Neither of the major candidates of the upcoming US presidential election offers much hope to those who believe in individual liberty and limited government. In this post, I will outline the five things to fear most from each of them becoming President.
Five things to fear from an Obama presidency:
1. Card check. This ought to be one of the definitive issues of the election and it is worrisome that it is not. Obama supports the farcically named “Employee Free Choice Act“, which is basically a measure to drastically alter the process of forming labor unions. As of now, the decision to unionize is undertaken by the workers via the process of secret ballot. Under the proposed Act, this would be replaced by ‘card check’, that is, the signing of authorization cards. In theory this may appear fine, but in practice this will lead to illegal coercion. Basically, unionizors can keep browbeating a worker until he or she signs the card; and the moment there is a majority of signatures, unionization can take place. Not only is card check a terribly collectivist idea that will effectively allow workers to be harassed and ostracized by union leaders, it will also pave the way for the degeneration of the American labor force into militant socialism. As someone from the Indian state of West Bengal, where shut factories, labor troubles, strikes and violent unions are the norm, I can tell you that the future under this Act is bleak.
2. Fairness Doctrine. According to the fairness doctrine, broadcasters have to present issues in a balanced manner, such as by presenting equal amounts of liberal and conservative viewpoints on an issue. It is a terrible idea that rides roughshod over the basic principles of free speech and property rights. Also, as the internet era has aptly demonstrated, the free market of ideas is the best system (*). Forcibly attempting to remove perceived bias in the media does much harm and no good. Obama’s stand on the fairness doctrine has been ambivalent, and judging by his stand on other issues and the position of his Democratic friends like John Kerry (who thinks that the fairness doctrine ought to be there), there is reason to worry that this terrible law might be reinstated during his presidency.
3. Over-regulation. Obama has been long sympathetic to the idea that companies ought to be regulated more and laws such as antitrust ought to be enforced more strongly. It is a viewpoint that shows a lack of understanding of both property rights and the modern world. Much of the troubles with the global economy arise not from too little control but from too much. To give a simple example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed giants, were among the most regulated guys in the business. By contrast, relatively unregulated companies like Goldman Sachs are doing fine. As for antitrust laws, they have always done more harm than good. If history has taught us anything – if there is any lesson to be drawn from the emergence of Firefox, the toppling of the Detroit three by Toyota in US sales, the fairy-tale of Google and the ascendancy of Apple from nowhere to the pre-eminent position it is in today – it is that you cannot keep a good product down. In this age of instant dissemination of information, companies do not need the help of antitrust laws to rise to the top. And the consumer doesn’t either.
4. Broadening of hate crimes and anti-discrimination statutes. Regular readers of this blog are aware of my extreme distaste for hate speech laws and anti-discrimination statutes (when applied to private entities). They increase disharmony between communities, not bridge them. More pertinently, they violate all the fundamental freedoms of man — freedom of speech, freedom of association and property rights. As these works (, ) show, they also have other negative repurcussions. Obama wishes to expand the scope of such laws.
5. Mandatory national service. Obama’s idea of putting people to work attempts to reshape American society in a way they do not really understand, as Jim Lindgren notes here. On the surface there is nothing wrong with the proposal. Voluntary community service can be an enriching experience both for the child and the community. The trouble starts when the government steps in. The inevitable effect is the substitution of individual volunteerism by a huge bureaucratic machine that subsists on tax money. Like many bad proposals, the detrimental effects show up slowly, but when they do, they are hard to remove. Eventually, these kind of proposals convert non-governmental organizations that flourish on private philanthropy into inefficient arms of the government. Furthermore, as this article points out, those who lead these social-services groups tend to become advocates for government-funded solutions to social problems. The result is more social problems, not less. Volunteerism is a wonderful thing but to be truly voluntary and useful, it needs to be more than an arms length away from government control.
