Presidential Hopefuls Ignore Key Pro-Freedom Principles

wrmngrsThese are hard times for advocates of peace and free enterprise. As the 2016 presidential campaign heats up, where can we turn — if we must turn somewhere? Neither Republicans nor Democrats have much to offer voters who both favor free markets and agrees with James Madison that “of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other.”

One need only watch the Republican “debates” to see this. Who among the contenders represents the strain in American politics that combines Adam Smith, the 18th-century Scottish champion of the “system of natural liberty,” and William Graham Sumner, the turn-of-the-20th-century classical-liberal sociologist who opposed America’s conversion to a global imperial power?

Both men forged some of the most important pro-liberty principles of the American tradition. Smith opposed government privileges for business, such as monopolistic trade restrictions, and Sumner condemned the progressive liberals’ embrace of old-world militarism. Both understood that political power was the source of most social ills, and their prescription was the same: roll back that power as much as possible in order to unleash individual energy and, in the words of another thinker in this tradition (Albert Jay Nock), “social power.”

The recent three-hour Republican spectacle conspicuously lacked this perspective. We heard essentially nothing about freedom and free markets but much about military power, foreign intervention, and war. When Donald Trump disparaged free international trade, promising to negotiate tough beggar-our-neighbor “deals,” no one refuted his protectionism and touted the justice and tangible benefits of free-flowing goods and capital. And when he disparaged immigration, again no one refuted his nativism and touted the justice and tangible benefits of free people pursuing better lives. Nor did anyone note that under free enterprise, employers aren’t forced to run job candidates’ names through a government database.

A low point in the debate came when Jeb Bush bragged that as governor of Florida he stopped Trump from building a casino in the state. No one on stage criticized Bush for using government power to thwart free enterprise, just as no one complained that Trump used eminent domain to take people’s homes.

Similarly, Ben Carson defended raising the minimum wage. But if you were waiting for someone to mention that a government-mandated minimum wage violates market principles and prices unskilled workers out of jobs, you heard only crickets instead.

On foreign policy, not one Republican stood up for principled peaceful nonintervention, although Sen. Rand Paul cautioned that intervention can backfire. Several Republicans called for confrontation with Russia, branded China an “enemy,” and portrayed President Obama, who’s dropping bombs and otherwise facilitating conflict all over the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia, as a peacenik. Republicans haven’t learned that U.S. intervention incubated and spread the Islamic terrorism they are so eager to send others to fight.

They all seem especially eager for a war of aggression against Iran even though it has not been building a nuclear bomb (American and Israeli intelligence agree) and has accepted unprecedented anytime inspections of — and major reductions in — its civilian nuclear industry. In return, economic sanctions will be lifted and assets unfrozen, though Republicans falsely imply that Americans will foot the bill. Republicans tell the most outrageous lies about Iran and the nuclear deal, a strategy that can only serve to prepare Americans for a catastrophic war. (Republicans ignore that Iran’s animosity to the United States began with the CIA’s overthrow of a democratic Iranian government in 1953 and restoration to power of a brutal monarch.)

Rand Paul might seem to be an exception in all this, but is he really? He speaks generally about limiting government power, and to his credit he has protested Obama’s drone warfare against American citizens and mass surveillance. But in many ways Paul muddies the message. While he cautions against foreign intervention, he has joined the worst hawks in demonizing Iran and trashing the nuclear agreement. And while he speaks some wisdom about the oppressive the drug war, especially its toll on poor minorities, he would force people into rehabilitation. In the debates held so far, Paul has passed up opportunities to promote free immigration and free enterprise.

For peace and freedom lovers, it’ll be a long road to Nov. 8, 2016.

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