"I Have a Plan..."
October 18, 2004
As election time nears, we are bombarded with political ads and speeches by candidates telling us their great plans for running the country. At the end of the recent presidential debate, for example, the Democratic nominee recited a litany of supposed cures for nearly everything that ails us, beginning each sentence with the phrase “I have a plan…”
The problem is that government is not supposed to plan our lives or run the country; we are supposed to be free. That our public discourse strays so far from this principle is an unhappy sign of our times. Those who believe in limited constitutional government should worry every time a politician says, “I have a plan.”
Remember, there is a simple dictionary definition for government planning of the production and provision of goods and services: socialism. No matter how much the grand planners from both political parties deny it, many of their programs and proposals are socialist. Federal taxes, regulations, welfare, subsidies, wage controls, price controls, and interest rate manipulations all represent socialist interventions in the economy. True, we do not yet have a fully socialist economy. But that is why we must be vigilant and label socialist proposals for exactly what they are, so we can maintain and expand economic freedom in America.
Both history and economic theory prove conclusively that centrally-planned economies lower the standard of living for everyone except government elites. Historically, centralized economic planning goes hand in hand with hardship and bloodshed. Modern soft socialism, found in nations like Sweden and France, is beginning to implode of its own weight as governments realize they simply cannot fund cradle-to-grave programs without imposing tax rates that kill any last remnants of productive spark in their citizens.
By contrast, capitalism--which is to say economic freedom-- raises the standard of living for everyone in a society. But we must understand what capitalism really is. Capitalism is not a system, but rather the result of free individuals taking economic actions without interference by government. A true capitalist economy is neither planned by bureaucrats nor steered by regulators. This is why it’s so important that we resist the idea that any president should plan our economy. If we accept that government “runs” the economy, we accept a fundamental tenet of socialism. We must understand that economic liberty is every bit as important as political and civil liberties.
In a truly free nation, the government acts only as a referee by protecting property rights, enforcing contracts, prohibiting force and fraud, and providing national defense. Such was the system envision by the Founding Fathers, who strictly limited regulatory and tax powers in the Constitution. They were tired of having their business affairs managed by the Crown, so they created a servant government that would allow freedom and capitalism to flourish.
Today’s political rhetoric demonstrates that the servant has become the master. Most politicians, and too many Americans, have accepted the premise that government should plan our lives and control the economy. This subservient mindset encourages political pandering, as candidates strive to convince voters of their superior plans to take care of all of us. For a nation founded upon rugged individualism and self-reliance, the modern political landscape represents a wake-up call. Unless and until Americans begin to reclaim the mentality that made us great, we are destined to slide further into an economic and political malaise that cannot be solved by the grandiose plans of politicians.