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About the Growth of Government

Taxpayers on either side of the political aisle should be concerned about the growth of government since the size of government directly relates to the amount of taxes they pay. Few people are more qualified to write about the growth of government than Robert Higgs, author of Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. He introduces this essay for the August 1990 issue of The Freeman by writing:

“Our nation was founded by men who believed in limited government, especially limited central government. They were not anarchists; nor did they espouse laissez faire. But they did believe that rulers ought to be restrained and accountable to the people they govern. If the founders could see what has happened to the relation between the citizens and the government in the United States during the past two centuries, they would be appalled.

“The size and scope of government are important for many reasons. By virtue of their taxing, spending, and regulating, governments affect the allocation of economic resources, the distribution of wealth, and the rate of economic growth. Governments determine the very nature of our political economy, the character of the social organization within which we may lawfully conduct our affairs and pursue our goals. The size and scope of government determine—they are, so to speak, the opposite side of—our freedoms.

“All but the few anarchists among us recognize that effective liberty requires some government, if only to define and protect rights to life and property. Beyond a point, however, bigger government begins to cut into our liberties; then the growth of government becomes synonymous with the sacrifice of liberty. In the United States, we entered this stage a long time ago.”

Higgs then writes about the several ways of measuring the growth of government as well as the result of increased regulation. He then notes that from the 1840’s to the 1890’s, “the United States approximated perhaps as closely as any large society ever did a condition we might call the minimal state.”  However, there has been a “revolution in ideology,” according to Higgs, who explains:

“somewhere along the line, the dominant ideology of the United States has undergone a complete revolution . . . How did so many activities once viewed as “not the proper business of government” come to be undertaken by governments and accepted as legitimate?

"I have no short, definitive answer. The process by which the dominant ideology of the American people changed over the past century is surely complex, and no one understands it fully. It is possible, however, to identify certain critical aspects of the process.”

The entire essay is well worth reading in order to understand why government has become leviathan. Without that understanding, achieving a significant reduction in our tax burden, not to mention a more limited government, will be possible.

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