So it is with government. Every time it outlaws failure in exchange for security, a little bit of life is lost, and those who live, live less.
Big government is the enemy of change, the enemy of all growth but its own, the adversary of progress.
Government programs are poured cement: Once they flow into an economy and set, their man-made stone hardens forever. Americans have seen what welfare does to individual initiative, what the Internal Revenue Service has done to economic growth and innovation.
But government imposes a larger penalty, invisible and silent: It taxes our future. The dollar given is celebrated, the dollar taken goes unmourned. Like the farm boy who has never seen the ocean, we do not miss the businesses never started for lack of capital, the jobs never created because of government regulation, the family that could have made it with less economic pressure. Yet we are all poorer in their absence.
Big government taxes what we could be, much more than what we have.
A government that incentivizes progress, at its best, must largely leave its citizen-explorers alone on life's perilous but promising journey, free to fail or succeed greatly.
Freedom, Mr. President, is as perilous and productive as sex.
Still, as our outdated industrial age government grows larger and drives us closer to bankruptcy, strangling economic growth, while failing to govern our schools, our health care, our retirement plans or our economy, Obama assures us that what we need is more commanding, anesthetizing big government.
And the safety and protection he promises are seductive. As we leave the old world of the factory for the new world of communications, a fledgling, techno-economy is reshaping the global economy through a violent and Darwinian process.
Jobs, businesses and entire industries that endured lifetimes now disappear in technological lightning strikes. If today's workingman wanders down the wrong evolutionary path, making fire alarms instead of smoke detectors, he could end up next to the mimeograph machine in an economic graveyard.
With such economic anxiety, it is easier for politicians to feel our pain than our promise. They know they can raise our doubts faster than our confidence. Instead of inspiring us through great fear to greater accomplishments, they take a safer route. They comfort us as our president does: Obama reassures us with "The Plan."
The plan promises security. A social safety net. A soft landing. It offers protection from a dangerous workplace, a dangerous economy, a dangerous environment. "Health Security for All Americans." The plan comes in many shapes and sizes. Government will prescribe the exactly right route for us, our president tells us, and we lunge for that security as if a life raft.
Then we have no more worries than the amoeba. And we forget that Martin Luther King Jr. didn't give an "I Have a Plan" speech.
Neither man's greatest accomplishments nor nature's elegant wonders could have evolved from a 2,000-page government plan.
Somewhere this night, far from Washington, as Obama's second term blooms past infancy, two parents gather around a kitchen table. They are paying their bills. Looking at a report card. Mapping a line to the future for their children. And this night, though nothing in their world seems different, they know everything in their world has changed.
This night, as they tucked their 11-year-old into bed and wrapped him round with covers, they took his phone from his hands and put it by his bedside. He'd fallen asleep texting. And suddenly, through the eyes of another generation, they saw beyond the horizon to another time and place.
The child of today's iPhone's and apps will be a man of another era. Tonight, for the first time, they see it. A new economy, a new world, is building itself around them. They sense this is a time of great hope and opportunity for America, a moment of unparalleled promise and possibility. So they wonder, despite their optimism, why do they feel chained to the present, as if pulling an immense and unidentifiable weight?
Why aren't they getting ahead?
They don't know they spend more for government than for food, clothing and shelter combined -- or they'd march from their grocery to the White House. They don't know they will spend an average of 26,000 hours of their working lives laboring just to pay taxes -- or they'd call it slavery. They don't know government will take 3½ months of what they earn this year, as surely as if it had broken into their home and stripped them of their possessions.
But this they do know: They want to move ahead.
They don't believe Washington can be their doctor, find them a job or lower their gas bill. They have lost faith in those old promises. Like most Americans facing the future, they are anxious and, at times, frightened. But others, no better than they, built the greatest nation on earth in the face of bigger obstacles.
And they are willing to stumble, pick themselves up and try again for something better, if their government will stop growing its economy at the expense of their economy. They don't know why their leaders don't believe in them, summon their courage and confidence, and call on them to do great things.
It is for those Americans that I hope Obama finds his way forward from our antiquated, factory-like public sector.
For somewhere beyond this difficult moment lies a wonderland. Somewhere around ordinary kitchen tables lie real miracles. And somewhere in a country uncertain of its future, but free to create it, lies a remarkable new era of progress, prosperity and real change.
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