WHY GOVERNMENT DOESN'T WORK, by Harry Browne, St. Martin's Press, New York, © 1995, ISBN: 0-312-13623-4, 245 pp, $19.95.
Review by Del Meyer, MD
A Note from Harry Browne (Also author
of How I Found Freedom in An Unfree World)
Most politicians believe in just one thing - winning
elections. They'll say anything to get in office and stay there. Today they believe
saying "less government" will get them elected, but the last thing they
really want is to give up the power that comes from big government.
No matter which party has held the presidency or
dominated Congress, no one has delivered on the promise to reduce government. Despite
the talk, every year government grows larger and interferes even further in our
I'm not a politician. Like you, I'm sick of seeing
government take almost half the national income and then dole it back to us as though
we are children on an allowance. I'm tired of politicians using the crime problem as
an excuse for seizing property and liberties from innocent citizens. And I'm not
fooled by "welfare reform" that doesn't change anything, or by showy
"spending cuts" that add up to a bigger government budget.
As a lifelong libertarian, I'm running for president
with a simple platform: We can have higher incomes, safer cities, better schools, and
a more civil society if we reduce the size of government drastically - rather than
just slowing its growth. This book presents a realistic plan for cutting government,
and it shows how you can make me keep my promises if elected.
I don't want to be a politician, I just want our
country back. I want to fix America once and for all, so I can live in peace and
freedom. If you'll help me, we can get back our freedom, our money, and our lives.
Prologue, the Breakdown of Government (in Harry
Browne's own words)
living in a city where you felt safe walking home at ten in the evening - or even at
two in the morning.
children going to schools that respect your values; where teachers concentrate on
reading, writing, adding, subtracting, and other academic basics; and where no one
would dare teach your child a philosophy that's alien to you.
paying only half the taxes you're paying now. You could move into a better home,
finance a more comfortable retirement, send your children to the private school of
your choice, support your favorite cause or charity in a way that would make a
significant difference, or save up to go into business for yourself.
lower taxes, your family could live well on the income of just one spouse - so the
other parent could choose to stay home and raise your children in the values you
believe, rather than leaving their moral training to strangers.
Is This a Dream?
describing Utopia. Such a society wouldn't be perfect. But as recently as 1950, it
was real. The crime rate was only one fifth of what it is today. Most American school
children learned to read, write, and do math competently - and they left school able
to make their way in the world. Government was only one-fifth the size it is today.
Government Running Wild
America is quite different. It is a land where crime is a national scandal, schools
turn out illiterates, and taxes drive both parents into the job market. The
"American Dream" has become a mirage for too many of us.
And to make
matters worse, government has grown too large and too bold. It routinely tramples on
our property and our liberties:
government was founded by men who warned "Don't tread on me." But that
government now pries into your bank account, threatens to destroy you to collect its
taxes and tries to herd you into a health-care collective - as though you were a
state, and local governments together take 47% of your earnings through direct and
hidden taxes - cutting your standard of living to a fraction of what it could be. . .
government set up to protect private property now confiscates it in the name of
fighting drugs or preserving the environment.
that once defended your privacy and liberties now ratify any intrusion that can be
shown to be in the government's interest. . .
descended upon America to halt progress and plunge us into a world of violent crime,
poor education, and big government.
So how did
it happen? What transformed America from the land of the free into the land of high
taxes - from the land of prosperity into the land of debt and bankruptcy - from the
land of opportunity to the land of quotas and lawsuits - from the land of free
enterprise to the land of regulations, mandates, and government inspectors?
of America has been caused by politicians and reformers who believe that you aren't
competent to run your own life, that they know better how to spend the money you've
earned, that they understand which products you should be allowed to buy and what
wages and job benefits are suitable for you.
To run your
life for you, they have created a government that fails at everything it undertakes,
but wants to undertake everything:
government can't deliver the mail on time, but wants to take your life in its hands
by controlling your health care.
government can't keep the peace in Washington, D.C. . . .
schools don't have the money and time to teach your children how to read well - yet
they always find the resources to teach their favorite social theories, no matter how
distressing they are to parents.
look, government fails at what we want, and succeeds only in finding new ways to
interfere with our lives.
