The Tyranny of Good Intentions

by Burt on March 5, 2013

As we look around us, we are awash in failed government programs that began with the best of intentions, or that’s what many Americans believed. Today, at the state level, California (and other states) are broke and desperate for cash. At the federal level, we see minimum wage laws stifling the hiring of young men and women; a social security system that is on the verge of paying out more than it takes in; and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac receiving billions in tax dollars, despite their abysmal performance.

We got into this mess because people looked to government to solve problems. The Founders of our nation, by contrast, saw government as a potential source of problems, and they wrote a Constitution to tie the hands of politicians and slow down their mischief. The Founders assumed that if government expanded in power, tyranny was around the corner. Why do Americans today encounter problems and look to government to solve them, instead of recognizing that more government is likely to make the problem worse?

The transition decade in the growth of government was the 1930s, during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. In that decade, FDR, in the midst of the crisis of the Great Depression, persuaded Americans to expand government in all areas of the American economy. His speeches, especially his Fireside Chats, stressed the good intentions of his programs. We could pay farmers not to produce, he urged, and these farmers wouldn’t lose their land. We could use government to pay silver miners 64.5 cents per ounce for their silver, FDR agreed, and that would help them maintain jobs in the mines because the world market price was only 40 cents an ounce.

The reasoning for minimum wage, social security, and Fannie Mae–all programs of the 1930s–was similar: Let’s use government to help people get higher wages, have money for retirement, and buy houses. The intentions were good. Americans bought the good intentions and ended up with broken programs and high taxes. After that, some Americans wanted more government programs to save us from the previous government programs. And so on. Seventy-five years later most of those original programs are still around sucking the wealth away from the earners of this nation, and Americans are left with less liberty and higher taxes.

Let’s avoid good intentions and stick with limited government. The Founders studied history, they understood human nature, and they gave us a Constitution that helped make us the greatest nation in the history of the world. Let’s not abandon that for more good intentions.

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