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What Divide Between Liberals and Conservatives?

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An op-ed in today’s New York Times indirectly highlights how fundamentally different libertarians are from both conservatives and liberals. The op-ed is entitled “The Appalling Stance of Rand Paul” and is written by liberal Times columnist Charles M. Blow.

Why is Blow taking conservative Paul to task? He quotes a statement Paul made last Sunday on Fox News:

I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers.

Blow writes:

This statement strikes at the heart — were a heart to exist — of the divide between conservatives and liberals about whether the social safety net provides temporary help for those who hit hard times or functions as a kind of glue to keep them stuck there.

Divide? Yes, that’s what passes for a great “divide” between conservatives and liberals — whether welfare should be granted to people for a shorter period of time or a longer period of time.

Yawn! Find me a “divide” more ridiculous than that and I’ll eat my copy of Atlas Shrugged.

Hey, Blow, you want a divide? Here’s one: We libertarians oppose all unemployment benefits, short-term or long-term, along with every other aspect of the so-called social safety net. We would repeal, immediately and without hesitation, every single welfare-state program, including not only unemployment benefits but also the crown jewels of the welfare state, Social Security and Medicare.

Now, isn’t that a real divide, one that truly separates libertarians from both conservatives and liberals?

You see, for decades conservatives and liberals have played this little game in which they act like they are fundamentally different from each other. They go on the mainstream talk shows and “debate” things like whether unemployment benefits should last 26 weeks or longer. The mainstream talk-show hosts go gaga over this monumental difference in philosophy between liberal and conservatives.

But when one deals with principle, it is easy to see that there really isn’t any divide at all. The argument between conservatives and liberals is not over such issues as the role of government in a free society or the meaning of liberty. They both agree that it’s the role of government to take care of people and that that is what freedom is all about. Their differences are over the extent to which they want government taking care of people.

Like all liberals, Blow purports to be concerned about the plight of the poor in American society. He says the poor really have it bad. It never occurs to Blow that the reason the poor have it so bad is precisely because of the welfare state way of life.

After all, while liberals love to blame the plight of today’s poor on the “free market,” the reality is that America hasn’t operated under a free-market way of life since the New Deal revolutionized America’s economic system in the 1930s. For the last 80 years, America has lived under a welfare-state way of life, not a free-market way of life.

Don’t forget that the term free market means a system in which economic enterprise is free of government control or regulation. Obviously the welfare-state, regulated-economy way of life under which Americans have lived is opposite to that.

What about the much-vaunted war on poverty that liberal icon President Lyndon Johnson declared back in the 1960s? When we consider what Blow says about the plight of the poor in today’s society, we can reach but one conclusion: the war on poverty has failed and so has the welfare state. What other conclusion can be drawn after 50 years of the war on poverty and 80 years of the welfare state?

The fact is that the regulated economy constitutes the greatest attack on the poor that one could ever initiate. Consider, for example, minimum-wage laws, which liberals adore. It locks out of the labor market the poorest people in society whose labor is valued by employers at less than the established minimum. That’s why the unemployment rate for black teenagers hovers around 40 percent.

Minimum-wage laws also prevent the poor from starting up new businesses and hiring people in their neighborhoods at, say, $2 an hour, thereby protecting the rich, established firms from competition from new firms started by the poor.

Burdensome regulations make it overly expensive for the poor to start new businesses, thereby again protecting well-established firms who have the financial wherewithal to comply with the regulations.

Income taxes prevent the poor from accumulating the capital nest egg to start businesses to compete against the well-established firms.

The drug war attracts the poor into trying to make quick money and oftentimes ends up ruining their lives. The prisons are filled with poor people who were led into temptation by the government’s nonsensical war on drugs.

All too often, the poor are induced to go on welfare, which ends up destroying the human spirit of self-reliance, can-do, and independence. While liberals think they’re helping people by making them dependent wards of the state, the exact opposite is true. They end up producing a multitude of people from all walks of life who live their lives scared to death that the government might cut them off.

Need I mention the decades-long liberal-conservative war on immigrants, people who are among the poorest people in the world, people who are doing nothing more than trying to sustain and improve their lives and the lives of their families through labor?

Finally, liberals and conservatives have no sense of moral values. Where is the morality of having the state forcibly take money from people in order to give it to other people? Do Paul and Blow really think that they’re being good, caring, and compassionate by having the IRS tax people and giving it to others?

They are not. They are no different from Robin Hood, who stole from the rich to give to the poor. Stealing is wrong, plain and simple, no matter if the thief is a government agent and no matter what he does with the money he has stolen.

That’s the fundamental divide between libertarians, on the one hand, and liberals and conservatives on the other. We subscribe to moral principles, such as Thou Shalt Not Steal, and they don’t. We also believe in a way of life in which people have the right to choose when it comes to charity. They don’t—they believe in forcing people to be charitable. We also believe in people, freedom, and voluntary charity. We have no doubts that free people can be relied upon to voluntarily help others. They don’t believe that people can be trusted with freedom.

If only liberals and conservatives would confront the damage they both have brought American society with their statism. If only they would stop asking to be judged by their good intentions rather than by the actual results of their actions. If only they would take individual responsibility for what they have wrought, especially to the poor. If only the poor would discover libertarianism. America would have a bright future indeed.

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.