“I was wrong,” says a group of New York Times opinion writers. “Eight Times Opinion columnists revisit their incorrect predictions and bad advice — and reflect on why they changed their minds” is the statement that appears at the end of each of the articles.
“I was wrong about inflation,” writes Paul Krugman. He “made a very bad call” when he said that the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan would not be inflationary. “I was wrong about Al Franken,” writes Michelle Goldberg. She regrets “calling for Franken to resign without a Senate investigation” when he was accused of sexual harassment. “I was wrong about capitalism,” writes David Brooks. “By the time the financial crisis hit, the flaws in modern capitalism were blindingly obvious, but my mental frames still didn’t shift fast enough.” “I was wrong about the power of protest,” writes Zeynep Tufekci. She concluded that “although today’s big protests look the same as those in the past, the different mechanisms that produce them — in particular, the internet and lately, especially, social media — help determine whether governments or other authorities will see them as a genuine threat or just something that can be dismissed like a focus group.” “I was wrong about Trump voters,” writes Bret Stephens. Although he regrets “almost nothing” of what he said about Trump “and his close minions,” he now believes that “the broad swipe at his voters caricatured them and blinkered me.” “I was wrong about Chinese censorship,” writes Thomas Friedman. He pleads guilty to “premature optimism when it comes to China developing a more open information ecosystem.” “I was wrong about Facebook,” writes Farhad Manjoo. His “2009 exhortation for people to go all in on Facebook” still makes him “cringe.” He now believes that “had we all decided to leave Facebook then or at any time since, the internet and perhaps the world might now be a better place.” “I was wrong about Mitt Romney,” writes Gail Collins. She regrets the columns she wrote about the “boring” Romney when he was running for president.
Even now, and undoubtedly more so in the future, many doctors, health-care professionals, and writers are saying that they were wrong about the dangers of COVID-19, the effectiveness of its vaccine, and the value of face masks, lockdowns, and other restrictions put in place by the government over the past two years.
How many marriages would not have ended in divorce if only one or both parties had simply admitted: “I was wrong” or “I made a mistake?”
In 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell made a speech before the United Nations Security Council in which he laid out the Bush administration’s rationale for war in Iraq and gave a detailed description of Iraqi weapons programs that did not exist. Two years later, Powell famously admitted that he was wrong and called the speech “painful” and a “blot” on his record.
In 1985, the Coca-Cola reformulated its iconic soft drink as New Coke and made what was called “the biggest marketing blunder of all time.” After just 77 days, the original version of Coke was brought back as “Coca-Cola Classic,” resulting in the company losing millions in research and advertising costs.
Sometimes individual politicians will acknowledge that mistakes were made, but not necessarily by them. In 1997, President Clinton admitted that “mistakes were made” in Democratic Party fundraising. In 2005, Senator John McCain, when asked about the war in Iraq, remarked: “Serious mistakes are made in every war. Serious mistakes were made in this one.” In 2014, New Jersey governor Chris Christie said that “mistakes were clearly made” in reference to the George Washington Bridge lane-closure scandal. But if there is one group of men and women in government that should be acknowledging and profusely apologizing for their mistakes, it is members of Congress.
The legislative branch
As every child is supposed to learn in school, the three branches of the American government are the legislative, the judicial, and the executive. Furthermore, the legislative branch (the Congress) is divided into two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate. It is the legislative branch that makes the laws. Although the House and Senate have some procedural differences between them, according to usa.gov (an official government website), the process by which laws are made is as follows:
- A bill can be introduced in either chamber of Congress by a senator or representative who sponsors it.
- Once a bill is introduced, it is assigned to a committee, whose members will research, discuss, and make changes to the bill.
- The bill is then put before that chamber to be voted on.
- If the bill passes one body of Congress, it goes to the other body to go through a similar process of research, discussion, changes, and voting.
- Once both bodies vote to accept a bill, they must work out any differences between the two versions. Then both chambers vote on the same exact bill, and if it passes, they present it to the president.
- The president then considers the bill. The president can approve the bill and sign it into law, or he can veto (not approve) the bill.
- If the president chooses to veto a bill, in most cases, Congress can vote to override that veto and the bill becomes a law. But if the president pocket vetoes a bill after Congress has adjourned, the veto cannot be overridden.
Of the thousands of bills introduced in Congress every year, only a small percentage of them actually pass in both chambers and are signed into law by the president. Still, Congress passes hundreds of new federal laws every year. Some of them are simple laws like designating the name of a public building. Others, like the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), are over 2,000 pages long. Many Americans think that government agencies also make laws. They don’t. However, they do make hundreds of rules and regulations based on the authority given to them by Congress. But every government agency — and bureau, corporation, commission, administration, authority, office, board, and department — is a creation of Congress. It all goes back to the Congress, which can create a new agency or repurpose or abolish an existing one at will. It is Congress, then, that must own up to its mistakes, and there are a lot of them. In fact, most of the legislation passed by Congress has been a mistake.
When will Congress admit its mistake about Social Security? In 1935, Congress passed, and President Roosevelt signed into law, the Social Security Act. Social Security — now the most expensive item in the federal budget — provides benefits for retirement, disability, survivorship, and death to about 65 million Americans at a price to its 175 million taxpayers of more than a trillion dollars a year.
This legislation was a mistake, because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to fund or operate a retirement system or a disability program. Social Security is an intergenerational, income-transfer, wealth-redistribution scheme that takes money from those who work and gives it to those who don’t. Social Security is a government welfare program, not a government retirement program. All retirement and disability programs should be private. No American should live at the expense of any other American.
When will Congress admit its mistake about the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)? In 1965, Congress passed, and President Johnson signed into law, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act that created the NEA and the NEH. The NEA partners “with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector.” The NEH gives grants to “cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.”
This legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to subsidize art and culture. And government funding of art and culture is basically just providing welfare for cultural elitists. The government should not subsidize art and culture for the simple reason that it should not subsidize anything. Funding for art and culture should be entirely voluntary.
When will Congress admit its mistake about Medicare and Medicaid? Also in 1965, Congress passed, and President Johnson signed into law, the Social Security Amendments of 1965 that created Medicare (Title XVIII) and Medicaid (Title XIX). They were the nation’s first public health-insurance programs. Medicare is government-funded health care for Americans 65 years old and older and for those who are permanently disabled, have end-stage renal disease, or ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Medicaid is government-funded health care for poor Americans of any age and people with certain disabilities.
This legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to subsidize any American’s health insurance or health care, pay for anyone’s prescription drugs, have health-care programs, or have anything whatsoever to do with health insurance, health care, or medicine. No American should be forced to pay for the health care of any other American. Health care should be completely separated from the state.
When will Congress admit its mistake about the drug war? Congress passed, and various presidents signed into law, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, the Narcotic Control Act of 1956, the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, the Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act of 1988, the Illicit Drug Anti-Proliferation Act of 2003, and the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005. In 1973, Congress created, and President Nixon signed into law, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which now employs over 10,000 people.
All of this legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to have anything to do with drugs. There should be no rules, restrictions, or regulations regarding the buying, selling, possessing, growing, processing, transporting, advertising, using, delivering, or “trafficking” of any drug. A free society must include the right of people to take risks, engage in self-destructive behavior, live an unhealthy lifestyle, and undertake dangerous actions — including the use and abuse of drugs.
When will Congress admit its mistake about the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? In 1938, Congress passed, and President Roosevelt signed into law, the FLSA. It established a national minimum wage of 25¢ an hour (now up to $7.25 an hour), mandated time and a half for overtime in certain jobs, and established a 44-hour workweek (lowered to 40 hours in 1940).
This legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to establish a minimum wage, require overtime pay, or mandate how many hours should be in the workweek. Establishing a minimum wage is simply forbidding workers from freely contracting with firms under mutually agreeable terms. The minimum wage prevents people from selling their labor for whatever amount they choose even though they can sell any of their goods for whatever amount they choose. In a free society, an employee’s hourly wage, workweek hours, overtime pay, vacation pay, holiday pay, sick leave, family leave, and other fringe benefits would be determined solely by contract or agreement between
employer and employee. In a free society, government would not interfere in any way with the employer-employee relationship.
When will Congress admit its mistake about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA)? In 2001, Congress passed, and President Bush signed into law, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that created the TSA. The TSA is charged with protecting “the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” Most TSA employees are airport screeners.
This legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to provide security for private businesses. Airlines are all private businesses. The nation’s airports are either owned by local government entities or are privately owned. Either way, they are not owned by the federal government. The federal government has no more authority to provide security at airports than it has authority to provide security at convenience stores. The only security business the federal government should be in is national security. There is no reason why airports and airlines cannot use private screening services, just like many other countries do.
When will Congress admit its mistake about the National Organ Transplant Act of 1984? It outlawed the sale of body organs and established the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN). It also made it illegal to pay bone marrow donors. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $50,000 or up to five years in prison, or both.
This legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to dictate what anyone does with their body organs. The procurement of body organs could be handled entirely and more efficiently by the private sector on the free market. Because everyone owns his own body, anyone should be able to do what he wants with his own body. And if you own your own body, then you certainly also own the organs in your body. And if you own the organs in your body, then you should be able to sell a kidney while you are still alive or any organ upon your death.
When will Congress admit its mistake about the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)? In 1964, Congress passed, and President Johnson signed into law, the Civil Rights Act. Among other things, it established the EEOC, the independent federal agency “responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information.”
This legislation was a mistake because discrimination — against anyone, on any basis, and for any reason — is not aggression, force, coercion, threat, or violence. As far as the law is concerned, therefore, the government should not proscribe it, seek to prevent it, or punish those who practice it. Although employment discrimination is neither necessary in, nor essential to, a free society, the absolute freedom to discriminate in employment on any basis and for any reason is crucial and indispensable.
When will Congress admit its mistake about instituting the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)? In 1975, Congress passed, and President Ford signed into law, the Tax Reduction Act that instituted the EITC. The EITC is based on income and family size. But unlike regular tax credits, which are dollar-for-dollar reductions in the amount of income tax owed, the EITC is a refundable tax credit that is paid to taxpayers even if they have no taxable income.
This legislation was a mistake because nowhere in its list of enumerated powers delegated to the federal government does the Constitution grant the government the authority to take money from some Americans and give it to other Americans. No American should receive a tax refund from the government of money that he never paid in. To do so is to receive the equivalent of a cash welfare payment. No American should live at the expense of any other American. All charity should be private and voluntary.
Because of the tremendous number of federal laws on the books already, it can be said with absolute certainty that the only new laws that can be considered good laws are those which repeal previous laws in their entirety or undo the damage that they caused. That is, laws that result in increased liberty, freer markets, less intrusive government, lower taxes, sounder money, greater decentralization, less government intervention, fewer government regulations, or a more limited government.
This will happen only if Congress admits its mistakes — like the Supreme Court recently did in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe v. Wade (1973) and returned the abortion question to the states, where it belongs. As Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion: “Roe was egregiously wrong from the start. Its reasoning was exceptionally weak, and the decision has had damaging consequences.” How much more should Congress admit the mistakes it made in passing all the egregiously wrong legislation that it has!
This article was originally published in the November 2022 edition of Future of Freedom.