Liberty is the indispensable principle that underpins the uniqueness of the American founding and experience. Yet, Americans have ceded a great deal of their liberty to government. The relinquishing of liberty did not come as some feared – surrendering a way of life to the point of a foreign sword. Rather, it was a gradual abdication of responsibility for one’s own destiny by an increasingly self-indulgent and distracted citizenry to an ever expanding, and increasingly centralized government.
Liberty is the freedom from restrictions upon speech, expression, association, and actions. It is the foundation of personal fulfillment and economic prosperity because it unleashes the human spirit and the potential for great achievement. Fundamental civil rights, as codified in the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution, are a derivative of the principle of liberty.
Concomitant with the right to liberty is the responsibility to protect it from government encroachment. Thomas Jefferson, in a letter of 1788 was prescient in stating, "The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground." Liberty is threatened in the modern day by direct assaults upon rights specifically defined in the Bill of Rights. However, there is recourse to redress these grievances. Specific attempts to impinge on the rights of the citizenry can and are fought before the courts.
A far greater threat to liberty comes from pernicious encroachments by government upon the rights of the citizenry. The expanding mass of government in its physical bureaucracies and the body of laws and regulations it propagates, increasing centralization to the federal level, a growing power within the executive, and the ability of a political, economic, and cultural elite to manipulate those laws and regulations to their advantage are the greatest threat to liberty.
The number of non-military federal employees has grown from about 2.5 million in 1960 to nearly 3 million at present. At first glance this small increase is not concerning. However, the influence of the federal worker has changed tremendously over time. Technology and the use of contractors have transformed the federal workforce from clerks and secretaries into policy administrators and program managers.
On March 29, 2012, Senator Claire McCaskill stated in the committee hearing “Contractors: How much are they costing the government?” that federal “agencies are increasingly reliant on contractors to perform services. Contractors now perform many of the duties which most Americans would assume are done by government employees, from managing and overseeing contracts and programs to developing policies and writing regulations. Contractors sit side by side with federal employees and perform many of the same tasks. Spending on service contractors has outpaced spending on federal employees. The cost of service contracts has increased by 79% over the last ten years, from $181 billion to $324 billion, while in the same time period, spending on federal employees has increased by 34%, from $170 billion to $229 billion.”
The sheer size of the federal workforce and its service contractors is reason for concern. Enabled by modern technology this bureaucracy merits a healthy dose of fear.
The most significant way in which the government and its bureaucracy can limit the liberties of the citizenry is through the passage of laws and the promulgation of regulations.
The Code of Laws of the United States of America (U.S. Code) stands at over 200,000 pages. Laws are enacted through legislation. Regulations are promulgated by agencies as the rules for monitoring and enforcing the law. For example, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is approximately 850 pages. Regulations related to this law will come from many agencies and likely exceed 30,000 pages.
The Code of Federal Regulations produced by the federal bureaucracy has ballooned from less than 20,000 pages in 1970 to over 80,000 at present and growing by nearly 5,000 pages per year. Each page added represents a further potential encroachment on the liberties of American citizens, and a clear diminishing of economic potential, that is further limited by state and local laws, codes, and ordinances.