The State of Our Liberty

The state of our liberty provides the best measure of the state of our union, at least in times of relative peace. It was liberty, after all, that our union was meant to secure. And the news here is not happy. Our economic liberty is on the decline as measured by the annual Heritage report. We have fallen out of the top ten of the nations with greatest freedom to create, trade and keep the fruits of our labor. While Congress had made some cuts in discretionary spending, the entitlement state is on track to take an ever greater share of GDP. And civil liberties have hardly been advanced by the systematic snooping of the NSA.

But beyond these objective indicia, there are deeper signs of trouble for our culture of freedom. The bailout of Wall Street suggested that the government protects the financiers and the one percent. This action in turn has energized the forces of envy that are always just below the surface in a democracy. The election of Bill DiBlasio as Mayor of New York on a theme of two cities shows that the movement is taking virulent political form.

Some might argue that Tea Party shows that the founding spirit of Don’t Tread on Me is alive and well.

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Friday Roundup, January 24th

  • How should contemporary defenders of limited government and the rule of law understand and learn from the New Deal’s revolutionary movement? The current Liberty Law Talk with Gordon Lloyd, co-author with David Davenport of The New Deal & Modern American Conservatism, discusses this question.

 In 1879 . . . he published his essay “Cabinet Government in the United States,” in the International Review. Clearly influenced by his reading of Bagehot, he denounced the inefficiency of the present government by “irresponsible committees” from a “legislature which legislates with no real discussion of its business.” As Wilson saw it, the separation of powers was an obstacle to good government, rather than a guarantor of the independence of its various branches: “To the methods of representative government which have sprung from these provisions of the Constitution, by which the Convention thought so carefully to guard and limit the powers of the legislature, “he wrote, “we must look for an explanation, in a large measure, of the evils over which we now find ourselves lamenting.”

Becoming Europe

Becoming Europe
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This Liberty Law Talk is a discussion with Samuel Gregg about his most recent book, Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and How America Can Avoid a European Future. Recent events in Cyprus, to say nothing of the economic stasis that envelopes much of Europe, highlight America’s need to think deeply about the current trajectory of our fiscal and entitlements policies, among other weighty matters. Gregg’s book, however, is not merely a rehashing of dire spending problems and bankrupting entitlements and the predictably poorer future this promises, but is a discussion of the social and cultural commitments that are required to make economic freedom a reality in America. The erosion of these norms within Europe has made it much easier for the array of dirigiste economic policies pursued by so many nations on that continent. The good news, Gregg informs, is that we aren’t quite Europe. To avoid its fate America must reexamine the foundations of its own economic success and renew its commitment to them.

Additional Law & Liberty links: Theodore Dalrymple’s review of Becoming Europe.

The Continuing Decline of Economic Freedom in the US

One of the things that I watch closely each year is the United States’s rating as to economic freedom.  There are two main annually released studies – one by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal and the other by the Fraser and Cato Institutes.  Both studies have been showing the US falling.  But while the Heritage/Wall Street Journal study has the U.S. at 10, the new Fraser/Cato study has it at 18.  That is simply awful.

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Economic Freedom in the US and Canada

The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation have released the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom.  I have closely followed this Index since it was first released in 1995.  Sadly, but not unexpectedly, the United States has fallen once again.  This is another reflection of the worsening state of our polity – a decline for which, in my opinion, George Bush and the Republicans bear some responsibility and Barack Obama and the Democrats bear even more.

The United States has fallen significantly from a high of the 5th most economically free country in the world with a 81.2 in 2006 and 2007 – when it was classified as free – to the 10th most free country with a 76.3 in 2012 – now being classified merely as mostly free.

One way to think about the United States’s situation is by comparing it to Canada’s.  In the late 90s, the US would rank much higher than Canada, usually rating 15 to 20 ranks higher.  For example, in 1997, the US ranked 8, whereas Canada ranked 26.  I would sneer at our northern neighbors, with their socialized medicine and a population which seemed to deride capitalism almost as much as they resented the U.S.

But times have changed.  It took me a while to accept it, but Stephen Harper’s relative fiscal conservatism has made Canada an economically freer place, despite their more socialized medicine.  Canada is now ranked 6, with the US at 10.  Even though Canada’s government spending is awful (ranking 135 in the world), it has been improving, and combined with its other strengths, it makes Canada a relatively free place economically.

Another commonwealth country that looks strong is Australia.