Let’s Take a Break (From Gov)

February 14, 2019

Usually thought of as THE romantic holiday of the year, I was surprised to learn how many breakups occur on or around Valentine’s Day. Some breakups are sad, but often they’re necessary to escape relationships that just aren’t working. And though there are as many reasons why relationships might not work as there are relationships, some of the biggest red flags are running up debt, trying to micromanage choices, and even distrustful spying. Sound familiar?

When it comes to relationships riddled with debt issues, extreme micromanagement of choices, and crazy spying, nothing comes close to our relationship with government. Maybe it’s time to think about a break up? That was actually the premise behind the first season of Independent’s web series Love Gov. The series follows Alexis, who meets “Gov” in college and, after initially being captivated, his deception and overprotectiveness drives them apart. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s definitely worth your time and, importantly, it’s a good reminder of the red flags constantly being hoisted all around us.

Let’s start with debt. Just recently, the United States’ public debt passed the $22 trillion mark—the highest it has ever been. Despite this milestone, there is no sign of slowing down. In fact, not only is there no plan to get the debt under control, it is expected to balloon to $28.7 trillion within the next ten years. In case you were wondering, that government debt bill comes out to more than $67,000 per American. For reference, the US Census reports that, as of 2017, US median household income is $61,372 per year. Remember, debt is still spending and like all spending, must be paid for in taxes, plus a little extra for interest. In our case, that little extra in interest has risen to $371 billion annually. But if all that spending and debt isn’t enough to convince you that something is amiss, consider the fact that a significant portion of this is dedicated to restricting your choices—for your own protection, of course.

An enormous amount of time and energy is poured into regulating even the most minute decisions that people make on a day to day basis. In 2017, the Federal Register contained 61,308 pages of rules—a rare low point when compared to its high of 95,894 pages in 2016. These regulations are estimated to have cost Americans $1.9 trillion in 2017 or nearly $15,000 per household (more than Americans spend on any other category of goods except for housing). These numbers don’t even take into account the costs and frustrations of the state and local levels, which add many more restrictions. Take occupational licensing laws, basically laws (usually on the state level) that force would-be practitioners and service providers to get a permission slip from government in order to work. In the 1950s, about 1 in 20 occupations required a license to work, today the number is closer to 1 in 4. Not only do these rules drive up costs, they also restrict choices for consumers and would-be entrepreneurs to those that government deems “acceptable.” But making sure we’re “protected” by restricting our choices isn’t enough, to really make sure everyone is safe, government also keeps tabs on us to a surprising degree.

 While it can be tough to pin down specifics, what with the secret courts and classified documents, it’s no secret that government spies on us in some surprising ways. In addition to collecting data from cell phones, the government has also collected financial information such as credit card transactions. There are also examples of government tracking your location via your cell phone. All this costs millions of dollars each month and should be deeply concerning, especially given the thousands of laws on the books that we may or may not be inadvertently violating every day.

Most of us wouldn’t stay in a relationship with someone that runs up our debt, micromanages our choices, and constantly spies on us. We certainly wouldn’t think that this is normal or healthy. Maybe the relationship can be repaired, but some changes need to happen and those don’t exactly seem likely. So maybe this Valentine’s Day, we should consider taking a break from Gov—or at the very least, recognize that our relationship has some serious issues.

Ben Wilterdink is a Research Fellow and former Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst at the Independent Institute.
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