The Mises Institute monthly, free with membership
Volume 15, Number 12
by Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
'Seizing power is the essence of government as we know it. It's not as easy as it once was. As
public trust in government has plummeted, and resistance to central rule has grown, officials
invent ever-new rationales. Here are just a few of the newest benefits the central state promises
us if we relinquish more power to Washington:
Government Will Make Us Smarter. The market for learning is among the most
a surprise given more than a century of federal involvement. These very distortions provide a
rationale for a parade of fixes, though the political parties disagree on how to "solve" our
The Democrats want national standards--an idea first proposed by neoconservatives in the
Republican Party. The Republicans want school vouchers--a scheme originally concocted by
left-liberals seeking to co-opt and thus destroy the private-school industry, at taxpayer expense.
Despite the dispute, the two positions are compatible. If the federal government pays for
education through vouchers, national standards would immediately follow. Indeed, the public
would demand them, since people reasonably want some control over where their money goes--
whether in arts, welfare, warfare, or education.
But with national standards comes the abolition of educational innovation, the loss of
independence, the imposition of national conformity in thought, and the complete politicization
of education. Who doubts that these are the actual goals of the program's architects?
The positions of both parties assume the goal of educational centralization under the control
supervision of federal bureaucrats. This abandons the American tradition in which education is
the responsibility of families, communities, and individual states. Both ideas expand egregious
policy precedents like the G.I. Bill and the creation of the Department of Education. No one
seriously believes the federal government can make kids smarter--quite the opposite. It's merely
an attempt to grab power.
Government Will Make Us Healthier. The hullabaloo about cigarettes is not
really about health
(government, after all, is the leading health hazard; consider war, for example). It's about gaining
a new source of revenue. Government is salivating at the prospect of more billions to splurge,
justified as an effort to end teen smoking.
But it's not enough that government is attempting to ban a substance used by perhaps a third
the public. Government is also going after the beef industry, which it apparently also regards as
evil. For a variety of reasons, left-liberals have long hated the cow.
Dan Glickman, agriculture czar, wants the power to shut down any food processing plant by
own edict, and to impose fines of $100,000 a day on any plant not obeying his orders. His
demand came in the days following a Colorado incidence of nine upset stomachs, caused by E.
coli. Though the bacteria were never definitively traced to Nebraska's Hudson Plant, Glickman
recalled and destroyed 25 million pounds of its beef, leading to bankruptcy and takeover of the
Glickman says the tummy aches were not an anomaly. He would have us believe that the
food supply is being poisoned by business moguls who put profits ahead of safety. He can save
us from poisoning and disease, but only if he is given totalitarian power to destroy any food
business on his personal whim.
Would this do any good? Of course not. No one has a stronger interest in protecting the
from disease than food processing plants. If a company is responsible for poisoning, even in the
absence of any government regulatory oversight, it can be bankrupted by sheer market pressure.
The pursuit of profit and the pursuit of safety are, in a host of areas from food to air travel, bound
up with each other.
What's really at issue is whether the government or the consuming public, together with
competitive businesses, are going to determine the winners and losers in the market economy. In
fact, increased government intervention has the perverse effect of making food processing less
sanitary. Plants are forced to expend resources on obeying dictates, however irrational, as versus
serving the public with a quality product efficiently produced.
Government Will Save Our Children. Hanna Arendt, writing in the aftermath of
World War, decried the "politicization of children" all over the Western world. She had seen this
under the Nazi regime, where government invoked the interests of children as pawns in its
political game. It was true in the U.S. too, she said, where children's interests were invoked as
the excuse for overriding states' rights in education (and on these grounds she denounced Brown
v. Board of Education, thereby earning the eternal enmity of the left).
Today, the Clinton administration whips up public hysteria about a supposed nationwide
epidemic of child abuse. HHS head Donna Shalala demands huge new powers to investigate
families, grab children, and pay for foster care. Neoconservatives, including Newt Gingrich, have
proposed starting a string of government orphanages to house kids taken away from parents.
In fact, 55 percent of the cases of child abuse these people cite fall under the category of
"endangered," meaning no abuse has actually taken place, and only 7 percent refer to actual
physical abuse. Meanwhile, two-thirds of 2 million reports of child abuse per year are later
dismissed as unfounded. But that doesn't take away the trauma of parents who are publicly
humiliated and have their kids stolen, or of children put in government-approved foster "care."
Somehow, the statutes against kidnaping don't apply to government.
Also in the name of helping children, in the 1997 budget agreement, Republicans and
eagerly passed the biggest expansion in medical welfare since the 1960s. It allocates some 25
billion tax dollars to buy insurance from private markets for children who don't already receive it
from Medicaid. If no insurance can be purchased, government will provide.
Problem: families who presently have private insurance can qualify for the new program
they don't qualify for Medicaid. For every 100 children enrolled in the program, another 70 are
likely to drop private coverage, and enroll in the free, tax-paid program instead. Private coverage
then becomes more expensive and more restrictive, which further drives people into government
The program also seems calculated to lower the costs of having children for the poor, as if
costs were not artificially low as it is. For years, conservatives have denounced AFDC as the
source of the explosion in out-of-wedlock births. There's truth here, but just as
crucially--especially for people who think only about the short term--now more of the poor
don't have to arrange payment for the medical bills that accompany their children.
Congress allegedly reformed AFDC by giving the program to the states, under federal
its place, it has created a new and centralized entitlement that will further socialize the medical
industry, harm private companies, and use children for political purposes.
Government Will Make Us Virtuous. Not a day goes by when someone in
attack the Internet, ostensibly because of filth on the medium, but actually because it is an
unregulated source of information. In league with naive religious conservatives, regulators
propose that the Internet be subject to political censorship. Government will be able to prosecute
individuals for saying things the government doesn't like.
Anyone who knows anything about this medium knows it can't be done. No one knows how
large the Internet is, and there is no law a politician could write that will accomplish the goal of
policing it. But government would like the power to crush certain groups at will. Passing new
censorship laws wouldn't make us more virtuous, but they would grant new oversight powers, so
that we could no longer have easy access to politically incorrect information.
Government has used the decline of morals to its own advantage in many ways, even while it
been the largest contributor to the rise of cultural degeneracy. For example, government likes
pornography that is paid for by the taxpayers, either through the National Endowment for the
Arts or through the U.S. military, the world's largest customer for dirty books, dirty magazines,
and dirty videos.
Consider laws against "discrimination" in the workplace. EEOC says that one wrong
hiring and promotion should make a company vulnerable to bankruptcy by lawsuit. How can the
government know the discrimination is invidious? It pretends to know the intentions of
managers. But lacking the ability to read minds, it consults political interest groups on their
So what's the point of EEOC's crackdown on discrimination? As with education, health, and
children, it is mere pretense, an excuse to deprive the owners of property of their authority. It is a
power grab, taken at a time when the old rationales for state power are all but exhausted.
The correct way to counter these and other arguments for expanding government power is
merely demonstrating their futility. It is our primary task to unmask the real intent behind these
campaigns, which is not to make us healthy, wealthy, and wise, but to transfer power from us to
them. Once we understand that, we will have begun the process of beating them back.
Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr., is president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
FURTHER READING: Our Enemy, The State by Albert Jay Nock (New York:
Publishing, 1983 ); On Power: The Natural History of Its Growth by Bertrand
(Indianapolis: Liberty Press, 1993); "Child Abuse: Threat or Menace?" by Douglas J. Besharov,
Slate (Oct. 3, 1996) and "Beware the Real Agenda," New York Times
(Aug. 5, 1997).