The Moral Decay of Big Government

It is the summer of 1988. I am on a train from Greifswald to East Berlin in Communist East Germany. I have just had a very nice breakfast, one of the best ever served on a train. The train pulls in to a station just as I get back to my compartment. I lean out the window to see what little town we are at, and I notice that there are only two doors open on the entire train for passengers to disembark and get on the train. Curious, I ask a man in my compartment about this obviously inefficient and dysfunctional way to handle passengers. The man, a retired school teacher, looks a bit uneasy at first, then – once he has made sure no one else can hear us – he tells me that they lock the train so that they can control gets on. “Oh, to check tickets” I reply. “No” he whispers. “You need a travel document to get on a train to East Berlin.”

The East German government had put travel restrictions on its citizens to prevent non-desirable citizens from going to the capital – and getting too close to escape routes to the west. To the East German governemnt, Communism was more important than individual freedom.

I am reminded of this episode when I read a report by Fox Business News on a new, bizarre law authorizing the IRS to determine whether or not you have the right to leave the United States:

A new bill making its way through Congress could allow the federal government to prevent Americans who owe back taxes from leaving the country. The provision is part of Senate Bill 1813, which was introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) in November and passed by the Senate on March 14 “to reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes.” Those “other purposes” have come to include a little-known amendment recently introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would allow the State Department to revoke, deny or limit passports for anyone the Internal Revenue Service certifies as having “a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000.”

In other words, this bill would allow the federal government to effectively put a Berlin Wall around the country and only allow people to leave who, according to the Internal Revenue Service, have paid their taxes in good order. If the individual taxpayer says he has paid his taxes, he does not have the right to contest the ruling by the IRS in court. When it comes to your travel rights, the IRS is the final arbiter of whether or not you owe any taxes.

First of all, this is a frightening perspective on the abuse of government powers given the fact that both presidents Nixon and Obama have been accused of using the IRS to target political enemies. Since all it takes for someone to be deprived of the right to travel abroad is an accusation from the IRS, the threshold for power abuse is very low.

When someone is granted formidable powers, he should also be held formidably accountable. The power-accountability balance appears to be completely lost here.  

Secondly, beyond the immediate concerns for individual freedom there is the question of the purpose of this law. It is put in place, evidently, to guarantee tax compliance by high-income earners. The demand for tax compliance, in turn, has its roots in the desire that Congress has to keep its welfare state in place.

In other words, Congress is willing to put serious restrictions on the individual freedom of Americans because it is unable to raise enough revenue to pay for its welfare state. The moral conclusion is that our elected officials are ready to prioritize the welfare state over individual freedom.

All in the name of good intentions, of course. The good intentions that motivate all government incursions into your life.

When government becomes more important than economic freedom, we eventually get the welfare state. When government becomes more important than individual freedom, we eventually get the totalitarian state. It has been said that the difference between the two – the welfare state and the totalitarian state – is a matter of time. Events in Europe may soon prove that to be true. What we know for certain is that the erosion of both economic and individual freedom is driven by the same statist arrogance. Once that arrogance grows to a critical mass, it intoxicates the minds of politicians and bureaucrats. They begin a journey of moral decay, where their exercise of power takes more and more extreme forms. Each new measure they put in place to re-arrange our lives, to plan society according to their preferences, will provide them with a new fix of intoxicating power.

The more extreme their new means of power get, the further down the slope of moral decay they will go. Today Congress is willing to restrict the travel rights of American citizens in the name of the welfare state. What are they willing to do tomorrow – in the name of the welfare state?

One comment

  1. Tom Stevens

    I was wondering what Thomas Jefferson would think about senate bill 1813 with the attached amendment giving new power to the IRS to revoke and suspend passports.
    Thomas Jefferson Said
    A free people [claim] their rights as derived from the laws of nature, and not as the gift of their chief magistrate.

    A government afraid of its citizens is a Democracy. Citizens afraid of government is tyranny!

    A little rebellion now and then is a good thing and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.

    All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.

    Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.

    Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.

    Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny.

    Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have. The course of history shows us that as a government grows, liberty decreases.

    Governments constantly choose between telling lies and fighting wars, with the end result always being the same. One will always lead to the other.

    I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.

    I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be.

    I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.

    In matters of style, swim with the current; In matters of principle, stand like a rock.

    My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.

    Most bad government has grown out of too much government.

    Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

    The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all.

    The purpose of government is to enable the people of a nation to live in safety and happiness. Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors.

    The policy of the American government is to leave their citizens free, neither restraining nor aiding them in their pursuits.

    The two enemies of the people are criminals and government, so let us tie the second down with the chains of the Constitution so the second will not become the legalized version of the first.

    The Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.

    The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first object.

    There is not in the British empire a man who more cordially loves a union with Great Britain than I do. But by the God that made me, I will cease to exist before I yield to a connection on such terms as the British Parliament propose.

    Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.

    To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty, or profusion and servitude.

    Upon the altar of God I pledge eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.

    We in America do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.

    We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt.

    What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?

    When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.

    One man with courage is a majority.

    Never put off for tomorrow, what you can do today.
    (yes,all the above are Thomas Jefferson quotes)

    After reading his quotes it is easy to see that Thomas Jefferson one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence would have opposed the attached amendment in senate 1813 giving new power to the IRS to revoke and suspend passports. This bill 1813 has already passed the senate, it is very important that you contact your representatives to oppose senate bill 1813 and request that the amendment giving new power to the IRS to revoke and suspend passports removed. It is very easy to contact your representatives by email, here is the link.
    Thomas Jefferson would not just complain, he would do everything possible to prevent bill 1813 and the attached amendment giving new power to the IRS to revoke and suspend passports from becoming law.