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Imagining Freedom for the 21st Century: A Presidential Candidate’s Press Conference, Part 5

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Insight Magazine: During the last eight years, the American people have witnessed some of the worst political scandals and episodes of presidential misconduct and immorality in our nation’s history. What will be the moral character and tone of your administration, if you are elected president of the United States?

The Candidate: The source of practically all of the political scandals, in both the present administration and those in past presidencies, has been the degree to which the federal government regulates and intervenes in the economy and redistributes wealth through the welfare state. When privileges and favors are obtainable by some at the expense of others in society through the political process, it is inevitable that those who desire the favors and privileges will lobby and bribe those from whom they can be acquired.

For as long as government has the power to influence relative income shares and market profitabilities of people in the society through its ability to tax, regulate, and redistribute, political corruption will occur. At the same time, having the ability to bestow privileges and favors provides politicians with the bag of political tricks to obtain campaign contributions and special-interest voting blocs on election day.

The only way to eliminate both the politician’s ability to hand out favors and privileges and the incentives for individuals and groups to buy them through money and votes is to end the regulated economy and the interventionist-welfare state. When government has no favors and privileges to give, there will be nothing to buy and sell in the political arena. What I am promising the American people, therefore, is a scandal-free presidential administration, because I will do all in my power — by repealing thousands of executive orders, vetoing all further increases or continuations in the present levels of government spending and taxing, and petitioning the Congress — to repeal, abolish, and end any and all federal activities not clearly and very narrowly justified and required under the Constitution of the United States.

Thus, for example, I would do all in my power as president, to end federal involvement in and spending on education, art and the humanities, science and technological research, the war on drugs, affirmative action and all civil rights laws that abridge the individual’s right to freedom of association, restrictions of freedom of trade and migration, regulatory agencies, infringements on the peaceful use of honestly acquired private property, national parks, and federal land ownership.

Take away these powers and controls from the federal government, and politicians and bureaucrats would have nothing to sell and special-interest groups would have nothing to buy in the political arena. I would drain the political wetland that is the breeding ground for the disease of political corruption and scandal.

As for personal misdeeds and indiscretions, I can only promise the American people that I will always do my best to have a clear conception of what the meaning of is is, that I will never have fewer than two other people in the oval office with me any time I’m not alone, and that alone will always and only mean me, by myself, especially whenever I have a cigar in my possession.

Open immigration

The Wall Street Journal: There is a growing concern about the influx of undocumented and illegal aliens into the United States. You stated that you would abolish restrictions on immigration. But doesn’t any country, including our own, require some control over its borders to determine who and how many people from other lands will enter it each year?

The Candidate: Let me begin to answer your question by taking great pleasure in quoting from your own newspaper’s senior editor, Robert Bartley. In an editorial on July 3 of this year, he wrote,

Back in the immigration debate of 1984, we proposed a five-word Constitutional amendment: There shall be open borders…. Someone who believes in the free trade in goods and free movements of capital will quite naturally believe in free movement of labor, another factor of production. In terms of men, what could be more fundamental than the freedom to move your person? Perhaps the most important freedom of all is that of emigration…. But immigration restrictions too limit personal freedom, and therefore are suspect in the eyes of an old-fashioned [classical] liberal…. In a world of instant communication spreading knowledge of a better life, of cheap travel … immigration is bound to increase. Economically the world will be better for it — the recipient nations not excluded, since immigrants tend to be young and ambitious. Politically and culturally it will as always be a shock, but it is not likely to be stopped by any law acceptable to conscience, least of all the American conscience.

Mr. Bartley ended his editorial by saying, “America’s uniqueness, its special advantage celebrated tomorrow, is that it is a nation rooted not in an ethnic heritage given by birth, but a set of ideals any immigrant can share.” What are those traditional American ideals to which Mr. Bartley alluded? They are: individual freedom; private property; free enterprise; rule of law and equal treatment before impartial enforcement of law; freedom of association; and freedom of speech, religion, and the press. These are ideals independent of and transcending the accidents of birth, such as race, ethnicity, or language. They are universal ideals for a society of human liberty.

