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Tax Day 2010: Two Thoughts From Hayek and an Observation from William Hazlitt

The point is that Obama and his coterie have moved with dazzling speed on every conceivable front to transform the country. And he’s only, remember, 15 months into it.  The rest of us stand about dazed and confused, exclaiming (as our two-year-old daughter  is wont to do): “What just happened?

Here’s where the two thoughts from Hayek come in. In The Road to Serfdom (I am thinking of printing up and distributing a map of that road), Hayek notes that the “extensive government control” produces not only political changes in a society. More important, because more fundamental and harder to undo, is the concomitant “psychological change,” the “alteration of the character of the people.”  The change is from independence and self reliance to a culture of entitlement and the habits of dependency. Some 45 percent—nearly half—of tax filers pay no income tax.  What does mean? One thing it means is that wealth has been sufficiently “spread around” that those 45-plus-percent of the work force have no common stake in the public enterprise of fiscal responsibility. Under Obama, the only escort of the economy that is growing is the public sector, i.e., the unproductive sector, the taking sector.

Who populates that part of economy?  Here I come to Hayek’s second thought: “Who can doubt,” he asked, “. . . that the power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionnaire possess who wields the coercive power of the state on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work?” It’s not only those who lack delicacy that hold us in their power, it’s also that army of officials, clerks, bureaucrats, public-sector employees of every description from your legislator on down to your local tax collector and DMV functionary.  They spend their working hours devising ways to make your life more cumbersome, your business less competitive, your sphere of freedom more constricted. Taxes. Fees. Regulations. Paperwork. The coercive power of the state in action.  No wonder tea parties are springing  up all over the country. The psychological “alteration in the character” of the American people may have pushed us far down the road to serfdom.   The tea partiers remind us that other roads stand before us.  The hour is late. It is not, however, too late. Gustav Mahler once predicted that “Europe will be killed by this principle: ‘It doesn’t concern me.’”  Obama has labored mightily to make America more like Europe, and he has succeeded so well that Mahler’s  admonition now applies equally to us.  We may have to write the checks.  We needn’t  act like sheep. Happy Tax Day.