A reader wants to know if I think the American people are becoming more statist over time.
I’m conflicted. More and more people get lured into some form of government dependency every year, and this suggests Americans eventually will adopt a European-style moocher mentality.
This worries me.
On the other hand, I periodically see polls suggesting that the American people have very libertarian views on key issues.
- By a margin of almost 4-1, Americans support a spending cap.
- Two-thirds of gun owners are willing to defy the law if politicians ban private possession of firearms.
- Recognition that big government is the greatest danger to America’s future.
- An increasingly negative view of the federal government.
- More than eight-to-one support for less spending rather than higher taxes.
- Strong support for bureaucrat layoffs and/or entitlement reforms instead of higher taxes.
- Three-fourths of voters think the top tax rate should be no higher than 30 percent.
These are encouraging numbers. And here’s another bit of good news. A recent poll by Fox News found that a plurality of Americans would not give up personal freedoms to reduce the threat of terrorism. What’s especially remarkable is that this poll took place immediately following the bombing of the Boston Marathon by the welfare-sponging Tsarnaev brothers.
Interestingly, I had a conversation with a left-leaning friend who said this poll showed that Americans were a bunch of “paranoid nuts” because this poll showed that they viewed their government with suspicion.
But perhaps people are simply rational. I had an intern look up data on the probability of getting killed by a terrorist. He found an article from Reason that reported.
…a rough calculation suggests that in the last five years, your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 20 million. This compares annual risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in 19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000; dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or being struck by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000.
In other words, the odds of being killed by a terrorist are very low. And with the risk so low, why give up liberty? Particularly when it’s highly unlikely that sacrificing more of your freedom will actually reduce the already-low threat of terrorism.
This reminds me of the money laundering issue. Just a few decades ago, there was no such thing as anti-money laundering laws. Then politicians decided we need these laws to reduce crime.
These laws, we were told, would give law enforcement more tools to catch bad guys and also reduce the incentive to commit crimes since it would be harder for criminals to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.
That sounds good, but the evidence shows that these laws have become very expensive and intrusive, yet they’ve had no measurable impact on crime rates.
So how did politicians respond? In a stereotypical display of Mitchell’s Law, they decided to make anti-money laundering laws more onerous, imposing ever-higher costs in hopes of having some sort of positive impact.
So when I see polls showing the American people are skeptical about surrendering freedom to the government, I don’t think they are being “paranoid.” I think they’re being very rational.