Five things to fear from a McCain presidency:
1. Country First. Don’t get me wrong, patriotism is a wonderful thing, but only when it is not forced down your throat. McCain’s entire philosophy of governance centers around the idea of a cause greater than yourself, which really means blind trust and servititude to the government of the day. McCain not only disrespects rugged individualism, he simply does not even consider it. His philosophy is a soldier’s, and God save the country which has to abide by it. As Reason pointed out once, [McCain] has lauded Teddy Roosevelt’s fight against the “unrestricted individualism” of the businessman who “injures the future of all of us for his own temporary and immediate profit.” He has long agitated for mandatory national service. His attitude toward individuals who choose paths he deems inappropriate is somewhere between inflexible and hostile. “In the Roosevelt code, the authentic meaning of freedom gave equal respect to serf-interest and common purpose, to rights and duties,” McCain writes. “And it absolutely required that every loyal citizen take risks for the country’s sake….”
2. Endless war. McCain is a warmonger if there ever was one. Much has been made of his “hundred years in Iraq” comment. More pertinently, he thinks it is entirely appropriate that the US spend millions of dollars in military bases abroad while the country suffers from financial crises at home and extreme ill-will abroad. He loves hard power but does not even understand the concept of soft power. And if he ever becomes president, a war with Iran appears certain.
3. Christianization of the US. If McCain wins, the evangelists will be the one who carry him over the top, and most certainly they will be rewarded. The Bush era has seen the reinvigoration of the obscenity law, and a ban on stem cell research. McCain will carry all these things forward. He is also likely to appoint judges who overturn Roe vs Wade (**). He will carry the war on victimless crimes forward and his VP will encourage the teaching of creationism and abstinence only sex education.
4. Further weakening of civil liberties and the First Amendment. McCain does not respect the concept of free speech. To him, it comes with caveats and clauses, and is subservient to collectivist and national interests. Here’s a real McCain quote: “I know that money corrupts…I would rather have a clean government than one where quote ‘First Amendment rights’ are being respected.” And here’s a statement from his campaign: “Neither the Administration nor the telecoms need apologize for actions that most people, except for the ACLU and the trial lawyers, understand were Constitutional and appropriate in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001.”
5. It’s the economy, stupid. Generally, Republicans are better at controlling spending and balancing the budget. But not the present-day ones. The national debt has grown tremendously during the Bush era, fuelled by wasteful spending and the war in Iraq. McCain does not even understand economics, as he has himself admitted. He is likely to continue spending on useless things like war in foreign countries and is going to continue the Bush tax cuts, which, while a good thing in principle, are incompatible with the spending he has in mind. His reaction to economic issues has been a bizarre mixture of soundbites against earmarks and populist drivel. In the last week, he has both supported and opposed government intervention, made irrelevant threats about sacking the SEC head, and called for salary-limits for CEOs. He is quite simply not the right guy to be in charge of the present crisis.
(*) This quote by a Reason commenter may be pertinent:
Dear Senator Obama
Let me tell you about something called the Internet.
It is a medium where every sort of opinion – from far left to far right and way beyond either – gets aired. And thrashed.
It is a wide open, no holds barred, forum where anyone can speak his piece and find those who agree with him. Those who don’t agree are equally free to rebut, make counter-assertions, abuse or insult the first one. They, in turn, are subject to the same give-and-take. (Try googling “flame war”.)
The internet is almost unregulated (aside from a few asinine attempts by your fellow senators and their counterparts in other countries), yet still manages to achieve this remarkable fairness.
I humbly suggest that this example should persuade you that fairness will be best achieved if the regulation of media is decreased, not increased.
Your neighbor, Aresen.
(**) Many libertarians, including many pro-choice ones, oppose Roe vs Wade and believe that the abortion issue should be decided by the state. I disagree. Some things are just too fundamental to be left to the states. The right to life is one of them. So is the right to sovereignty over one’s body. Such a right cannot be overturned by a state just as a state should not have the power to kill without cause or to make slavery legal. A foetus is not a person — but even if it were, it does not deserve full human rights for the simple reason that it is a part of someone else’s body and thus any attempt to assign rights to it obviously contradict the more important rights of the host on which it is completely dependent.