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.