Highway Robbery
Government vs. the People


LOPEZ: You want regulatory reform. But just today I heard someone say that’s why we had a financial crisis. Not enough regulation. Are you part of the problem?

MURRAY:  Prof. Laurence Kotlikoff of Boston University estimates that there are 115 different regulatory agencies for financial services. Not enough regulation? Yeah, right. The administration itself estimates the cost of complying with regulation at $1.75 trillion a year. If the Obama administration were serious about stimulating the economy, it would cut the burden of regulation in half and add almost $1 trillion back into the economy at virtually no cost.

LOPEZ: So are you squarely in the Fair Tax camp? There is some controversy, as you know. Are you Mike Huckabee?

MURRAY:  I actually suggest several different ways of reforming the tax system — the Fair Tax, the flat tax, the consumption tax, and Milton Friedman’s negative income tax. I think any of those would meet my main criteria for tax reform, which are to reduce the complexities of the 2.1-million-word tax code to something anyone can understand, to ensure that wealth is only taxed once, and to reduce the enforcement abuses of the IRS.

LOPEZ: Why would you abolish grants? That’s no way to win the future, is it?

MURRAY:  All the empirical evidence I’ve seen suggests that scientific innovation is not a public good. Research by the OECD, for instance, suggests that governments that heavily support science see no increase in scientific advances over those that leave the job to the private sector. If anything, as the global-warming scandal shows us, government support of science increases the likelihood that it will be misdirected. As for winning the future, as Prof. Terence Kealey says, “To tax industry to enable government to subsidize it [with research grants] must, in general terms, be absurd.”

LOPEZ: How much of this has to be state-led?

MURRAY:  The entitlement programs aside, the problem of over-government is if anything more prevalent at the state and local levels than at the federal level, so much of it indeed must take place in the states. The good thing to note is that several states are already in relatively good shape, aided by such things as right-to-work and zero state income tax. Even in the best states, however, things can go wrong at the local level, so we need to reform there as well. This is truly a multi-level problem.

LOPEZ: You don’t come from here. Are there lessons from Europe that could help us?

MURRAY:  Yes, don’t let your executive usurp the powers of the legislature! In the European Union, the executive (the European Commission) has the sole right to propose legislation to the European Parliament, which is crazy. However, seeing how much power Congress has delegated to the administration, we may not be too far off from that in reality. A happier example to follow comes from Margaret Thatcher, who significantly reduced the size and power of government through privatization, restructuring, and outright abolition of agencies (she abolished the U.K. Department of Energy, before Tony Blair brought it back — to deal with climate change, of course). I’m proud to say that I ceased to be a government worker in the U.K. by privatizing myself out of a job. And I haven’t looked back since.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.


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