America was founded on a belief in freedom and individualism. Many immigrants came here to escape persecution. Unfortunately, simultaneously, many people were also brought here under duress (African slaves) or treated with betrayal and violence (Native Americans) by the same people who sought to escape such conditions in the Old World. Despite being a land of contradictions, we have also been a land of egalitarianism and evolving opportunity.
I have always been drawn to libertarianism: “a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.” This is the ambitious vision of what my America represents. Our story has been the saga of evolution from its nascent and imperfect beginnings to a better but still imperfect state today.
The operating methods are scalable, free and individual.
To promote them, the best way for our country is to limit the size of the state and to give the maximum freedom of choice and action to the individual. This includes both personal and financial considerations. Rules and regulations limiting our actions should be kept to a minimum, consistent with the good order and safety of the community and the country. Individuals should decide how to optimize their own happiness. Limiting taxes both to maximize the wealth of the individual (to give them as much freedom to choose how to spend their money) and to minimize the resources allocated to government bureaucracy (to limit the size and extent of their authority over us ).
Is this notion even possible in today’s world?
First, individual freedom is a double-edged sword. If you get freedom of action, you also take responsibility for the results. If you spend your money lightly, it’s still up to you to feed, clothe and house yourself. You don’t have the right to “be free” and expect a system to compensate for your bad decisions. I don’t think we can accept this relationship.
We have become addicted to the “bailout”. The past quarter century has seen ever-increasing government intervention when “bad” things happen in the private sector. Government bailouts of financial institutions deemed “too big to fail” have set a terrible precedent (although this kind of policy has been around for over a century). These institutions received a significant opportunity when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed in 1999, which broke down the wall between investment banking and retail banking.
Essentially, the banks used this openness to “speculate,” putting themselves (and our deposits) at risk, then expecting the government to fix their problems when things turned sour. The reward is based on taking the risk. They got the profit on the upside and pledged the loss on the downside to the public.
We have shielded individual choices from the realities of a harsh world. Someone who builds a house on water now expects the “collective” (FEMA or some other agency) to bail it out (literally) in the event of a natural disaster. Likewise, if I fail to save, the government should not only provide a “safety net”, it should actually support me in my retirement. The difficult logical results of bad life choices are no longer a personal responsibility.
We want someone else to “de-risk” our environment. Rather than forcing the individual and the private sector to face the consequences of their actions, government now aims to minimize their liability/exposure by mitigating the possibility of failure.
Are we safer today? Perhaps yes, if we compare it to the early days of our colonial heritage. Are certain government regulatory actions successful (Clean Water Act for example)? Yes, up to a point.
The problem is that rules and constraints (even those designed to be temporary) never seem to back down. Regulations are getting stricter and stricter. There is no going back in government power. As Ronald Reagan once said, “No government voluntarily shrinks. Government programs, once started, never go away. Fundamentally, the ever-increasing nature of regulatory interference has not resulted in a “better” society.
Maybe we are more “comfortable” (on average), but what have we lost along the way?
I arrived in this region over 30 years ago and found a land of opportunity. Such is not the case today.
Between financial regulations (a byproduct of bailouts) and increasingly stringent development ordinances and building codes, I doubt it’s possible to start from scratch and build the businesses I have over the years. of this period. Certainly, something else would have opened up, but those specific operations that employed hundreds of people, facilitated the growth of other businesses and supported my family would be seized.
Instead of opportunity (trying and succeeding or failing and then trying again) we now want to make everyone equal (not give them an equal chance because that implies the possibility of failure and that is anathema today today).
We now demand that life be “just” and build a society on this premise. However, this is not how the world works (neither by the divine hand of God nor by the evolutionary nature of nature). Life can be wonderful, but it’s often a tough mistress.
Our place in the world is defined by who we choose to become (or at least that’s how it should work). We do ourselves a disservice when we mitigate the consequences of bad choices and make everyone a “winner”. Life is not a participatory sport; it is fierce competition. Companies that do not follow these rules are ultimately destined for the “ash heap of history”.
Dave Clark is an entrepreneur and former Councilor of Kingsport.