Security. These are just estimates; no one can state the absolute accurate numbers. And, remember the government refers to these obligations as “un-funded liabilities”, not debt as private citizens and industry would be required to report and account for.
In 1976, President Jimmy Carter created the Department of Education. Before then, education was largely a local affair. This boondoggle has grown massively since its inception in employees, budget, programs and un-funded mandates. Less than 7% of the $60 Billion annual budget for the DOE is returned to state and local schools as grants. The rest is consumed in “bureaucracy heaven”. Can anyone seriously argue that public school performance has improved since we were blessed with the Department of Education and the thousands of theoreticians, consultants and knowledge brokers that this cesspool supports? You can actually graph the decline of graduation rates, the increase in truancy, lowered standardized test scores and achievement tests from the date we were blessed with the DOE.
The government enjoys natural monopolies in many areas. The Postal Service, the Passport Office, AMTRACK, The FAA, and so many more government agencies provide we citizens with one stop shopping. In every case, the result is subsidy, waste, and mismanagement. Waiting up to 90 days to receive a passport is ridiculous. The Postal Service and AMTRACK require subsidies every year, while FedEx, UPS, and the railroads make billions of dollars in profit each year. Why would any thinking person believe that government should be expanded into even more areas of our lives.
Thomas Jefferson, a soul brother to Milton Friedman said, “He is governed best who is governed least”. And yet, an ever-growing segment of our citizenry constantly seeks to redress perceived grievances and personally poor decision making by petitioning politicians for outcomes favorable to their desires. We know with absolute certainty that government is too large, inefficient, duplicitous and wasteful to solve problems.
Government is not in business to solve problems: it is in business to institutionalize problems! Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, Welfare, Food Stamps have all grown exponentially. The problems these programs, and many others, were supposed to address have grown even more exponentially. Bureaucracies are not in the business of solving problems and shrinking, then going out of business as they successfully complete their mission. The very core of the nature of a bureaucracy is to grow insatiably.
As more citizens abdicate their personal responsibilities and seek government support, there are all too many politicians, lobbyists, issue advocates and social engineers ready to comply and satisfy this sycophancy. We see many people campaigning for a government takeover of the health care system. When government provides free health care: that is when health care will get really expensive! How in the world can so many people, be so blind about so much.
My Company provides consulting services to inventors, small businesses and entrepreneurs bootstrapping businesses. By their very nature, these people are fearless, independent, creative and driven. They seek to take advantage of the amazing opportunities available to every citizen of the United States, if only they would take advantage of these possibilities. To a person, successful entrepreneurs do not understand, and usually despise government dependency. Simply being a citizen of this great country is the equivalent of winning the geographic lottery.
President John Kennedy famously stated, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”? The growing sentiment today seems to infer, ask not what you can do for your country; ask what your country can do for you? John Kennedy, Milton Friedman and Thomas Jefferson are symbolic personages of a sentiment that must be revived. Every citizen must contribute to the public good, but the government must get out of the way and let the populace live and prosper by the dint of their own efforts. Downsizing this albatross is in order, and quickly!