Whenever libertarians suggest that America’s socialist programs should be immediately repealed, rather than reformed or gradually reduced, statists inevitably react with shock and horror. The statists feel that Americans could never survive if their welfare-state dole was suddenly ended.
What would happen if public schooling, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, education grants, income taxation, and all other welfare-state programs were suddenly eliminated today? According to the statists, thousands of people would be dying of starvation and illness in the streets and the nation would quickly fill up with dumb, uneducated people.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, it would be the exact opposite. There would immediately be a tremendous outburst of creative energy, enterprise, prosperity, and charity throughout American society.
Consider 19th-century American slaves who picked cotton on some Southern plantation. In a sense, they lived under a welfare program. While they were required to work hard, they had free housing, food, clothing, retirement, and health care provided to them by their employer.
Their job skills were limited to picking cotton. Since work was mandated, they had not developed a work ethic that required them to voluntarily be at work on time. Moreover, they certainly had not acquired any skills in running their own businesses. They had lived like this for generations.
Undoubtedly, some people in the 1800s argued that it would be cruel and brutal to free the slaves all at once. How would they survive, especially after several generations of life on the dole, with no real job skills, work ethic, and business experience? If the slaves were freed all at once and, therefore, no longer guaranteed the basic essentials of life, thousands of them would surely starve to death. They wouldn’t even have a few cents in savings to get them through a couple of weeks.
Yet, when Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox, that’s precisely what happened. Slaves were freed all at once. No gradualism. No weaning. They were suddenly deprived of their guaranteed housing, clothing, food, health care, and job. They were suddenly on their own.
While life was difficult for them, just as it was difficult for lots of people after the war, there were no mass deaths from starvation or from being deprived of health care or other essentials. The freeing of the slaves showed the remarkable resiliency of human beings. Some of them opened businesses, others went to work for businesses. Over time, some of the former slaves even began outcompeting whites, which was why whites began enacting Jim Crow laws.
Another example was Franklin Roosevelt’s fascist National Industrial Recovery Act, which converted American industries into cartels that had the power to set their own prices. More and more people began realizing what a horrible disaster this program was for America, but the argument was that the NIRA had become too entrenched in the American economy to suddenly end it. Millions of Americans, both producers and consumers had become dependent on the NIRA and, therefore, people felt that if it were to be ended, it should be done gradually.
One day, the Supreme Court declared the NIRA unconstitutional. On that day, the program suddenly ended. It’s as if the Court had pushed a magic button that immediately eradicated the law. The result? An outburst of creative energy and prosperity from having this fascist burden suddenly lifted off the American economy.
The third example involves the extensive wage-and-price controls that the Allied Powers levied on Germany after World War II. Germans wanted them lifted but the Allies said that since people had become so dependent on them, there would be chaos if they were suddenly lifted. One day, and much to the chagrin of the Allied leaders, the German leader Ludwig Ehard suddenly announced that the controls were lifted. That was the start of the post-war German “economic miracle.”
The best thing that could ever happen to the American people is to have all welfare-state programs repealed, immediately. Given the resiliency of human beings, there is no doubt that there would be a tremendous outburst of creative energy, prosperity, and charity.
The problem we face is that all too many Americans just don’t believe it. Given the decades of dependency on the welfare state, Americans have lost their sense of self-reliance and self-esteem.
Thus, the problem we face in our day is not only economic and political in nature but also psychological in nature. To get our nation back on the right track, we libertarians have the task of not only showing people that economic liberty and free markets are moral and that they work, we must also inspire people to restore their faith in themselves, in others, in freedom, in free markets, and in God.