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Freedom, Virtue, and Responsibility, Part 2

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The welfare state and the managed economy do more than destroy individual self-esteem. They also destroy hopes of improving one’s life. Now, we know that money cannot buy happiness, but certainly the hopes of improving one’s own economic well-being provide a stimulus to happiness. That is to say, if a person can engage in the enterprise that suits him best — and make money at it as well — there is a much better chance of his being happy as he progresses from birth to death.

But the welfare state punishes and discourages the idea of financial self-improvement, and even makes people feel guilty for it! For example, what is the underlying message of the progressive income tax — the jugular vein of the welfare state? “The better you do, the more we will punish you with higher taxes. And if you do well financially, you should feel guilty that you have more when others have less. We will alleviate your guilt by taking your ill-gotten gains from you and giving them to others. And if you resist or oppose us, we will expose you to public shame for being a bad, selfish, uncaring person who is a racist and who hates the poor.”

And what about the flip side of the welfare state — the recipients of the dole? Governmental officials and drug dealers have at least one thing in common: the way they sell their wares — “The dole will help you. Just go on it for a little while. You can get off of it later. Here is a free sample. Just take a little bit.”

The result is an ever-increasing portion of the citizenry who succumb to the temptation. And they soon discover that they’re hooked — that they cannot get off the dole. Even worse, they conclude that they could never survive without their dole. (“I could never make it without my Social Security.”) Self-reliance, independence, a “can-do” attitude become antiquated, almost forgotten notions.

And once they’re on the dole, the state has them where it wants them! The government’s not-so-subtle message becomes, “Obey us and support us, or you don’t get your candy!”

For example, take public housing. The state says, “We love the poor. We love the needy. So, we are building public housing. Enter our dwellings at a reduced rate until you get on your feet.”

Then, what happens when the tenant begins doing well financially? He is told by the public-housing authorities, “Stop making so much money; otherwise, we are going to have to throw you out of your home.”

The tenant is faced with a dilemma: does he move out and pay higher rents? Or does he stop working hard so as to ensure that he doesn’t make too much money? Or does he simply lie about how well he is doing?

And what about the regulated economy? It says to people, for example, that they cannot engage in any enterprise unless they first secure the permission of their state officials. And sometimes this entails lots of money — if not in payoffs to public officials, at least in terms of what has to be done to qualify for the permission.

For example, suppose a person with little money has a natural aptitude to be a lawyer. He is told by the state that he must first spend twelve years of his life in public or other government-approved schools; then he must spend the money to attend a state-approved college; then he must spend the money to attend a state-approved law school; then he must spend the money to take a bar-review course; then he must hope that the state grants him the permission after risking all of this time and money; and then he must spend the money to pay his annual “dues” to the state for the “privilege” of doing what comes naturally to him — helping others through the practice of law.

How many people’s aspirations and dreams in life are lost as a result of the expense and other hurdles associated with the managed, regulated economy?

And consider the harm done to people through public schooling, a central feature of the welfare state. Compulsory schooling involves a conviction that all children should be treated alike — that they should be herded into governmental institutions where they can be indoctrinated by governmental schoolteachers using government-approved textbooks.

But what about the child who is better off not even attending school? What about a Mozart who wishes to spend every waking hour at the piano rather than learning civics, social studies, and the history of the state? What about the entrepreneur who wishes to go to work at the age of eight? What about the person like Abraham Lincoln who wishes to educate himself through books and apprenticeships?

All of these people are told by the public authorities in present-day America, “Your individualistic dreams and wishes mean nothing to us. You will do as you are told. You will obey our commands. You will become more sociable. You will abandon your aspirations. We will mold you into good, little citizens of the state. Your minds will be made over in just the right way. By the time you are eighteen, you will be one of us.”

Thus, the welfare state and the managed economy create the conditions that destroy people! They destroy the very essence of individuality. They destroy hope. They destroy dreams. They destroy man himself.

And what is so disheartening is the denial of what has happened. You see, in Russia, there is also a huge drug problem, the drug of choice being alcohol. There, socialism created the societal conditions that gave rise to individual dysfunctionalities that, in turn, caused people to turn to alcohol and other mind-altering substances.

