Does Size Matter (When Considering Freedom)?

Veronique de Rugy considers the correlation between freedom and size of government, arguing that we are freer today than we were forty years ago despite the increase in the size of government. While the size of government has clearly increased, it is more difficult to answer the question of whether we are more free. What is significant is that an article in the libertarian magazine Reason is even considering this question.

While de Ruby believes we are more free there are clearly counter arguments that we are less free, including the civil liberties consequences of the “war on terror,” the growth in influence of the religious right, and a hell of a lot of new regulations on the books. At least the election of Obama and the repudiation of the authoritarian right in the last election should improve conditions with regards to the first two. The consequences with regards to the third remain to be seen.

The significance of this discussion in a libertarian publication is that many libertarians would argue, without a moment of thought, that there is a direct and absolute negative correlation between size of government and freedom. This is also seen in many Republican voters who blindly vote for the outright authoritarian policies of the GOP thinking they will provide more freedom because they promise to cut or eliminate this or that government agency. There is nothing to prevent a small government from being more tyrannical than a larger one.

In judging whether the policies of a party will make us more or less free, considerations of the size of government only play a small role. It is far more important to consider the role of government in the lives of individuals, as well as the underlying principles they hold. A political party which denies important principles such as separation of church and state, and which ignores the limitations upon the Executive Branch devised by the Founding Fathers, is an enemy of freedom regardless of their rhetoric about cutting the size of government. Of course Republicans haven’t done too well with regards to cutting government spending either.

Now that the Democrats have control of both the Executive and Legislative Branches we can evaluate them based upon how they respond to issues crucial to freedom. Some libertarians and Republicans will continue to have a knee jerk reaction to any measure which increases the size of government and claim that they are reducing our freedom. This would be a poor way to evaluate government under the Democratic Party.

Instead of thinking exclusively of size of government we should evaluate the Democrats based upon whether they act to restore the civil liberties which have been restricted under the Bush administration or continue to allow such polices to continue. The Democrats should be judged based upon whether they restore the checks and balances on Executive Power which were eliminated under the Republicans or whether they allow increased Executive power to continue when it is in their hands. Democrats should be judged on whether they act to restore the wall of separation of church and state as advocated by our Founding Fathers. Democrats should be judged upon whether they act to end the war in Iraq, and ideally to also end the drug war (although I am far less optimistic on this one).

Ronald Reagan was elected with promises to get government off our backs. The Republicans failed to live up to this rhetoric, except in areas where some government regulation is necessary. Reagan’s promise, applied to the lives of individuals as opposed to the financial sector alone, is now one which hopefully the Democrats can fulfill. If they can go this, then we can live with what will inevitably be a larger government.

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