Steamboat Springs During the July 4 parade last year here in Steamboat, our tea party/Freedom Float caught a pretty big razzing by a group of young teens and twenty-somethings. They quickly broke into a chant of their hero, O-B-A-M-A. As I was a fire-breathing liberal at that age, as well, it got me thinking.
I suspect one big factor that hasn’t changed is the compassion for the less fortunate. And who has the resources and power to help them more than the government, right? Understanding the negatives of making people dependent, and thus, robbing them of their initiative is not something most young people have experienced personally or vicariously. And we love the idea of a silver bullet to cure most of societal ills as opposed to the messy and laborious task of getting citizens involved one by one to tackle seemingly endless injustices and inequities. Who could possibly have time for that? I didn’t.
But as the years progressed, though I never lost my fervor to help the downtrodden, I also gained a clearer understanding of many of the dynamics of human nature that made me increasingly suspicious of government intervention on a massive scale. One needn’t be a statistician to know that if you subsidize something, you get more of it. Tax it and you get less. People don’t take care of others’ belongings as they do their own. If you work for something, it means a lot more to you. Getting charity from an individual or even a private company or foundation carries greater responsibility for your subsequent behavior than receiving it from the government, which quickly becomes an entitlement you think you deserve. These are just basics of human nature that should inform our laws and policies because they impact the efficacy of every program we create.
But there’s something else, as well. It dawned on me even in my early 20s that every program I championed for government intervention meant less freedom for the recipients, as well as those being taxed to fund them. Studying the Founding Fathers of our country and the constitution made it clear they knew government always (and that means always!) wants more power because it’s for our own good. Yeah, right.
This realization impacted me in two ways. One, anyone who objectively looks at such programs knows there are unintended consequences that often outweigh the benefits. Indeed, Washington is often called the Capital of Unintended Consequences, justifiably. The other factor is more foundational. For every dollar we give the government, we give away a bit of our freedom to make the decision what to do with it ourselves. Do we actually think the behemoth in D.C. can spend that money better than we can? Is anyone at a loss to find great charities to direct their beneficence? If so, give me a call and I can give you about a thousand just for starters.
President Barack Obama has awakened something in millions of Americans that is bringing these truths to the fore in their minds. The bad news of his thinking and acting boldly on the assumption that government involvement in virtually every aspect of our lives is also the good news of citizens being jolted from their slumber with the threat of freedoms being lost that might never be able to be regained. And the people with the most to lose: the young. Sorry, kids. But the magic button for utopia doesn’t exist, even with a charismatic black Harvard man at the helm. Freedom, once lost, is excruciatingly difficult to regain. Best to cherish it and not give it away.
Gary Hofmeister is the owner and operator of Hofmeister Personal Jewelers in downtown Steamboat, a company he founded in 1973. He is a director of The Steamboat Institute and a former Republican nominee for Congress in the 10th District of Indiana. He made 18 trips to the former USSR to teach democratic-capitalism during the 1990s.