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Deference to Authority, Part 3


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The 50-year-old economic embargo by the U.S. government against the Cuban people stands as a testament to the power of the state to mold the minds of a citizenry, in this case the American citizenry. Having been inculcated from the first grade on up that the U.S. government is exceptional in the sense that everything it does is “pro-freedom” or “pro-democracy,” many Americans have long ago fallen into line with the belief that its decades-long embargo against Cuba is a moral device intended to bring freedom and democracy to that country. The notion that their own government might be doing something bad or immoral with its embargo against Cuba does not even enter the minds of many Americans.

More important, however, is the inability of such Americans to comprehend that the U.S. embargo against Cuba is a grave infringement on the freedom of the American people themselves! Since the mindset of Americans is so deeply ingrained with the notion that whatever their government does, especially in foreign affairs, is “pro-freedom” or “pro-democracy,” it stands to reason that people’s mindsets would preclude them from recognizing that the embargo is actually an attack on their own freedom.

Contrary to popular conception, it is not illegal under U.S. law for Americans to travel to Cuba. Freedom of travel has long been recognized as a fundamental, natural, God-given right, one that pre-exists government. Therefore, no government, not even the U.S. government, has the legitimate authority to infringe upon it.

The U.S. government has not wanted to appear to the world to be infringing on the fundamental right of freedom of travel. So rather than deny permission to travel to Cuba, it figured out another way to achieve the same end. It made it illegal for Americans to spend money there. That’s what the embargo is all about. It makes it both a civil and criminal offense for Americans to spend money in Cuba — that is, to spend money without the permission of the U.S. government.

You see, if you get the U.S. government’s permission to spend money in Cuba, then spending money there is considered okay. How does one get such permission? He requests a “license” from the U.S. Treasury Department. If the license is granted, then the American citizen is free to spend money there, but only up to the financial limit that the Treasury Department permits him. If the license is not granted, then any American who travels to Cuba and spends money there will be subject to being indicted for a federal felony offense and to be sued for civil penalties.

Except for libertarians, hardly any Americans give that a second thought, given their mindset of deference to authority. When it comes to foreign affairs, U.S. officials are considered the experts. They are in charge of protecting “national security.” It never occurs to most Americans that a requirement that citizens seek official permission from their own government to spend their own money abroad constitutes an attack on their own freedom.

But the problem goes even deeper than that. It goes back to the mindset that is inculcated in every American child from the first grade on up — that the United States, unlike socialist countries such as Cuba, has a “free-enterprise” economic system. Since most people are convinced that America has a “free-enterprise” system, it stands to reason that nearly anything the U.S. government does, including enforcing an embargo against Cuba, is “pro-free enterprise.”

Socialism in Cuba and the United States

I have often wondered whether the real reason that U.S. officials don’t want Americans to travel to Cuba is that such a trip might cause them tremendous confusion and consternation. For example, what would Americans say if they were to discover that ever since its inception in 1959, the Castro regime has maintained a system of free compulsory schooling for all the children in the nation? And guess what — it’s not just free through high school; it’s also free for those who go on to college.

Why would that confuse Americans? Because Americans have been inculcated with the notion that free public schooling is one of the core principles of America’s free-enterprise system. How can it also be a core principle of Fidel Castro’s socialist system?

Or consider Medicare and Medicaid, federal programs that provide free health care for the elderly and the poor in the United States. What does that have to do with Cuba? Well, guess what! Cuba has long provided free health care for everyone in the country, not just the elderly and the poor. How could that not confuse Americans? All their lives, Americans have lived with the idea “My country is free-enterprise and Cuba is socialist.” What would happen, then, if Americans were suddenly to discover that the principles of their “free-enterprise” health-care system are the same health-care principles embraced by socialist Cuba?

In fact, it would no doubt surprise many Americans to discover that Fidel Castro has repeatedly stated that the two things about Cuba’s system of which he is most proud are free public schooling and free health care for the people of the nation.

It’s no different with respect to, say, Social Security. For most Americans, Social Security is a free-enterprise retirement program in which the state “gives back” to people what they have “put into” the system. Social security is also a core tenet of Cuba’s socialist system.

