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The High Cost of a Free Lunch

Congress recently approved a new budget of staggering proportions. Weighing in at $3.6 trillion, the plan provides billions in allocations towards a national health plan, green energy, foreign aid, education, and countless other programs. The president has declared that his budget is “an economic blueprint for the future- a vision of America… that will lead to a real and lasting prosperity.”

Before breaking out in celebration, however, it would be prudent to consider: what’s the catch?  Will this flood of spending truly usher in a new era of prosperity, or will there perhaps be an even higher price to pay down the road?

For example, wouldn’t it be great if, as Obama promises, “… every single American has health care when they need it, that every senior has prescription drugs they can afford, and that no parents are going to bed at night worrying about how they’ll afford medicine for a sick child”? But what if, in exchange for providing the nation with health care, the government required you to submit your waistline measurement on a regular basis, screened your menu for unhealthy items, and shut down your favorite restaurant for serving unapproved meals?

Such a scenario might sound Orwellian, but it is already becoming a reality, both in the US and elsewhere. In Japan, government health officials force anyone whose waistline is bigger than the government-ordained size to undergo diet counseling. In Los Angeles, the City Council recently banned the establishment of fast food restaurants for the upcoming year. California has restricted restaurants from using oils, butters or other ingredients that the government deems too unhealthy.  What about my freedom, you ask?  You gave up your freedom when you asked the state to pay for your hospital bill – the government is in charge of your health now.

The Senate Republican Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell has declared that he is “…recommitted to putting [his] state and our nation on the road to clean energy independence.” Doesn’t this sound like a noble vision for our environment and economy? But what if, in exchange for providing you with new “clean” energy, the government began to tell you how much you are allowed to drive per month, or how many lights you have on in your home?

This is already being tried around the world, including the U.S. Brazil rationed energy in 2001, for example, and is expected to do so again. The government forced companies to cut their power by 25% and residents by 20%. Those who used more than the government-ordained limit faced fines and had their power turned off for up to six days as punishment.  The California Energy Commission has proposed requiring thermostats in private homes that would allow government officials to remotely adjust household temperatures.  What about my freedom, you ask?  You gave up your freedom when you asked the state to fund your power grid – the government is now in charge of “blueprinting” your energy future.

The pattern we see emerging is clear. Every time a new welfare program is created or more money is spent on a public service, the government is necessarily given more authority over our lives. This is no coincidence: the government possesses one thing that private industry does not – the ability to enact its policies not through the consent of the customer, but by force. The government is thereby fundamentally different from a private health care provider or power company. Whereas the latter can only attempt to win your purchase through creative marketing and persuasion, the government uses force to make you behave as it deems best. Thus, when you vote for more government spending on services formerly provided by private companies and individuals, what you’re really asking for is more of the government’s coercive intrusion and paternalism.

As the Obama administration embarks upon an unprecedented expansion of the welfare state, we must realize that we are paying not only with our tax dollars, but with our very freedom.

Photo by Tyrven

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