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Growing government hinders our potential

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Despite the 1994 rhetoric of the Republican majority, government continues to grow. Its tentacles reach more and more into our lives, through a tax code that now stands at 5 million words and the yearly enactment of 60,000 to 70,000 new regulations.

Washington's increasing reach is neither constitutional nor moral. Politicians might think they are doing what's best, but they're not - and the reason is simply that politicians cannot possibly know what's best for people. This is not because they're stupid or uncaring, they just don't have the necessary information and it's impossible for them to get it.Take a minor example to illustrate this point. Three out of four workers pay more in Social Security taxes than they pay in federal income taxes. Suppose there wasn't a government-mandated retirement program. A person like Mary would have more money. She might save the money to invest in a computer and start a home-based business, provide music lessons for her kids or invest in the stock market.

Congress in effect says, "We know what's best for you; that's to put $40 of your weekly earnings into Social Security." Adding injury to insult, Congress threatens, "If you disagree with us and don't do what we say, we'll put you in jail."

How is it possible for Congress to know what's best for Mary? Mary might have been irresponsible and not have prepared for her retirement, or Mary might have been very successful and have established a thriving business - or the music lessons she could have afforded might have resulted in her kid becoming a concert pianist. We'll never know.

You miss the point if you think I am debating the merits of our Social Security program. The issue is far deeper. Instead of trying to shape society to their liking, politicans should limit their activities to cultivating an environment where people can choose and maximize their potential.

This is precisely what the framers of our Constitution sought to do. A critical element of such an environment is to establish what the late Nobel Laureate economist Friedrich Hayek called rules of several property: the stability of possessions, their transference by consent and the keeping of promises.

Today's tax code and heavy regulation of peaceable, voluntary exchange violate rules of several property. Respect for the rules of several property produced an environment in our nation where our people could more fully exploit resources, and it enabled us to become the world's richest and freest nation. We are still benefiting from that legacy, but it's being eaten away by people who think they have superior wisdom and have been ordained to force that "wisdom" on others.