What Went Wrong?
Once upon a
time government budgets were balanced, our money was sound, the cities were safe, and
the taxes of federal, state, and local governments combined took less than 10% of our
income. The cost of government has grown. Government has intruded deeper and deeper
into our lives, making decisions we used to make for ourselves. Government decides
which products we're allowed to buy, sets wage floors that force unemployment on
teenagers, prevents most small businesses from raising capital, and stops the
critically ill from using life-saving medicines while bureaucrats pretend to protect
government supposed to be our servant, rather than our master? Wasn't government
supposed to help only those who can't help themselves - rather than benefiting
politicians, lobbyists, and social reformers?
Where did it
all go wrong? What happened to the idea that government should do for the people only
what they cannot do for themselves? We need to answer those questions before we can
revive the American dream of liberty and prosperity for all.
Part I: Understand the Problem
understand how government went so wrong, we must first identify exactly what
government is and how it operates. Because Part I does this, it may be the most
important section of the book. It shows why government programs never seem to produce
the results that were promised - why laws to make America "color blind"
lead to racial quotas, why programs to improve the economy end in recession and
inflation, and why plans to help the poor enlarge their numbers.
Part II: Identify the Solutions
examines specific issues showing how government created the problems the politicians
now pretend they can solve, and showing how we can solve these problems. We will see:
How crime, education, and welfare went from minor problems in the 1950s to
major scandals in the 1990s-and how we can end the scandals.
How to fix Social Security once and for all - to end its periodic crises, and
to guarantee that you get everything you pay for.
How to balance the federal budget immediately and permanently - without
raising taxes. . .
How to cut taxes to a fraction of where they are now.
social and political problems aren't mysterious. They can be fixed. If we understand
what caused them, we can cure them. And we can make sure they don't recur.
shows how we can get from where we are now to where we want to be - to a society
where crime rates are low, education is first-class, taxes are trivial, products and
services are plentiful and inexpensive, jobs are more rewarding, and each of us is
free to make of his life what he will. . . We
are told that everyone wants a smaller government but that no one wants to give up
his own favorite program. Part II will show how we can escape that trap.
is sweeping through America today - as Americans have grown impatient with big
government, high taxes, meddling politicians and bureaucrats, soaring crime rates and
mediocre education. America can be free, peaceful and prosperous again.
Government's Unique Asset
distinctive feature of government is coercion - the use of force and the threat of
force to win obedience. This is how government differs from every other agency in
society. The others persuade; government compels.
demands that government help flood victims, he is saying he wants to force people to
pay for flood relief. Otherwise, he'd be happy to have the Red Cross and its
supporters handle everything. . .
Congress passes a bill mandating "family leave, it forces every employer to
provide time off for family problems - even if its employees want the employer to use
payroll money for some other benefit. Otherwise, employers and employees would be
free to decide what works best in each situation.
The government forces someone to pay for something;
The government forces someone to do something; or
The government forcibly prevents someone from doing something.
There is no
other reason to involve government. And by "force" I mean the real thing -
the kind that hurts people . . . Every
government program, no matter how benign it may appear, is the same. Coercion is the
reason - and the only reason - it is a government program. . .
the help of business groups, charity organizations, and service clubs to urge others to support some cause. People turn
to government to force others to support their cause.
Government Defined: An agency of coercion.
there are other agencies of coercion - such as the Mafia. So to be more precise,
government is the agency of coercion that has flags in front of its offices.
