The Heavy Burden of Government

In my hometown, everyone is required to have a landline telephone so local officials can reach us with a reverse 911 call.

It’s a nice idea, but it doesn’t work. In my family, we never use the landline. We talk on cellphones. Occasionally, telemarketers call. So do people looking for someone named “Danny,” but we no longer answer. So, if a call came from our local government, we’d never hear their message. But when you’re building a house and need to pass inspection, it’s easier to put in the phone than fight city hall.

Overall, 68 percent of Americans believe there are too many unnecessary laws in the United States today. A majority of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters all recognize the problem.

Most excess laws are just a nuisance and not a real problem. But there are plenty of horror stories where individual lives are ruined for technical violations of unknown and unnecessary laws. Sometimes the harassment is aimed at a particular citizen; sometimes it’s just bureaucracy gone wild.

In his 2009 book, “Three Felonies a Day,” civil rights attorney Harvey Silverglate shows that “prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior.”

That’s one reason 51 percent now believe that the government is more of a threat to individual rights than a protector of them. It’s why people react so negatively to nanny-state proposals like banning the sale of large sugary drinks. Just 24 percent support that idea.

Encountering unnecessary laws is just one reason people have come to see government in America as a burden. Half (50 percent) believe more government involvement makes society less fair. Only 22 percent believe it increases fairness.

Government is also seen as a burden on the economy. And this extends beyond the heavy cost of taxation. Every entrepreneur can share war stories of overcoming government-imposed obstacles to succeed.

Here’s a basic point that many politicians miss: Just because a problem exists doesn’t mean people want the government to fix it. For example, 69 percent believe executives at major companies get paid too much, but only 17 percent want the government to regulate their pay.

To hold people and companies accountable, Americans believe in competition more than government. By a 2-to-1 margin, people believe more competition and less regulation is the way to fix the financial system. By a 3-to-1 margin, they say the same about health care. That’s because competition puts consumers in charge, while regulation puts bureaucrats in charge.

Put it all together, and it’s easy to understand why 66 percent believe that the best thing government could do to help the economy is cut spending. Americans have come to view the government as a burden that is weighing down the economy and the nation.

This is not an anti-government attitude, it’s simply a desire to have government play its proper role in society. Too many politicians, from both political parties, believe the government’s job is to run the country. A healthier view is to recognize that our government was designed to play a support role rather than take the lead.

As I wrote in my book “In Search of Self-Governance,” the American people do not want to be governed from the left, the right or the center. They want to govern themselves.

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