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Americans turn backs on ways of freedom

Ever since I have been an American citizen, starting in 1961, I have noticed that after elections the losers often blame winners for distortions, misrepresentations and so forth. Few of the losers say, “Well, I lost because the voters didn’t agree with me.”

This became most evident to me during the elections when one ballot measure aiming to sock it to oil companies in California lost. Supporters of the measure, led, I think, by a very busy and prominent leftist political activist, Bill Press, insisted that their measure lost because the voters were deceived, lied to, and so forth, not because voters didn’t buy their pitch.

By contrast, my own take is that the reason candidates and measures favoring individual liberty — in short, the libertarian agenda — lose is precisely that most voters don’t agree with them. The very plain fact is that too many voters don’t want to be free. Over and over again they reject candidates who champion free markets, civil liberties, global free trade, and similar ideas and institutions. Instead, they favor protectionism, government regulation, meddling in people’s personal lives and habits, and restricting freedom so as to achieve the mirage of perfect safety — be this about over-the-counter drugs, the threat of terrorism or environmental concerns. They want to restrict other people’s liberty and rip them off for various benefits. It’s a mad dash to raid the treasury at others’ expense and to control people’s lives so as to serve various precautionary goals.

Sadly, that’s now the character of the bulk of the American citizenry. They are not being mislead by the media or pundits or politicians. No. They want to get a free ride wherever they see a chance, never mind that this simply is impossible for them all to achieve. The notion that America is a country where the citizenry, following the lead of the Founders, is committed to freedom for all, to a live-and-let-live political philosophy is no longer true. The one presidential candidate, Republican Ron Paul, who made no secret of his support for mostly libertarian public policies, fared badly on Super Tuesday, despite recent signs that there exists a small cadre of Americans who will provide him with considerable financial support.

The current presidential race shows, also, that voters aren’t interested in the candidate’s color, race, gender so much as in what they can expect the candidate to deliver to them in the way of benefits that government extracts from Peter and hands over to Paul. Never mind that this war of all against all can have but a small percentage of winners. Just like those who flock to Las Vegas, the voters hope that they will win despite what the evidence shows. Still, most Americans now vote with an eye to getting something for nothing by dint of the diligence of their favored politicians.

There are some forces in our society who are eager to encourage people to think this way, to vote this way, but voters aren’t being misled, defrauded, misguided. They know well and good that they are trying to rip off their fellow citizens so they can have education, health care, retirement and so forth without paying for these. Yes, our government schools do not teach the truth about these matters, mainly because teachers are part of the very system that involves the mad dash to get something for which others must pay. But even when they do learn just how ridiculous it is to expect a prosperous society when so many people reject productivity in favor of dependence, most continue to try to get away with it.

Too bad, but it has to be faced. Freedom is not widely favored in America now. There was, of course, never any guarantee that American would continue to be promoting freedom. Countries, no less than voters, can give up on good ideas and embrace bad ones even after the good ideas have paid off for them for decades on end.

Still, I am not a pessimist in the long run. The idea of a fully free society is very novel in human history. For most of it people have lived under the oppressive rule of some group of thugs masquerading as their saviors. Even now there are countries where politicians are frankly and without irony called “rulers.” (Just consider Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum who is called The Ruler of Dubai, for example. And few Americans seem to take umbrage at this, seeing how readily they do business in that part of the world!)

As I have stressed before, the insidious governmental habit will not vanish soon, even if there is a chance that in time it will be extinguished. Until then we will have to suffer the likes of Hillary Clinton, who is aspiring to be America’s ruler and sadly with the support of millions of millions of citizens in this supposed leader of the free world.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Tibor Machan holds the R.C. Hoiles Chair in Business Ethics & Free Enterprise at Chapman University's Argyros School of B&E and is a research fellow at the Pacific Research Institute and Hoover Institution (Stanford). He advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. His most recent book is “Libertarianism Defended,” (Ashgate, 2006). E-mail him at TMachan@link.freedom.com.


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