An article about Cuban leader Fidel Castro in today’s New York Times highlights the perverse view of freedom held by the America left and, well, for that matter, by American conservatives as well. The article is entitled “There’s More to Castro Than Meets the Eye” by Jonathan M. Hansen, a historian at Harvard and the author of the new book Young Castro: The Making of a Revolutionary.
What is every student in America taught about the Great Depression and President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal program? They are taught that the Great Depression, including the 1929 stock-market crash, constituted the “failure of America’s free-enterprise system” and that Roosevelt’s New Deal “saved America’s free-enterprise system.”
It has to be one of the most successful propaganda and indoctrination programs in history. I’ll bet that if a poll were taken today of American students and American adults, at least 95 percent of them would say that America’s “free-enterprise system” failed in 1929 and that Roosevelt was able to save it with his New Deal programs.
Consider this excerpt from Hansen’s NYT article about Castro:
At the time, [Castro’s] commitment to individual liberty was balanced by a platform of social liberties derived partly from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which included universal access to education, medical care, steady employment, and a decent standard of living (the first two of which his revolution would be credited with achieving in Cuba for the first time).
The author is saying that Castro began his revolution with a commitment to civil and political liberties. Let’s leave that claim aside. What I’d like to examine are the Roosevelt programs he refers to as “social liberties.”
What he is saying is that Castro favored the same things that Roosevelt favored — free public schooling, free medical care, a guaranteed job, and a decent standard of living—and that these programs constitute “social liberties.”
What most Americans still do not realize, unfortunately, is that Roosevelt’s New Deal did not save free enterprise at all. It’s been a lie from the very beginning. In actuality, Roosevelt’s program did the exact opposite. It destroyed America’s free-enterprise system under the guise of “saving” it.
For more than 100 years, most Americans (slaves being a notable exception) were free to keep everything they earned and decide what to do with their own money. While there were land grants to the railroads and some canal-building, there were no programs of mandatory charity to help people. Imagine: For more than 100 years, no income tax and IRS, Federal Reserve, paper money (gold and silver coins were the official money), drug laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, farm subsidies, education grants, immigration controls, minimum-wage laws, price controls, public-schooling systems (except Massachusetts), economic regulations (with some few exceptions), gun control, Pentagon, military-industrial complex, CIA, NSA, assassination program, torture program, kidnapping program, foreign aid, foreign interventions, foreign coups, foreign meddling, and foreign wars.
That was one unusual society. At no other time in history has such a society existed. The result was not only the most prosperous society in history but also the most charitable one in history.
That all changed with the progressive movement, which began importing socialist ideas into American society. Their argument was that since “capitalism” had bad consequences, socialist, regulatory, and interventionist programs were necessary to help the powerless and less fortunate deal with the vicissitudes of life.
Progressives were responsible for the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882 and, later, the Border Patrol in 1824 (which violated America’s 100-year system of open immigration), the Sherman Anti-Trust Act in 1890, and the income tax and Federal Reserve in 1913. The progressives were gradually making inroads into a system that was based on economic enterprise being free of federal interference (i.e., free enterprise).
The watershed event came with the 1929 stock-market crash and the Great Depression, which were actually caused not by “free enterprise” but rather by monetary manipulation by the Federal Reserve. Since everyone, however, was being indoctrinated into believing that the income tax and the Fed were part of America’s “free enterprise system,” it was natural for people to believe that the “free enterprise system” was responsible for the crash and the Depression. The truth is that the crash and the Depression were caused by the abandonment of America’s free-enterprise system through the adoption of the Federal Reserve.
Roosevelt completed the revolution by nationalizing gold and converting America’s economic system to one based on mandatory charity, or what we call a “welfare state,” which is a variation of the socialist concept. It is a concept that is based on the socialist principle of forcibly taking money from those to whom it belongs (e.g., the “rich”) and giving it to people to whom it does not belong but who purportedly need it more.
Roosevelt brought into existence Social Security, a concept that had originated among German socialists and that progressives imported into the United States. Social Security would be followed by Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, welfare, food stamps, aid to corporations, education grants, farm subsidies, foreign aid, and countless other mandatory-charity programs.
Progressives also imported into the United States another socialist program, public (i.e., government) schooling. The goal was to produce a nation of good, little “patriotic” citizens who would blindly support whatever the government did, so long as it was done in the name of “freedom and free enterprise.”
That was not all that Roosevelt did with his New Deal. He also adopted the concept of a government-managed economy, again, under the name of “saving free enterprise.” That’s what his infamous National Industrial Recovery Act, which cartelized American business and industry, was all about. Even though the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, the idea that the federal government, including the president, should wield the power to manage the economy became a permanent part of American life.
Not surprisingly, German leader Adolf Hitler sent FDR a letter commending him on his New Deal programs and informing him that Germany was adopting the same types of programs to deal with the Depression. Hitler especially complimented Roosevelt for putting the greater good above the interests of the individual. See the insightful book Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 by Wolfgang Schivelbusch, or this review of the book, or this one, or this one.
Among the principle aims of the federal government was the reduction of unemployment, which was the same goal that Castro had. That’s where the Federal Reserve’s “easy money” policies came into play, which, over the decades, would drastically debase the currency. Over time, the devaluation became so severe that all silver coins were driven out of circulation by the cheap alloyed coins that the federal government was producing at an ever-increasing rate.
What Roosevelt accomplished was revolutionary because it rejected entirely the economic and monetary system that Americans had lived under for more than 100 years. What was equally remarkable was his success in convincing Americans that “free enterprise” had failed and that his socialist programs were “saving” it. Americans were grateful for what he was doing to “save” their “free-enterprise system.”
That’s why Hansen, the author of that New York Times article about Castro, refers to America’s socialist programs and Castro’s socialist programs as “social liberties.” Castro actually had a much better grip on reality than Hansen and many Americans, both on the left and the right. He knew he was adopting socialism, not “free enterprise,” with his system of age-old retirement (i.e., Social Security), free education (i.e., public schooling), free healthcare (i.e., Medicare and Medicaid), guarantee jobs, and equalization of wealth. But like Hansen and many Americans, he considered socialism to be freedom.
What distinguishes us libertarians from others is that we have broken free of the propaganda and indoctrination to which we were subjected. We know it was all a lie. Roosevelt didn’t save free enterprise. He completed the destruction of it. We libertarians also know that socialism is not freedom but instead the opposite of freedom.