Size Matters: How Big Government Puts the Squeeze on America's Families, Finances, and Freedom (and Limits the Pursuit of Happiness)


My first beer was Pete's Wicked Pale Ale. It came with a green label that proclaimed its contents "intensely hopped." I didn't know what that meant until I took a gulp, but did I learn fast. Hops are bitter herbs that have been used to flavor beer for centuries. And pale ales are, according to the parameters of the style, extremely hoppy. That crisp, golden beverage was the most bitter substance I had ever tasted. I squinted and swallowed hard, but . . . wow!

I took another draught and my mouth was awash again in a riptide of bitter, bubbly, CO2 eruptions and the fruity splash of malted barley. What a sensation! I wasn't sure if I liked it at first, but by bottle's end I was a dedicated fan.

Soon I was reading books about the craft and history of beermaking, learning how different ingredients and brewing methods produced the wide array of beer styles available. I kept a tasting journal. I even partnered with a friend, invested in some equipment, and started brewing my own. It became a tremendous source of enjoyment and pleasurable recreation.

And Big Government almost botched it all.

Pete Slosberg is the brains behind Pete's Wicked Pale Ale and the many other styles of beer his company produces, including its flagship brew, an Old World-style brown ale known simply as Pete's Wicked Ale.

For Slosberg, brewing started as a hobby. When he decided to go commercial, he incorporated and applied for the requisite license from the California State Alcoholic Beverage Commission.


Why? Because his beer was unsafe?


Because he was using poor or illegal ingredients?


The government refused him a license because Slosberg's brewing equipment was borrowed. Because he didn't own it. "We were told by a bureaucrat there that it was absolutely not possible to use someone else's equipment to make our beer," he recalls. The fact that an untold number of companies function only because they borrow and lease equipment apparently never crossed the minds of the bureaucrats, the state gatekeepers of commerce, innovation, and opportunity. "We were trying to do something new that wasn't on the prescribed list of official options," says Slosberg, adding a telling fact about the way bureaucrats think of fresh ideas: "If it's not on the list, it must be prohibited."1

But it didn't end there. How could it? Brewing was what Slosberg wanted to do with his life. So he fought back, eventually prevailed, and received his license.

What if he hadn't?

Pete Slosberg has been a big influence in the market for liquid refreshment'not only for legions of homebrewers like me but also for brewpubs and commercial craft brewers across the country. While much of that terrain was still uncharted, Slosberg and a few other small outfits like Anchor, Redhook, Bridgeport, and Sierra Nevada strode into the wild tangle like trailblazers, zymurgical Lewises and Clarks, mapping out the commercial possibilities for more diverse and interesting styles of beer than the domestic fare then available. If Slosberg hadn't scored his license, the world of brewing would probably look much different than it does today. I know my personal experience would have suffered'a little less flavor, a little less enjoyment, a little less fun.

And that's a big problem.

Over the next several pages, I will lay out the broad themes of Size Matters: the pursuit of happiness, the rule of law, and how Big Government undermines both.

For those who can't wait, here's the whole story in a sound bite: AS GOVERNMENT INCREASES IN QUANTITY, OUR LIVES DECREASE IN QUALITY. It's not true in every instance, but it is undeniably true in most. The bigger government has grown, the greater squeeze it has placed on families, finances, and freedom. And that squeeze has directly impacted the pursuit of happiness for the worse.

Footnote for Chapter 1:

1 Pete Slosberg, Beer for Pete's Sake (Siris Books, 1998), 67.


Of Thomas Jefferson's famous triad in the Declaration of Independence, "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," the most overlooked is certainly the last.

Scan through the indices and pages of several books about politics, law, and economics. You'll find hardly a word about happiness'strange, because it's nearly impossible to avoid similar references when reading the many speeches, letters and essays of the founders' day. [1] While life and liberty seem like weightier things, America's framers placed a lot of importance on happiness.

As one pamphlet from the constitutional debates declares, "The happiness of the people at large must be the great object at this point." [2] In his 1776 essay, "Thoughts on Government," John Adams say that "happiness of society is the end [the goal] of government . . . ." [3] And Jefferson strikes the same chord in his first inaugural. After listing many benefits enjoyed by Americans, he asks,

[W]hat more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens'a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities. [4]

The last phrase means "to make our happiness complete."

When we talk about happiness, we usually mean something like long-term satisfaction or lasting pleasure and contentment with life. It might seem too vague or subjective to work as an organizing principle for government. But boil the issue down to a simple observation: People want to be happy and do the things they think will make them so. "No man lives as he wishes unless he is happy," said dour old St. Augustine in The City of God, echoing sentiments held by previous thinkers as diverse as Aristotle and Solomon. Because happiness is a basic desire, pursuing it is simply what we do. This is true in every sphere of life: social, familial, political.

