None love freedom heartily, but good men; others love not freedom, but license.
- John Milton

I am certain that nothing has done so much to destroy the judicial safeguards of individual freedom as the striving after his mirage of social justice.
- Frederich Hayek

Statue of Liberty The most overrated concept in modern times is Democracy. The most underrated concept is Freedom. They are often confused. They are not the same thing, in fact, they contradict each other in important ways. In a proper Democracy, the majority makes the decisions. In a representative Democracy, such as 20th century USA, the majority elect people to make the decisions. The contrast between a Constitutional Republic and a Democracy is that in the former, the electorate does not have ultimate power to make decisions. The USA was originally set up to be a Constitutional Republic, but have, since 1935, degenerated into a plain old Democracy.

Why is Democracy so bad? There are a couple of reasons, but the most fundamental problem is that in a Democracy, oppression is widespread. It's true that in a Democracy, only minorities are oppressed. It's certainly a relief that as long as you belong to the majority, you will have general freedom to pursue your ideas and activities, but that is poor consolation for the minorities that are at risk. Oppression is bad, whether it is performed by a majority or a minority.

In medieval Europe, the political structure was based on feudalism. This is a form of oligarchy where the nobility -- a minority -- had tremendous power over the common man. The nobility represented perhaps 20% of the population in the average European country. Feudalism is generally considered a particularly poor form of social structure because of the abuses such a small minority could impose on the average person. I am miffed as to why it is considered so much better that 50% can rule the rest, versus 20% in the feudal system. Democracy is not even an order of magnitude better!

The framers of the US constitution, James Madison in particular, had an uncanny insight into the problems of Democracy. Madison wrote:

"Wherever the real power in a Government lies, there is the danger of oppression. In our Governments the real power lies in the majority of the community, and the invasion of private rights is chiefly to be apprehended, not from acts of Government contrary to the sense of its constituents, but from acts in which the Government is the mere instrument of the major number of its constituents.
    -- Letter to Jefferson, 1788

Madison was right. Today, in post-'New Deal' USA, we see abuses of all kinds of minorities: Ethnical minorities, political minorities, economical minorities, even psychological minorities.

Liberty Bell
Inscription: "Proclaim Liberty throughout the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof" (Leviticus 25:10)

Governments have a strong tendency --  I would call it a compulsion --  to grow and expand.  Consider this:  Imagine a county official who is responsible for protecting the streams and creeks of the county.  People have a natural tendency to want to do as good a job as they can, even in government.  This means that this official will not only use all resources to his disposal, but also work to increase those resources at any opportunity.  If he can grow his budget from $200k to $250k, he will do so.  If he can get another staff member, he will do so.  If there is a proposal for a regulation passed that will help him control potential polluters, he will support it.  That may not seem so bad, until you consider hundreds of thousands, in the case of USA millions of these people, all working to increase the scope of their control just a little bit here, a notch there.  Not to mention the politicians with campaign promises to fulfill and donors to appease.  If you then also consider that historically, except for after revolutions, governments never decrease in size, the picture should be clear.  Taxes always go up, never down; the number of public employees always grow, rarely shrink; and the fraction of the economy that is controlled by the government only expands -- in the USA, from less than 5% at the beginning of the century to about 35% in 1998. The federal budget for 2000 was over $2 trillion. That is about 20% of the entire economy, and that's just the feds.

I'm not an anarchist: There are appropriate tasks that government should perform. These come down to public goods. Ideally, to institute a government program, a progressive should show that his proposed objective is a public good. It is very easy to show that many of the contemporary government programs are not public goods. For instance, education and healthcare are not even close to being public goods, yet the feds have their fingers deeply entrenched in both. It is exasperating that to solve the problem that not everyone has access to these goods because of economic hardships, progressives find that those goods must be (partly) nationalized. If the problem is that a certain part of the population do not have access to a particular good, such as education, the solution is not to regulate that resource to make it more available. That hurts everyone's access to that good. The solution is to lend the people under hardship the resources needed to access that good, such as grants or vouchers. The food-stamp program is one example that makes food available to poor people without regulating the entire food industry.

Below is a list of some changes that may help rein in a run-away federal government:

The government should be required to balance its budget.  The endless borrowing and issuing bonds to pass spending on to the next generation must be stopped.  It's simply a way for politicians to spend more money that what is politically acceptable.  I suppose various more sophisticated safeguards could be put in place, but the safest way to protect future taxpayers is to just say no.

A supramajority should be required to pass any new expenditure and regulations.  The supra majority may be 2/3 or 3/4, could depend on the level of goverment (the higher up and thus more removed from citizens a government is, the higher a fraction should be required) and the kind of legislation.  Requiring even just 2/3 majority would make it a lot harder for special interest groups to milk the economy through politicians so-called 'good will'.

One promising movement under way is term limits.