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If Political Candidates Advocated Liberty

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In modern democracies, political cycles never end. As soon as one election is over, those in government office or aspiring to such an office are already running for the next election. Having recently attended a public forum of state-level candidates looking to the 2018 election, I wondered what a real friend of freedom might say if he was offering himself for such a political office.

At a luncheon event several candidates running in the forthcoming Republican Party primary in South Carolina made their pitch as to why they should be their party’s nominees for state legislative offices in the next general election. They answered questions submitted by attendees at the lunch and made opening and closing statements about who they were and what they stood for.

Liberty Rhetoric, But Interventionist Policies

Not too surprisingly they all, in their respective ways, said they were “pro-business,” advocated lower taxes, a freer enterprise market environment, and greater transparent accountability by those in power in the state capital.

Why did each say they were running for elected office? They all had been in business but now wanted to “give back” and “serve” their communities.

What were major themes in many of the questions directed at them? South Carolina is a growing state with international corporations opening more manufacturing facilities, and matching this is an increasing population as more people move to the Palmetto State.

Those who submitted questions wanted to know what the candidates would do, if elected, about improving and widening road infrastructure to reduce increasing congestion, and how they would “manage” growth in the state? And what they might do in terms of taxes? There were other topics and issues, but these especially stood out.

With slight variations, they all called for making sure that gasoline taxes were used for road improvement and repair, and not diverted to other spending directions; and that the money should be efficiently managed to see the best road repair results were forthcoming.

On growth and development, only one believed in slowing growth; the others wanted more economic growth within the state. But while some were more explicit the others, they all clearly believed that growth and development needed to be harnessed within “reasonable” zoning and planning rules and regulations.

Also, they all stated that taxes had to be kept under control, even “cut” in mostly unspecified ways. But none of them offered any program or platform for really reducing spending and repealing programs to lower the overall burden and presence of government on the everyday lives of South Carolinians.

Most of the candidates highlighted their respective careers and accomplishments in business. This had given them the experience and the clearer thinking to see that things would run better in the state legislature, if they were fortunate enough to earn the voters’ support on Election Day.

What motivated each one of them, they emphasized, was a “selfless” desire to “sacrifice” their own private interests to “serve others” in the community. They wanted to “give back” to the society.

What If a Candidate Believed in Liberty?

I left the luncheon thinking that if these are the voices claiming to speak for freedom and free enterprise, it demonstrates just what an uphill battle friends of liberty face at every level of government.

It also got me thinking about what might a friend of liberty offer in such a contest, if he chose to run for political office. The following is an imaginary candidate’s statement to a room of local voters:

“My fellow citizens, let me start off by saying that unlike my worthy opponents who are appealing for your support in this primary race, I have no interest in sacrificing my own self-interest for others. I’m running for this legislative office to get Big Government at the state level off my back as much as possible, and to establish a strictly limited government here in South Carolina.

“What I’m proposing to do, if you vote for me, is to be a champion and advocate of a legislative agenda that will free all of us from governmental control, so each of us may peacefully and honestly pursue our personal interests to the greatest extent possible that is consistent with respect for our respective individual rights to life, liberty and honestly acquired property.

“Our state is burdened with corrupt, insider crony capitalism in which a small group of powerful members of the state legislature manipulate taxes and the regulatory system to maintain their own positions in political power through favors, privileges and governmental contracts to those who supply them with campaign contributions and votes on Election Day. In addition, there have been enough instances of publicized scandals to know how some of these elected ‘public servants’ have enriched themselves by direct and indirect political plunder.

A Platform for Liberty: Abolish Taxes, End Regulation

“Among the central elements of my political platform are the following:

“1. Abolish the state income tax and the corporate tax. I will propose moving to narrowly defined user fees and a low sales tax meant to fund what I propose to be a much smaller government in the state of South Carolina.

“2. In response to those who may ask how these much smaller tax revenues will be sufficient to fund expenditures at the state level, I propose to repeal and abolish all the regulatory agencies that in any way restrict or prohibit or influence the operations of private enterprises within the boundaries of the state of South Carolina. The number of people employed by the state government would be radically downsized. And I will advocate reducing the frequency and the time during which the state legislature meets for business.

Basic and traditional laws against force and fraud will easily and far more effectively serve to handle all legitimate claims and accusations of violations of person or property or contract that may come before state courts rather than city or county judicial jurisdictions.

Privatizing Roads

“3. This reversal of state intervention and control will include the privatization of the state highway and road system. Market incentives and profit opportunities will work wonders for seeing to the building, maintaining and policing of roads, bridges, tunnels, and traffic flows far better than government monopoly ownership and control. My slogan on this issue will be, ‘Time to Exit from Government Roads.’

“Have you ever noticed how quickly and cost-efficiently private development companies hire private construction companies to build access roads and connectors and parking areas in residential neighborhoods and business complexes and facilities of significant length and size? Compare that to the often seemingly unending months and even years it takes a government road or highway to be built or repaired when it often involves no more than a mile or two of construction, and all at cost-inefficient taxpayers’ expense.