And America’s version of the socialist nightmare — its welfare state and managed economy — produced the same result. Except for one crucial difference: the Russian people knew that they were suffering under socialism; the American people believe that they have been enjoying the fruits of freedom!

The same principles have been underlying the two systems-governmental control over people’s peaceful activities and fortunes. In the Russian society, there has been suffering, and there has been escape through drug abuse, but, at least, there has been the recognition of reality — the reality that life under socialism is miserable. In the American society, there has been suffering, as well as escape through drug abuse, but there has been the false belief that the welfare state and managed economy constitute “free-enterprise with a human face.”

Why are these false beliefs and denials of reality so important? One big reason involves the children of this country.

When I was growing up, I had a close friend who lived across the street from me. We played together just about every day. I lost touch with John when I went to college. One day, when I was in my early twenties, I learned that he had left his wife a note that instructed her to send the neighbor to their basement. John had hung himself.

I had another friend growing up — Claudia — who was one of the smartest and most attractive, vivacious girls you’d ever meet. When I was about twenty-one, I saw her at a party, and she seemed to be the happiest person there. A few weeks later, she ended her life with a bullet to her head.

I don’t know the personal anguish that drove my friends to suicide. But every time I think of their deaths, and every time I hear of a young person taking his or her own life, I automatically think one thought: if you had known that this was not the best there is, would it have made a difference to you?

In other words, from the first grade all the way up, students are taught by their state schoolteachers that this — the American way of life — is freedom and free enterprise. If a teacher even dares to suggest that America’s welfare state and managed economy violate the principles of freedom on which this nation was founded and, instead, constitute the principles of socialism, a reign of terror is inflicted on that schoolteacher. The governmental indoctrination is so complete that by the time a person reaches eighteen years of age, breaking through to the truth is extremely difficult.

Would the truth — that this is not freedom, not the best there could be — result in a drop in the teenage-suicide rate? Maybe and maybe not. But a person who is filled with pain, despair, hopelessness, and loss of self-esteem might see his world a little differently if he is told:

They have lied to you. This is not freedom, and don’t let them convince you that it is. Freedom involves a completely different set of principles, one of which entails the elimination of the public school in which you are forced to waste so many of your waking hours. Freedom is a way of life that treats you for the treasure that you are — a one-of-a-kind child of the universe who is entitled to live your life according to the dreams and aspirations that exist within you, rather than according to the rules and regulations of the politicians and bureaucrats who run the public-schooling system and most of the other aspects of your lives and those of your parents.

Does the truth create better conditions for people? Does it change the conditions that are producing the hopelessness and despair that ultimately move people to mind-altering drugs or even suicide? No. But it does give people one crucial thing: hope — hope that there can be a better way! The attitude goes from, “If this is the best there is, then I’m checking out” to “Things are bad, but at least I know that there is a better way that could conceivably result in happier times; I’ll stay and fight.”

Is there a better way? Yes, there is. And it does not lie in reform, as so many Americans falsely believe. The answer lies in the abolition, not the reform, of the welfare-state, managed-economy way of life .

What does this mean with respect to the war on drugs, for example? It means the war, after eighty years of being waged, would be ended. Americans would no longer be arrested, prosecuted, or punished for ingesting harmful substances. No more invasions of privacy. No more mass arrests and illegal searches. No more overcrowded prisons. No more financial-privacy laws. No more DEA. No more seizures of millions of dollars of assets.

What is the response of the drug-war proponents?

They used to be able to raise people’s hopes with the possibility of a quick victory. But no longer. Since drug abuse keeps getting worse and worse, despite eighty years of warfare, it has become nearly impossible to sell people on the idea that “victory is just around the corner.”

And another long-time response of the drug warriors is also falling by the wayside: “You favor drug abuse if you favor drug legalization.” That argument now rings hollow with more and more Americans. This is especially true in light of the people who are either calling for drug legalization or saying that it is an idea worth studying: Nobel laureate Milton Friedman, conservative columnist William F. Buckley, Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, U.S. Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, and Columbia’s prosecutor general Gustavo de Greiff.

Why are more and more people finally concluding that drug legalization is the solution? Like their predecessors who waged the war on the destructive drug alcohol, most now see the futility of legislating morality. Equally important, they are beginning to see that the only way to achieve a more stable, virtuous, compassionate society is by freeing the American people.

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    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.