By Steven Greenhut | Franklin Center
This year’s Rose Parade in Pasadena, California featured the Department of Defense’s “Freedom Isn’t Free” float. The rose- and carnation-covered replica of the Korean War Veterans Memorial got me thinking about the state of America’s freedoms as we ring in the New Year.
The news isn’t particularly encouraging. Maintaining a free society involves more than standing up, militarily, to un-free ones. Many areas of our society are disturbingly authoritarian, and the voting public seems less concerned about freedom issues and more interested in the “free” stuff politicians promise them. Government grows at an alarming rate regardless of which party is in power.
Many Americans are facing higher taxes after Republicans caved in to the administration’s bogus plan to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff. The federal government is indeed a mess. But I’m most concerned about the future of my home state of California, given that one party—the party that believes that “more government” is the answer to every question—has total dominance in the political system.
Democratic leaders in Sacramento already are taking aim at Proposition 13, as they eye removing tax protections from business-property owners and making it easier for localities to raise property taxes for myriad purposes. Taxation is a freedom issue in that the more government takes from me, the longer I have to work to serve the needs of the bureaucracy.
But your wallets are not the only thing endangered when California’s Legislature is in session. Legislators will ramp up their efforts to regulate everything in sight that isn’t already regulated. The sheer volume of legislation is staggering. Former radio talk-show host Cameron Jackson found that California legislators have passed 12,097 laws since 1993 and another 10,224 resolutions. More than 800 new laws went into effect in California beginning Jan. 1.
Not every new law is an assault on freedom, but the cumulative effect can be daunting. Try starting a business or building something anywhere in this state and you’ll quickly learn the high cost of our supposed freedoms—it’s really expensive, as you pay the taxes, conform to the endless regulations, and beg for the approval of multiple legislative bodies and bureaucracies.
Most of this year’s new laws are ridiculous, unneeded, and annoying.
Legislators, for instance, banned the open carrying of unloaded long guns after gun-rights activists staged “open carry” protests to demonstrate their Second Amendment rights. The Legislature certainly showed them! A new law quadruples fines for junk dealers who buy copper stolen from utilities. California parents must now receive information from a government-approved health provider before choosing to exempt their kids from mandated immunizations.
There are new rules on health-care providers mandating that they provide additional medical services, a law that allows certain illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses, and a ban on therapists who provide a therapy that is supposed to cure patients of homosexuality. As you can see, there is no area of life so personal that the state Legislature won’t intervene.
Just as California’s real-estate market is rebounding, emerging from a busting housing bubble caused in large part by government-mandated lending- and land-use practices, we have a package of laws granting homeowners new “rights” not to be foreclosed upon—something that will slow down the natural market-oriented process of foreclosure and resale, and basically enrich lawyers.
Legislators can now get special vanity license plates, but you can no longer use dogs to hunt bear, as if that was ever a big issue. A few measures actually increase, albeit modestly, your freedoms, such as a bill that allows Californians to sell food products out of their home kitchens, although even this good law adds government oversight to the process.
Republicans didn’t have much luck controlling government’s growth, but they did pass a law that authorizes a privately funded statute of Ronald Reagan to be erected at the Capitol. If you can’t limit government, you might as well remind us of a politician who, rhetorically at least, was in favor of that seemingly outmoded concept.
The result of this endless sea of legislation is a society mired in bureaucracy, taxed to the hilt and where the citizenry always is at risk for violating an incomprehensible and miles-deep list of regulations and rules. As a friend has noted, we have morphed from a nation of laws to a nation of rules, enforced by a well-paid group of officials who continually lobby for more protections and benefits for themselves.
Freedom certainly isn’t free. It takes a tireless commitment to protect it from encroaching government. I can do with a few less parade floats and a lot more commitment from Americans to defend our founding principles in Sacramento and Washington, D.C.
Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org