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Imagining Freedom for the 21st Century: A Presidential Candidate’s Press Conference, Part 2

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Ladies and gentlemen of the press, America is entering the 21st century as still one of the greatest nations in the world. We have had a booming economy for most of the last two decades that has created tens of millions of new jobs throughout the land. The inventiveness of the citizens and residents of the United States has helped generate a new economic revolution of computerized information, communication, and global exchange.

Our standard living, in terms of both the quantity of things our incomes can buy and our quality of life, has expanded dramatically during this time. And while many other parts of the world have suffered wars and various internal conflicts that have rained down destruction and death on millions of people, the United States has enjoyed a relative tranquillity and peacefulness of life here at home.

But in spite of these many, and sometimes spectacular, achievements, America today is in a fundamental crisis. Few words are more repeated in political and social discussion and debate than “freedom ” and “liberty. ” Yet few words are more contradictorily used and abused than these. Americans rightly take pride in their heritage of freedom that is both the envy and the resentment of many millions of others around the world. We cherish our right to say what we want, do what we want, live as we want, and believe as we want.

In the marrow of our bones, we Americans are individualists who cling to the mottoes of the various states of the Union: Live Free or Die (New Hampshire); We Dare Defend Our Rights (Alabama); Liberty and Independence (Delaware); Our Liberties We Prize, and Our Rights We Will Maintain (Iowa); By the Sword We Seek Peace, But Peace Only Under Liberty (Massachusetts); Equality Before the Law (Nebraska); Liberty and Prosperity (New Jersey); Virtue, Liberty and Independence (Pennsylvania); Freedom and Unity (Vermont); Mountaineers Are Always Free (West Virginia); and Equal Rights (Wyoming).

And yet we have slowly been selling that birthright of freedom for a bowl of paternalistic political pottage. If we compare the America of today with the America of 50 years ago, 75 years ago, or 100 years ago, there can be no dispute that government’s hand has increasingly intruded into every corner of our personal, social, and economic lives. For example, in 1893 the executive branch of the federal government comprised eight departments (State, Treasury, War, Navy, Post Office, Interior, Agriculture, and Justice), two commissions (Interstate Commerce and the Intercontinental Railway), and the Smithsonian Institution. Today, the number of cabinet-level departments has been increased to 14, along with 7 executive offices, and more than 70 federal government regulatory agencies.

Though inflation over the decades prevents us from easily comparing the real value of dollar expenditures by government, it is still worth remembering that in 1900 total federal expenditures were only about $450 million; in 1930, they were $3.2 billion; in 1950, $45 billion; and in the fiscal budget for 1999, they were $1.8 trillion.

If America still seems like a land of the free, it is only in comparison with many other places around the world where governments intrude even more into the citizenry’s various private and commercial affairs. The fact is, if the Founding Fathers of our country were able to awaken from a long slumber and survey what their noble efforts have turned into in terms of political intrusiveness, many of them might well feel that the great American experiment in free and limited government had failed.

Changing course

This is the trend that we must reverse in the early years of the 21st century. It is the reason I have made the decision to run for the highest political office in the land, the presidency of the United States. But I offer myself as a candidate to the American people not because I presume to know better what is good for my fellow citizens than they themselves. I have no “agenda ” of plans, programs, and activist policies to remake or mold America. Instead, I offer my services to the American people as the senior executive officer of the federal government whose primary job for the next four years would be to repeal, abolish, and retrench.

I know that even to speak in these terms will immediately bring forth charges from my opponents that I am “negative, ” desiring a “do-nothing ” government that would be insensitive and blind to the social and human problems that cry out for answers and solutions even in this climate of general economic prosperity. I say to my fellow Americans that I believe that I am offering the most positive program suggested by virtually any serious presidential candidate in the 20th century.

