Achieving freedom necessarily depends on removing infringements on freedom. If all that we libertarians succeed in doing is modifying, reforming, or improving infringements on freedom, the most we will have achieved is an improvement in our condition as serfs living under America’s welfare-warfare-state way. That would be good. But it would not be freedom.
Consider life in 1850 Alabama. Imagine that there are people who are fighting hard to reform slavery. Fewer lashings. Shorter work hours. Better food and health care.
All that would be good, and no doubt the slaves would have appreciated it. But there would have been one great big thing wrong with it: No matter how much better such reforms would have made life for the slaves, it would not have been freedom, and the slaves would have known it.
It’s no different with life today under America’s welfare-warfare state. No matter how valiantly reformers strive to make life better for the American people, it still won’t be freedom. To achieve freedom, it’s necessary to dismantle, not reform, infringements on liberty.
Consider, for example, Social Security, which is the crown jewel of America’s welfare-warfare state. Contrary to popular opinion, especially among seniors, Social Security is not a retirement program. No one “contributes” to an interest-bearing retirement account during his work life. Instead, everyone is simply taxed to fund the overall welfare-warfare-state system. Even welfare monies given to seniors are taxed.
Social Security is nothing more than a mandatory charity program, one that is based on using the government to forcibly take money from younger people through taxation and giving it to older people.
There is no way to reconcile mandatory charity with freedom. Freedom necessarily entails deciding what one wants to do with his own money. If a person is being forced to help another person, the person being forced cannot be considered free.
Thus, a necessary prerequisite for achieving freedom is the immediate dismantling of Social Security.
Enter the reformers. They say that suddenly ending Social Security would be cruel and wrong. They say that younger people simply cannot be trusted to care for
seniors and others on a voluntary basis. Thus, they come up with an array of reform measures designed to gradually get rid of Social Security over a period of 20-30 years.
There is one great big thing wrong with their proposals: They are not freedom. Instead, they delay freedom for at least the next 20-30 years and probably longer, given that the younger people who are being forced to fund current seniors will most likely say, when they reach retirement age, that they, too, have the right to “get their money back.”
Achieving freedom necessarily depends on trusting younger people with freedom. Achieving freedom now requires the immediate dismantling, not the reform, of Social Security.
Drugs, education, and health
Consider drug laws. In a genuinely free society, a person has the right to ingest whatever he wants to ingest, no matter how harmful or destructive it might be. People also have the right to engage in consensual economic trades with other adults.
Drug laws violate those principles by criminalizing the possession or distribution of drugs. Thus, in order to achieve a genuinely free society, it is necessary to repeal all drug laws.
Enter the reformers. Trying to be practical, they settle for calling for the repeal only of marijuana laws. The possession of other drugs, such as cocaine, meth, heroin, and opioids, shall continue to be illegal, but the reformers say they will work hard for reforms such as reducing or ending mandatory-minimum sentences, revising asset-forfeiture laws, and improving prison conditions.
All of those reforms, of course, would be an improvement. But there is one great big thing wrong with them: They are not freedom. Freedom necessarily depends on the repeal, not the reform, of all laws that criminalize the possession and distribution of drugs.
Consider education. In a genuinely free society, families have the right to have their children educated in any way they choose. The state has no more business in education than it does in religion.
Yet in the United States parents are forced to submit their children to state-approved education. People are also forced to fund the government school system through school and property taxes. In public schools, the state sets the curriculum, furnishes the textbooks, and hires the teachers.
There is no way to reconcile those coercive measures with the principles of a genuinely free society. A free society necessarily depends on dismantling such infringements on liberty.
Enter the reformers. Trying to save children from the bad consequences of public schooling, they propose school vouchers, a socialist program that takes money from one group of people in order to fund the private education of another group of people.
Do vouchers improve the situation? It’s hard to say that they do. While they do enable some students to go from public schools to private schools, the receipt of the vouchers places the private schools under more direct government control, which then moves the private schools in the direction of public schools.
But even if they did improve the education situation, there would still be one great big thing wrong with school vouchers: They would not be freedom. Even if they led to freedom, it would be at least another 20-30 years before freedom was achieved. Freedom now necessarily entails the immediate dismantling, not the reform, of infringements on liberty.
Consider health care. A genuinely free society is one in which the government plays no role in health care — that is, there is a totally free-market health-care system. Thus, achieving freedom necessarily entails the repeal of Medicare and Medicaid and the end of all other governmental interferences in health care.
