In a May 1 editorial, The Washington Post called on Cuban dictator Fidel Castro to honor a petition signed by 10,000 Cuban citizens demanding that a national referendum be called on freedom of expression, free elections, the right to private enterprise, and amnesty for political prisoners. The Post correctly praised those 10,000 people for putting “their names to an initiative that essentially seeks to replace Mr. Castro“s stale totalitarianism with the political and economic freedom that now prevails everywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.”
But what is meant by the term “economic freedom”?
Does it mean the economic freedom that characterized the United States, say in 1890, or does it mean the “economic freedom” that characterizes the modern-day welfare state in America?
By economic freedom, our ancestors meant: no income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, public schooling, occupational licensure, drug laws, immigration controls, trade restrictions, and economic regulations. That’s why Americans in 1890 lived without any of those things.
On the other hand, to advocates of the socialistic welfare state, “economic freedom” means the extent to which government has the unfettered power to watch over and take care of the citizenry and to tax them to pay for such care and control. Thus, the paternalistic government programs that our ancestors rejected as violations of economic freedom are embraced by welfare-state advocates as essential aspects of “economic freedom.”
This raises an interesting question: How many advocates of the welfare state in America would favor the following aspects of Cuba’s socialist economic system: income taxation, old-age assistance, public schooling, national health care, welfare, coercive redistribution of wealth, economic equality, drug laws, occupational licensure, immigration controls, trade restrictions, and economic regulations? Indeed, how many welfare statists would endorse the Cuban government’s gun-control laws?
In the same editorial, the Post argues that the U.S. embargo against Cuba should not be lifted. But what’s an embargo if not the deprivation of economic liberty of American citizens? Doesn’t economic liberty entail the right to do what you want with your own money? If the federal government can punish an American citizen for spending his money in Cuba, how is that different in principle from the Cuban government’s restrictions on what Cubans can do with their own money?