Why Government Programs Always Go Astray
government's power, controlling it is the grand prize - the brass ring, the pot of
gold, the genie of the lamp. It beckons as the shortcut to riches, to the perfect
world you imagine, to imposing your personal tastes on everyone. With government at
your disposal, it appears that you can bypass the tedious process of earning a
living, spreading the gospel, or persuading others that you're right.
that most TV news revolves around government. No wonder nearly everyone wants to
influence government. Whoever controls it controls us all.
provides a good example. It was created in 1965 to make it easier for the elderly to
get health care. But by reducing the patient's out-of-pocket costs, it increased the
demand for doctors and hospitals. And it reduced the supply of those services by
requiring doctors and other medical personnel to use their time and attention
handling paperwork and complying with regulations - and looking for ways to
circumvent these things. So, the price of medical care rose sharply as the demand
soared and the supply diminished.
As a result,
the elderly now pay from their own pockets over twice as much for health care (after
adjusting for inflation) than they did before Medicare began. And most of the elderly
now find it harder to get adequate medical service. Naturally, the government points
to the higher costs and shortages as proof that the elderly would be lost without
Medicare - and that government should be even more deeply involved.
Medicare was set up in 1965, the politicians projected its cost in 1990 to be $3
billion - which is equivalent to $12 billion when adjusted for inflation to 1990
dollars. The actual cost in 1990 was $98 billion - eight times as much.
Poverty programs don't reduce the number of poor people. On the contrary, they
encourage more people to qualify as poor and get on the gravy train.
Rules and regulations don't reform society as expected. People respond by
looking for ways around the rules they don't like.
The War on Drugs makes drugs more profitable - increasing the incentive for
drug pushers to recruit new customers.
The underground economy thrives as a means of earning money without losing it
to government - reducing the revenues that had been expected to pay for government
is always unpredictable. But you can count on government programs to produce results
quite different from those promised by their sponsors. You would think this would
cause people to shun government as a way of solving problems. But just the opposite
happens - as we'll see.
Why Government Grows & Grows
consequences of a government program usually don't show up immediately. And the delay
may be long enough to hide the connection between the program and its results. So
government never has to say it's sorry - never has to take responsibility for the
misery it causes. Instead, it can blame everything on personal greed, profit-hungry
corporations, and the "private" sector. And the government's cure for the
problems is to impose bigger programs, more regulation, and higher taxes. Thus
politicians tell us the high cost of Medicare is due to doctors, hospitals, and drug
companies charging too much - not that Medicare inflated costs by running up the
demand for health care and hindering the supply of it. And, even though government
controls over 50% of the money spent on medical care, politicians freely refer to the
high cost of a hospital stay as a failure of the free market.
government program carries within it the seeds of future programs that will be
"needed" to clean up the mess the first program creates. No matter how much
mischief it causes, government always shows up in a cavalry uniform - riding in to
rescue us from the problems it created.
Government regulates drug companies into near paralysis - and then spends
billions of our dollars to subsidize drug research.
Government cripples American companies with punitive taxes and mountains of
regulation - and then spends billions of our dollars trying to find foreign markets
for those crippled companies.
By preventing people and companies from taking care of themselves, government
feeds its own growth.
Government grows, too, because the subsidy given to one group inspires others
to demand the same benefits. And when government protects one company or industry
from competition, others wonder why they shouldn't demand the same protection.
comes to the government asking for favors has a plausible request.
Once it's considered proper to use government
force to solve one person's problem, force can be justified to solve anyone's problem.
fewer and fewer requests seem out of bounds. And the grounds for saying
"no" become more and more eroded. The pressure on politicians to use
coercion to grant favors becomes overwhelming.
The Motives of Public Servants
bureaucrats, and judges all rejoice in a government that grows and grows and grows.
Big government gives lawmakers the power to make or break companies and individuals.
People must bow and scrape to obtain favors - or just to keep government from
Heath Care - The Problem
The road to
Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to big government is paved with small
steps - each of which seems harmless in itself.
1. There is
widespread publicity about a crisis.
2. Politicians float a drastic proposal to solve the problem with new, far-reaching, bureaucratic program.
3. "Moderates" in Congress and the public mount opposition to the government takeover.
