Liberty and Government

U.S. Federal Spending FY 2008
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You might remember Alabama congressional candidate Rick Barber as that guy who likes to release ads about communing with the spirit of Zombie Lincoln and how modest health care reform is totally like the Holocaust. Well in today’s Washington Post, he provides—no kidding—an explicit defense of the politics of fear. It’s a predictably schizophrenic argument, based as it is both in the teleological benefits (Fear is a great motivator for change! Change like getting me elected.) and fear on its own merits (The guvimment is trying to make policy! Scary!). As a result, it sort of feels like two half-columns abruptly pasted together with the connective tissue between premise and conclusion left out of each.

But put all that aside for a moment. I want to focus on one particularly bizarre (and, unsurprisingly, unsupported) assertion Barber makes. He writes:

Whenever the government grows, individual liberty withers.

That’s Tea Party gospel right there. And, like most passages from the Tea Party Tanakh, it’s both a simple, appealing platitude, and something no human being actually believes if they think about it for more than fifteen seconds.

Remember, Barber is a former member of the Marines, presumably defending our liberty and whatnot. Of course, the military—that bulwark of freedom—is a part of the federal government. In fact, with almost a quarter of the federal budget going towards military spending (see the above graph), it represents a towering example of government expansion. So if there really is a simple, linear correlation between the size of government and loss of individual liberty, presumably Barber would be in favor of whittling down the United States military to almost nothing. Someone should ask him if that’s how he feels!

I’d also be curious to see what he thinks of the state of individual liberty in countries where the government is, relatively speaking, incredibly tiny. One example that immediately springs to mind, since it’s been in the news recently, is the Karzai government in Afghanistan, which is virtually nonexistent outside of a small perimeter around Kabul. Sure, much of Afghanistan is poverty-ridden, pre-industrial, and ground beneath the heel of brutal warlords, but surely that’s a small price to pay for not having basic government infrastructure breathing down their necks, right?

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