Reform vs. Freedom
by Jacob G. Hornberger
During its 25-year history, The Future of Freedom Foundation has always refrained from endorsing any reform of the welfare-warfare state. There are two reasons for this steadfast position.
First, no matter what reform is adopted, it inevitably makes the situation worse than it was before. That’s because a welfare-warfare state, being a combination of socialism, regulation, and imperialism, is an inherently unstable system. That means that any attempt to address the crises that it produces only makes the crises bigger.
Look at healthcare. Medicare and Medicaid are enacted and produce a crisis of ever-increasing healthcare costs. That’s on the demand side. On the supply side, you’ve got occupational licensure laws, which artificially limit the supply of medical personnel and prevent people from opting for many forms of alternative healthcare.
The result of Medicare, Medicaid, and occupational licensure, along with thousands of healthcare regulations, not surprisingly, has been an enormous healthcare crisis consisting of ever-increasing healthcare costs.
What to do?
There are three options: (1) Repeal Medicare, Medicaid, medical licensure, and healthcare regulations; (2) Do nothing and just deal with the crisis; or (3) Enact a reform in the hopes of resolving the crisis.
Obviously, Option 1 is the way to go, but people won’t go that route. They have too much invested in their system. Repeal would be admitting that socialism and regulation don’t work. And that’s the last thing statists want to do.
Option 2 is the second-best alternative. Just accept the crisis and do nothing about it. Sure, it’s not an ideal state of affairs but at least it’s better than something worse.
Option 3 is the worst choice because it will only produce a bigger crisis down the road. That will then cause people to demand new reforms, which will, once again, make the situation worse than before. Obamacare is providing a good example of this phenomenon.
The same principles apply in all other aspects of the welfare-warfare state. Education. The drug war. Immigration. Iraq. Afghanistan. Social Security. The war on terrorism. Every time, there is a welfare-warfare state crisis, the government responds with new reforms, regulations, or interventions. And things only get worse. The entire welfare-warfare state system becomes one great big perpetual crisis.
Second, and much more important, reform is not freedom. We libertarians are about freedom, not a better life as serfs.
Freedom entails the right to engage in economic enterprise without governmental permission or interference, the right to enter into mutually beneficial transactions with others anywhere in the world, and the right to keep everything you earn and decide for yourself what to do with it. It also entails the right to ingest any substance without fear of being punished by the state for it. Indeed, freedom entails the right to engage in any peaceful behavior without governmental interference.
That obviously is not the society in which today’s Americans lives, where charity is mandated through the IRS, income tax, and welfare state, where government loots people through the Federal Reserve, where Americans are sanctioned for trading with people in non-approved countries, where Americans are jailed for long periods of time for ingesting non-approved substances, and where even the most minute aspects of economic activity are controlled, regulated, or manipulated by politicians and bureaucrats.
It’s the same with the warfare state, where the president and the national-security establishment wield omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war, to incarcerate, torture, and assassinate anyone they want, including Americans, and to meddle in the affairs of other countries. That’s about as far from a free society that a person can get.
Given that the welfare-warfare state system deprives people of their freedom, what good does reform do? With respect to the concept of freedom, it does no good because reform necessarily leaves the obstacles to freedom in place.
In fact, if reform actually improved the situation rather than worsened it, the prospects for freedom would actually be worse. That’s because people would get so excited over the fact that statism had been made to work that the last thing they would want would be to get rid of it. Thus, for the advocate of liberty, reform is a loser’s game — it makes the situation worse but, even if it didn’t, the prospects for liberty would be made worse.
The plight of being a serf under a welfare-warfare state is no different, in principle, from the plight of a slave on a plantation in 19th-century America. Slavery reformers could have worked to improve the working conditions of the slaves with much-needed reforms, such as shorter work weeks, better medical care, and higher-quality food. But no matter what reform was enacted and no matter how much it improved the life of the slave, the slave would continue to be a slave. He would not be a free person.
It’s the same with reforms of the welfare-warfare state. Reforms might improve the lives of the American people but most likely not. But one thing is for sure: Any reform will leave the American people in their position as serfs, not as free men and free women. Anyone wanting to experience life as a free person has to forget reform and embrace pure libertarian principles.