If you attend any conservative conference, I will guarantee you that you will encounter the following mantra countless times: “free enterprise, private property, and limited government.”
You will hear it in speeches, read it in brochures, hear it in casual conversations, and see it prominently displayed at exhibit booths. It is the guiding mantra of the conservative movement.
There is just one big problem with that popular conservative mantra: The policies and programs that conservatives embrace and support violate the mantra.
Let’s look at some examples.
1. The drug war. How in the world can drug laws be reconciled with “free enterprise”? Enterprise means commercial or economic activity that is free of government control and regulation. That’s why it’s called “free” enterprise.
Genuine free enterprise entails the right of people to buy and sell whatever they want, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, bourbon, cigarettes, or anything else that might be considered harmful to a person.
2. Public schooling. How can this government-owned and government-operated apparatus be reconciled with “free enterprise”? In fact, conservatives also love to tell people that they are anti-socialism. Really? Then why do they support public schooling? It’s harder to find a more socialistic program than that, which is precisely why this government program is found in Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, and other socialist nations. A genuine free enterprise system would be one in which people were free to sell and buy educational services and that would be entirely free of government intervention.
3. Immigration. It’s impossible for conservatives to reconcile their old mantra with their support of immigration controls and their decades-long war on immigrants. Why shouldn’t foreigners and American employers be free to enter into mutually beneficial transactions with each other? Isn’t that what “free enterprise” means? Why doesn’t the owner of a business have the right to hire whomever he wants? Isn’t it his business and his money? How are immigration raids on private businesses reconcilable with that part of the conservative mantra that refers to “private property”? How is the Berlin Wall type of fence that conservatives (and progressives) have built along the southern border consistent with “free enterprise”? Indeed, how are the internal passport checks along U.S. highways consistent with “limited government”?
4. Tariffs, embargoes, and sanctions. Again, there isn’t any way to reconcile that good old conservative mantra with these programs. The government punishes people for engaging freely with others in trade. Consider Cuba, for example. If an American travels to Cuba and spends money there, the U.S. government puts him in jail, thanks to the old Cold War conservative embargo against Cuba. That’s about as consistent with “free enterprise” as Fidel Castro’s economic policies are.
5. Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Speaking of Cuba, these three socialistic programs are also core elements of Cuba’s socialist system. Yet, conservatives love, embrace, and support them. How is a socialistic program consistent with “free enterprise, private property, and limited government”? Indeed, how is forcing people to care for others consistent with the principles of freedom?
6. Economic regulations. Again, “free” enterprise means freedom from regulation, not freedom to regulate. Yet, conservatives love prosecuting people for violating inane economic regulations, such as insider-trading laws.
7. Empire, militarism, and the national-security state apparatus. There is no way that an enormous standing army, overseas military empire, CIA, and NSA can even remotely be reconciled with the third leg of that favorite conservative mantra—“limited government.” That’s why a powerful military and intelligence apparatus is always found in totalitarian countries. It certainly didn’t form the basis of the American government at our nation’s founding as a republic.
The national-security state didn’t come into existence until the Cold War but, thanks to conservatives, it didn’t go out of existence when the Cold War ended. It has brought torture, assassination, indefinite detention, MKULTRA, invasions, occupations, foreign meddling, foreign aid, regime-change operations, support of dictatorships, partnerships with criminal organizations, massive surveillance, terrorism, and extreme paranoia to our land.
What conservatives fail to realize is that one must choose: a free society or a national-security state. You can’t have both.
Indeed, when we add up all the socialistic and totalitarian-like programs and policies that conservatives adore, they all add up to one gigantic government with omnipotent powers, one that is about as far from “limited” government as one can get.
So, why do conservatives continue to spout that old tried and true mantra — “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” — at their conferences, in their speeches and articles, and on their websites?
Over the years, as they were abandoning the genuine principles of economic liberty, conservatives just kept telling themselves that they really weren’t abandoning their principles, just coming up with “free-enterprise reforms.” They also figured that if they could inculcate their children and other people’s children with the false notion that all this was “freedom,” they could get away with their new life of the lie.
What conservatives didn’t figure on though was us libertarians. We libertarians know what conservatives have done and continue to do, and we expose it. A life genuinely devoted to “free enterprise, private property, and limited government” entails a consistent and ardent opposition to all the socialistic, regulatory, and interventionist programs and to the old Cold War national-security state apparatus, along with its imperialist and interventionist foreign policy.
Conservatives will undoubtedly go on spouting their “free enterprise, private property, limited government” mantra at their conferences, in their articles and books, and on their websites. But deep down in their hearts, they know that we libertarians are right.
Young people are certainly figuring it out. They’ve leaving the conservative movement in droves and joining up with us libertarians. Why live a life of the lie when one can live a life of truth and principle, a life genuinely devoted to free enterprise, private property, and limited government?
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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