by Jarret Wollstein
Would you like to live in a society of peace, prosperity and freedom? Would you like to earn a lot more money than your parents, be free to do whatever you want so long as it doesn’t harm others, and see the threats of violence and war largely disappear? Would you like to live in an age of artistic freedom and rapid scientific progress in which anything seems possible?
Such a world is not only possible – it is a part of our history. For nearly fifty years, between the end of the Civil War in 1865 and the beginning of World War I in 1914, the United States was the freest, most prosperous society on earth. Living standards rose nearly 5% a year. The average American’s income was six timeshigher at the end of the period than at the beginning.
There was little restriction upon personal, economic and artistic freedom. There was no income tax, no military draft, little government regulation of business, and no prohibition of drugs.
Independent schools and private charities made education available for all, and helped those in need. And, except for the brief Spanish-American War, the nation enjoyed the longest period without foreign wars in our history. Nearly anything seemed possible. Illiterate immigrants who started with a pushcart became millionaires through hard work.
And Violence Has Become Epidemic
America of the 1990s is far removed from the America of the 1890s, both in time and in spirit. Today’s social landscape is one of deterioration, violence and mounting fear.
Take-home pay fell 17% between 1980 and 1997, after adjusting for inflation. High taxes and regulations are crippling our economy. Few young adults can now afford to buy their own homes, save for their children’s education, or build security for their retirement.
Violence has become epidemic. Murder is now the leading cause of death among young black men. One in four college women report they were the victim of rape or attempted rape. And nearly 25% of all American families are now victimized by theft or vandalism every year.
The threat of superpower warfare has declined. But weapons of mass destruction – chemical, biological and nuclear – continue to spread to the world’s most repressive regimes, many of which have been supported by US military and economic aid.
Peaceful & Prosperous Society
What has changed in America in the last 80 years? Why has this nation changed from one of the most prosperous and progressive on earth to one of increasing deterioration and violence? “The cause dear friend, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves.” America is declining because we have largely abandoned our libertarianheritage.
Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and America’s other founders understood the values required for a free, peaceful and prosperous society: individual liberty, economic freedom, and limited government.
Liberty means the freedom to control your own life, to work and play as you choose, to keep what you earn, to practice the religion of your choice, to speak freely, and to associate voluntarily with others.
Liberty can flourish only in an environment of tolerance, voluntary association, and mutual respect for the lives and property of others. You can have liberty for yourself only if you grant it freely to everyone else.
The genius of America was that our government was created as a protector of our fundamental human rights. America’s founders well understood that government’s immense power can be used to destroy as well as to protect; that when government uses force against its own peaceful citizens, it becomes just another criminal gang. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights were designed to protect us from government.
Our libertarian ideal, that government exists to protect our rights, was never fully realized. Our legislatures, police and military have frequently crossed the line from defenders of our liberty to violators of it. But the previously slow erosion of our rights has recently become a raging torrent, and our heritage of liberty is being obliterated.
70% Of Your Income
If you’re typical, you now spend nearly five months a year working to earn enough just to pay your taxes. And that’s only the beginning.
According to Dr. James Payne’s study, “Costly Returns: The Burdens of the US Tax System,” for every dollar that the IRS collects in taxes, we pay an additional 65 cents in compliance costs– tax accountants, attorneys, tax software, etc.
When you add the 35% of your income you pay directly in taxes, 22% you pay indirectly in compliance costs, and another 13% you lose as a result of economic regulations, over 70% of your income is now taken from you by the government.
By Stifling Regulations
In Los Angeles, it takes up to 70 licenses and permits to open a small business. In Washington, DC it costs $7,000 in fees to operate a pushcart. In New York City, a “medallion” to operate a taxicab costs over $150,000.
In Hawaii, a homeless man who tried to earn a little cash by taking pictures of tourists with his pet parrot, was arrested and his parrot confiscated because he didn’t have a business license.
Over 50,000 pages of new regulations are now published in the Federal Register every year. That’s in addition to state and localregulations.
Goods and services that could improve your life are being banned, confiscated, and regulated out of existence.
Everything You Own Can Now
Be Confiscated By The Police
You no longer have a right to your own property. Over 200 federal and thousands of state civil asset forfeiture laws, authorize police to confiscate everything you own without trial or even without charging you with a crime.
- In Volusia County, Florida, police regularly stop motorists and ask “How much cash are you carrying?” If the answer is more than a few hundred dollars, they routinely seize it, along with your car, if it’s an expensive one. In the last four years, these legal “highway robberies” have brought in over $8 million for Volusia County.
- In Washington, DC, police confiscated the home of Helen Hoyle, a 69-year-old grandmother. Police claimed an anonymous informant told them Helen’s grandson sold unidentified illegal drugs to an unidentified buyer from her front porch two years earlier.
Cars, homes, businesses, pocket cash, bank accounts, and pensions are now confiscated from over 5,000 innocentAmericans like you every week. According to a Pittsburgh Press study, in 80% of the cases no one is ever charged with a crime.
Even if you are totally innocent of any crime, there is little chance you will ever get your confiscated property back. Under civil-forfeiture laws you are presumed guilty, and you must prove your innocence and pay $5,000 – $100,000+ in legal expenses out of your own pocket – after your home, bank accounts or business have been seized.
Kill You With Virtual Impunity
According to “60 Minutes,” Oakland, California Housing Authority Police routinely rob public housing residents, plant drugs on them, beat them, and then arrest them. In Oakland, on an average night, 42 people are admitted to hospital emergency rooms after police beatings. But they’re lucky.
In California, “Multimillionaire rancher Donald Scott, 61, was shot to death when 26 DEA agents, LA County sheriffs deputies and National Park Service officers raided his 200-acre Malibu spread looking for marijuana they never found.”
“Annie Rae Dixon, 84, bedridden with pneumonia in Tyler, Texas, [was] shot to death by police in a 2 AM. raid last January. An officer said his pistol accidentally went off when he kicked down her bedroom door. No drugs were found.” (Both quotes from USA Today, 1/11/93.)
There are now dozens of such deadly police “mistakes” every week. If an anonymous informant claims without proof that you have illegal drugs or firearms in your possession, that now gives police a virtual license to kill you and your family.
And Peace In America, We Must
Restore Our Libertarian Heritage.
We must return to the principles of tolerance and respect for the rights of others. Activities that are crimes for individuals – theft, assault, kidnapping, intimidation and murder – must be crimes for government agents as well.
The crushing burden of confiscatory taxes and suffocating regulations must be lifted from our economy.
As the revolutions that swept Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union demonstrated, even authoritarian governments require the consent of the governed.
America can again be a land of liberty and unlimited opportunity. This is what America once was and can be again. Millions of American libertarians invite you to join us to restore our liberty.
Jarret B. Wollstein was a co-founder of the original Society for Individual Liberty.
This pamphlet was originally published in 1997. It is part of ISIL‘s educational pamphlet series. Click here for the full index of pamphlets online.