Great column this week. Read it on Townhall, or below:
It’s exciting that the world is so excited about Barack Obama. I’m excited, too. That he achieved the presidency says something good about America.
But the excitement also frightens me. It reinforces the worst impulse of the media and political class: the assumption that all progress comes from Washington. In a free society, with constitutionally limited government, the president would be a mere executive who sees to it that predictable and understandable laws are enforced. But sadly, the prestige and power of the presidency have grown, and liberty has contracted. That is not something to celebrate.
The infatuated chattering classes now demand “action” on the economy. They use positive words like “bold steps.” The insufferable New York Times suggests the choice is “between a big-bang strategy of pressing aggressively on multiple fronts versus a more pragmatic, step-by-step approach …. ” There is endless talk about how FDR ended the Great Depression and how Obama will apply similar “stimulus.”
Please. FDR’s “bold” moves didn’t end the Depression. They prolonged it by discouraging capital investment. Hoover and Roosevelt turned what might have been a brief downturn into 10 years of double-digit unemployment.
Now Obama says, “we don’t have a moment to lose,” and he and the Democrats insist that government must unionize most of America by passing “card check” and taxpayers must throw even more money at American automakers.
This is the conceit of what Thomas Sowell calls “the anointed” (http://tinyurl.com/6me8d4). The politicians know best how our money should be spent. The “road to serfdom” is paved with such good intentions.
Who is this “we” politicians always cite?
We can change the world for the better if “we” means hundreds of millions of free people pursuing their interests, inventing, building, parenting, helping.
But the politicians’ “we” is different. It means government. “We” will take your money by force and order you about. A democracy can become the tyranny of the majority. That’s no way to create prosperity.
Obama is an extraordinarily talented man. But there is one thing he can’t successfully do: ignore the laws of economics. No one can do that. That’s why we call them “laws.”
Ludwig von Mises wrote that once the science of economics emerged in the late Eighteenth Century, people began to realize “there is something operative which power and force are unable to alter and to which they must adjust themselves if they hope to achieve success, in precisely the same way as they must take into account the laws of nature. This realization … led to the program and policies of [classical] liberalism and thus unleashed human powers that, under capitalism, have transformed the world.”
The resulting abundance, which so many people take for granted without understanding its source, allows them to believe that a new president can “stimulate” us out of recession.
But we cannot raise wages or create jobs or eliminate poverty by executive order. We can do so by freeing people to save and invest and accumulate capital. We can’t make medical care universal and inexpensive by legislative fiat. But we can approach that goal by permitting a free market in medicine to work.
Government is force, not eloquence. And force is an attempt to defy economic logic. The consequences are often opposite of those intended. “A subsidy for medical insurance increases the demand for services and raises prices. A price ceiling makes those services less available. A floor under wages makes jobs for unskilled workers more scarce, as employers find it a losing proposition to hire them. A subsidy to production means too much produced relative to something else consumers want. A trade restriction lowers living standards at home and abroad,” writes Sheldon Richman on the Foundation for Economic Education website.
What will happen when the unintended consequences hit? F.A. Hayek warned that a government serious about enacting its economic plan must be prepared to use heavy-handed measures. Is that what we want?
I fear that today’s “forceful actions” will not only be a painful assault on our freedom, they will exacerbate whatever economic troubles we face.
If you’ve already read this – skip down for Major Updates:
“Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by developing a plan to require 50 hours of community service in middle school and high school and 100 hours of community service in college every year.”
Are freedom and liberty things people even desire anymore? Or are these just quaint notions great men used to talk about in a bygone era?
How ironic that I would have to remind President-Elect Obama of the 13th Amendment:
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
In a free American society, the State does not have the power to compel service, only encourage it. Only Tyrannies hand the power of people’s lives to the state. While community service doesn’t seem to have parity with slavery, what is the real difference? Do we not trade individual masters for government? Who decides what service is, or for what institute it must be done? If I choose to serve my church, or through a Boy Scout troop – is that included? What about military service? Who will decide the penalty for non-compliance?
Naturally, The State will choose.
And what will you do when The State requires you to do something you oppose? A government with the power to impose good – has an equal power to impose evil.
Time to once again quote the great late C.S. Lewis:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
I guess so long as the slaves are “doing something good” it doesn’t count as slavery.
More on Soft-Tyranny…if anyone even bothers to care anymore.
Updated: Requirement Romoved from change.gov.
You can take a look for yourself here:
“Obama will call on citizens of all ages to serve America, by setting a goal that all middle school and high school students do 50 hours of community service a year and by developing a plan so that all college students who conduct 100 hours of community service receive a universal and fully refundable tax credit ensuring that the first $4,000 of their college education is completely free.”
Now this is a much more thought out and reasonable proposal, and as far as change goes – a very wise one. Obviously, how exactly all this will pan out, as well as the ins-and-outs of the idea, still have much room for debate – but this is definitely an improvement over the earlier statement.
