As we watch fireworks, eat barbeque, and reflect on our history, what are we really celebrating? It’s not just independence from Britain — it’s America’s independent spirit and commitment to free markets. Some call it the American Dream.
Unfortunately, this independent spirit is threatened by record government dependence. On Independence Day 2014, we are more dependent on government than ever before.
According to the Washington Post, about 49 percent of U.S. households receive a direct benefit from the federal government and this number has steadily risen in recent years.
There are federal programs covering many parts of life. We’re becoming further dependent on federal programs for many aspects of life including food, student aid, preschool, birth control, retirement, health care, and housing assistance. To implement these programs, Congress has exercised powers not specifically authorized by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution and not imagined by the patriots who won our independence.
The Founding Fathers would be surprised by the growth of the federal government and Americans’ dependency on it. Patrick Henry said, “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”
When so many depend on government and fewer than half pay income taxes, people are not restraining the government. It seems that government is restraining the people given its surveillance powers and increasing regulatory intervention.
Our celebration of independence should include policy reform that fosters competition, lowers taxes, reduces regulations, and provides a balanced budget. Independence means more job opportunities through economic growth, small business strength, and incentives for entrepreneurs. Independence means state and local solutions to problems that are based on a creative and innovative civil society, seeing government as the last defense instead of the first choice.
The independent American spirit that we celebrate on the Fourth of July points toward common sense reform of unsustainable entitlements. For example, Social Security is unsustainable as it stands today. Only 14% of Pew poll respondents think it will have enough money to pay current benefits. Independence means individuals can plan and save for their own retirement without depending on government.
Ronald Reagan said government is the problem, not the solution. This Independence Day, let’s celebrate our nation’s independent spirit by working toward a free society like the founders envisioned.
Roger Custer is executive director at America’s Future Foundation.