The one common thread throughout our history that has been the link to progress and prosperity is Liberty. Not only is Liberty the soul of our country, it has been largely responsible for most of our commercial, social and artistic successes. And in large part Liberty is the answer to most problems that are still facing us today. For example, please reflect upon the following.
Education: In places where parents have had the Liberty to choose where and how the government’s money would be spent in educating their children, they have demanded – and received – excellence! How was this done? They were able, in places like Milwaukee, to choose their children’s schools on the open market, and this promoted competition among all schools, whether they were public, private, military, vocational or religious schools. And that competition resulted in excellence in education.
Healthcare: In the 1950s and 60s, before government intruded heavily into the system, we had the best healthcare system in the world. Back then it was not even a topic of conversation that people could not find good quality healthcare for reasonable and competitive prices – and we had all of the emergency rooms we needed. But ever since 1965, when the government began its major intrusions, the healthcare system has transparently become worse. So how do we get our prior excellence back? A combination of medical savings accounts, for those who can take care of their own healthcare needs, and coupons that can be used to purchase medical insurance of their choice on the open market, for those who need some help. This still provides an important safety net, but also gets the government out of decisions about availability of healthcare services and prices. For example, today there are still two areas in which customer/patients can receive good quality medical services for reasonable and competitive prices. What are they? Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery. Why? Because the government is not involved. We can reclaim the same for the rest of our medical system, if we again bring back Liberty and competition.
Free Trade: Our Founding Fathers showed great insight in prohibiting states from establishing trade barriers among themselves. Can you imagine how prosperity would have been limited had this not been the case? The same principle applies to trade among countries. If there were Liberty in trade, each country could emphasize those areas in which it excels. This would both bring more prosperity to each country, and also provide more goods and services to customers around the world at lower prices. Thomas Jefferson once said “I think all the world would gain by setting commerce at perfect Liberty.” He was right.
Housing: Wherever you find rent controls, you will also find a scarcity of housing. Why? Because investors want a good return on their money. And if the financial return in owning apartment buildings is artificially restricted, they not only will not invest in new apartment buildings, they will do everything reasonably possible to turn their existing apartment buildings into condominiums or even parking lots, thereby increasing the return on their investments. So this will logically reduce the supply of housing. But by taking away these restrictions and allowing Liberty, the supply of housing will be increased and, thus, the costs of housing will be reduced.
Drug Prohibition: Today marijuana is the largest cash crop in California. (The second is grapes, if you care.) Actually, this should not be a concern, because if adults decide to use marijuana instead of another mind-altering and sometimes addicting substance, like alcohol, that should be their choice. Thus it makes as much sense to put that gifted actor Robert Downey Jr. in jail for his heroin problem as it would have Betty Ford for her alcohol problem. It is the same thing: it is a medical problem. But if any one of us drives a motor vehicle under the influence of any of these substances, that is – and should be – a criminal violation. What is the difference? Because now we are putting other people’s safety at risk. But Liberty rightfully says that the government has no more right to dictate what adults put into their bodies than it does what they put into their minds. So if we were to regulate and control these drugs, we will support Liberty. And along the way, we will take unimaginable amounts of money away from drug cartels, juvenile street gangs, and other thugs, and instead use it to pay our firefighters and teachers, and fix our roads. So once again, Liberty works!
Free Competition: Crony capitalism, or government treating one business differently than its competitors mostly through subsidies or tax breaks, is the opposite of Liberty. But it is pervasive in our country today. Government choosing to insure some loans but not others, bail out some financial institutions but not others, grant subsidies for planting or not planting some crops but not others, or dictating which products must be used to manufacture ethanol are just some of the examples of today’s politics in action. So not only does this handicap the competitors of the favored businesses, it also tends to make those favored businesses more lazy, because they can win without competing as strongly. But where government favoritism has not reared its head, like in the developing and manufacturing of cell phones, computers and ipads, quality has gone up and prices have come down. And Liberty is the reason.
Taxation: Imagine being able to have the Liberty to make business and personal decisions for business and personal reasons, instead of for tax reasons! But the tax code is a leading area in which politics has favored the politically powerful, at the expense of the less so. Implementing a more simplified, understandable and uniform system would go a long way to bringing back Liberty and prosperity for all.
So these are some of many examples of the common thread of Liberty being involved in stories of success, and there are many more. But Liberty is far from a situation of “anything goes,” because genuine liberty also requires responsibility. Thus the legal system has a big part to play in protecting ourselves from each other, and in enforcing rules for safety on our streets and highways, in the workplace, and in our lives in general, as well as enforcing voluntary contracts and warranties. And by and large this entire system is working. So we should not only support it, we should be proud of it!
James P. Gray is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, a private mediator and arbitrator with ADR Services, Inc., the author of “A Voter’s Handbook: Effective Solutions to America’s Problems” (The Forum Press, 2010) and the 2012 Libertarian candidate for Vice President, along with Governor Gary Johnson as President.
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