We had another great time at the second meeting of our Economic Liberty Lecture Series last night. 125 students and non-students came together for an evening of pizza, a movie, socializing, and a great talk by James Bovard, a policy advisor at The Future of Freedom Foundation. What was interesting is that many of the students were non-economics majors.
Jim’s talk was about the financial crisis and the bailout. He explained and emphasized how government intervention was the cause of the problem and that the bailout was doomed to just make matters worse, notwithstanding efforts by statists to blame the crisis on “free enterprise.” Lots of the students brought copies of Jim’s book Lost Rights to have him autograph it. The book is assigned reading in one of their economics classes.
Of course, much of Jim’s work for the past 8 years has been on civil liberties and the war on terrorism, just as FFF’s work has oriented in that direction as well. With our Economic Liberty Lecture series, we are emphasizing the importance of economic liberty.
One of the students asked, “What do we do from here? What would you like us to take away from this talk?”
It was an excellent question, and Bovard explained the importance of spreading ideas on liberty to others, given the woeful lack of understanding among so many Americans of the principles of economic liberty. Thus, all too many of them readily fall for the lies and deceptions, with the biggest one being that “free enterprise” is to blame for the crisis.
There is no question but that liberals have a blind spot when it comes to economic liberty. They honestly believe that socialistic and interventionist programs are necessary to help the poor and equalize wealth. They cannot see the fundamental immorality of using force to make people do the right thing. They cannot see that their methods actually end up harming the very people they purport to want to help. They are unable to understand how a genuinely free-market system helps everyone, especially those at the bottom of the economic ladder.
Conservatives have a basic understanding of and devotion to free-market principles. In their seminars and conferences and on their websites, for example, they will inevitably extol the virtues of “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.” The problem is that long ago, afraid of losing political power or credibility, they began supporting socialistic and interventionist programs even while continuing to preach the mantra of economic liberty.
When it comes to civil liberty, however, the situation is reversed. Conservatives have a blind spot when it comes to civil liberties. Either they don’t care about civil liberties or they think that civil liberties are silly devices that simply let guilty people go free. Conservative denigration of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Eight Amendments stretches back much further than 9/11. That was when they were pooh-poohing such things as the Miranda warnings and the exclusionary rule. This attitude manifested itself with full force and effect with the 9/11 attacks. That’s why conservatives supported the Pentagon’s decision to establish its prison camp at Guantanamo — so that the military and the CIA would be freed of the constraints of the Bill of Rights and interference by the federal judiciary that the Constitution established. It’s also why conservatives either remained mute or actively supported the suspension of habeas corpus by President Bush and the Congress.
Liberals, on the other hand, have a strong commitment to civil liberties and the procedural protections of the Bill of Rights. Thus, during the eight years of the Bush regime, liberals have played a leading role against such things as torture, denial of due process and trial by jury, Guantanamo, rendition, kidnapping, right to counsel, and right to a speedy and public trial.
The important thing to keep in mind is that people cannot be free without both economic liberty and civil liberty.
If government has the power to take a person’s money and give it to someone else, that person cannot be considered free.
If government has the power to force someone to do good, that person cannot be considered free.
If people are prohibited from spending their own money they way they want, they cannot be considered free.
By the same token, if the government has the power to arrest anyone and keep him in jail for as long as it wants, simply by accusing of terrorism and denying him a trial, then people in that society cannot be considered free.
If people can be arbitrarily subjected to warrantless searches or have their private affairs spied upon by government agents, then they cannot be considered free.
If people can be convicted of crimes without the government’s following centuries-old processes relating to due process, including right to counsel, right to trial by jury, and right to a speedy trial, then they cannot be considered free.
If people don’t have the right of habeas corpus, they cannot be considered free.
If people can be subjected to cruel and unusual punishments, they cannot be considered free.
This is where libertarianism comes in. The free society requires both economic liberty and civil liberty. Achieving one without the other still leaves people living in an unfree society. That’s why libertarians advance both economic liberty and civil liberty (as well as all other aspects of freedom, such as gun rights, free speech, religious liberty, educational liberty, and drug legalization.)