Rhetoric Alert

One of the things I share with libertarians and conservatives is the belief in the importance of economic freedom (though how I conceptualize its relationship to political freedom appears to be different philosophically). Thus I share their concerns about erosions of economic freedom as a part of a larger concern with freedom. However, for me, political freedom is more fundamental, and more important, and thus the ‘health’ of our political institutions and political culture by far the more important. During the past few years, there has been a great deal of anticipatory campaign rhetoric devised to suggest that we are now living or will soon be living in a socialist state. If such talk were true, it would warrant a certain degree of urgency. But there is a huge difference between the economy being in bad shape and economic freedom being at risk. If you look at the Heritage Foundation country rankings for economic freedom (which I appeal to not because it is without flaw but because this is an internal criticism), we get a more sane picture of what is at stake. According to it, Barack Obama’s America is seventh in the world in economic freedom. Now I think that the better lesson to take away here is that this is so high that making economic freedom a campaign issue is somewhat silly. But if one were to make an issue out of it, consider that when George W. Bush took office in 2000, the ranking was eighth. Did we shoot from there into the stratosphere of liberty, only to be dragged back down by Mr. Obama? Well, perhaps. When Mr. Bush left office, we were ranked fifth. Our relative economic freedom has fallen by two positions as a result (we assume) of Mr. Obama’s policies. Or perhaps economic liberalization has intensified in New Zealand, Canada and Switzerland? Do I need to spell out the sheer silliness of regarding a minor reshuffling of positions within the ten most economic liberalized countries in the world as an apocalyptic struggle between the forces of freedom and tyranny? If anyone should be upset here, it should be the Left, which, of course, it is. It may seem counter-intuitive that the economy is in such bad shape and yet so economically free (I have argued elsewhere in this blog that this is essentially due to bad monetary policy prior to 2008), but it would seem that the burden is on the Right to explain that, not the Left. We do have serious problems here, of course: in the short term, unemployment, and in the longer term, fiscal soundness. But for better or worse, you still live in a largely capitalist country in which there is broad consensus between the two parties about the basic form the system should take, plus or minus some tweaking at the edges and some essentially symbolic political issues. Perhaps you think you have been betrayed because you really believed that Mr. Obama was going to introduce socialism and he didn’t. Or maybe you think you have been betrayed because you think he already did. Either way (if I may crib a line from The Last Psychiatrist) you are being lied to, by yourself.


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