Each year, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” gets more depressing. No, not the story — that’s still sweet. What’s depressing is seeing how, in just 65 years, our government has come to intrude on so many aspects of our lives.
Take the young George Bailey. As a 12-year-old boy, he had an after-school job working for Mr. Gower, the druggist. Nowadays, Mr. Gower wouldn’t be able to hire George — after all, that’s child labor! Never mind that it might be good for kids that age to learn the value of hard work and the dollar. No, it’s better if our kids are at home after school, sans parents, playing Wii. Idle hands are God’s tools, after all.
We also see Mr. Gower smoking a cigar — inside the pharmacy! George and his friends are certain to die an awful death from all that second-hand smoke. Oh, the danger Mr. Gower is subjecting them to! Where is the government when we need it? These children need to be protected.
And when Mr. Gower, inebriated and mourning the loss of his son, slaps George, the police aren’t called. There is no lawsuit or press conference. George understands his boss is suffering and reacts with sympathy, understanding and kindness. And it changes the course of Mr. Gower’s life.
Take a look at Uncle Billy, too. When he misplaces $8,000 from the Building & Loan, George takes personal responsibility for it. Imagine if the heads of troubled financial institutions like Citigroup and Bank of America were personally responsible for their losses. They would’ve taken far fewer risks, and we wouldn’t be in the shape we’re in now.
Another thing we don’t see anymore: people saving money for college. George Bailey doesn’t go to school right away because he can’t afford it. He works at the Building & Loan for four years to pay for his college education. And when his plans are dashed and he has to stay home and run the family business, he gives his money to his little brother, Harry, so that Harry can go to college. They figure out as a family how to pay for their educations. The government isn’t involved at all.
Now, government is ubiquitous.
In Bedford Falls, we see people walking and driving around town and there are no (gasp!) surveillance cameras. People aren’t being monitored 24/7 by the government as they walk down the street. People aren’t wearing seat belts, either. That’s because back then people were free to choose whether they wanted to buckle up. Big Brother wasn’t deciding what was best for us and watching to ensure we weren’t endangering ourselves.
I know, I know. You’re thinking: Would America really be a better place if children worked and fewer people attended college or wore seat belts?
No. But America would be a better place if we had more freedom, were more responsible for our own lives and were forced to work and save money for things. And perhaps if government didn’t subsidize college tuition costs, tuition costs would come down. Same for health care.
When “It’s a Wonderful Life” was made, personal responsibility was still revered in this country. In the six-plus decades since, the government’s size and scope has exploded, and we’re worse off for it.
We’ve gotten away from the idea of limited government — a principle on which this country was founded. I fear what the next 65 years holds for us if our ideas about the role of government don’t change.
After all, is a life without liberty really all that wonderful?
Tricia Owen is a freelance writer in Atlanta.