Amidst all the devastation from the latest economic crisis, there have been some really funny moments. Among the most humorous has got to be what happened this past week with President Obama and the New York Times.
Recall that last week I referenced an article by Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson in which he expressed shock that people are actually calling President Obama a socialist because of his massive stimulus package, bank bailouts, and tighter government regulation. All this government involvement in economic activity, Meyerson says, just consists of free-market mechanisms designed to help revitalize America’s free-enterprise system. He says that it’s not socialism and interventionism that are at the root of the current crisis but rather America’s capitalist system.
Well, guess what then happened! The New York Times conducted an interview with Obama in which the reporter asked him to respond to suggestions that he is a socialist. Obama laughingly responded, “The answer would be no” and then, according to the paper, added that he was “making some very tough choices” on the budget.
And now the really funny part happens. About an hour-and-a-half later, Obama actually calls the reporter back and says that he wants to give a fuller answer on the socialist question. He wanted to point out that “large-scale government intervention in the markets and the expansion of social welfare programs had begun under his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.”
Now, if you’re not rolling in the aisles from laughter at this, then you’ve got to be either a conservative or a liberal rather than a libertarian.
Here’s what happened, as any clear-thinking libertarian will tell you.
America was founded on the principles of a free market. What “free market” meant was that market activity was free from government control. That is, “free market” didn’t mean less government control or regulation of market activity, it meant free of government control or regulation.
It also meant no income tax. People were free to keep everything they earned. It also meant no welfare programs. That is, there were no government programs in which people were taxed in order to give the money to other people.
In the late 1800s and continuing into the early 1900s, philosophical attacks began being leveled at the philosophy of economic liberty. The chief attackers were the Progressives, who were copying socialist and regulatory ideas from European socialists and interventionists. Some of the attacks were successful, as reflected by the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the 16th Amendment, the Federal Reserve (which caused the 1929 stock-market crash), and minimum-wage laws in some of the states.
For decades, the advocates of economic liberty were able to stem the tide. But with the stock-market crash in 1929 and the Great Depression, the socialist and interventionist tide overwhelmed America like a tsunami. Franklin Roosevelt seized upon the crisis to revolutionize America’s economic system. Seizing upon the economic principles of both the socialists and fascists, the primary mission of the federal government became taxing some to give to others and regulating economic and business activity. The era of laissez faire had come to an end.
But Roosevelt was a brilliant politician. He understood that Americans generally had a deep revulsion against socialism and fascism. So, he simply convinced them that all his welfare-statism and interventionism, including Social Security, the SEC, the NIRA, and the FHA weren’t socialistic or fascistic but instead simply free-market mechanisms to save America’s free-enterprise system.
It worked. And that’s the way it’s been ever since. No matter how many socialistic and fascistic policies were adopted over the years, they were always to be considered “free-market devices” to improve America’s free-enterprise system. The public schools, which themselves are a model of a socialist enterprise, reinforced people’s mindsets by year-after-year repetitive indoctrination: “America has a free-enterprise system. America has a free-enterprise system.”
For a while, Republicans resisted the trend, fighting for the principles of economic liberty on which America was founded. But realizing that they were unlikely to regain the reins of power by hewing to principle, Republicans finally threw in the towel and joined the socialist-fascist bandwagon. In doing so, they followed the script — that all this socialism and fascism that they were now embracing was really the free market in action.
Thus, it is easy to understand why Obama is confused, confounded, and troubled by the allegation that he is a socialist. All his life he has been taught that he’s pro-free-enterprise, that America has a free-enterprise system, that all these welfare-state, regulatory programs are free-enterprise, and, perhaps most important of all, that those free-enterprise-loving Republicans believe in all this too.
It has been the libertarians, of course, who have pierced through this life of the lie and this devotion to unreality. Unlike Republicans and Democrats, we recognize that Roosevelt didn’t save free enterprise with his socialism and fascism. He destroyed it. Thus, unlike the Republicans and Democrats, we libertarians don’t find ourselves exclaiming during the current economic crisis, “Oh, my gosh, free enterprise has failed again.” Unlike them, we understand that it’s their socialism and fascism that have failed again and that the only real solution lies in restoring the principles of economic liberty on which our nation was founded, which would include at a minimum the repeal of all welfare-state and regulatory programs and departments and the abolition of the federal income tax and the IRS.