One often unseen effect (especially by Republicans) of an increase in the reach and scope of government is the net effect on liberty. When considering increased government involvement in health care, education, the housing market, or even food regulation few raise the question of liberty.
The problem is that with an increase in government comes a decrease in liberty. Hence, Benjamin Franklin warned that those who seek security at the expense of liberty will find they have neither.
Isn’t government the safeguard of liberty, you ask? Consider a couple of quotations: here and here. We also must consider the definition of liberty or freedom. Are we free to have a good or service, or are we only free when we have some barrier removed (i.e. poverty, racism)? If freedom is really of the second sort, then wealth redistribution schemes such as those found on the left are more representative of liberty.
From an LDS perspective, we are “Free to choose liberty and eternal life.” Lehi even tells us that there is a need for opposition, a need to be able to choose between two or more options. Only when multiple options are available is agency possible. We came to earth see if we would do all things the Lord commanded us. Agency is a critical aspect of our lives here.
D&C 134:2 tells us that “No government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” Thus is laid a foundational idea, that the government exists for three purposes:
1. Secure each individual the free exercise of conscience
2. Secure the right and control of property
3. Secure the protection of life
Of course, reasonable minds may disagree as to interpretation, but it appears that according to this scripture, eliminating poverty or pollution is not a legitimate governmental function. One can also observe that government exists to secure property rights, the right and control of property. What does this refer to?
Most agree this refers to land legally owned. But what about other assets, like a tractor or an insurance policy? Or a retirement account? Aren’t these fruits of one’s labors also considered as someone’s property? Certainly I alone have claim to my paycheck, and not someone else, unless I voluntarily give it to someone else. But it someone confiscates an asset of mine and declares that it is their property now, has it become their property?
Again, the government exists to secure the right and control of property. To me, this means that the role of government is to secure my property (including my assets), not to take from them.
But when a new government program is proposed, who ends up paying for it? Do I keep more or less of my paycheck as a result? Do I have more or less control over what I use my property (including assets) for? As we recall, government economic intervention (such as subsidies) has the effect of increasing prices, effectively taking more money out of my paycheck.
As prices rise due to government economic intervention, my paycheck buys less and less, decreasing my liberty and freedom. One can consider my economic freedom to be compromised as a result of such policies. Economic intervention also drives some products and services out of business which I might otherwise consider purchasing, thus further decreasing my liberty by decreasing the available choices. Fewer choices, for me, translates to less liberty.
Then there are laws regulating behavior which do not significantly harm the protection of life. I am not referring to clear cases of aggression, like assault and murder. I am talking of the more intrusive kind of morality-based legislation. Are we not entitled to a “Free exercise of conscience?” What effect do these type of laws (Patriot Act, HR 1955) have on our free exercise of conscience? Can we be legislated to be better beings? The great covenant societies of Alma, the Nephites, and the city of Enoch were great because individuals exercised their agency to accept and keep certain covenants. They chose to be great: they were not forced to be great.
For many well meaning Americans, it is easy to find a social issue that needs to be resolved, a wrong that needs to be made right, even a mistake that needs to be fixed. There are many that need to be fixed. But is the fair and just solution to take (by force) from one person and give to another? Yes, we do have a mandate to take care of the poor. But this is the mandate of individuals, not that of the government. Let me use my own money to take care of the poor, for that is the commandment. We should be wary of the slippery-slope we are probably already on. When do we say we have enough government intervention? How much is enough? If government intervention perpetuates the problems it has caused, then there is no such thing as enough intervention. With increasing government involvement, the problems get worse and worse. Perhaps even more troubling is that the more power and inertia government has, the less power we have to stop it.
History is not on the side of liberty. As governments grow in reach and influence, they rarely give up their powers. We can see this in The Book of Mormon, or from extrapolation, in the D&C. They rarely shrink without a violent act such as a revolution or war. And so our liberty decreases little by little, as we march in an increasingly constricted pathway to the future. If the way to wickedness is great and wide, and the path to righteousness strait and narrow, what are the odds we are headed in the right direction? Historical precedents are not favorable to liberty (or salvation) in this pattern.
In summary, for me, the fundamental role of government is to protect and preserve my liberty, not to decrease it. It should be the champion of my liberty and my rights, not the offender of them. This is the biggest reason I have a problem with the current increasing pattern of government involvement and intrusion into our lives. I would rather empower the individual and not the government.