Government is taking us a long way down the Road to Serfdom. That doesn't just mean that more of us must work for the government. It means that we are changing from independent, self-responsible people into a submissive flock. The welfare state kills the creative spirit.
F.A. Hayek, an Austrian economist living in Britain, wrote "The Road to Serfdom" in 1944 as a warning that central economic planning would extinguish freedom. . . .
Hayek meant that governments can't plan economies without planning people's lives. After all, an economy is just individuals engaging in exchanges. . . . scientific-sounding economic planning hides the fact that people must shelve their own plans in favor of government's single plan.
At the beginning of "The Road to Serfdom," Hayek acknowledges that mere material wealth is not all that's at stake when the government controls our lives: "The most important change ... is a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people."
This shouldn't be controversial. If government relieves us of the responsibility of living by bailing us out, character will atrophy. The welfare state, however good its intentions of creating material equality, can't help but make us dependent. That changes the psychology of society.
According to the Tax Foundation, 60 percent of the population now gets more in government benefits than it pays in taxes. What does it say about a society in which more than half the people live at the expense of the rest? Worse, the dependent class is growing. The 60 percent will soon be 70 percent.
Kurt Vonnegut understood the threat of government-imposed equality. His short story "Harrison Bergeron" portrays a future in which no one is permitted to have any physical or intellectual advantage over anyone else. A government Handicapper General weighs down the strong and agile, masks the faces of the beautiful and distracts the smart.
So far, the Handicapper General is just fantasy. But Vice President Joe Biden did shout at the Democratic National Convention: "Everyone is your equal, and everyone is equal to you." If he meant that we're all equal in rights and before the law, fine. If he meant government shouldn't put barriers in the way of opportunity, great. But statists like Biden usually have more in mind: They want government to make results more equal.