A contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, Timothy Egan, reflects one of the major problems we libertarians face in America: a life of the lie, a life that embraces a false reality. This life of self-deception is not intentional. It is entirely unwitting. Nonetheless, it is a root cause of much of the dysfunctional nature of American society.
In a recent political op-ed in the Times, Egan writes:
The United States has never been a socialist country, even when it most likely should have been one, during the robber baron tyranny of the Gilded Age or the desperation of the Great Depression, and it never will be. Which isn’t to say that American capitalism is working; it needs Teddy Roosevelt-style trustbusting and restructuring. We’re coming for you, Facebook.
Notice the mindset: that America has never been a socialist country. In Egan’s mind, America is a “capitalist” nation and always has been one. He suggests that this “capitalist” system isn’t working — that it needs strong government intervention to “correct” it.
Do you see what I mean? That’s one of the big challenges we libertarians face: the fact that a lie and a false reality are embraced and promoted by people from all walks of life, especially the well-educated elite at America’s big mainstream newspapers.
America’s love of socialism
It gets worse. Egan writes:
Socialism, despite its flavor-of-the-month appeal to young people, is not popular with the general public. Just 39 percent of Americans view socialism positively, a bare uptick from 2010, compared with 87 percent who have a positive view of free enterprise, Gallup found last fall.
Are you kidding me? Americans love socialism, so long as it isn’t called socialism and is instead called “freedom” and “free enterprise.” Examples: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, income taxation, farm subsidies, education grants, public (i.e., government) schooling, immigration controls, the Federal Reserve System, foreign aid, and countless more.
All of those programs are socialist ones, in that they embody either the socialist concept of coercive redistribution of wealth or the socialist concept of central planning. But as Egan’s op-ed reflects, none dare call it socialism. We must always refer to it all as “freedom” and “free enterprise.” So long as we do that — so long as we all embrace a false reality — everything will be fine.
The words of the great German thinker Johann Goethe sum up perfectly the problem we face: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”
Do you see why non-libertarian mainstream Americans are so confused and compounded whenever they encounter a libertarian? Non-libertarians ask us, “What is libertarianism all about?” Libertarians respond, “We are striving for a free society.” For non-libertarians, that seems crazy because in their minds, they are already free. Why should a person strive for freedom if he already free?
That’s in fact one of the major differences between libertarians and non-libertarians. We know we are not free. We know that America is a socialist nation. We know that this isn’t a free-enterprise country. Non-libertarians aren’t there, at least not yet.
My life of the lie
But I can relate to Egan. Up until my late 20s, I too believed what he believes. I recall reading a book entitled A Time for Truth by William Simon, who served as Secretary of the Treasury in the Nixon administration. Simon talked about America’s “new despotism” that had come with its conversion to a welfare state, a centrally managed and regulated economy, and a tightly government-controlled society that included such things as no-knock raids on people’s homes. He outlined what needed to be done to restore freedom and free enterprise to our land. Upon reading the book, I remarked to a friend that while I had found it to be an interesting book, I thought it rather strange that Simon was suggesting that Americans weren’t free. Everyone knew Americans were free and that they already had a free-enterprise system.
I wasn’t ready for the truth, just as Eagan and so many others aren’t ready for the truth. But Simon’s book had planted a seed. Sometime after that, I discovered libertarianism through a series of four little books entitled Essays on Liberty that contained principled, uncompromising libertarian essays by different libertarian authors.
At that moment, the scales dropped from my eyes. I had achieved a “breakthrough,” the same breakthrough that characterizes most libertarians. The indoctrination that I had received for years in public (i.e., government) schools, which Egan undoubtedly considers are a backbone of America’s “free enterprise” system, was breaking apart. The truth — that America embraced socialism decades ago — was setting me free from those long years of official indoctrination and lies.
A genuinely free society is one in which people are free to keep everything they earn and decide for themselves what to do with it. That was America’s founding economic system — no income taxation and IRS and no welfare state, including Social Security, Medicare, welfare, farm subsidies, education grants, public schooling, and countless more.
That’s clearly not the system we live in today. The federal government effectively owns everyone’s income and decides how much of it people are going to be permitted to keep, much like a parent decides how much of an allowance his kids are going to be permitted.
At the same time, America’s welfare-state system is based on the concept of mandatory charity. The IRS, which is one of the most tyrannical and feared agencies in U.S. history, forcibly takes money from those to whom it belongs in order to give it to those to whom it does not belong. That includes Social Security and Medicare and all the other redistributive programs.
There is no way to reconcile mandatory charity with a genuinely free society. Our ancestors understood that. That’s why there was no mandatory charity for more than a century after the nation was formed.
Nonetheless, Egan and so many others have convinced themselves that America’s welfare state way of life is really “freedom” and “free enterprise.” Thus, when they see all the crises, chaos, and dysfunctionality of American life, they don’t recognize that socialism is the problem. For them, it’s all because America’s “free enterprise system” has failed. And since for them “free enterprise” has failed, it stands to reason why many of them would look to socialism to resolve the problems.
Libertarianism, the antidote for socialism
For us libertarians, who have a grip on reality, the diagnosis and the prescription are totally opposite. By embracing a giant paternalistic state in the 1930s, Americans were doing what the rest of the world was doing — embracing socialism. Sure, it didn’t come in the form of a government takeover of everything, like it did in places like Cuba. Nonetheless, by effectively nationalizing people’s income and forcing them to engage in mandatory charity through forcible redistribution of wealth, Americans were embracing the words of the socialist thinker Karl Marx: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.
The cure for the maladies produced by socialism is not more socialism. The cure is freedom — genuine freedom, which necessarily entails a dismantling, not a reform, of socialism. Once enough Americans break through the indoctrination and come to the realization that America is already a socialist nation and that libertarianism is the only solution to the crises, chaos, and dysfunctionality that have come with socialism, a society of liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony will be within reach.