As the Supreme Court Grants Us More Freedom, Government Grows

As the Supreme Court Grants Us More Freedom, Government Grows
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It’s often said that there's little difference between Democrats and Republicans.  Up close the differences in values seem fairly obvious, but from afar it’s apparent that no matter the party in power, government continues to grow.

The good news is that a Supreme Court decision this week will theoretically give the two political parties a chance to differentiate themselves.  As is well known now, the Supreme Court ruled that sports betting will no longer be a federal matter.  States will be left alone to decide gambling rules for themselves. 

On its face, the ruling is a laudable one.  The federal government is supposed to be small.  States are where most governing should take place so that people can choose their legislative bliss.  Some will want a lot of government, some a little, but the main thing is that the good or bad of most policy decisions will largely be felt locally as opposed to nationally.

So in a very real sense the Supreme Court’s decision to limit the nationalization of lawmaking is pleasing.  Here’s hoping there’s more of it. 

But it’s worrisome at the same time.  That’s because the Supreme Court’s decision in Murphy v. NCAA doesn’t free us to gamble as much as it leaves the decision about whether we can gamble on sports to the states.  The feds will recuse themselves, and we’ll substitute in mob rule on the state level.

The above is theoretically an improvement, but not much.  Perhaps not asked enough is why the act of sports betting is a legislative issue at all.  What difference does it make if free people bet on the outcomes of games? Whom does it hurt? Is a voluntary act between two consenting people something to regulate? One can suppose that some readers will say that gambling can lead to negative outcomes for those who participate, but then so can a drive to the grocery store.

Philosophy aside, it should be made clear that the Supreme Court’s decision in no way legalized sports betting in the states.  Be serious.  It’s now up to the states to decide.  This is where it gets problematic for those who care about liberty.    

States logically want to set the laws concerning sports gambling simply because they view the betting as a lucrative revenue stream.  If they legalize it, they can take for themselves a cut of the action.  That’s no doubt why so many states legalized casinos over the years, not to mention Colorado’s decision to legalize marijuana usage.  More broadly, what are Powerball and other state lotteries but a less offensive way for state governments to relieve us of even more of our money?

It would be one thing if Murphy v. NCAA were all about states getting government out of our lives, but ultimately it will be about states tapping into yet another easy revenue stream.  They’ll “grant” us a right to do something that harms no one, and for giving us a right they’ll proceed to expand their footprint even more.

Lest we forget, governments don’t take in dollars to stare at them.  Money taken in is money that’s spent on goods, services, and most problematic of all, labor.  States will arrogate to themselves a new revenue stream, and in so doing their economy-sapping role in the economy will grow.  That’s hardly enhanced freedom for those who cheer on states’ rights.

To all this, some might respond that the extra revenues will enable the paying down of debt run up by states, thus shrinking the future state tax burden for we the people.  Except that the latter is not a serious view.  Not remotely.  It isn’t because the purchase of state debt, like national debt, is a purchase of future income streams.  Assuming the legalization of sports betting in states, we can then assume tax revenue increases for them.  The latter will make state debt even more attractive to investors, not less.  To be clear, federal and state budget deficits continue to grow not because governments aren’t taking in enough of our money, but precisely because they’re collecting too much of it.  Investors are always willing to buy income streams backed by revenue sources that continue to grow.

So while it’s surely a good thing when legislation in the states trumps federal lawmaking, it’s not as though state legislators are angels.  That’s where it gets disturbing. It is because while sports betting wasn’t legal in the states (Nevada accepted), it long been common in much the same way that marijuana use has been.  In “granting” us rights to do what we already do, states won’t legalize an activity as much as they’ll start taxing an activity that free people long treated as legal.  They’ll grant us freedom with the right hand only to take it back with the left.

Which brings us back to Democrats and Republicans.  Offensive as it will soon be to watch states “give” us the right to bet on sports in return for a piece of the action, states are where the spending and legislating will be.  Democrats control some states, Republicans other states.  In that case, it will be interesting to see which states legalize without taxing, and which ones legalize and tax. 

Republicans are for limited government.  Democrats for expansive government.  That’s what we’re told, at least. How then will they respond to an opportunity to assume even more control for themselves through an enhanced power to tax? The eventual answer has the potential to be very telling.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Director of the Center for Economic Freedom at FreedomWorks, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( His new book is titled They're Both Wrong: A Policy Guide for America's Frustrated Independent Thinkers. Other books by Tamny include The End of Work, about the exciting growth of jobs more and more of us love, Who Needs the Fed? and Popular Economics. He can be reached at  

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