Liddick: The natural laws of politics (column)
August 22, 2016
Why does an apple fall downward? Because, as we have known since the Age of Enlightenment, there are natural laws which govern objects, which, as far as we can tell, apply everywhere in the universe with exceptions for "special cases" such as immediate proximity to black holes. Provided it could exist in both environments, an apple on Ceres or the Sun would behave the same: dropped, it would fall downward.
There are similar rules for human behavior, although exceptions and subtleties are more numerous. Our country's Founders knew from history and their own experience that people tend to be self-serving: That one will not work harder for others than one works for one's self and immediate family. That government tends to enlarge itself and, with that enlargement, tends to constrain the behavior of those it rules. That freedom is uncommon in human experience and that self-government is a rarity.
Our Founders sought to use what they knew of human behavior — its self-seeking, cupidity and lust for control — to create a stable democratic republic by using a delicate balance of competing interests and divided powers. It worked for almost 150 years but is now on the brink of collapse, brought there by politicians and populations who have forgotten other basic laws, especially of economics.
Sorry. No good or service is ever "free." Whether cell phones, health care, college tuition or government cheese, it is never, ever really "free." Anyone who says otherwise is a fool. Anyone who says otherwise — willfully and repeatedly — is a charlatan or a liar or a politician, in which case they are both. What these last mean when they say something is "free" is that they will find someone else to stick with the bill, and they don't want the audience to know it's probably going to be them.
Let's take a much-heard recent promise: "free college tuition," which is a prima facie absurdity. Hands up … anyone who thinks that college educators will work for nothing? No, even Lefter-than-Lenin Ivy League educrats want money for their effort. So it's really a question of who's going to cough up the cash. A frequent target is "big business," by which the current political practitioners of this sort of chicanery mean enterprises that haven't paid sufficient protection money to the intellectual gangsters of the progressive Left. But that's not going to work for long.
The reason is simple: Businesses, big or small, don't pay taxes. They have no printing presses in their basements to crank out $100 bills — a crime of its own — nor do they have huge hidden vats of cash in which their CEOs swim, like Scrooge McDuck. This is reality, not a cartoon. So, no, companies don't pay income taxes. They collect taxes from their customers. When their rates go up, so do the price of the goods and services they provide. National sales tax? We've had one for decades. It's called the tax on corporate income, and each and every one of us pays it already. Most of us have figured that out. Some haven't, yet.
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"Free College Tuition" courtesy of "big business?" Open your wallets, suckers.
Extortionate government also risks capital flight. In an increasingly interconnected world addicted to free trade, a company in, say, Detroit — which feels itself overtaxed or overregulated — will eventually leave for more hospitable climes in Mumbai or Dublin. Anyone who thinks this implausible hasn't been paying attention.
Another error is found in the ever-larger role of government as provider and shield against misfortune. Progressives hail expansion of the nanny state since it serves their purpose of drawing ever more people into its grip, that they may be controlled. They defend expansion with individual tales of woe, and, in individual cases, charity is doubtless justified. But what is never spoken of is the negative consequences for the larger population. What happens to society as a whole when well-being is divorced from work? What happens to the social contract when those who are supported by the state, and the state itself, is divorced from and uncaring of those whose labor supports them all? We have ample historical evidence of the result, and it is not encouraging. Even FDR was concerned about this.
The freest and most prosperous human condition for the largest number of people is that in which the individual is largely left alone by his (or her) government, which is there largely to guarantee common safety and to engage in projects larger than any individual or small group can accomplish alone. Left alone, humans can seize responsibility for their own fate — and are often happiest when doing so. Left alone, they can decide for themselves what size soda to drink and which public restroom to use.
Things to consider, as Nov. 8 looms.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News.
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