Recently, when I was in Washington, D.C., I visited three memorials to the fallen of wars we have fought in the last 65 years. The World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004 and is situated midway between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial, is an impressive memorial to the “greatest generation.” From there I went to the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial. Both of these great tributes are near the Lincoln Memorial.
The people honored in these memorials died protecting our freedom, first against Hitler’s fascism and Japanese aggression and then during the long Cold War as we contained and finally defeated communism. Some 405,000 people in the armed services died in World War II, 36,000 in Korea, and 58,000 in Vietnam, most of them in battle. The dead honored by those monuments gave their last full measure protecting their loved ones and our freedom from outside threats. They remind us that “freedom is not free.”
But not all threats to our freedom come from beyond our borders. Some come from within. Bigger government at all levels continues to encroach on our freedom. Today some say the government should take still more responsibility for our lives. They feel the government should take more of the people’s income to provide funding for government-run programs.
In 1952, according to Milton Friedman, federal, state, and local nondefense spending was 11.5 percent of national income. In 2003 it was 30 percent of national income. If federal mandates and the cost of bureaucracy are added to that 30 percent tax, the cost of government becomes oppressive to freedom.
Think of the waste and failure of some of these government programs, for example, the lasting destruction done to poor families by welfare legislation. Consider the crime and drug problems at many HUD projects, making some of them suitable only for destruction. There is the Department of Agriculture with its huge wasteful subsidies, mostly to large corporate farmers. Despite enormous expenditures for education, the government allows the teachers’ unions to maintain a near monopoly over public education. That monopoly wastes our tax dollars and, worse yet, results in a failing K–12 system. These are but a scant few of the examples of the many programs the government pays for with our income and intrudes into our lives.
Clearly, not all government programs are a threat to freedom. It is only fitting that we care for those people in our society who are incapable of caring for themselves. There are many necessary functions that the government is best suited to perform. But politicians and bureaucrats have a constant tendency to intrude more deeply into our lives in ways that reduce our freedom.
The Hoover Institution speaks with a strong voice against these threats. Various Hoover fellows serve in the administration. Others consult closely with the president, members of Congress, and state governors. We are an important source of ideas defining a free society. We are helping to reverse the growth of government before it assumes so much of our freedom that we are no longer truly free.
I consider that being born in this nation and living in freedom is the most precious gift I have ever received. That freedom has been given to us by the people who have fought and died for it, such as the people who are memorialized on the Mall in Washington, D.C. It is also sustained and protected by the fellows at Hoover. Freedom is the idea that runs most deeply and broadly through all their work. Their impact on our government is significant.
Our support of Hoover cannot in any way be compared to the sacrifice of the brave men and women memorialized on the Mall. But we do take up their cause and work to preserve the freedom for which they gave their lives. How little is asked of us. How much was asked of them. And, again, freedom is not free.