Recently, Cuba’s socialist regime announced that it was laying off 500,000 government workers, sending them into the private sector to fend for themselves. However, one of the conditions for working in the private sector is the procurement of a license from the state. People must seek official permission to engage in certain economic endeavors, much as lawyers, doctors, hairdressers, and shoeshine workers are required to do in the United States. Americans might well convince themselves that the fact that Cuba is requiring licenses of people as a condition of engaging in economic activity is evidence that Cuba is moving in a free-enterprise direction.

The libertarian breakthrough

All that should explain why many liberals and conservatives are so uncomfortable with libertarians and are oftentimes even antagonistic towards them. Libertarians have succeeded in breaking free of the indoctrination. They don’t defer to authority — they question and challenge it. They are characterized by independent thinking and critical analysis. They subscribe to a set of immutable moral principles. Thus, when their own government violates fundamental principles of liberty and just conduct, they are unafraid to oppose such wrongdoing.

That befuddles and confounds American statists, those whose mindset is still characterized by deference to authority. They look upon libertarians as traitors or as America-haters. Having been inculcated with the notion that the state and the country are one and the same, the statists view any criticism of the government as criticism of the country. Their mindset does not permit them to separate the government and the country into two separate and distinct entities.

Equally important, libertarians have broken free of the lies and myths taught in most government-approved schools across the land — that America’s is a free-enterprise system. They have freed their minds of such popular deceptions as “The Great Depression was caused by America’s free-enterprise system” or “Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal saved America’s free-enterprise system.” Much to the consternation of the statists, libertarians are causing countless people from all walks of life, including young people, to face the realities of what is actually going on in America.

In their breakthrough to reality, libertarians have come to realize that economic liberty is as fundamental a right as freedom of travel, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and other fundamental, natural, God-given rights. That is what the average American does not understand or appreciate. Since his mindset is, “America has a free-enterprise system” he automatically concludes that people who criticize America’s welfare-state, regulated-economy system must be calling for something different from free enterprise, namely socialism. It never occurs to him that the welfare state and controlled economy that statists imported to our land during the Roosevelt regime and have expanded ever since under both conservatives and liberals is anything but a free-enterprise system.

In actuality, the American welfare state is founded on the same socialist principles adopted in Cuba. That is what libertarians, unlike statists, understand. It is one of the things that distinguish libertarians from others in society. While statists continue hewing to the notion with which they have been indoctrinated from the first grade — that such programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schooling, licensure, welfare, subsidies, and grants are part of a free-enterprise system — libertarians have broken through to reality with their recognition that those programs are nothing more than a variation on the socialist theme that characterizes socialist counties such as Cuba.

Economic freedom

Libertarians hold that people have a right to engage in any economic activity free of government control or regulation. That’s what the “free” in “free enterprise” means to libertarians — enterprise that is free of government control or regulation.

Why should anyone have to get permission of the government to offer a good or service to another person? Should a church minister be required to get a license to operate a church? Should a newspaper be required to get a license to publish its paper? Should people be required to get a license to protest government wrongdoing?

What a person does to sustain his life in the economic realm is no different in principle from what people do in the intellectual, religious, or political realms. Economic liberty is as fundamental a right as religious, intellectual, and political liberties.

Why should a person be required to secure a license to spend money in Cuba or anywhere else? It’s his money, isn’t it? It doesn’t belong to the state. It doesn’t belong to society. It doesn’t belong to the U.S. Treasury Department. The money belongs to the private citizen who owns it. It is as much a natural right for him to spend it wherever he wishes, including Cuba, as it is for him to travel wherever he wishes, including Cuba.

Ultimately, a free society depends on a citizenry who do not defer to authority and who are able to think independently and critically. It depends on a citizenry who understand that the state and the country are two separate and distinct entities. It depends on a citizenry who are unafraid to stand up to their government when it is engaged in wrongful action, especially those actions that infringe on freedom and that are harmful to the country. It depends on an enlightened citizenry, one that understands and appreciates the principles of liberty, including economic liberty. In a word, a free society depends on a citizenry that believes in libertarianism.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

This article originally appeared in the April 2011 edition of Freedom Daily. Subscribe to the print or email version of Freedom Daily.

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.