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Conflicting Visions

Here’s a letter to the Washington Post:

E.J. Dionne praises Elizabeth Warren for “presenting government Wednesday not as an officious meddler in people’s lives but as an ally of families determined to help their children rise.  Government, Warren said, ‘gave the little guys a better chance to compete by preventing the big guys from rigging the markets'” (“Bill Clinton’s tutorial on the need for government,” Sept. 6).

Ignore here the countless ways that government does meddle in people’s lives not only officiously but also obnoxiously – actions such as rampant imprisonment of non-violent drug ‘offenders,’ hiking the cost of food through agricultural tariffs and other farm programs, and abuse of eminent domain to enrich large corporations with property confiscated from middle-class families.  Focus instead on the fact that Mr. Dionne’s “Progressive” view of government really isn’t so progressive.  Its premise was known to, and rejected by, America’s founding generation.  Here’s Thomas Paine: “Almost everything appertaining to the circumstances of a nation, has been absorbed and confounded under the general and mysterious word government.  Though it avoids taking to its account the errors it commits, and the mischiefs it occasions, it fails not to arrogate to itself whatever has the appearance of prosperity.  It robs industry of its honours, by pedantically making itself the cause of its effects; and purloins from the general character of man, the merits that appertain to him as a social being.”*

Thomas Paine and America’s other founders were never so naïve about the essence of government – nor as incognizant about the nature of society – as are Prof. Warren and Mr. Dionne.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* Thomas Paine, Rights of Man (1792), reprinted in The Essential Thomas Paine, John Dos Passos, ed. (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1940 [2008]), p. 141.  Available on line here.