This may not have been totally clear above, but it’s not community service that I am opposed to. Clearly, part of growing up and maturing is becoming aware of the needs of those around us. As an Eagle Scout – I spent a great deal of my childhood preforming community service – and this experience helped me to grow in even greater ways than much of what I learned in traditional school. I was taught the value in helping others and volunteering through direct experience. I believe this is a vital thing for people to learn, and greatly benefits a community in the long run.
With that said – I also don’t think that instilling the value of service on citizens is a responsibility that hangs on government mandate. The real value here is learning to serve out of your own choice – rather than compulsion.
As a side note – it bears mentioning that we currently have the luxury of being governed by a (at least somewhat) moral government. What I was writing about in the initial post may have sounded like a knee-jerk reaction – but allowing a government the power to choose how you serve comes with high risk implications in the long run. What would happen if the government decided you needed to serve in a fashion that you opposed? For instance – consider military service: I happen to see value in military service as well as community service – but I hardly think people should be forced to serve militarily. The point I was making above is that a State with the power to force it’s citizens to serve is, in a way, a return to serfdom – (albeit – a benign sudo-friendly form of serfdom. But that’s today – what about 5, 10, 15 years from now?) something America was founded to oppose.
Back to my main point: The greater value here for a free people, is to learn and understand the value of service – and so choose to serve – as opposed to serving under pressure. In short, compulsory service (by government) makes slaves, while service by personal volition makes responsible and mature citizens.
In a free society, Government can, and should encourage certain positive behaviors, and rightly enforce punishment (to protecting rights and freedoms) on wrong behaviors. What the government cannot do is force people to do good. Not only does this hinder society in the long run (slaves resent their masters), it also runs contrary to human nature (people will not be ruled) and potentially jeopardizes individual freedom.
I’m very happy that President-Elect Obama has wisely re-considered his policy here and made adequate changes to his proposal. Hopefully, congress can work together to come up with a reasonable application of this idea, sans-coercion.
Ed Morrissey grabs the ball and breaks for daylight:
If you believe that America’s primary mission in the world is to be loved, then that leads to the following foreign-policy choices:
- Redistribute American wealth to other countries on a massive scale without preconditions
- Withdraw our military presence from the world, including our defense of global trading routes
- End support for Israel
The mission to spread freedom and liberty, which has been our primary focus for at least the last sixty years, does not bring immediate popularity. It challenges the entrenched interests of oppressive ruling classes, and it irritates those who would rather turn a blind eye to tyranny in order to make a short-term profit from it. The reward for freeing millions and defeating tyrants is not in the immediate gratification of self-indulgent “love”, but in the security of reducing oppression and allowing people to rule themselves and make their own decisions — which has inevitably led to safer, less hostile nations.
Here’s some great audio (in two segments) from an interview between Mark Steyn and Mark Levin. They cover a huge range of topics, as the post title suggests. Funny, and informative – Give it a listen:
So happy to have Mark Steyn back on the scene.
A collection of quotes:
A general dissolution of the principles and manners will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy…. While the people are virtuous they cannot be subdued; but once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader…. If virtue and knowledge are diffused among the people, they will never be enslaved. This will be their great security.
The said constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to prevent the people of the United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms.
How strangely will the Tools of a Tyrant pervert the plain Meaning of Words!
The liberties of our country, the freedom of our civil Constitution, are worth defending at all hazards; and it is our duty to defend them against all attacks. We have received them as a fair inheritance from our worthy ancestors: they purchased them for us with toil and danger and expense of treasure and blood, and transmitted them to us with care and diligence. It will bring an everlasting mark of infamy on the present generation, enlightened as it is, if we should suffer them to be wrested from us by violence without a struggle, or to be cheated out of them by the artifices of false and designing men.
Among the natural rights of the colonists are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.
It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people’s minds.
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or your arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.
The right to freedom being the gift of Almighty God, it is not in the power of man to alienate this gift and voluntarily become a slave.
It is a very great mistake to imagine that the object of loyalty is the authority and interest of one individual man, however dignified by the applause or enriched by the success of popular actions.
If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
A few days ago I wrote this letter to Peter Defazio about the Fairness Doctrine. I was happy to get a real response from him. I thought that you all might find this interesting as it illuminates a clear difference in understanding when it comes to government power (his response is below, followed by my closing comments):
Representative Peter DeFazio,
I would consider myself philosophically conservative on most issues, so I know that we probably disagree on many things. However, I respect you greatly as a fellow American, and I enjoy hearing your opinion, however different from my own it may be.
With that in mind, I am certain that you and I would agree about the importance for our government to secure liberty and protect an individual’s basic right to free speech. (see footnote 1)
For instance, it would be detrimental to individual liberty for the government to force individuals, groups, or companies to present certain viewpoints or ideas (whether Left leaning, or Right) to the public. In other words – it is a similar violation of liberty to have government forcing radio stations to promote certain ideas, as it is having the government force an environmental group to present certain viewpoints on a college campus.
Thus, I am confused as to why you would support legislation such as the Fairness Doctrine – which essentially amounts to the government forcing radio stations to carry certain aspects of content.
