The real cost isn’t just the taxes paid and money spent complying with the rules. It’s the businesses that are never started, the ideas that are never pursued, the dreams that are never realized. We once built the interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Today, we can’t even build a pipeline. We once led the world in manufacturing, exports, and infrastructure investment. Today, we lead the world in lawsuits. We once led the world in educating our kids. Today, half the kids in our fifty largest cities won’t even graduate from high school.Ok, Mitt, answer me this: how did we build the Interstate Highway System and the Hoover Dam? We built them with tax dollars. The Hoover Dam was a "stimulus" project designed to jumpstart the Depression-era economy, of exactly the kind you and other Republicans are always deriding. The Interstate system was built when both gas and income taxes were much, much higher than now. And the main reason we can't build things like that now is that taxes are too low. If you think our ability to do great things, as a nation, is an important measure of freedom -- and this is a perfectly plausible definition -- then what we need to do is get all the Republicans out of Washington, raise taxes, and start spending money on infrastructure.
There is a secondary reason why we couldn't built the Interstate system now, and that gets at some every more interesting questions about "freedom." Today, any attempt at a major infrastructure project is met by massive, organized opposition. Attempts to build I-70 and I-83 into Baltimore were blocked by angry citizens, under the leadership of now Senator, then housewife Barbara Mikulski. The reason there is no Metro stop in Georgetown is that the plan to build one was blocked by angry citizens. I think the highways into Baltimore were a terrible idea, a Metro station in Georgetown a good one. But both fell to the same dynamic, the increasing willingness of Americans to fight any change to their own neighborhoods.
Does that make us more or less free? A hard question, I submit. To answer it we need to balance our freedom to live in the kind of neighborhood we want (without moving every few years) against our freedom to get around. Without roads, our freedom would be severely limited. But if somebody builds an Interstate through your front yard, your freedom is curtailed in a major way.
Pipelines, powerlines, roads, and much else can only be built by using the power of eminent domain to force people to sell their property. That cuts at our freedom very directly, but would you want to give up gas, oil, and electric power?
In a highly complex, crowded society like ours, there is no simple path to freedom. Everything we do impacts our neighbors, so our freedom to burn wood comes directly out of their freedom to breathe clean air. We can only balance these issues as best we can, through the political process.
Me, I think that your freedom to pay low taxes and avoid regulation of your own business are a lot less important than freedoms that can only be delivered through the government. Public education makes everyone who receives it more free, and while there may a lot we need to do to reform troubled big city school systems, less money is not going to help. Public transportation makes us more free to move around. Environmental regulations give us the freedom to breathe easily. Parks give us the freedom to enjoy the outdoors in the middle of a city.
I recognize that we can only have subways and intercity trains and parks and good schools by limiting other freedoms, especially through high taxes. But that is a trade-off I am happy with. Mitt Romney's actual policy proposals would make us more free to keep our own paychecks, but less free to enjoy new highways, good schools, clean air, public transportation, health care, and much more besides. By lumping together the freedoms he really does support -- to pay low taxes, trade derivatives, own guns -- with freedoms he really opposes, he tells a sophisticated kind of lie. But a lie nonetheless.