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December 26, 2022

(Adapted from the book, “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy”:

Let's be fair in acknowledging that government grows because the people demand it. I found out as Governor that even self-proclaimed libertarians and "real conservatives" are against more government…until they are for it.

We end up with laws being passed and boards, agencies and commissions being created because people sit around whining about something or somebody they don't like and sooner or later, someone pipes up and says, "There ought to be a law!" It might be a law to make people pick up their dog's poop on the sidewalk or a law declaring that when a pedophile molests a little girl, he has to serve life in prison. No argument there, but just know that when someone says, "There ought to be a law," you'll need to reach into your wallet. It's going to cost you.

Of course, no one thinks that the part of government they want is bad—it's "the right thing to do." But once we create a law, we have to hire someone to see that it's being obeyed. Then we need someone to enforce the law. And someone to adjudicate the law if it's broken. And someone to carry out the punishment of the person who broke the law. (Of course, you could go too far the other way and save money by defunding the police and not enforcing any laws – but that’s crazy talk!)

In a perfect world — if all people were naturally good neighbors who never did selfish things but always acted in the best interest of others — we wouldn't need nearly so many laws. The proliferation of laws is directly proportional to our failure to live by the “Golden Rule" that my mother drilled into me when I was growing up: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Many of our laws exist to deal with those situations caused by people who just "do unto others."  

No one wants to be beaten to a pulp by a thug, so if everyone abided by the Golden Rule, no one would get beaten by a thug. By definition, there would be no thugs. There would be no domestic violence because no one wants to be a victim of domestic violence. There would be no theft because no one wants to have his or her stuff stolen. There would be no littering because no one wants his own yard covered in someone else's trash.

We pass laws when people don't behave kindly toward others. By and large, that's what inspires someone to say, "There ought to be a law!" And the next thing you know, there is one. Soon there are pages and pages of them.

This is why I feel I must educate my hardcore libertarian friends who say, "You can't legislate morality. I don't want the government involved in moral or social issues." But that's exactly why we pass laws at all. When people act immorally or without regard for others, laws get passed to set a standard of behavior that would have existed naturally and organically if we all demonstrated a little empathy.

A free people can't exist in a moral vacuum. (This is why people on social media tend to end up in echo chambers until they hate, demonize and want to silence or kill anyone who disagrees with them – because social media is a moral vacuum.)

Liberty is more abundant when the personal behavior of the citizenry is abundantly moral. When people steal, attack, defraud, abuse or kill, citizens want the government to crack down. Laws will be passed and government will grow to more clearly define the boundaries of acceptable behavior.  When someone violates our law, it costs money to investigate the crime, arrest the criminal, pay for his trial (and often for his attorney), and incarcerate him. The cost just for incarceration is staggering. In most every state, it costs more to keep someone in prison for one year than it would to provide college tuition, room and board, books, and even some spending money! Although admittedly, with some colleges these days, he might learn more in prison. 

The monetary burden created by people who act in contradiction to the morality of the community is far greater than most people realize. It's the cost of paying sandblasters to remove graffiti from buildings and bridges; the cost of juvenile detention homes; the cost of more expensive insurance premiums to cover theft; the cost of policing, surveillance, and enforcement on our streets; and the higher cost of products on the shelves to cover stores' losses due to shoplifting. And while some call for longer prison sentences and the end of parole, no matter how justified, those modifications dramatically increase a state's prison budget.

It was my observation that some people who labeled themselves "fiscal conservatives" never saw the disconnect between their call to increase the cost of government and their pride in not raising taxes to pay for it. This is where priorities must come into play; an increase in one area of the budget means a decrease — a real decrease, not just a fool-the-eye accounting trick — somewhere else. States can’t just print more money or stick our as-yet unborn grandkids with the bill: they actually have to pay for things.

I don't think we need more money in government; I do think we need more morality and decency in our culture. Just as numerous cultural forces have brought our standards down — way down — other influences in society can surely reverse that trend. And if we really want the government to "get off my lawn," then part of the solution is better citizens obeying the laws we already have so we don't have to pass new laws to further explain and expand the old ones. But it’s going to take a revival of some archaic concepts that a lot of people have been working for years to eradicate, like personal responsibility, empathy for others (even if they hold different views) and the Golden Rule.

The great writer Tom Wolfe said it best, in his satirical novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” through the character of Judge White (played in the movie by Morgan Freeman) as he speaks from the bench:

"Let me tell you what justice is. Justice is the law, and the law is man's feeble attempt to set down the principles of decency. Decency! And decency is not a deal. It isn't an angle, or a contract, or a hustle! Decency...decency is what your grandmother taught you! It's in your bones! Now you go home. Go home and be decent people. Be decent."

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