By Anne Hobson
Contributor & Associate Editor, Austrian Economics and Liberty Blog
In Devouring Freedom, W. James Antle addresses the big issues of the day and explains them in the context of the uncertain and discouraging economic and political status of the United States. He starts by outlining the history of how the U.S. arrived to a bloated stage of government expansion, one verging on a downward spiral to a European-esque welfare state. He ends the book with suggestions for meaningful reform and words of encouragement for those disillusioned with government.
Increased government spending has become a “new normal” of sorts on both sides of the aisle—both Bush and Obama oversaw an exponential growth in spending. Antle navigates the hodgepodge of relevant topics and buzzwords—Fiscal Cliff, Solyndra, Citizens United, TARP, Fisker, Medicaid part D, sequestration, the War on Terror, debt ceiling, Obamacare, the War on Drugs, and cronyism--to derive answers for Americans looking to understand recent political events. Antle sorts through history and politics to find trends. Devouring Freedom is perfect for those who feel apprehensive about the state of America, the shining city upon a hill.
The financial state of our government is irresponsible.
Antle argues that deficits have consequences in terms of higher taxes and a lower standard of living over time. The government is irresponsible in that it is spending money that it doesn’t have.
According to Antle, “we have arrived at a point where preserving government at a size that will necessitate perennial trillion-dollar deficits, staggering tax increases, rampant inflation or some combination of the three, is less scary to Americans than restoring constitutional boundaries” (128).
“As the government’s role in the economy grows, the influence of private interests on public policy will also grow, even when the people involved have honorable intentions” (105).
American values—industriousness and integrity—are at stake as well: “If government grows beyond a certain point, it will lose its Republican character” (75). According to Antle, “we need to make the case that the looming entitlement crisis is detrimental morally as well as economically” (186).
Cronyism and corporate welfare in the form of bailouts, tax credits and subsidies only feeds the beast. Antle uses the failures of the government-subsidies green industry—Fisker, Solyndra among others—to illustrate the problem that “crony capitalism has become an epithet on both the left and the right” (107). Government is less efficient than the private sector at anticipating and fulfilling society’s needs.
One-size-fits-all policies do not work because the government cannot predict individual needs. In most cases, individuals have the best knowledge. Antle exemplifies that one-size-fits-all policies are the reason that you can no longer purchase a 32 oz soda in New York City and the reason all employers will have to pay for health insurance that includes birth control.
Reagan explained it like this: “If no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?” (133)
Antle warns that “the American people have a government that spies on them, erodes their Bill of Rights protections almost across the board, taxes them, regulates their lifestyle choices, threatens their freedom regarding firearms and still can’t pay its bills” (180). When the government enters the housing sector or the healthcare sector for example, it begins choosing for you or restricting your choice.
Insolvent entitlement programs is a huge driver of U.S national debt.
Obamacare is perhaps the most glaring example of government expansion. Obamacare is the first example of the federal government forcing individuals to purchase a product (insurance) from a private company. Not only does its constitutionality stretch the meaning of the commerce clause such that it is practically limitless, but Obamacare adds to the long-term debt by expanding entitlement programs.
“The country is on course to double the national debt in ten years” (163).
Antle argues that entitlement spending is unsustainable and out of control. Furthermore, Obamacare is a path to a single payer healthcare system which will ultimately mean less access and less choice of insurers and plans. Increasing access to health care will undeniably raise premiums for most Americans. “97% of ER doctors told the American College of Emergency Physicians that they treated patients “daily” who were covered by Medicaid but couldn’t find primary care doctors who would take them. This means ER visits will go up and also that health insurance coverage does not guarantee access to medical care” (125).
Yes, big Government can be limited and stopped.
Antle devotes a whole chapter to defending Reagan’s principles of limited government on the grounds that government size and personal liberty are inversely related.
“In [Reagan’s] farewell address at the White House, Reagan said ‘there’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat an predictable as s law of physics: as government expands, liberty contracts’” (73).
Antle urges Americans to have courage and keep up the fight for their rights. Constituents and fiscally conservative policy groups must hold representatives in Congress accountable for furthering big government, only then will they see fit to stand up to pressure to raise taxes and increase spending. Senator Rand Paul is one such role model in the fight for limited government.
Nevertheless, Antle points out that Chief Justice John Robert’s flip flop on the vote for Obamacare’s constitutionality exemplifies the mercurial nature of officials (and alludes to the corruptive tendencies that come with power): “If a man who has been appointed for life to the highest court in the land and who will never have to face the voters might yield to such pressure (from the MSM), what can we expect from elected politicians in tenuous positions?” (71).
There will never be a politically good time to cut spending, but it is necessary because “our current tax burden will not fund our existing spending commitments" (180).
Antle also argues that installing specific spending cuts and caps will make politicians “have to wring out the inefficiencies they always claim are in the federal budget but never cut.” That way, “if they can’t cut the fat, they risk the meat and bone” (170). The sequester was an arbitrary and cavalier way to cut spending, but it was better than nothing.
Furthermore, corporate welfare is a huge source of waste, and should be a bipartisan issue.
Lawmakers should address the real driver of debt—government-sponsored health care and social security:
Entitlement spending is the hand that will drag the U.S. government into the grave. Antle prompts lawmakers not to remain silent and ignore the healthcare issue, but rather to offer up a free market alternative and engage in the debate.
Lawmakers should bolster the real driver of growth:
Antle offers a simple solution to U.S. economic woes: “The answer is lightening the burden of government on the private sector, so that the real economy can grow.”