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Freedom, Socialism, and the Truman Show

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In my September 10, 2008, blog post, I explained that one of the great benefits of public (i.e., government) schooling and government-approved schooling is the political indoctrination to which most children in society are subjected. The indoctrination is so effective that it sometimes lasts throughout a person’s life. The indoctrination, however, is not foolproof, given that thousands of people, notably libertarians, have succeeded in breaking free of it and seeing reality for what it is.

One of the best examples of this phenomenon is the widely held notion that the United States is a “free-enterprise” country while such countries as Cuba, Vietnam, and China are socialist countries. From the first grade on up, it is ingrained into the minds of American schoolchildren that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal was not a new and different paradigm from the free-market paradigm that had guided previous American generations. Instead, students are taught, Roosevelt’s system was actually a “free-market reform” that “saved America’s free-enterprise system.”

Examples of this mindset abound among American adults, including the well-educated. For example, consider a recent Washington Post front-page article entitled “Financial Rescues Show that Faith in Free Market Is Shaken” by Steven Pearlstein. The author expressly begins with the standard assumption that America’s economic system is based on “self-reliance, individual responsibility, and free markets.” He argues that the failure of Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Lehman Brothers have shaken people’s confidence in America’s “free-enterprise” system.

The same sort of analysis appears in an editorial in today’s USA Today. The editorial states in part: “Perhaps it’s time to reconsider the ‘greed is good’ sentiment of the 1987 movie Wall Street, which has served as a mantra for the unfettered capitalism, financial market deregulation and bull markets of the past quarter-century or so.”

To better understand the mindset of these people, consider the movie “The Truman Show.” The plot revolved around Truman Burbank, who, unbeknownst to him, had been raised on a movie set since he was born. The setting provided the people of the world with a 24-hour reality show revolving around Truman’s life in an idyllic community. Everyone except Truman was an actor. For Truman, it was all real life. What everyone else knew was fake and false was reality for Truman.

Truman’s plight encapsulates those who have been victimized by the political indoctrination in government schools and government-approved schools. Like Truman, they live in a society that they’ve been taught to believe is a “free enterprise, capitalist” system. The notion that they might be living in a fake and false reality is incomprehensible to them. Since they have no doubts that America is “free enterprise,” when their system fails their solution is logical — to adopt socialist and interventionist measures to save “free enterprise.”

Yet, like Truman, they occasionally encounter things that pierce their false sense of reality. For example, they might read somewhere that such socialist countries as Cuba, Vietnam, and China have such government programs as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public (i.e., government) schooling, welfare, economic regulations, income taxation, a central bank, paper money, trade restrictions, and immigration controls, which befuddles them. After all, since those are the core elements of American “free enterprise” system how could they possibly be the core elements of socialism as well? But like Truman, they simply put the matter out of their minds and go about their busy lives.

Of course, libertarians are different, which is precisely why they oftentimes make both the indoctrinated and indoctrinators so uncomfortable and even hostile. Libertarians have succeeded in breaking through the indoctrination. We know full well what American Trumans have not yet discovered — that long ago, especially during the Franklin Roosevelt regime, Americans abandoned America’s heritage of free enterprise and succumbed to the paradigm of socialism and interventionism that was sweeping the rest of the world.

Thus, when things go wrong with the system, we libertarians correctly diagnosis the problem as the inherent and inevitable defects of socialism and interventionism, while our Truman counterparts view them as the failures of “free enterprise.”

Is it any surprise that libertarians are resented by both the Trumans in society as well as those who are responsible for teaching the fake and false reality? The Trumans dislike us because we make them feel uncomfortable, given our firm commitment to reality. The indoctrinators dislike us because they know that we’re immune to their tripe and, equally important, because they know that we’re helping the Trumans in society to break free of the indoctrination and pierce through to reality.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.