Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Rick Perry's Fed Up 1

I started Rick Perry's Fed Up!  Our Fight to Save America from Washington.

Why am I reading this, when Rick Perry dropped out of the race for President a long time ago, and even repudiated elements of this book?  Even though Rick Perry is out of the race, his book is about issues that continue to be debated----issues such as the role of the federal government, the role of the states, the impact of federal policies on Americans, the place of history (i.e., slavery, the New Deal, etc.) in this debate, etc.

When I was making my transition from conservatism to whatever it is I believe now, I wondered whether it's such a bad thing for the federal government to set up programs to help people.  What would be so wrong with national health insurance, for instance?  When libertarians and conservatives proclaimed that big government erodes our freedoms, my question was, "What freedoms?"  How does the federal government spending money on (say) welfare attack freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.?  One concern is that federal involvement gives the federal government a lot of power, and so the federal government would then be in a position to attack freedom, were it to decide to do so (see here for my views on that).  But have there been actual threats to freedom that have resulted from greater federal involvement?  I'm reading Rick Perry's book to see his case against big government.

In my latest reading of Rick Perry's book, Newt Gingrich (who wrote the introduction) and Perry advance arguments in favor of less government and states' rights: that Texas had economic growth and surplus as a result of Perry's conservative economic policies, that states are laboratories for what works and what doesn't, that people should move to the state that fits their culture, etc.  Perry also referred to the Tenth Amendment and quoted James Madison, who in Federalist 45 said that the federal government should be primarily concerned about foreign policy, whereas the states should be responsible for their own policies and prosperity.  On a side note, Newt brought up Rick Perry's work for tort reform in Texas, which impressed me (even though I don't know much about the policy) because it's refreshing to see a Republican who actually tries to do something to reform health care.   

Whether big government or small government is better for the economy, I do not know, for people say different things.  Perry and Newt refer to statistics and examples to argue that low taxes and less (or restrained) government spending result in prosperity.  But then there are people who argue that a policy of dramatically reducing government spending (austerity) did not work when FDR tried it and is not working in Europe. 

As far as what freedoms Perry believes the federal government is attacking, Perry states on page 5:

"We are fed up with being overtaxed and overregulated.  We are tired of being told how much salt we can put on our food, what windows we can buy for our house, what kind of cars we can drive, what kinds of guns we can own, what kind of prayers we can say and where we can say them, what political speech we are allowed to use to elect candidates, what kind of energy we can use, what kind of food we can grow, what doctor we can see, and countless other restrictions on our right to live as we see fit."  On page 6, Perry says, "We are fed up with activist judges who tell us what is right and wrong and deny us the right to live as we see fit----from deciding when life begins and where the Ten Commandments can be displayed to telling people how to punish criminals."

I can't say that Perry is totally wrong in these passages, but here are three concerns that I have with what he says:

1.  Regulations, even if they go overboard, are intended to protect the health and safety of individuals and the general public.  I think that's true of some of the examples that Perry lists above (i.e., cars, guns, etc.).

2.  Some of the laws that Perry criticizes may be bad, but they're the lesser-of-two-evils (in my opinion).  Yes, campaign finance reform restricts free speech, and that is not good.  But what's the alternative?  Allowing rich special interests to practically buy politicians? 

3.  What Perry considers to be restricting freedom and enhancing the power of government could be seen by others as enhancing freedom and restricting government.  When courts prohibit prayer in public schools, they're saying that the government cannot promote a religion and pressure people to adhere to it.  When they undermine the death penalty, they restrict the government's power to take life.  Whereas Canadians tell me that they have a wide choice of doctors under their government-sponsored health insurance system, in America the private insurance companies often restrict what doctors we can see.

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