In a post on a serious proposal to almost double the Illinois state income tax, Megan McArdle writes:

The income tax increases, on the other hand, are both workable and necessary. Conservatives will holler, but Illinois is not going to eliminate its entire deficit by cutting spending; the cuts needed too deep, the citizenry dependent on the services. Whether or not you think these programs should exist, they do now, and you can’t simply throw people off who planned their lives around them.

It’s not just conservatives who would holler: libertarians would probably holler even louder. But think about her reasoning. McArdle is saying, in effect, that if a government program has been in force for many years–people “planned their lives around them”–it should be kept. She explicitly forecloses judging whether these programs should exist–“[w]hether or not you think these programs should exist.”

I saw her on John Stossel’s show the other night making a cogent case for making most drugs legal. She’s probably aware that one of the most effective lobbies for the drug war in California is the prison guard’s union. Although it stayed out of the Proposition 19 battle, it was instrumental in defeating an initiative in 2008 to lighten prison sentences for drugs. Certainly many prison guards, as well as “drug court professionals,” as the article linked to above puts it, have “planned their lives” around this program. Yet that didn’t stop McArdle from advocating a end to the drug war. As well it shouldn’t have.

The bigger issue is that with McArdle’s decision rule–keep even bad government programs in place if enough people have depended on them long enough–promotes the government ratchet that Robert Higgs talks about. The net effect is a bigger and bigger government. Of course, this is what we already do have, but it’s disheartening to see otherwise clear thinkers who are somewhat libertarian say that this is what we should have.