The Democratic Process and the Genius of a Free Market: Safeguards of Liberty

“To solve the serious problems facing our country, we need to minimize the harm from legislative inertia by relying more on automatic policies and depoliticized commissions for certain policy decisions. In other words, radical as it sounds, we need to counter the gridlock of our political institutions by making them a bit less democratic.”

“I think we ought to suspend, perhaps, elections for Congress for two years and just tell them we won’t hold it against them, whatever decisions they make, to just let them help this country recover. I really hope that someone can agree with me on that. You want people who don’t worry about the next election.”

Those rather frightening statements weren’t made somewhere in Europe. There weren’t made somewhere in South America, or somewhere in Asia. They were made right here in the United States of America. The first, by former Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag, and the second, by the current governor of North Carolina, Beverly Perdue.

First of all, let me say this to the governor of North Carolina: You nervous about this upcoming election or something, Madam Governor? Those certainly don’t sound like the words of a politician confident in her party’s ability to win in 2012. How dire a situation the Democratic party must be in if the suggestion is made that elections be halted; I’d say there’s a real fear that the American people just might fire them in the next round. Just look at our dismal economic situation…. who wouldn’t fire the ones in charge?

With those comments still fresh in my mind, I watched the news this morning as the “Occupy Wall Street” protests (which have, incidentally, turned into a conglomerate of ragtag protests including but not limited to: the environmentalist movement, anti-capitalist movements, anti-business movements, anti-virtually anything our country typically stands for) raged on for the third week in a row. I watched young people being asked why they stood there in protest. A few of the clips that I saw showed these individuals stating that they wanted to dismantle or get rid of capitalism and replace it with something more “fair.” You know, I think it’s quite interesting that so many of the people interviewed were just kids. Late teens; early to mid twenties- in other words, very, very little in the way of life experience, and certainly no time to have actually given “making it” in the business world a shot, yet they sit and criticize a system they haven’t even really tried, but from which they have absolutely benefited.

Let me pose the following question to the governor, the former director, and every protestor lining the streets of New York (including you, hypocritical millionaires Susan Sarandon and Michael Moore):

Why do you think that you are allowed to protest as you are without any fear? Why do you think, Madam Governor, that you are allowed to get away with uttering such dissident commentary regarding government? The same goes for you, Mr. Orszag.

You are free to say, think, and do these things precisely because we live in a nation that is so people-centered. We are unique among nations because our Constitution delineates not what the people cannot do; but rather, what the government cannot do! This system not only protects the people from the government, but allows for the people to essentially “take the wheel” of the government. How dangerous a place it would be if in fact our people had less say in the workings of government. Yes, we can at times see the legislative process slowed by debate and discussion as part of the democratic process. Is this not preferable to simply having a committee or individual “on high” pass laws at will, without any input from the people themselves and the individuals they have elected to government? Many nations have tried this. Monarchies have been in existence for thousands of years. Where the monarchy has fallen either due to unrest within the royal family or uprising from the people, often a similar system goes into place that represents a change “in-name-only,” while the people remain as bound to the government as before. I always point to the French revolution as a superb example. The monarchy fell violently at the hands of those who touted messages of freedom from tyranny. The government was eventually replaced with the “Comité De Salut Public,” (Committee of Public Safety) a board of deputies that each oversaw a region of France with iron hands. They had succeeded in breaking up the monarchy and the absolute power it represented into twelve equal parts. It never really went away, and the people’s freedom never really came. Another example is that of the Russian revolution. The Russian people had been kept in literal serfdom all the way up into the 20th century, and when in pent-up frustration they tossed out the old system, it was replaced by a Bolshevik reign that, while it “came from the people” had no limitations placed on it to keep it from abusing the power it wielded. These are excellent examples of people becoming the very power they so fervently wanted to abolish. It is the very system you criticize, Madam Governor, Director Orszag, and countless protestors, that keeps this from happening here.

America’s story is a different one. When the learned minds of our Founders, who had studied with great care the rise and fall of empires before them, came together to draft the precepts of what would become the United States of America, they recognized the potential for abuse by the government if left unchecked. They recognized this potential because they acknowledged the nature of mankind. They knew that governments had toppled before them only to be replaced with the same sort of abuses in different clothing; they knew that nations in the future would see the same fate (as discussed with the French and Russian revolutions). Men yearn to be free from the yoke of government, yet unless specific, delineated confines are placed on government, these same people, once yearning for freedom, can turn right around and sit at the helm of oppression. Our democratic process; that is, the debates, the arguments, the elections, the speeches, is what keeps needless government regulation at bay. (We’ve seen, especially recently, that such needless regulation has become rampant; however, this is not because of our system; this is because of a disregard for it by our elected officials.) If committees and individuals (re the “automatic processes” Orszag alluded to in his article) in Washington had the power to simply dream up legislation and sign frivolously away, what dire, dire straights we would be in.

The aforementioned system cannot function without an economic model that coincides with these principles. You see, the system of government that our Founders put into action recognizes the inherent tendency of mankind to want to obtain power, and once obtained, to subsequently abuse said power (regardless of whether or not this is what they set out to do.) As Lord Acton so wisely said: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This is a fact of life. We all possess these tendencies, and we see this in our everyday fight to strive to do the right thing despite what “feels good” or “feels right.” The Founders’ recognition of mankind’s tendencies prompted them to put limits on our government to allow for freedom to prosper, especially in the marketplace. The capitalist system recognizes these same tendencies in mankind, and harnesses them for the good. It’s a concept known as “rational selfishness” that makes capitalism work so well. You see, very few people go out on a limb, start a business, invest hard-earned money and precious time with the purpose of helping out their fellow man. That’s a nice sentiment, but they do it because they’d like to climb the ladder of economic success to better their life. This sounds selfish, and that’s because it technically is. It’s “rationally selfish.” Yet in acting on this sentiment of rational selfishness, you are (whether you plan to or not) aiding the community wherever you may be by creating jobs, and by providing the community with a good or service rendered from your efforts. Granted, there are some people in the world that do in fact work with the main purpose of helping others, and that is wonderful, The point is, contrary to the way business has been portrayed by this Wall Street protests, the success and subsequent profits garnered by these businesses do not occur in a vacuum.

I’ll leave you with the following thoughts:

On the Democratic Process:

Would you rather have fiery debates and drawn out legislative processes……or an all-powerful ruler and his or her regime who could quickly bring about legislative decisions, whether good or bad? Choose wisely- freedom lost is not easily regained.

On Capitalism:

What fosters ingenuity: A system in which everyone has the same shot at success, or a system in which everyone gets the same mediocre outcome by default?

On Class Warfare:

What’s fairer: Have everyone pay the same percentage of their income in taxes whether rich or poor, or have the most successful shoulder the burden of maintaining the least successful?

Open the pages of history. You’ll find the answer.

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