Keep Government Small and Keep Your Eye On It

By Lawrence Reed

Lawrence Reed, President, Foundation for Economic Education

Those of us who want to make government small and keep it limited as America’s Founders intended sometimes come across to others as naysayers.  Because we don’t fall for promises of politicians to take care of every corner of our lives, we get accused of being mean and uncaring.  But we should be quick to point out we are opposed to excessive government because we are in favor of some very positive, important things. We want to limit government ultimately because we support freedom, without which life would hardly be worth living.

We want to limit government because we want to maximize opportunity, enterprise and creativity. We want to permit individuals to go as far as their talents, ambitions and industry can take them. We want to limit government because we want people to dream and have the room to bring those dreams to fruition, for themselves and their families.

We want to limit government because we want to strengthen other institutions of civil society that tend to shrink as government grows — institutions such as the family, church, community and the many voluntary assocations that form the bedrock of American liberty, prosperity and self-reliance.

And we want to limit government because we’ve learned something from the thousands of years of experience with it — enough to know that it ought properly to be confined to certain minimal but critical functions and otherwise leave us alone.

(Editor’s Note:  Lawrence Reed will deliver the morning keynote address, “The Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy,” at the 2012 Georgia Public Policy Forum on Friday, September 21 at the W Hotel in Midtown Atlanta.  Click here for conference information.)

History is littered with the wreckage of government planners and their presumptuous visions of “the common good.”  They claim that to make an omelet, they must break a few eggs.  But as they accumulate power, they kill or impoverish millions along the way.  If Big Government ever earns a final epitaph, it will be this:  “Here lies a contrivance cooked up by know-it-alls and busybodies who broke eggs with abandon but never, ever created an omelet.”

At the core of our principles are these indisputable truths:  Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody, and a government that’s big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you’ve got.

No generation ever grasped the meaning of this better than that of the founders.  One of them is credited with this astute observation:  “Government is not the reason.  It is not the eloquence.  It is force.  Like fire, it can be a dangerous servant or a fearful master.”  In other words, even when government is no larger than what our founders wanted and if it does its job so well as to be a true “servant,” it’s still “dangerous.”

Keep government small and keep your eye on it because it will grab whatever power it can get its hands on at your expense.

(Lawrence Reed is President of the Foundation for Economic Education which has offices in Atlanta and Irving-on-Hudson, New York.  This article was originally published in the Newnan Times-Herald and was provided to the Georgia Public Policy Foundation by the author.)

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