4. Eventually, the politicians arrive at a compromise - to fix the problem without radical overhaul.
5. Although the moderates congratulate themselves on holding the line against big government, the compromise makes government bigger, more powerful, and more damaging - making the next crisis inevitable.
politicians refuse to recognize that government doesn't work, they never blame the
current problem on the program they passed earlier. Instead, while professing their
undying faith in free enterprise, they note regretfully that the market has failed to
work in this instance. So they propose to fix it with a larger, more bureaucratic
system - and the cycle continues with a compromise, more government, more damage and
is an excellent example. From the passage of Medicare in 1965 to a health-care system
run completely by the government a few years from now, the politicians have led us
along step by innocuous step. Although each step has been presented as the end of the
journey, each has added to the problem and made the next step seem necessary.
To read the
18 ways the state of your health, the quality of medical service you receive, and the
price you pay are affected by federal or state government interference, please see
the book section of Dr. Government.
Heath Care - The Solution
health-care debate of 1992-1994, words like compassion,
right, need, and fairness showed up
frequently. But a number of relevant words were ignored.
I never heard the words force or coercion in public discussion about the issue. And
yet the Health Security Act, the President's 1993 proposal for universal health
insurance, had a great deal to do with force. There are some revealing terms in the
proposal - such as prison (which shows up 7 times), penalty (111 times), fine (6),
enforce (83), prohibit (47), mandatory (24), limit (231), obligation (51), require
(901), and so on. For example, a person withholding information about his medical
history could go to prison for five years.
That was the
Democrats' proposal. But lest you think the Republicans don't believe in forcing
people to do the right thing, their principal proposal included the terms prison (1
time), enforce (37), penalty (64), fine (12), prohibit (19), and require (482).
plan publicized as the most "free market" of the eight major proposals
contains the words penalty (5 times), prohibit (5), require (54), enforce (1), and so
is nothing new in government-run health care. Medicare already has plenty of fines
and penalties. For example, a Doctor is fined merely for filing the wrong form - or
failing to file a form for every visit by a patient.
Is It Compassion or Force?
continues with the welfare problems, social security problems, and how neither of the
two parties will save us. Please go to the remainder of part two for an analysis of
the problems and solutions. www.amazon.com/Government-Doesnt-Work-Harry-Browne/dp/0965603601
Epilogue, he gives us a message of hope. For America's first 150 years, force was
minimized in social relationships. During the past 60 years, government coercion has
become the standard device for settling social questions. Today everything is a
political issue - to be decided by the strongest faction at the expense of everyone
else. Today political might makes right. The result is an America our grandparents
Instead of compassion and charity, we have welfare rights.
Instead of education, we have schools with metal detectors, drug pushers,
social indoctrination, and kids who can't read their own diplomas.
Instead of safety, we have doors with multiple locks.
Instead of civility, we have groups jostling to gain entitlements to the
earnings of others.
private companies have been producing dazzling progress in computers, electronics,
pharmaceuticals, and many other areas, everything in the social order has
deteriorated. Our public institutions are a wreck. To correct this, we don't have to
turn back the clock. We only have to turn away from government - from the idea that
we can cure social problems with a gun, from the fairy-tale belief that government
can be made to work for anyone but the politicians. Coercion will never be as
effective as freedom and cooperation.
doesn't work. It is time to stop trying to fix it, and start finding ways to live
with as little of it as possible.
closes with a final hope for people of every persuasion - from the young to the
elderly, from the minorities to people on welfare, from government employees to
reformers, to people of every religion. No one should feel threatened, except maybe
the politicians. It's a three-page tour de
force on how to get government out of the way. The purchase price is a pittance
for those interested in the future of our country and making America free again.
The late Harry Browne is the author of numerous financial books, including three New York Times bestsellers: How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation, You Can Profit from a Monetary Crisis, and New Profits from the Monetary Crisis. His book How I Found Freedom in An Unfree World, published in 1973, is a modem classic. He lived with his wife, Pamela, in Tennessee until his death. To visit his Library Museum . . .