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Warning Label For All Government Activities

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

On economic matters you consistently and correctly explain that government’s capacity to gather enough knowledge to intervene productively is weak and that its incentive to promote special interests (including its own) at the expense of the public interest is strong.  Yet, as in your defense of NSA spying (“Honey, I Shrunk the NSA,” May 22), on national-security matters your mature skepticism of government is replaced by a childish faith that government officials are wise and trustworthy.

I’ll never understand this political schizophrenia.

Of course, the NSA and its champions assert that its activities protect us and keep us free.  But why are such claims any more believable than, say, the FDA’s assertions that its approval restrictions are beneficial, or the IRS’s claims that it never pursues political agendas?

In fact, we would all be safer and freer if more of us heeded – for each and every last government activity – H.L. Mencken’s wise warning that “[i]t is the theory of all modern civilized governments that they protect and foster the liberty of the citizen; it is the practice of all of them to limit its exercise, and sometimes very narrowly.”*

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* H.L. Mencken, “On Liberty,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, March 21, 1926.