Principles Needed In Government

Principles Needed In Government

"The fundamental issue at hand is clearly not who is in charge. The issue is that too many of our nation’s leaders lack a principled view about the role of government in a free society."

These are not easy times. People are rightly fearful about the future and distrustful of their leaders. The Left and Right point fingers at each other, but I’ll put it plainly: leaders on both sides deserve some blame for our nation’s current hard times. The national debt for example has exploded under the watch of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress for years, fueling the imminent fiscal and monetary crises we see today.

The fundamental issue at hand is clearly not who is in charge. The issue is that too many of our nation’s leaders lack a principled view about the role of government in a free society.

I recently had the privilege of attending an inspiring lecture in Billings given by Lawrence W. Reed — a renowned author, economist, lecturer, and President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education. Lawrence put forward seven principles of sound public policy for our leaders in government to embrace what I believe are worth repeating for readers of this column, especially as we near election day:

1. Free people are not equal, and equal people are not free.

“When people are free to be themselves, to be masters of their own destinies, to apply themselves in an effort to improve their well-being and that of their families, the result in the marketplace will not be an equality of outcomes.”

2. What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one or everyone tends to fall into disrepair.

“If you want to take the scarce resources of society and trash them, all you have to do is take them away from the people who created or earned them and hand them over to some central authority to manage. In one fell swoop, you can ruin everything.”

3. Sound policy requires that we consider long run effects and all people, not simply short-run effects and a few people.

“If we want to be responsible adults, we can’t behave like infants whose concern is overwhelmingly focused on self and on the here-and-now.”

4. If you encourage something, you get more of it; if you discourage something, you get less of it.

“We respond to incentives and disincentives. Our behavior is affected by them, sometimes very powerfully. Policymakers who forget this will do dumb things like jack up taxes on some activity and expect that people will do just as much of it as before, as if taxpayers are sheep lining up to be sheared.”

5. Nobody spends somebody else’s money as carefully as he spends his own.

“When you spend other people’s money to buy something for someone else, the connection between the earner, the spender and the recipient is the most remote — and the potential for mischief and waste is the greatest.”

6. 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.

“A free and independent people do not look to government for their sustenance. They see government not as a fountain of ‘free’ goodies, but rather as a protector of their liberties, confined to certain minimal functions that revolve around keeping the peace, maximizing everyone’s opportunities and otherwise leaving us alone.”

7. Liberty makes all the difference in the world.

“Public policy that dismisses liberty or doesn’t preserve or strengthen it should be immediately suspect in the minds of a vigilant people.”

If you’d like to read a full transcript of this lecture, go to:

This column was originally published in Lee Newspapers.

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