Enter the reformers. They come up with all sorts of reform measures that assume the continued existence of Medicare and Medicaid and government control and regulation of health care. They might improve the situation, but it is more likely that they will only make it worse. But even if it’s the former, it won’t be freedom. Freedom necessarily entails dismantling infringements on freedom, which means the repeal, not the reform, of Medicare and Medicaid and the separation of health care and the state.
Money, trade, and war
Consider the fiat (i.e., paper) money system and the Federal Reserve System under which Americans have lived for more than a hundred years. A genuinely free society would have a free-market monetary system, one in which the marketplace determined what item was going to be used as money. When government commands people to use its government-issued paper money as their official money, there is no way to reconcile that command with the principles of a free society. The fact that the government wields the power through the Federal Reserve to destroy its own official money by inflating the money supply only makes the situation worse.
Enter the reformers. They want to rein in the Fed by limiting its ability to inflate the money supply. That would certainly be an improvement, but it wouldn’t be freedom. Freedom necessarily entails the dismantling, not the reform, of infringements on freedom. That means not a reform of America’s monetary system but rather a separation of money and the state.
Consider America’s governmentally regulated and managed economy. There is no way that it can be reconciled with the principles of freedom. A free society is one in which people are free to manage their own economic activities, free of governmental interference.
Enter the reformers. They want to reduce the number of regulations. They want to reduce the minimum wage. They want to install free-market-oriented people as heads of federal regulatory commissions so that they can bring “choice” to the regulatory process.
That might serve to improve the situation. But it’s not freedom. Freedom necessarily entails a dismantling of infringements on freedom, including the power of government to manage, control, or regulate economic activity.
Consider trade restrictions. There is no way that anyone who lives under a government that is regulating, controlling, or interfering with trade can be considered free. In a genuinely free society, people have the right to trade with whomever they want anywhere in the world. After all, it’s their money, not the government’s. Free people have the right to do whatever they want with their own money.
Enter the reformers. They strive to reduce restrictions on trade such as tariffs, import quotas, sanctions, and embargoes. That certainly would improve the situation, but it wouldn’t be freedom. Freedom necessarily depends on dismantling, not reforming, all infringements on the freedom of people to trade. A genuinely free society is one in which there is a separation of trade and the government.
Consider immigration controls. There is no way that people in a society in which the government is controlling the movements of people across borders and restricting freedom of association can genuinely be considered free. That is particularly true as the government adopts more and more measures to enforce its immigration-control system.
Enter the reformers. They want the government to let in more immigrants. Or they want the government to let up on some of its enforcement measures, such as separating immigrant children from their parents. Or they want the government to let adults who came to America as children remain here.
All that would serve to improve the situation, but there is one great big problem with it: It’s not freedom. A free society is one in which people are free to cross borders to pursue happiness, especially by striving to improve their lives through labor with employers who choose to hire them. A genuinely free society necessitates the dismantling, not the reform, of all controls on the movement of people across borders.
Consider the national-security-state form of governmental structure under which we live. Composed of the Pentagon, the CIA, the NSA, and, to a certain extent, the FBI, it is a totalitarian form of governmental system. North Korea is a national-security state. So is Cuba. And Russia, China, Egypt, and Pakistan. And post–World War II United States.
There is no way that a people who live under a national-security state can be considered free, especially given the omnipotent powers that such a government wields, such as the powers to assassinate, indefinitely detain, torture, and spy on the citizenry, and invade and occupy countries without the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war, initiate coups, and meddle in the affairs of other countries.
That’s in fact why the Framers used the Constitution to bring into existence a limited-government republic, a totally different type of governmental system, one whose powers were strictly limited to those enumerated in the Constitution. The Framers knew that if the Constitution had proposed a national-security state form of government, the American people would never have accepted it and instead would have chosen to continue operating under the Articles of Confederation, a third type of governmental structure, one in which the federal government wasn’t even given the power to tax people.
Enter the reformers. They want to limit foreign intervention to countries where “national security” is really at stake. They want to reduce the amount of money allocated to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA. They want to rein in the power of the Pentagon and the CIA to torture people. They want to limit the NSA’s secret surveillance schemes.
All that would be good, but it would not be freedom. To achieve a genuinely free society would mean the restoration of a limited-government republic, the type of governmental system called for in the Constitution. That would necessarily mean dismantling, not reforming, America’s post–World War II national-security-state form of government.
The American people are faced with a choice: reform the welfare-warfare-state way of life under which we live or choose freedom. If they settle for reform of our serfdom, it will not be freedom, just as reform of 19th-century American slavery would not have been freedom.
This article was originally published in the March 2020 edition of Future of Freedom.