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G vernment and M rality

he growth of government has politicized life and weakened the nation’s moral fabric. Government intervention—in the economy, in the community, and in society—has increased the payoff from political action and reduced the scope of private action. People have become more dependent on the state and have sacrificed freedom for a false sense of security. T

The most obvious signs of moral decay in America are the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births, the breakup of families, the amorality of public education, and the eruption of criminal activity. But there are other signs as well: the decline in civility, the lack of integrity in both public and private life, and the growth of litiga- tion as the chief way to settle disputes.

One cannot blame government for all of society’s ills, but there is no doubt that economic and social legislation over the past 50 years has had a negative impact on virtue. Individuals lose their moral bearing when they become depen- dent on welfare, when they are rewarded for having children out of wedlock, and when they are not held accountable for their actions. The internal moral compass that normally guides individual behavior will no longer function when the state undermines incentives for moral conduct and blurs the distinction between right and wrong.

More government spending is not the answer to our social, economic, or cultural prob- lems. The task is not to reinvent government or to give politics meaning; the task is to limit gov- ernment and revitalize civil society. Government meddling will only make matters worse.

If we want to help the disadvantaged, we do not do so by making poverty pay, by restrict- ing markets, by prohibiting school choice, by dis- couraging thrift, or by sending the message that the principal function of government is to take care of us. Rather, we do so by eliminating social

James A. Dorn is Vice President for Academic Affairs at the Cato Institute. This essay is based on his Chautauqua Institution lecture of August 18, 1995, and is reprinted, with minor revisions, from The Freeman, March 1996.

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