The 7 Principles of Government

NOTE: A version of this article originally appeared on Harry Browne's website in 2003. For purposes here, we have removed some of the U.S. references and replaced American political names with current Canadian ones.

Here are some thoughts to keep in mind when attempting to sell the ideas of liberty to friends and associates. They are designed to convert people, not to win arguments against them.

Principles of Government

There are seven principles that must be recognized regarding any government program — no matter what the program, no matter how laudable the objective of the program, no matter what terrible things the program is supposed to do away with. If you understand these principles, you can speak effectively regarding an existing or proposed government program or law, even if you don't know all the details of the program.

Government Is Force

Every government program is backed by the coercive power to compel people to alter their lives. For government to provide what you want, it must take it by force from someone else. The force doesn't apply only against criminals or other bad people. The force must first be applied against the innocent — the people who must be forced to pay for the program, the people who must be forced to open their homes, their businesses, their bank accounts to the government.

Government Is Politics

Whenever you turn anything over to the government, you transform it from a financial, medical, scientific, military, or social matter into a political issue — to be decided by whoever has the most political influence. And that will never be you nor I.

You Don’t Control The Government

No government program will operate as you imagine it should. The politicians and bureaucrats will transform your wonderful idea to suit themselves — into something quite different from what you envision. So all the talk about the wonderful things this program or law is supposed to do is just talk. It's just a game of "pretend," and has no relevance to how politicians and bureaucrats will use the force of government to get what they really want.

Power Always Grows

No government program stands still. Whatever the original budget amount, whatever the original area to be covered, whatever the original objectives, the program or law will grow much larger, be applied to areas never discussed when the original law was enacted, and serve as a precedent to apply the same kind of pseudo-solution to other issues. When Medicare was set up in 1965, the politicians estimated that its in 1992 cost would be $3 billion — which is equivalent to $12 billion when adjusted for inflation to 1992 dollars. The actual cost in 1992 was $110 billion — nine times as much.

Power Is Sure To Be Misused Eventually

When you give a good politician the power to do good, you give many future bad politicians the power to do bad. As Michael Cloud has pointed out, "The problem is not the abuse of power, it is the power to abuse." The problem doesn’t arise when a bad politician starts doing bad things; it arose earlier when politicians in general were given the power to do what you might have thought were good things.

Government Doesn’t Work

Because government is force, because it is political, because your intentions won’t matter, because power will always be misused, government simply won’t deliver what you want. I don’t know of any government program that has achieved what it promised.

Government Must Be Subject To Absolute Limits

Because politicians have every incentive to expand government, and with it their power, and because there will always be people who can profit from that expansion and thereby provide "public support" for the expansion, there must be absolute limits on government. The Constitution provides the obvious limits we must reimpose upon the federal government. Until the Constitution is enforced, we have no hope of containing the federal government.


Those principles lead to seven questions to ask someone who’s proposing or defending a government program, regulation, or law:

1.) Do you really want to make this a matter of fines and prison terms?

2.) Do you really want to transform this matter into a political issue, to be decided by whoever has the most political influence — people like Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford, Jane Philpott, or Jagmeet Singh?

3.) Do you really expect this program to retain its original size and scope, without spreading into other areas of your life?

4.) Do you really think the program will operate in the way you imagine —knowing that you have no way to control it?

5.) Do you really want to hand the government power that can be misused in the future by a politician you may despise?

6.) Do you really believe this program or law will achieve its goal —knowing that no existing government program has matched the promises made for it?

7.) Are you willing to breach the Constitution to have your way — opening the door ever wider to whatever tomorrow’s politicians want?