Real freedom

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Last night, Governor Dayton addressed the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. In a “Daniel in the lions’ den” moment, he made the case for tax fairness, raising revenue and an overall balanced approach to budget balancing. It was a refreshing speech. I’m feeling freer already.

Conservatives fondly reference “freedom” and “liberty” as principle motivations for their public policy initiatives. Cutting taxes on high income earners while reducing services to middle-class Minnesotans makes us, somehow, freer.

The “no new taxes” policy approach supposedly increases our liberty quotient. Despite reduced public safety services, declining public school quality, crumbling infrastructure, skyrocketing health care costs, and economic stagnation, Minnesota freedom is growing.

I don’t know about you, but I feel stressed, not free.

In the conservative view, increased freedom is achieved through limited government. The Center of the American Experiment, Minnesota’s oldest conservative think tank, cites the “time-tested principles of free enterprise, limited government, ordered liberty, and traditional American values,” as justification for a rightward policy shift.

In a December Power Line blog posting, Scott Johnson ruminated over a national conservative “limited government” debate. “Limited government,” he writes, properly refers to the thought underlying the original Constitution that leads to the limitation of the powers of the government.”

This seemingly straightforward definition disguises an important nuance. The conservative “limited government” notion means limiting government for some but not for others. It’s not a universal principal, just a self-interested one. In other words, I want what I want from government but I also want you not to have what you want.

In return for public policy doctrine that relieves high income earners of their shared, proportional responsibility to Minnesota’s revenue base while concentrating public investment outcomes into fewer hands, conservative policy advocates insist that middle-class Minnesotans are “freer” as a result. We’re not. Good schools, robust transportation infrastructure, affordable health care and a growing economy create choices.

In those choices, we find freedom.