Congratulations to Joshua May, a senior at St. Mary’s high school in Lancaster, NY on his winning essay! Josh’s was selected as the very best among 450+ strong submissions. His essay is below the fold!
In recent years, an unsettling number of people have been stronger and stronger proponents of the so-called “nanny state” government: a government empowered to provide for their every need. This misguided desire for more federal intervention in our lives is not only anathema to the constitutional principles upon which our government was founded, it is also dangerous. The government is not our provider- nor should it be. President Gerald Ford said it best when he declared that “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” If we cede long-term personal freedoms for short-term and mostly superficial amenities, we put ourselves in grave danger of watching the “nanny state” slowly but surely become an Orwellian Big Brother.
The idea that a provider government could look out for the common good is folly. The American dream has vastly different connotations for the equally vast number of Americans; there is not one Americabut many. The authors of our founding documents foresaw this diversity and enshrined it in the Declaration; namely, the right of Americans to the pursuit of happiness, not a guarantee of happiness itself. Risk-taking and initiative are the hallmark qualities of the American, and a government too bent on centralization denies this critical aspect of American society. Therefore, the only clear choice is of choice itself. Let the American people decide for themselves where they receive healthcare, where and how they choose to save their money for retirement, and how to provide for themselves so many other services the government has taken upon itself to perform. Freedom is perhaps the word most readily associated with theUnited States, and individual choice is at the heart of this freedom.
This is not to say that many of the services the government provides or wishes to provide are irrelevant or insignificant; on the contrary, issues like social security, education and healthcare need to be priorities in the national debate. But because these programs are so essential to so many Americans, why trust their management to an institution that can’t even handle its other affairs efficiently? It is a sobering thought that a government nearly fifteen trillion dollars in debt and overseeing a myriad of broken, incompetent and often downright corrupt bureaucratic misadventures would presume to know how best to manage our personal lives as well. One needs to look no further than any number of failed federal experiments to see the government’s unimpressive track record, such as the futile “War on Poverty” (which increased social welfare payments by 400% over a period of twelve years- and which saw the poverty level hold steady at 13%). Needless to say, when competition does not exist, quality plummets. The private sector, the most direct representative of the people, is much more vetted for the process of good quality at a good price. Excluded from the capitalist equalizer, the federal government plunges itself into a downward spiral.
Perhaps the worst aspect of the centralized provider-government model is the myth of no charge. The overbearing and corrupt social programs put in place by a similarly bloated government come at a hefty price tag. With no accountability or fear of competition, the government doesn’t have to be concerned with the efficiency of how its –your– money is spent. A private company lives constantly with the fear of losing patronage, and as a result it spends its money very carefully, to maximize quality and thus retain customers. A monopolized federal government, on the other hand, has no fear of losing business- its customers don’t have the luxury of choice. Indeed, the advent of private competitors to the United States Postal Service shows clearly the inherent flaws in government-run operations. When given the choice, the people will always choose. The Post Office itself, reacting to this reality, has ironically had to at least partially privatize itself. It would be much to the advantage of the American people and also the federal budget to herald this as the start of a long chain of privatizations. Imagine a social security system completely unregulated by government, or a welfare system under the control of religious or other non-profit organizations. Wasteful spending on the federal and state levels is cut dramatically, and institutions that specialize in such programs will be much better able to handle the task. Meanwhile, the government would be left free to focus solely on its founding mission: to protect and defend the freedom of the American people.
What, then, is the role of government, if not to provide for every facet of the citizen’s life? In the simplest terms, the government is defined in the Constitution not as an institution over men but under them, not with broad powers but with defined limitations. The Founding Fathers, victims themselves of massive imperialist government, recognized the critical necessity of the power being in the hands of the people. For this reason above all others, the government must not take the role of be-all, end-all provider. This awesome responsibility must naturally be in the hands of the people themselves. The government exists only to serve as a framework, a guardian of potential. Far from directing the lives of Americans and guiding them on predetermined tracks of “prosperity,” it is the sacred duty of government to merely nurture an environment in which individual Americans can best determine for themselves their paths in life, and where they receive their services. This includes essential services like an armed forces, transportation infrastructure, punishment for those who would seek to deprive others of life or freedom, and other such constitutionally valid powers.
But any deviation from this proven and respected model is a threat to the integrity of freedom. Infamous regimes such as Nazi Germany, the USSR, and the British Empireshow just how badly off-track even the most well-intentioned governments can go. A chilling extreme, as seen in Orwell’s famous novel 1984, is frighteningly near, in an era witnessing an ever larger encroachment of government into our lives. We must not allow the government to go one step outside of its defined limits, for our own goods. Even seemingly benign or positive social programs, seen in this essay to be in fact defunct and fraudulent, must not be allowed. When we allow the government to provide for all our needs, we may find that it is actually usurping our freedoms.
In these times of uncertainty and worry about our financial situations, provisions for our retirement or educational plans, or the availability of basic social programs, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to limited government and the empowerment of the people to provide for the people. The ever-prescient Calvin Coolidge once said of this predicament that “The people cannot look to legislation generally for success. Industry, thrift, character, are not conferred by act or resolve. Government cannot relieve from toil. It can provide no substitute for the rewards of service. It can, of course, care for the defective and recognize distinguished merit. The normal must care for themselves. Self-government means self-support.” We ignore these words at our own peril.