We hold power in our government

By Tibor Machan: Freedom New Mexico columnist

I read a lot of stuff, including editorials and commentaries in scientific journals. Each time there’s a new administration, many of these publications rev up their lobbying for support from the government for favorite projects.

So now, Nobel Laureate Steven Chu, director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is going on record in the pages of Science News seeking “investment tax credits so that companies have an incentive to invest in long-term energy research.”

One might have hoped these incentives would be supplied by the marketplace. Instead, Chu is reaching out for government support. If the market fails to provide the incentive that Chu wishes it would, he needs to advertise his services to market agents, not to government.

Actually, tax credits are simply ways to avoid being extorted the full amount one would usually be. I do not begrudge anyone the opportunity to dodge taxes, however it’s done, but Chu and his ilk aren’t tax rebels and likely would not champion tax dodging or resistance for other citizens. Only those doing his kind of important work supposedly qualify!

Some of the language in which Chu advances his case for tax credits is also disturbing. He says “The government has got to allow” these. Why is it self-evident to the likes of Chu that government is in the business of allowing this and that? Government is our hired agent, at most, and no one in such a position is authorized to allow us anything, giving us permission.

Professor Donald Boudreaux, chair of economics at George Mason University, sent a letter to The Washington Post recently critical of the phrase a columnist used regarding why Barack Obama was elected. He notes that in an op-ed piece in The Post one Peter Funt “off-handedly mentions that Barack Obama was elected to ‘run the country’” And as Boudreaux says, “This familiar phrase is nonsensical.”

Why is it nonsensical to speak of government as “allowing” this or that or of the next president as elected to “run the country?” As I have already hinted, that’s because governments and their officials, such as the president, aren’t monarchs who rule us but civil servants who are hired to carry out some specific work for us — for which they are well paid.

The fact that prominent people who write for major newspapers or get interviewed by important magazines treat government as if it were in charge of us all bodes ill for a free country.

It isn’t enough that thousands of politicians and bureaucrats suffer from the delusion that when they enter government they get to rule others. But there are thousands of citizens outside government who speak as if this delusion were acceptable.

Given that for centuries on end governments did suffer from the delusion that their officials legitimately ruled the population, that they were in charge of the rest of us, it is especially important for respected people in the country to discipline themselves when they speak about public policies.

Such people tend to set the terms of discourse in the country and by now they ought to know well and good that these terms do not include “government allows” or “presidents run,” any more than they include “your highness” or “your majesty.”

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@link.freedom.com