Who decides what’s fair? As a consumer of radio, I don’t need the government to decide what sort of speech I should be hearing. Similarly, I wouldn’t want the government telling colleges what their professors should be teaching.
The best thing about America, is that individuals have the liberty to support or not support stations, organizations, and institutions that carry viewpoints they like or dislike. For instance, I enjoy the freedom to discourage local radio stations from carrying jerks like Michael Savage, in favor of talkers with more class. I don’t need the government to step in and balance things out. I would be just as opposed to the government forcing Air America to carry conservative viewpoints as I would of the government forcing you to provide an opposing opinion when you give a speech.
Essentially, the issue here is personal Liberty. Our basic freedom to disagree, and yet discuss our differing viewpoints is what makes America so great. This is what freedom of speech (see footnote 1) is all about. In this case, I think we should let the people individually decide what they wish to listen to or not. The more personal choice individuals have, the freer we all are as a people.
Imagine you had your own radio show where you talked about your viewpoint on policies and government. Does it make sense for the government to require the stations carrying your show to have to provide opposing viewpoints? No. If people want to listen to your show they will – if they don’t, they’ll switch stations.
Even worse, how do you determine an ‘opposing viewpoint’? There are millions of different viewpoints (Liberal, Conservative, Libertarian, Universalist, Constitutional…just to get started) out there – it would be an impossible task for government to regulate. If government required this, most radio stations would probably just can everything. Then people wouldn’t hear any viewpoint. The bottom line is that this judgement is best left to each individual person.
Anyway, that’s my opinion on the matter. Like I said, I know we disagree on a lot – but I would encourage you to please consider my argument and perhaps reconsider your stance on things like the Fairness Doctrine. Likewise, I would also be interested in your point view on this topic.
Thanks so much for your time!
========= Here is his response (I highlighted a couple things to discuss at the end):
Thank you for your recent message on the Fairness Doctrine. I appreciate hearing from you.
The Fairness in Broadcasting act, which is better known as the Fairness Doctrine, was repealed in 1987. It provides that when broadcast stations discuss issues of public importance, they give reasonable time to opposing views. It in no way infringes on anyone’s First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court agreed in its ruling in .
But more importantly, it is important to note that the Fairness Doctrine does not in any way restrict people from expressing their views on the public airwaves. Talk radio hosts would be free to continuing doing the same shows they do today. The doctrine merely requires license holders to allow for opposing points of view to be heard. Hearing a fair and balanced debate is critical to helping Americans fully understand the issues our country faces.
The bottom line is that the airwaves over which over-the-air television and radio broadcast are distributed are owned by the American public, not the corporations that are granted a temporary license to carry programming on a given station. Therefore, it is entirely reasonable to require the license holder to act in the public interest by ensuring an opportunity for conflicting views to be heard on pressing issues of national importance. But, again, that doesn’t mean that each viewpoint would have to be offered equal time or that a talk radio host would be restricted in what issues he or she could discuss or what guests they could have on.
Again, thanks for contacting me on this matter. Please keep in touch.
Rep. Peter DeFazio
Fourth District, OREGON
I think that is an interesting response and I am very happy that Rep. DeFazio (or his staffers…) took the time to reply. Clearly, you can see that he believes that the government should require radio stations to allow for opposing viewpoints because it is in the public good.
Here lies a crucial departure in our understandings when it comes to governmental power. It seems clear that it is Rep. DeFazio’s view that the government decides what is in the best interest of the public. In this case, that means requiring a radio station to provide “conflicting views. (see footnote 2)“
This is a monumental moment of clarity!
I believe in the opposite. I think that the power lies in the publics’ free choice (that’s you!) to decide what they view to be good for themselves.
One quick possible objection before I expand on that idea:
It is logical to argue that the government is “the people”. After all, we elect them right? I mean, the fine folks of District 4 in Oregon chose to elect Rep. DeFazio, correct?
Of course this is true.
However, what people may not realize is that the public also elected to make certain radio shows (with certain viewpoints) successful over the airwaves in a much more direct and democratic way: With their own choice to listen!
Radio is successful only when it can generate revenue from advertising. Advertiser’s only sponsor shows that have good listener ratings. Therefore, the public (again…that’s you) have chosen to listen to whatever they/you want, in their/your own interest.
This is the very crux of personal Liberty in a free market system. You get to choose what is in your own best interest. Not The State! (You cannot get a more fundamentally core conservative principal than this.) Furthermore, did District 4 elect Rep. DeFazio so that he could decide what is in our best interest? I highly doubt it.
This is what Liberty and America in general, is all about: No matter who is elected into government, whether Republican or Democrat, what gives them the right to choose for you what is in your best interest.
This is fundamentally why I am now a conservative. I believe that the greatness of America lies in the fact that the power of our government is directly in the hands of it’s people. You and I are far better judges of what is in our own best interest than The State. And like I said in my letter, I have the freedom to turn off the radio when I feel that a certain viewpoint is not in my best interest, and so should you.
What do you think?