When we view the monumental seats of government, the palaces and temples of ancient and medieval civilizations, we are awed by their architectural grandeur, the art and culture to which they testify, and the sheer effort they represent. While they are indeed a part of our cultural heritage, these edifices are better understood as monuments to the power of government—including the great temples and cathedrals of state religions.

These great civilizations had the common characteristic that all-encompassing government systematically confiscated as much of the surplus of the citizens’ product and labor as possible without inviting revolution or conquest. The surplus product and labor were expended on military defense and conquest, state monuments, and the comfort of those who governed.

In our own century, the most successful ventures in totalitarian control of society by government—communism and fascism—have, fortunately, run the course from inception to discredit and dissolution within living memory. But the socialist democratic republic continues its relentless growth as the representative form of government worldwide. The structure of socialist democracies, much like fascism, is typified by large corporations privately owned but heavily regulated by a strong central government—what John Kenneth Galbraith calls “The New Corporate State.”

The average national expenditure on government worldwide is well in excess of half of personal income—a remarkable fact, considering that ancient and medieval governments could not extract more than one-third of the product of their subjects. How is this possible in modern socialist democracies?

The greater productivity of the agricultural and industrial revolution is part of the explanation. However, just as important is the fact that the socialist democracies have raised plundering to an art form. This art form has three facets: coerced philanthropy, deception, and demagoguery.

Coerced philanthropy takes the form of the welfare state. In order to perfect society and mankind, government confiscates surplus product to help the helpless, insure the improvident, redistribute income, and rear the child. With such noble motives, the “social justice” of confiscating the surplus of the more productive and more fortunate is unquestionable.

It takes deviousness to cover how costly socialism is, and how inefficient the result. Half of all taxes are invisible in the United States; in Europe, the proportion is far higher. Social-welfare payments are netted from reported U.S. government expenditures and compared to Gross Domestic Product, which includes government expenditures. Comparison to Gross Personal Income would provide a truer measure of the real tax burden. So government services are understated in their apparent cost to the taxpayer—and they are “free” to the recipient.

An elaborate set of historical prevarications provides the rationale for the demagogues who champion the socialist government’s excesses. For instance:

Social Security and Medicare. The fallacy: Entitlements from current national income are necessary to eliminate poverty for the improvident elderly who failed to save and invest. The reality: Despite an average government dispensation of $20,000 for every elderly person, poverty remains among the elderly, and has been transferred to young workers and families.

Unmarried Motherhood Entitlements. The fallacy: Subsidies for single-parent households are necessary to eliminate child poverty. The reality: An epidemic of illegitimate births and divorces has swollen the ranks of the poor.

State Control of Education. The fallacy: The state must oversee uniform standards of education and scientific methodology for equality of outcomes. The reality: Defective “modern” methodology and the dumbing down of curricula in order to achieve equality of performance have exacerbated inequality of outcomes.

As we conclude the 20th century, the United States has undergone a profound transformation. At the turn of the century, total expenditures of all agencies of government—federal, state, and local—equaled nine percent of the personal income of Americans. Today, government at all levels spends 50 cents of every dollar of income. Are our best interests really served by such a burden?

Vital statistics render a damning verdict on the efficacy of big government’s social engineering. Since 1920, the birth rate has been cut nearly in half, the marriage rate has dropped a quarter, the divorce rate has tripled, and illegitimacy has risen tenfold to 30 percent of births. Since 1900, the homicide rate has increased eightfold. By any reasonable measure of social progress, the attempted perfecting of society and mankind by government has been a failure.

Beneath the current cheerful veneer of a rising stock market and full employment lies a potentially unstable economy. The average American family is working a record number of hours. But after paying for the excesses of government and satisfying its own appetite for consumption, the typical family goes deeper into debt and saves less than ever before.

State schools and working mothers fail to educate children in math and science. Americans consume far more imports than the goods and services they export: Foreigners invest the difference in American factories and real estate to close the capital-formation gap. However, a capital shortage also results in the exporting of capital-intensive industry abroad, and with it go middle-income jobs. A government that overspends, overtaxes, and is overly indebted lies at the root of these economic difficulties. State control of education as a means of providing opportunity to all is equally suspect. It is estimated that, as early as 1800, 80 percent of all Americans were literate. Judging by the 18.3 percent of adult Americans who lacked a highschool diploma in 1996 (and the number who could not read the ones they had), we may be no more literate today than 200 years ago.

Perhaps the worst example of the consequences of government confiscation of income is the history of real, after-tax income of married families since the advent of the Great Society. In spite of an increase of 38 percent in real output per man-hour from 1970 to 1993, the real median income of married families failed to rise at all—despite the increased participation rate of wives in the workforce (from 40 to 59 percent). All of the surplus of the efforts of married families was confiscated by government for distribution to its clients.

Government continues its relentless growth, extending its control over American culture to serve its ends. Although every vestige of traditional religion has been ruthlessly eliminated by government from public education and public life, Americans have a state religion. Its cathedrals are the ivy towers of academia, and its dogma is materialistic humanism. Its tenets are self-gratification, moral relativism, multiculturalism, and atheism. Government-franchised media, licensed broadcasters, and newsprint monopolies are its evangelists. College administrators, government regulators, and editorial boards are its grand inquisitors.

American citizens have sold the free society that was their inheritance from the Founding Fathers for a pocketful of promises of a socialist Utopia. We are in the grasp of an all-encompassing government that takes the surplus fruits of our efforts to serve the ends of those who govern —and perverts our culture and heritage.

What hope do Americans have for a counterrevolution to restore our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Fortunately, bold avenues for counterattacking the citadels of big government are open.

Public-school choice with vouchers for use at whichever school parents choose is about to become a reality. It will end the government monopoly on public education and the state’s claim to primacy in parenting children. And it will permit moral education in the traditions of our American heritage.

Fundamental tax reform is gaining momentum. A flat consumption tax may replace income and capital taxation. It would replace not only the inequitable and hopelessly complex income-tax code, but also the most despised and scofflaw agency of government, the Internal Revenue Service. Such tax reform would end the capital formation deficit and dependency upon foreigners to finance growth, close the trade deficit, and supply the necessary capital to restore the earning power of middle-class families.

Information technology, particularly the Internet, offers the promise of radically altering communications and even higher education by expanding the ways by which knowledge and ideas are disseminated. This could serve as the crucial means of circumventing the media and government-controlled academia.

Social Security reform is gaining a popular consensus around the idea that saving for old age should be privatized. This would be a major reversal for the welfare state.

Reduction in the scale of government and its claim on society’s resources should be a natural consequence of a citizenry made better informed through more visible taxation, traditional education in citizen-run schools, and the freeing of communication.

Family formation and child-rearing within families would be enhanced, as in the 1950’s, by growing real after-tax incomes, the transmission of traditional values by citizen-run schools, and the return of social welfare to families and communities.

Moral and spiritual values would be reinforced by education and religion once again. Choice would allow the return of religion to schooling. The current movement of parishioners from mainline churches in the thrall of socialists to commnnity churches built upon traditional theology and neighborliness will gain momentum.

To what extent can government be curtailed? Adjusted for the Cold War, government on the scale of the 1950’s — a time of rising marriage and birth rates and declining divorces, with relatively few illegitimate births—would spend less than half the current confiscation of American incomes. Perhaps someday a government spending less than ten percent of incomes, as in 1900, will once again suffice.

The socialist Utopias have proved to be empty promises. Americans must radically curtail government if we are to reclaim the American dream which was the legacy of the Founding Fathers.