“Local townships or cities may choose to continue the providing of government monopoly roads, bridges, and parking areas if that is the choice of the local voting residents. But I propose that this will no longer be a state governmental matter.

End Government Zoning and Land Use Controls

“4. I will advocate that zoning and land use laws at the municipal, county and state levels be repealed. The market – which means people interacting in various venues in society – should determine how and where cities and manufacturing areas develop and evolve over time. It is time to end the hubris of “urban planners” who arrogantly presume to know how and where people should live, work, and associate in ordinary aspects of everyday life. My slogan on this issue is ‘Down with Land Use Regulation – Private Property Power to the People.’

Privatizing Education – From “K” to College

“5. I will propose the abolition of compulsory state schooling in South Carolina from kindergarten through high school. Like in many other parts of the United States, parents often complain about the quality and value of the education their children are forced to submit to under mandatory government schooling.

“Nothing works as well as private enterprise competition in improving the quality and lowering the cost of anything offered to the buying public. This will be no less true if applied to educating the young in South Carolina.

“The private sector may be relied upon through charity and philanthropy to assist those appealing for financial assistance to attend good schools.

“Government funding and control over higher education should be ended, as well. State owned and financed colleges and universities also should be privatized. These institutions of higher learning would have to demonstrate to parents and students that the education offered was worth the tuition to be paid, and those tuition schedules would have to become competitive to attract freshmen and transfer students.

“This will also likely end all or most of the “politically correct” ideological nonsense on many campuses. The market test of winning consumer business for the type and content of education offered will soon determine how many parents and students are willing to pay their own money to support collectivist ideology in the classroom and thuggish student behavior around the campus. My slogan one this issue is: ‘Free Education – From Government Control.’

Government Out of Health Care

“6. I will also propose and strongly push for ending all state involvement in health care and medical insurance. It is time to say ‘No’ to the drive and drift in South Carolina and the United States in general in the direction of more socialized medicine.

“Freeing markets in the area of healthcare and insurance will, like in education, set competitive market forces to work to start offering at reasonable prices and premiums medical care and treatment far better than anything experienced under Medicare, Medicaid or floundering ObamaCare. My slogan for this issue is: ‘Private Health Care – The Best Medicine for What Ails Us.’

Abolishing Victimless Crime Laws

“7. I will also propose and advocate the repeal of all state-level laws prohibiting or restricting the use of drugs. Few things have been as harmful to people’s lives and some communities around the country, including South Carolina, than the ‘War on Drugs.’ It has ruined tens of thousands of lives by criminalizing an activity that is no concern of the government: the personal and private choice as to what to smoke, eat or otherwise consume.

“It has created and fostered black markets and a gangland culture of violence. It has cultivated a psychology of hypocrisy and disrespect for law, as many in the society disregard laws concerning personal conduct they consider being no business of the state. It has brought about corruption of the legal system; and the war on drugs has incarcerated thousands of people who have then had to bear the mark of “convict” for the rest of their lives after getting out of prison, which has made living a normal and productive life more difficult than it needs to be.

State’s Rights Reborn – For Liberty

“South Carolina bears a good part of the historical responsibility for discrediting the traditional idea of ‘state’s rights’ under the U.S. Constitution because of the misuse of this concept in the years before the Civil War to justify the attempt to maintain a slave society.

“But let me suggest that South Carolina could, now, do something to redeem this important element of constitutional federalism. Instead of wishing to use state’s rights to deny freedom, let South Carolina use it to give a rebirth to the idea and ideal of individual liberty by freeing the citizens of the state from the spider’s web of corrupt and corrupting interventions, regulations, controls, restrictions, and prohibitions that now represent far too much of what the government of South Carolina imposes upon its citizens.

“The American tradition of federalism has included the notion of decentralized and divided government that allows for local ‘experimentation’ with different public policies, rather than imposing uncertain and possibly damaging policies on everyone in the country as a whole.

“It allows citizens in different parts of the United States to ‘vote with their feet’ if they find state-level and local government policies unattractive or oppressive in one place, while finding the policies in other states more attractive and appealing for earning a living and living their life with what they have peacefully and honestly earned.

“Let South Carolina become a beacon of liberty within the United States by practicing and exemplifying a free society that serves as a model for the rest of America, and indeed the world. Let us show our fellow Americans what a society of freedom and prosperity can really look like, once again.

“This is the platform and agenda I offer you when you come to vote on Election Day.”

Alas, few in the field of candidates for state legislatures anywhere in the United States seem near to offering such a vision of liberty. Indeed, that so many in our society, today, would not understand, and indeed oppose much or all, of such a political agenda for repeal and governmental downsizing shows just how far away from a classical liberal conception of personal, social and economic freedom we have moved in America.

Our task as friends of freedom, therefore, still remains an educational job to win over enough Americans so that some day in the future such a political program for a freer society will appeal to and win the support of a majority of our fellow citizens.

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    Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. He was formerly professor of Economics at Northwood University, president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).