I propose to return planning and decision-making to the people themselves, because that is what freedom means. Truly free men are individuals who guide their own lives, plan their own courses of action, and find their own solutions to various problems, great and small. I ask every one of my fellow Americans to look within himself and ponder: Are you too weak-minded to plan your own life, decide how to spend your own income, and take responsibility for the care and well-being of your own family? Do you need a warden or keeper to direct, oversee, manage, and compel virtually every choice and movement you make?

Listen to my worthy opponents in this presidential campaign, and reflect on what they assume you are not informed enough, wise enough, and strong-willed enough to be trusted to do. They do not consider you intelligent enough to choose your own career or terms of employment; they consider you too ignorant to plan your child’s education and your own retirement; they consider you too susceptible to temptation to be trusted in the things you read, watch, eat, drink, or smoke; they consider you so irresponsible that they must supervise your children and teach them “correct ” ethical values and rules of character.

Treating us like children

There is a reason that opponents of government power have often referred to the paternalist state, the nanny state, the big brother state, or the welfare state. The underlying assumption of the proponents of government intervention, planning, and control is that the citizenry are perpetual infants and adolescents requiring adult guidance. And the arrogant presumption on the part of these people is that they are the adults who should and must wield the power and coercive authority to care for the rest of society.

A crucial difference between real parents and these self-appointed political parents is that most actual fathers and mothers view their parental duties as steppingstones to that day when their children will have matured into adults themselves, ready to bear the responsibilities of personal independence. Our political parents, however, implicitly view us as perpetual, immature minors never reaching an age at which we would finally act on our own, able and required to bear both our successes and our failures.

The characteristics of a free society

What would a truly free America look like, an America that had set itself the task of living the principles that represent the ideals of our Founding Fathers?

1. Every individual would be secure in his life and property to live his life in any way he chooses, as long as he does not resort to either violence or fraud in attaining his ends.

2. All human relationships would be based on voluntary consent and mutual agreement, the transactions of the marketplace as well as various associations and cooperative endeavors through which individuals try to peacefully pursue the goals they desire with the assistance of their fellow men.

3. In the marketplace of goods, production and exchange would be based on the competitive forces of supply and demand free from government regulation, control, intervention, or planning. The production, sale, purchase, and use of any commodity, substance, and service would be permitted as long as neither force nor fraud is used. All federal agencies, bureaus, and departments concerned with economic and social regulation and oversight of the private affairs of the American people would be abolished.

4. In the marketplace of ideas, competition would be free from censorship, government education, regulation of all forms of communication, and political restriction on the production and exchange of knowledge and information of any type.

5. The marketplace of goods, money, and ideas would not be confined within the national borders of the country. Free trade both within the United States and between it and the rest of the world would be respected as the only legitimate “economic policy ” for America.

6. The marketplace would include the freedom to move, live, reside, and work wherever a person finds it most attractive, profitable, or advantageous. Free immigration and emigration would be considered the human corollary of a free trade in goods and money.

7. The monetary and banking institutions of the United States would be completely privatized and freed from government control, regulation, or planning. Individuals in the marketplace would determine those commodities most convenient to use as money and those forms of financial intermediation most convenient and profitable for the processes of saving and investing. The Federal Reserve System would be abolished.

8. The federal income tax would be abolished (through repeal of the tax and repeal of the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution). The Internal Revenue Service would be eliminated, ending one of the most intrusive and harmful invasions of the privacy and personal affairs of the American citizenry.

9. All forms of political, economic, and military intervention by the government outside the territorial limits of the United States would be ended. This would include the ending of foreign aid, military training, and assistance to foreign governments or their agents, and the stationing or use of U.S. military personnel of any type outside the borders of the United States.

10. The federal government would again respect the principle of federalism as expressed in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Ladies and gentlemen of the press, this is my ten-point vision for restoring and enhancing the freedom of the American people. I cannot think of a more positive and exhilarating future for our country. And now I’d be delighted to take some of your questions.

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    Richard M. Ebeling is a professor of economics at Northwood University. He was formerly president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).