Jefferson and the founders thought of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as hierarchical. Happiness makes no sense if you're dead, and you're not free to pursue it if you have no liberty. They build on each other, much like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The pursuit is stage three. As Daniel Nettle says, "Jefferson's rights one and two wake the horse up and open the stable door, but only number three'the pursuit of happiness'is going to make it go anywhere." [5]

It's the great motivator'the thing that excites us in innovation and creativity, that compels us to marry and raise a family, that spurs us to productive work and leisure, that drives us to seek "the good life." Even our acts of charity and religious devotion are tied up in happiness. What makes a man donate money and time to the poor except for the gratification of doing good and the added possibility of storing up treasure in heaven? [6] At the more extreme end, what makes a martyr die for his faith instead of acquiescing to the demands of his executioners but hope of bliss in the Beyond?

The concern for any society is not that its people cannot or will not pursue happiness. They are hardwired to do so; they'll find a way. Rather, the real concern is that their attempts will be frustrated. Happiness is not self-sufficient. As such, the founders reckoned it the duty of government to help its citizens in the quest.

Since the last statement is easily misconstrued, here's a necessary clarification: Nowhere in the entire text of the Constitution is there an article or clause that says, "Congress shall make people happy." Enabling one person to do whatever he thinks will make him happy might entail harming or defrauding his neighbor. It might also include something that would interfere with another person's pursuit. And that would never float because government is supposed to remain neutral regarding the pursuits of its citizens.

As journalist William Leggett expressed the idea of several decades after the founding, "Governments have no right to interfere with the pursuits of individuals . . . by offering encouragements and granting privileges to any particular class of industry, or any select bodies of men, inasmuch as all classes of industry and all men are equally important to the general welfare, and equally entitled to protection." [7]

To avoid the same sticky wicket, neither did the founders recognize any supposed right to happiness itself. What we supposedly require to make us happy'the joy to which we theoretically have an overriding claim'might be another man's property and livelihood. The founders would clearly grant no credence to such a right. And here's an easy bet: Neither would you if you became the target of such a "happiness."

The concept is really much simpler than all of that.

It meant that just as the rights to life and liberty were universal, so was the pursuit of happiness. "The Declaration is primarily a denial of the political principles which long governed Europe," said Oxford don C. S. Lewis, "a challenge flung down to the Austrian and Russian empires, to England . . . and to Bourbon France. It demands that whatever means of pursuing happiness are lawful for any should be lawful for all." [8]

In a world riven by caste, class, mercantile interests, and legal monopolies, this was unheard of. Pursuing happiness was not the right of the wealthy and well-healed alone. In America, it was open to everyone, and that openness was guaranteed by the government.

Coupled with words like "securing" and "pursuit of," happiness becomes a two-pronged concept in the American system, the words establishing different but complimentary roles of citizen and government:

- the right of individuals to pursue happiness

- the duty of government to protect that pursuit for all individuals

Each of us is at liberty to pursue those lawful endeavors that bring us joy and contentment, while the government is responsible to create an environment in which we can conduct our pursuits. That is the American way. The government provides security for general happiness, while we pursue our own specific, particular happiness.

Providing for general happiness is what the framers were getting at when they spoke of the general welfare or the common good. In the American scheme, the public happiness is not served by whatever a ruler merely deems good for everyone. It is only being served when government is doing things that genuinely benefit the entire community. By default, agents of the government must not then operate at the expense of one group or another. Neither must they use government to do those things that can be handled by other, better means. If superior, nongovernmental means for accomplishing a certain public good are available, having the government do it instead is poorly serving the happiness of the community.9

So here's the big question: If we agree with the founders that the government's job is to secure happiness and foster environments where its pursuit is possible, then what do we say when the government itself jeopardizes happiness and stands in the way of our pursuit?

Footnotes for Chapter 2:

1 Recently, more voices have been heard on the subject. I'm thinking specifically of Gregg Easterbrook's The Progress Paradox (Random House, 2003) and Richard Layard's Happiness: Lessons from a New Science (Penguin, 2005). But while public discussion may be changing, Easterbrook and Layard are much more the exception than the rule.

2 Ralph Ketcham, ed., The Antifederalist Papers and the Constitutional Convention Debates (Mentor, 1986), 263. The author of the pamphlet, known as "Letters from the Federal Farmer," is traditionally rumored to be Virginian Richard Henry Lee, but Ketcham pegs New Yorker Melancton Smith as the likely scribe.

3 George A. Peek Jr., ed., The Political Writings of John Adams (Macmillan, 1985), 85.

4 Jefferson's first inaugural, 4 March 1801. For full text:

5 Daniel Nettle, Happiness: The Science Behind Your Smile (Oxford University Press, 2005), 1.

6 A friend reviewing this chapter added the possibility of being motivated by the fear of hell. But, of course, as hell is severely uncomfortable, doing something to stay out of it is pursuing happiness of a sort.

7 William Leggett, Democratick Editorials, ed. Lawrence White (LibertyPress, 1984), 3-4.

8 C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Eerdmans, 1970), 319.

9 Arthur Seldon, Government Failure and Over-Government, ed. Colin Robinson (Liberty Fund, 2005), 23-47.

To go to our full review, or to go to purchase the book, CLICK HERE.

Reprinted with permission from the publisher of Size Matters by Joel Miller, Nelson Current, a division of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Nashville, Tennessee, copyright 2006. CLICK HERE TO GO NOW TO PURCHASE BOOK.

Your rating: None
Joel Miller's picture
Columns on STR: 1