If all the wailing and gnashing of teeth surrounding the partial government shutdown shows anything, it’s that we’ve become overly dependent on Washington, D.C. And while that’s not well and good, I’m wondering at what point did we stop wanting to look after ourselves?
Utahns have a strong tradition of taking care of our families and communities, but over time there’s been an insidious multi-generational trend to the point where today’s generation almost automatically expects the government to solve our problems, make our hard choices, and shield us from the bad (and only the bad) outcomes of our actions. All too often it seems that money from Washington, D.C. – and the strings that come with it – has become the default answer to whatever challenges we might face. This shutdown is shining a light on why that’s such a bad idea.
Most Utahns like to think that we’re independent, rugged, individualists bred of the hardy stock who settled this land. But that picture has changed dramatically over the past few generations. Like most of the rest of the nation, we’re ceding a lot of our basic responsibilities to faraway government bureaucrats who know little to nothing about us, don’t care anything about us, and who increasingly don’t share our values or ambitions. Whether it’s for our roads, our kids’ education, our health care, or so many other areas of our lives, we’re trading our freedoms – our ability to come up with the best answer for our specific challenges and conditions – for an annual appropriation tied to a one-size-fits-all solution that’s optimized to no one and downright harmful to many.
Individual liberty and personal responsibility are two sides of the same coin. When we give up personal responsibility we give up individual liberty because the one who assumes responsibility gets to dictate the conditions of their aid.
That’s not just bad for our families and communities; it’s harmful to our democracy. As we cede power to federal bureaucrats over the everyday decisions of our lives about how to fix our roads, educate our kids, or take care of our poor, we lose interest in our own government. Why vote, much less run, for a school board if the board only puppets federal masters who give it money to join in their effort to centralize government curricula? Why volunteer for a water commission if the only decision you can make is what color to paint the EPA-mandated treatment facility? Our participatory democracy depends on local governments making meaningful decisions, and we’re trading away that democratic tradition for an annual grant or appropriation.
Here in Utah we’ve been fairly fortunate so far. Growth-friendly policies have insulated us somewhat from national economic cycles and we’ve been pretty much under the radar screens of big organizations with national agendas. Yes, we’ve had to comply with a lot of government mandates because federal money is over 40 percent of our state budget and growing. But we’ve been fortunate enough to pretty much find our own solutions to our unique sets of problems so far. Unfortunately that’s changing. As we become more dependent on federal government dollars we become more tied to the ups and downs of their political and economic machinations. If we want to be free of that, we need to reclaim responsibility for our lives, our families, and our communities right here in Utah.
We are the masters of our own fate. To effect a course correction, all that’s needed is responsible citizens and their elected officials to make a stand and refuse to play the carrot-and-stick game of tax and spend from Washington.
For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.
The above post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.
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