November 27, 2000
The Conflict Between Collectivism and Liberty is Reflected in the Presidential Election
The controversial presidential election remains unresolved this week, now that the Florida Supreme Court has decided to permit ongoing recounts of votes. The U.S. Supreme Court may well serve as the ultimate arbiter in this controversy. Regardless of the outcome, the popular vote totals for the two candidates will be remarkably close. The contentiousness of the post-election legal wrangling is certain to damage the political credibility of the winner. Even in the popular media, some have begun to question the legitimacy of the incoming administration, citing the deep divisions that seem to exist among voters. Ultimately, of course, the legitimacy of any president or government must be derived from the consent of the governed.
To an extent, America is indeed politically divided. Most Americans accept one of two general political philosophies. Individualists value liberty above all, and hence believe in individual responsibility, capitalism, limited government, and the Constitution. Collectivists, on the other hand, value "equality" above all, and view government as a benign force charged with redistributing wealth and managing our lives. While these two conflicting outlooks certainly do not define the major political parties, they are adhered to by many members of those parties.
Unfortunately, the collectivist approach has been gaining ground in American politics and government throughout this century. This is happening even as the obvious failures of collectivism (Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, for example) litter the history books. Ludwig VonMises, the great 20th century economist, predicted decades before the fall of the Soviet system that socialism was unworkable and would collapse upon itself. American policy-makers apparently have decided to ignore this warning as it relates to our own nation.
As with communism and socialism, the interventionist-welfare system increasingly endorsed by our politicians and popular media is unworkable. Even before the current election fiasco, signs of an impasse within our system have been evident. Inevitably, a system which decides almost everything through pure democracy will sharply alienate two groups: the producers, and the recipients of the goods distributed by the popularly elected Congress.
The resulting division between American voters is the direct result of Washington's increasingly collectivist policies. Instead of moving toward a market economy and less dependency on the federal government in the midst of this so-called "prosperity,"each side in Washington continues to clamor for more of the taxpayer loot. The pretended goal of the economic planners has been economic fairness through redistribution of wealth. The real goal always has been an increasingly collectivist system which gives the federal government more and more power over our lives.
The goal of liberty has long been forgotten. An impasse was destined to come, and already signs of a fundamental conflict are evident. The presidential election in many ways demonstrates both an economic and political reality. The political stalemate mirrors the stalemate that is developing in the economy. Both eventually will cause deep division and hardship. The real problem- preserving the free market and private property rights- will worsen if ignored. The only solution offered by Washington will be more government intervention, increased spending, increased monetary inflation, more debt, and increased military interventionism throughout the world.
The financial markets now are nervously watching the impasse reached in the presidential election. Many commentators claim the most recent drop in the market is a consequence of the uncertainty surrounding the election. Although it would be a mistake to dismiss completely the influence of the election as a factor in the economy, it must be made clear that the markets and the economy are driven by something much more basic. We know that the markets have been off significantly for the past several months, and this drop was not related in any way to the presidential election. However, confidence is an important factor in the way markets work, and certainly the confusion in the Presidential election does not convey confidence in American markets to investors.
Whatever the outcome of the presidential election, the question facing America will remain the same. We must choose between liberty and collectivism. If we continue to choose collectivism, we must expect the inevitable political and economic crises which will result.