One of the more common polls taken to qualify the mood of a nation asks participants if they feel their country is headed in the right direction. These polls have fetched depressing results for quite some time in America.
Rasmussen’s right direction/wrong track poll has never recorded a majority or even a plurality of Americans saying the USA is going in the right direction since it started in 2009. The closest was a 47-47% split between right and wrong in the days just after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president. Those numbers have since reverted closer to their more typical 2:1 wrong track supermajority.
Whether favorable or not, it’s a bit hard to say what kind of road America is currently on. The people are incredibly divided, and with Trump seemingly flip-flopping on many of his campaign pledges, unpredictability is the only sure thing.
Assuming absolute isolationism and colonial conquest are outside the realm of possibility, I say that there are four roads a country can take (with obvious shades of grey). Let’s define a few terms and see how they translate into those four roads:
Interventionist–Government actively seeks to manage conflicts and correct ills confined within nations abroad.
Non-Interventionist–Government only concerned with foreign affairs that involve massive and deliberate human rights violations (ex: genocide, enslavement) and obvious encroachments across national borders (ex: military invasions), though hesitant even when those circumstances appear to arise.
Planned (economy)–Government regulates, subsidizes, and taxes all sectors of the economy liberally, supposedly in accordance with public will or public benefit.
Free Market–Government has strictly limited role in otherwise privately or locally operated economy.
The Four Roads
|Foreign Policy/Economic Policy
|2. Free Market/
|4. Free Market/
The United States of America is currently in quadrant 1, and this is not controversial to say. We bombed seven countries last year, none of which pose any kind of threat to our national security. There are American troops stationed in about 150 of the world’s nations. We are also the United Nations’ top donor (by far) and most consequential member.
At the state, federal, and local levels, our governments spend $7 trillion per year, close to half of our $16.77 trillion total GDP. Washington accounts for $4.1 trillion of that spending. The federal government has an effective monopoly on the student loan industry, is constantly inching towards complete control over healthcare and health insurance, and spent nearly $2 trillion on bailouts for the auto and banking industries and an economic stimulus package at the beginning of the Great Recession. Throw in the farm and energy subsidies, and it’s pretty clear that we are far from a real free market economy (though we are relatively free compared to the rest of the world).
This is the worst of all four tracks illustrated above. Planned economies don’t work and neither does world-policing. The first leads to shortages and surpluses where there shouldn’t be; the second leads to terrorism, domestic unrest, and debt.
The United States was founded on peace and commerce with nations abroad and private property rights at home, meaning we should ideally be in quadrant 4. As a Libertarian, it should be no surprise to anyone that I feel this way, and it is not the main point of this piece.
What I most strongly desire to say here is that quadrants 3 & 4 are more preferable than quadrants 1 & 2. In other words, searching for monsters to slay around the world is more harmful than free markets are helpful.
This is especially true in a large, resource-rich nation like America where there will always be ways to survive and thrive on the black market. Drugs are illegal, but they aren’t hard to come by or particularly expensive. The same goes for prostitutes, copyrighted digital entertainment, and illegal modifications for firearms and automobiles. Why would other restricted and regulated products and services be any different? A truly planned economy would make everything worse, but we would survive reasonably well before, during, and after the government’s inevitable collapse.
War, on the other hand, is not within our control. Civilians cannot simply walk down a dark alley or into a speakeasy and demand military action to be halted. Our “civilian controlled” armed forces take their orders from our unconstitutionally, over-empowered elected officials. We are disconnected from the command center.
War also threatens our privacy and societal cohesion. Surveillance, security, and limitations on speech and travel are all byproducts of keeping us safe from the enemies beyond our borders and assailants within.
~Are your neighbors working with the enemy? Were they even born here?~
These practical matters are not even the primary reason interventionism is worse than losing economic liberty. What’s most important to recognize is that interventionism is morally abhorrent. No nation has the right to tell another nation what to do. Groups of people who endow their governments and institutions with the right to govern them are responsible for deciding how they are governed. No one else is entitled to any say. How would you like it if a group of armed men barged through your door regardless of your consent to settle disagreements between you and your loved ones however they saw fit? You wouldn’t like it because it’s none of their business. They have no right.
Even if we were to suffer through a Communist calamity, at least we’d be doing it to ourselves, not others. Interventionism is, by definition, messing with other people. If being virtuous means anything anymore, enslaving yourself is preferable to enslaving others.
In short, how our economy is managed (or hopefully unmanaged) is less important than being strict about using our military for essential purposes only. I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face for deregulation, repealing the minimum wage, and lowering taxes. But I’ll take the alternative over regime change in Syria in a heartbeat.