Pet Programs vs. Freedom

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

George Will makes a colossal error in his latest column, defending an improper government survey on the grounds that it is good for the economy:

When Houston was competing with a Brazilian city to be the site of a Japanese-owned plant, Houston could provide the Japanese with pertinent information about the educational attainments and other qualities of its workforce and the number of Japanese speakers in the area. The plant is in Texas partly because Houston had superior statistics, thanks to an inexpensive federal program currently under attack from some conservatives. They may not know that its pedigree traces to the Constitution's Framers.
Nothing Will says in defense of this survey is relevant to whether our government ought to be conducting it. The fact that this survey has historical roots in the Constitution is irrelevant: See slavery. The fact that the results of the survey were arguably beneficial to some business or other is irrelevant: So are lots of other things the government doesn't or shouldn't provide at the expense of people other than its proprietors. The fact that the program is inexpensive is irrelevant: It is wrong for our government to forcibly take money in any amount from the citizens whose rights (including that of property) it is supposed to be protecting. That completing the survey poses a minor inconvenience is irrelevant: The government shouldn't be issuing orders to citizens who pose no objective threat to others. Finally, that the survey does not (yet?) collect a particular type of information that some citizens would find objectionable is also irrelevant: Americans deserve to have a reasonable expectation of privacy regarding their personal affairs, including whether to trust some agency to keep any such information they choose to provide anonymous.

Will's defense of this "inexpensive federal program" will seem reasonable to most people, but it actually epitomizes what is wrong with the whole idea that our government is "too big", rather than acting improperly. The former offers no reasonable criterion for limiting the role of government in our daily lives: See the metastasis of government meddling in medical care (and now even personal "lifestyle" decisions) over the decades. (And isn't a healthy population good for business?) The latter does offer a way to test whether a government action is legitimate or not. Unfortunately, the latter does not tolerate exceptions for the sake of expediency.

The truly inexpensive cost of such a test is that "small government" conservatives will have to let go of a pet government program here and there.

-- CAV

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