Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Road to Liberty - 12 Principles

The following is excerpted from "A Time For Truth", a book published in 1978 and written by former Secretary of the Treasury, William E. Simon. That these words were written 30 years ago should give every American reason to wonder if we have learned nothing from our past. The principles contained here reflect true wisdom and reveal a sound platform for the resuscitation of free enterprise and for conservative political activism that is essential today if we are to stop the slide of America into the liberal abyss of moral relativism. These guiding principles offered by Simon should aide in developing positive conservative talking points and underlying principles. It is essential that we return to sound economic policies as a people and as a government. There can be no mistake in applying the formula because political freedom and economic freedom are inexorably linked. At no time in America's history have these freedoms been in greater danger of being lost than at this present moment.

1. The overriding principle to be revived in American political life is that which sets individual liberty as the highest political value — that value to which all other values are subordinate and that which, at all times, is to be given the highest priority in policy discussions.

2. There must be a conscious philosophical prejudice against any intervention by the state into our lives, for by definition such intervention abridges liberty. Whatever form it may take, state intervention in the private and productive lives of the citizenry must be presumed to be negative, uncreative, and a dangerous act, to be adopted only when its proponents provide overwhelming and incontrovertible evidence that the benefits to society of such intervention far outweigh the costs.

3. The principle of "no taxation without representation" must again become a rallying cry for Americans. Only Congress represents American voters, and the process of transferring regulatory powers — which are a hidden power to tax — to unelected, uncontrollable, and unfireable bureaucrats must stop. The American voters, who pay the bills, must be in a position to know what is being economically inflicted on them and in a position to vote men out of office who assault their interests, as the voters define those interests. Which means that Congress should not pass bills creating programs that it cannot effectively oversee. The drive to demand scrupulous legislative oversight of our policing agencies, such as the CIA, is valid; it should be extended to all agencies of government which are also, directly or indirectly, exercising police powers.

4. A critical principle which must be communicated forcefully to the American public is the inexorable interdependence of economic and political liberty. Our citizens must learn that what keeps them prosperous is production and technological innovation. Their wealth emerges, not from government offices or politicians' edicts, but only from that portion of the marketplace which is free. They must also be taught to understand the relationship among collectivism, centralized planning, and poverty so that every new generation of Americans need not naively receive the Marxist revelation afresh.

5. Bureaucracies themselves should be assumed to be noxious, authoritarian parasites on society, with a tendency to augment their own size and power and to cultivate a parasitical clientele in all classes of society. Area after area of American life should be set free from their blind power drive. We commonly hear people call for a rollback of prices, often unaware that they are actually calling for the destruction of marginal businesses and jobs they furnish. People must be taught to start calling for the rollback of bureaucracy, where nothing will be lost but strangling regulation and where the gains will always take the form of liberty, productivity, and jobs.

6. Productivity and the growth of productivity must be the first economic consideration at all times, not the last. That is the source of technological innovation, jobs, and wealth. This means that profits needed for investment must be respected as a great social blessing, not as social evil, and that envy of the "rich" cannot be allowed to destroy a powerful economic system.

7. The concept that "wealth is theft" must be repudiated. It now lurks, implicitly, in most of the political statements we hear. Wealth can indeed be stolen, but only after it is produced. and the difference between stolen wealth and produced wealth is critical. If a man obtains money by fraud or by force, he is simply a criminal to be handled by the police and the courts. But if he has earned his income honorably, by the voluntary exchange of goods and services, he is not a criminal or a second-hand citizen and should not be treated as such. A society taught to perceive producers as criminals will end up destroying its productive processes.

8. Conversely, the concept that the absence of money implies some sort of virtue should be repudiated. Poverty may result from honest misfortune, but it may result from sloth, incompetence, and dishonesty. Again, the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor is important. It is a virtue to assist those who are in acute need through no fault of their own, but it is folly to glamorize men simply because they are penniless. The crude linkage between wealth and evil, poverty and virtue is false, stupid, and of value only to demagogues, parasites, and criminals — indeed, the three groups that alone have profited from the linkage

9. Similarly, the view that government is virtuous and producers are evil is a piece of folly, and a nation which allows itself to be tacitly guided by these illusions must lose both its liberty and its wealth. Government has its proper functions, and consequently, there can be both good and bad governments. Producers as well can be honest and dishonest. Our political discourse can be rendered rational only when people are taught to make such discriminations.

10. The "ethics" of egalitarianism must be repudiated. Achievers must not be penalized or parasites rewarded if we aspire to be a healthy, productive, and ethical society. Able bodied citizens must work to sustain their lives, and in a healthy economic system they would be enabled and encouraged to save for their own old age. Chiefly, so long as the government’s irrational fiscal policies make this impossible, present commitments to pensions and Social Security must be maintained at all costs, for the bulk of the population has no other recourse. But as soon as is politically feasible — meaning, as soon as production becomes the nation’s highest economic value — the contributions of able-bodied citizens to their own future pensions should be invested by them in far safer commercial institutions, where the sums can earn high interest without being squandered by politicians and bureaucrats. American citizens must be taught to wrest their life savings from the politicians if they are to know the comfort of genuine security.

11. The American citizen must be made aware that today a relatively small group of people is proclaiming its purposes to be the will of the People. That elitist approach to the government must be repudiated. There is no such thing as the People; it is a collectivist myth. There are only individual citizens with individual wills and individual purposes. There is only one social system that reflects this sovereignty of the individual: the free-market, or capitalist system, which means the sovereignty of the individual "vote" in the marketplace and the sovereignty of the individual in the political realm. That individual sovereignty is being destroyed in this country by our political trends, and it is scarcely astonishing that individuals now feel "alienated" from their government. They are alienated from it; they have virtually been expelled from the governmental process, where only organized mobs prevail.

12. The growing cynicism about democracy must be combated by explaining why it has become corrupted. People have been taught that if they can get together big enough gangs, they have the legal power to hijack other citizens' wealth, which means the power to hijack other people's efforts, energies, and lives. No decent society can function when men are given such power. A State does need funds, but a clear cutoff line must be established beyond which no political group or institution can confiscate a citizen’s honorably earned property. The notion that one can differentiate between "property rights" and "human rights" is ignoble. One need merely see the appalling condition of "human rights" in nations where there are no "property rights" to understand why. This is just a manifestation of the socialist myth which imagines that one can keep men’s minds free while enslaving their bodies.

These are some of the broad principles I have reached after four years in office. Essentially they are a set of guiding principles. America is foundering for the lack of principles; it is now guided by the belief that unprincipled action — for which the respectable name is "pragmatism" — is somehow superior. Such principles as I have listed do not represent dogma. There is, as I said, nothing arbitrary or dogmatic about the interlocking relationship between political and economic liberty. The history of every nation on earth demonstrates that relationship, and no economist known to me, including the theoreticians of interventionism and totalitarianism, denies this. If liberty is to be our highest political value, this set of broad principles follow consistently."

William E. Simon. A Time For Truth, McCraw-Hill Book Company, 1978, p. 217

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