There are a lot of people these days who think government should do everything for us. For many who are overworked and feeling burned out, that can be a very tempting idea. After all, personal responsibility is a lot of work!
But when you look at the staggering debt that’s threatening our grandchildren’s futures and wondering how that came to be, the answer is simple: a lack of personal responsibility. People thinking up things they thought the government ought to do and expecting them to be paid for with somebody else’s money. Thomas Jefferson said, “The government is best that governs least,” but small, cost-efficient government requires a population that’s willing and able largely to govern themselves.
To explain why government costs as much as it does, let me take you to a city that I’ll call “Hucktown” (Hey, it’s my story, so I get to name the town.) In Hucktown, everyone is exactly like…well, me. Nobody smokes or drinks or takes drugs. We all obey the laws and try to watch our diets and exercise. We stay married and teach our kids to respect other people’s property and do their homework. Everyone gets up early and usually works late (they have to: since they’re just like me, they all have at least five jobs.)
Because of all this, Hucktown’s government would save a lot of money. It wouldn’t need a jail or a divorce court or drug counselors or rehab clinics or very many hospitals or police. I can guarantee it wouldn’t need to hire anyone to scrub off graffiti. So can you imagine how low the taxes would be in Hucktown? That’s because when people govern themselves, by practicing civility and personal responsibility, they need less outside government to force them to behave properly.
But before you start packing up to move there, I should point out that Hucktown is imaginary (although Branson is close.) In reality, there will always be people who impose costs on society, either because of problems they can’t help, or because they choose not to be responsible. For these folks, we’ll always need expensive social services, hospitals, rehabs, counselors and jails.
But what if you lived in the exact opposite of Hucktown: a place where everyone decided that it would be easier to cede responsibility for every tough decision to the government? After all, it’s hard work to choose a medical insurance policy, or plan for retirement, or decide what kind of car to drive. Why not let the government take all those decisions off your shoulders?
Because you pay very dearly for it, in three ways. First, if you don’t like the decision the government makes for you, tough luck. Second, as Ben Franklin pointed out, when you trade a little freedom for a little security, you’ll soon have neither. And third, there’s the staggering monetary cost of having the government do all those things for all those people.
I imagined a town where people didn’t need a lot of government, so taxes could be very low and named it “Hucktown.” Now, you imagine a place where people expect the government to do everything. Then imagine how high the taxes and how big the debt would be. I’ll let you name that place, but choose carefully. Unfortunately, there are so many places like that, a lot of names are already taken. My suggestion: “Bernietown.”