- The Washington Times - Monday, February 20, 2006


By Joel Miller, Nelson Current, $24.95, 232 pages

Decade after decade, libertarians have argued against the untrammelled expansion of the federal infrastructure. Despite generations of politicians mouthing platitudes about fiscal responsibility and government’s need to operate within its means, the fact remains that for most of them, the easiest road to power is to promise everything and deliver much more than the federal treasury can actually afford.

We see evidence of this all across the United States — Sen. Robert Byrd’s career exemplifies the tendency as well as anyone’s, as he has delivered more than 50 years of pork-barrel projects to West Virginia. But the venerable Mr. Byrd is far from anomalous in this tendency.

Politicians in both houses of Congress, from both parties, have embraced Big Government and the unlimited spending that comes with it in order to ensure their political viability. This tendency is shameful, predictable and ultimately a threat to the American way of life.

If a reader is interested in considering the perils attendant with the current federal policy of spending money the treasury does not have, a great place for him to start is the just-released “Size Matters: How Big Government Puts The Squeeze On America’s Families, Finances, and Freedom.”

This succinct volume from Joel Miller, a widely published journalist of the libertarian right and senior editor for the Nelson Current publishing house, has many virtues, and arguably stands as the first genuinely viable libertarian manifesto for the post-September 11 new reality.

Mr. Miller succeeds where many who have come before him have failed, in part because he avoids the common academic libertarian’s mistake of boring the reader to sleep with esoteric references.

The author establishes his comfort with “soundbite culture” early on by summing up the problem with the current federal arrangement as “Big Government, Huge Problem,” adding that as “government increases in quantity, our lives decrease in quality.” Augmenting this problem is the truth that “carce resources can only be stretched so far” when those resources are funnelled into a governmental apparatus as overstretched as that in Washington.

Much of the volume considers the size of the federal government — 1,300 agencies, claims Mr. Miller, with nearly 17 million employees all told — and how that government grew as it did.

The author lays much of the blame at the feet of two “activist politicians,” Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, who embraced “unconstitutional” measures that expanded government, inhibited the domestic economy for the bulk of the 1970s, and spawned the “Carter malaise.”

While some readers may chafe at the book depicting President Nixon as the scapegoat for the Carter legacy, Mr. Miller here makes a remarkably plausible case for that proposition.

Mr. Miller devotes a considerable portion of the book to the pernicious effects government interference in the commercial sphere has had on the consumer, especially regarding the inhibition of technological advances making their way to the marketplace.

An extended anecdote about the federally-imposed difficulty of bringing mobile phones to the market is the strongest example provided here of a government so overly empowered that it has lost touch with those it purports to serve, and acts against the interests of everyday people.

Along those lines, Mr. Miller renders a bracing critique of the perils of “overcriminalization,” which, he correctly notes, often undermines the very construction of law as a formalized expression of the social contract.

When governments rush to criminalize commerce in the pursuit of nominal power, inhibiting free exchange, the business of America itself is stifled. The consequences? To quote Mr. Miller, “What stifles commerce, stifles life [to the point that] the American Dream itself becomes a calcified, regimented, joyless thing.”

The conclusion of the book is appropriately pessimistic about Washington willingly downsizing governmental operations in favor of individual liberty and commercial prerogatives. Those in power are loathe to relinquish their prerogatives, and nothing save a systemic cataclysm will change that.

That said, this book is a must-read for anyone looking for a concise and engaging assault on all those vainglorious politicians currently stripmining America’s “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” With threats mounting from Asia, and serious problems threatening the U.S. infrastructure, politicians need to finally understand that much of the federal government must be downsized. Our national sovereignty hangs in the balance.

A.G. Gancarski is a freelance writer from Jacksonville, Fla.

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