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Thursday, February 1, 1996

The Freedom Revolution

Witty and Incisive Truisms on Public Policy

What lifts this book above the pack is extensive use of Armey’s Axioms—witty though incisive truisms on public policy, from a man in a position to know. The author is the House Majority Leader, an architect of the “Contract with America,” a champion of the flat tax, and a former economics professor at the University of North Texas.

Case in point is U.S. farm policy. The apt Armey Axiom here: “One bad government program creates the need for a worse one.” The U.S. Agriculture Department starts out by benevolently guaranteeing the farmer “client” ample price supports on his crops and thus a high return on his investment. The unsurprising upshot is overproduction or vast farm surpluses that become unmanageable, that cram government storage bins.

This leads to an even more bizarre consequence. The bureaucrats then pay farmers not to farm. Literally. And the amount of land taken out of production is prodigious. in a typical year, reports Representative Armey, Uncle Sam idles 60 million acres, an amount equal to the entire land area of Ohio, Indiana, and half of Illinois combined.

The above Armey Axiom also helps explain the bizarreness of America’s mass transit system. Over the last 25 years, Uncle Sam has pumped in more than $100 billion in mass transit subsidies, and now accounts for two-thirds of the operating cost of mass transit. With fewer skills than the average U.S. worker, the average transit worker is still paid 70 percent more. Yet ridership sinks and is lower today than in the 1960s. Nothing succeeds like a failed government program (a Peterson maxim).

Other targets of Armey Axioms include the Small Business Administration (with a 20 percent default rate on SBA loans), U.S. job training programs (the Job Corps program nips taxpayers for $30,000 per trainee), Rural Electrification Administration (its mission was over in the 1950s but it keeps on draining taxpayers), Legal Services Corporation (its tax-financed lawyers sue state and local governments on behalf of violent criminals evicted from public housing), and so forth.

More Armey Axioms: “The politics of greed always comes wrapped in the language of love.” “When you’re weaned from the milk of sacred cows, you’re bound to get heartburn.” “If you love peace more than freedom, you lose.” “Social responsibility is a euphemism for personal irresponsibility.” “There is nothing more arrogant than a self-righteous income redistributor.”

Freedom works, says Dick Armey. That’s his working title of this cutting yet beaming book. He holds America has only begun to grasp the meaning of great events in recent years—the revolution that sank Eurocommunism, for example, or the computer revolution, or the free-market revolution. These are but steps in the larger Freedom Revolution.

At the heart of this drama is Congressman Armey’s simple idea that people should be trusted to spend their own earnings and decide their own futures. The most just and compassionate societies, he says, are also the most free. What welcome heresy!

Dr. Peterson, an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation, is Distinguished Lundy Professor Emeritus of Business Philosophy at Campbell University in North Carolina.

  • William H. Peterson (1921-2012) was an economist, businessman and author who wrote extensively on Austrian Economics. He completed his PhD at New York University in 1952 under the supervision of Ludwig von Mises.