In modern democracies, political cycles never end. As soon as one election is over, those seeking 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.
Liberty Rhetoric, But Interventionist Policies
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.
They all clearly believed that growth needed to be harnessed within “reasonable” rules and regulations.
Not too surprisingly they all, in their respective ways, said they were “pro-business,” advocated lower taxes, a freer enterprise market environment, greater transparency, and more accountability for 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 where international corporations are opening more manufacturing facilities, and, as more people move to the Palmetto State, it has an increasing population to match. Those who submitted questions wanted to know what the candidates would do, if elected, to improve and widen road infrastructure to reduce increasing congestion, and how they would “manage” growth in the state? And what might they 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 actually reducing spending and repealing programs to lower the overall burden of government on the everyday lives of South Carolinians.
Friends of liberty face an uphill battle at every level of government!
What If a Candidate Believed in Liberty?
Most of the candidates highlighted their respective careers and accomplishments in business. This gave them the experience and clear 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.
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 champion a legislative agenda that will free us all 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 political power through favors, privileges, and government 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
“Among the central elements of my political platform are the following:
“1. Abolish the state income tax and the corporate tax. I propose moving to narrowly defined user fees and a low sales tax, 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 abolish all the regulatory agencies that in any way restrict or prohibit the operations of private enterprises within the boundaries 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 and Ending Land Use Controls
“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 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 build access roads and parking areas of significant length and size? Compare that to the seemingly unending months and years that it takes a government to build or repair a road or highway, even when the project only consists of a mile or two of construction, and all a cost-inefficient expense to the taxpayers.
“Local townships or cities may choose to continue providing a government monopoly on 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.
“4. I will advocate that zoning and land use laws at the municipal, county and state levels be repealed. The market should determine where cities and manufacturing areas develop and evolve. 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 everyday life. My slogan on this issue is ‘Down with Land Use Regulation – Private Property Power to the People.’
“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 to improve the quality and lowering the cost of anything offered to the buying public. This will be no less true if applied to educating South Carolina’s young.
“The private sector may be relied upon through charity and philanthropy 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 cost of tuition. Those tuition schedules would have to become competitive to attract freshmen and transfer students.
“Also, this will likely end most of the “politically correct” ideological nonsense present on many campuses. The market test of winning education consumers’ business will soon determine how many parents and students are willing to pay to support collectivist ideology in the classroom and thuggish student behavior around the campus. My slogan on 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 drift towards socialized medicine.
“Freeing markets in the area of healthcare and insurance will, like in education, set competitive market forces to work to start offering reasonably priced medical care, 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 the repeal of all state-level laws that prohibit or restrict the use of drugs. Few things have been as harmful to people’s lives and communities, including in South Carolina, than the ‘War on Drugs.’ It has ruined tens of thousands of lives by criminalizing activity that is no concern of the government: the personal and private choice as to what to smoke, eat, or otherwise consume.
“The War on Drugs 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 people in our society disregard laws concerning personal conduct that they consider to be no business of the state.
“It has also brought about corruption of the legal system. The war on drugs has incarcerated thousands of people who then have to bear the mark of “convict” for the rest of their lives, even after getting out of prison, which makes 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. This concept was misused in the years before the Civil War to justify the attempt to maintain a slave society.
“But let me suggest that South Carolina can now do something to redeem this important element of constitutional federalism. Instead of using state’s rights to deny freedom, let South Carolina use state’s rights to resurrect the idea of individual liberty by freeing citizens from the spider’s web of corrupting interventions and prohibitions that now represent far too much of what South Carolina’s government imposes upon its citizens.
“The American tradition of federalism includes 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 in one place while finding other states’ policies more attractive.
“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.
“This is the platform and agenda I offer when you come to vote on Election Day.”
Alas, few candidates for state legislatures anywhere in the United States offer such a vision of liberty.
Indeed, that so few in our society understand – and the many that would oppose – such a political agenda for governmental downsizing shows just how far we have moved in America away from a classical liberal conception of freedom.
Our task as friends of freedom, therefore, still remains one of education, to win over enough Americans so that someday a political program for a freer society will win the support of a majority of our fellow citizens.
Richard M. Ebeling is BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina. He was president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) from 2003 to 2008.