Let us remember some of the words on the Statute of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” It doesn’t say, “Give me your tired who have economically valuable high-tech skills.” Or, “Give me your poor as long as they don’t threaten to compete against any low- skill members of the American work force.” Or, “Give me your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, as long as they have the ’correct’ skin color, speak the ’right’ language, and don’t have cultural attitudes or religious beliefs different from native-born Americans.” And it doesn’t say, “I lift my lamp beside the golden door to better read the immigration quota limits for various national groups.”

Not long ago, England saw the tragedy of more than 50 Chinese who suffocated to death in a truck smuggling them across the English Channel from Belgium. And every day, along our own southern border, hundreds of would-be immigrants attempt the dangerous crossing from Mexico into Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, or California, having paid thousands of dollars to smugglers.

Why do people make this journey? Because they have the same dreams and hopes that brought most of our own ancestors to the United States: escape from political tyranny, religious persecution, economic hardship, and poverty, and the vision of a better, safer, healthier, and freer life for themselves and their families. Economic opportunity and betterment for all are not the only justifications for the right of freedom to move. Far more, this right is essential to the very meaning of human liberty. It is worth recalling Thomas Jefferson’s words that the freedom to move is “the natural right which all men have of relinquishing the country in which birth or other accident may have thrown them, and seeking subsistence and happiness wheresoever they are able, or hope to find them.” These are noble words that are no less a part of the great American heritage of freedom.

An activist government

Business Week: Is it not the case that no matter how appealing you may make your particular case of freedom sound, the fact is that the vast majority of Americans want a government that does more than merely protect their individual rights? Americans seem to want the government to regulate the perceived abuses of private enterprise and at least moderately redistribute income to prevent unacceptable inequalities of wealth and financial opportunity?

The Candidate: For more than three, maybe four, generations of Americans, there has been a continuous and increasing distortion and ignoring of the true meaning of freedom. Government monopoly schools, the mass media, the daily stream of government pronouncements, rules, regulations, controls, and public rationales and justifications for the growth and expansion of state power have unfortunately undermined the understanding of freedom, as I’m advocating it.

Nonetheless, I have a bedrock confidence in the American people. Despite all these things, most Americans have a healthy regard and respect for individual freedom and for the genius and creativity of the individual innovator and creator of market-based wealth and production. They believe that if a man has honestly earned that which he has, then it is rightfully his to keep. They have a basic and core appreciation and belief in the normalcy of acquiring and owning property through hard and honest work and creativity. They are suspicious of blanket and blind welfare-statist claims that some have an entitled right to what others have earned and accumulated.

But the ideological assault on these cultural attitudes and beliefs of the average American has taken its toll. Many Americans find it difficult to logically and reasonably articulate the rightness of what their “gut” tells them to be true. That is why I’m running for the highest political executive office in the United States. I view my task, in part, to rekindle an interest in and an understanding of not merely the feeling for freedom, but the logic and rationale for freedom.

Many years ago the free-market Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises said,

Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interests of everyone hang on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.

When Ludwig von Mises wrote those words, the challenge facing mankind was stark: the threat was from the extreme collectivisms of communism, fascism, and Nazism. The danger today appears milder, less dramatic and extreme. Indeed, some may not even think there is a threat at all. But the fact is, collectivism is not dead. Its universal form in the West, including the United States, is a creeping and incremental encroachment of government control and repression over our lives that, precisely because it expands in such small steps, is not often seen to have occurred or to endanger the outward trappings of what seems to be a free society.

In the long run, however, it is a danger no less serious than the more radical forms of collectivism that plagued earlier decades of the 20th century. If we want a truly free society for ourselves and our children in the 21st century, then each of us has a responsibility and duty to understand the meaning of freedom, to learn how to articulate its message and use every avenue at his disposal to inform, educate, and win over his fellow citizens. There is no greater and more moral task that any of us can take on in the political and social arenas.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen of the press.

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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).