It's A Gray Area: We should be skeptical of our government

People in our country mostly seem to possess an innate faith in government. Probably that has evolved because, while our governments generally are unnecessarily expensive, wasteful and intrusive, they have not been overtly corrupt like so many others around the world. And most people feel that at least government means well.

But this growth of government is harmful for at least two reasons. First, government's power almost always comes at the expense of a loss of our individual freedoms and liberties, and second, the government is almost never as effective and efficient as the private sector.

Thus, people who have come here from other countries often join Libertarians and look with alarm as our government continues to increase its power. We literally are experiencing the "frog in the boiling pot" phenomenon in this process as the temperature of the water slowly continues to get hotter.

The not-so-hidden reality is that big government is really good at one thing: increasing the size, power and expense of big government. But that should not be a surprise because all entities tend to look out for their own special interests and to increase their size and power.

So, just like it is natural to be skeptical about all entities in the private sector, we should logically be equally skeptical about government as well. Actually, we should be more so because only government has the inherent ability to take money, property and liberty involuntarily from those under its jurisdiction.

Milton Friedman underscored this by asking why anyone should believe in the "guardian angels of government" more than the people in any other institutions. Government workers have their own selfish interests, just like everyone else.

For example, and according to one of his own books, when he was a community organizer in Chicago, Barack Obama acknowledged using marijuana on a regular basis, and even having used cocaine. But while in government as president, Mr. Obama has allowed a multitude of people to be arrested and convicted for doing exactly what he himself had done. This is a large example of government hypocrisy, and a good foundation for our skepticism.

The same is true with George W. Bush, who basically acknowledged that he used cocaine back when he was "young and irresponsible." Thereafter, while he was governor of Texas, he signed legislation mandating that anyone in his state convicted of using cocaine must be put in jail for a minimum of six months. Another example of government hypocrisy.

The effectiveness of the private versus public side of life was fully displayed to me on our recent trip to South Africa. Back in middle-1990s, while our nation's government continued to support the apartheid regime of South Africa, it was some of the "evil corporations" in our country, along with some universities, labor unions and other private institutions, that responded to the message of people like Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu and took action against it. Literally, apartheid was continually weakened by the boycott imposed by corporations like IBM, Mobil Oil and Apple, and then when Citibank threatened to join them, the apartheid regime collapsed.

And now it is primarily the non-government organizations like Habitat for Humanity, World Vision, Save the Children and the Salvation Army that are most effectively fighting the problems of poverty, AIDS, malaria and lack of education in South Africa. That is not to say that governments, including our own, are not also helping, but they are almost always slower, more bureaucratic and less effective than the private sector.


Newport Beach City Hall

As such, I look with alarm at the expansion of the facilities in my home city of Newport Beach as it builds a new and expensive City Hall complex. Of course we all know that this government will inevitably further expand its powers in order to justify its larger spaces, and, of course, will also increase its groping for additional funds from all of us to pay for them.

For all of these reasons, we should all be eternally grateful to our Founding Fathers, who set up a system of checks and balances to protect us from government. In fact, the most effective of these protections comes from the courts. Why? Because, if you think about it, both the executive and legislative branches of government innately respond to the political majority that elects them. This leaves the protection of individual rights and liberties mostly to the courts.

But by no means am I saying that government motives are always impure, and that it never acts effectively or in an altruistic manner. That would not only be untrue, it would also be silly.

What I am saying is that everything that is taken for granted is eventually taken away, and that is what is happening today to our individual powers, liberties and freedoms.

Thus, we must develop and maintain a constant skepticism of government. Our Constitution was ordained and established in large part to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity." Similarly, the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" emphasizes that "As He died to make men holy, let us live to make men free."

For these commitments and for so many other reasons, all of us should say: Amen.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach.

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