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September 27, 2006

Freedom and Equality: They Go Together

by Carl S. Milsted, Jr.

I am a freedom lover. I hate taxes, paperwork, and standing in lines. When people talk about having more “community” and “democracy” I think of long boring parliamentary gatherings, and having to ask everyone’s permission before being able to do anything. Bleah!

For these reasons I was one strongly repelled by the Left, and most of my fellow freedom lovers still are to this day. Some are in the Libertarian Party; more are in the Republican Party, making a Faustian bargain with the Right.
It took a while, but I eventually learned that siding with the Right is a huge mistake. Throughout history, the bigger enemy of liberty has been the political Right: the aristocrats, the slave owners, and the mercantilists. Adam Smith was a liberal, and not just in the classical liberal sense of calling for more liberty. He also called for more economic equality. He attacked the industrial policies of his day which enriched the privileged. He stood against the feudal barons. He described policies which would reduce business profits and increase wages.

Much of this has been forgotten. The forces of economic freedom have been corrupted by their alliance with the Right against the menace of Marxism.

A free society requires more equality than we have today. A large gap between rich and poor requires a police state to enforce property rights. When most property is owned by the few, then fewer respect the institution of private property, and socialists gain strength at the ballot box. When capitalism is limited to a few mega corporations, then there are fewer capitalists voting to preserve the capitalist system. Libertarians should be allies with those who prefer locally owned small businesses to chains of big block stores.

But the Left has made a similar error. Equality requires freedom. It is good to be the dictator. It is better to be the dictator for the proletariat. Where Marxists succeeded in centralizing all power and ownership to the state, the result was party leaders with enough power to make a god-emperor envious.

This was not the intent. But it was the inevitable result. Centralize all ownership and the leader gets incredible power. Attempts to mix centralized power with democracy break down because democracy is inefficient. When government has limited responsibilities, this inefficiency can be tolerated. When government is in charge of everything, a strong executive is necessary.

This contradiction even affects the much more moderate Left in the U.S. Many of the central planning programs celebrated by the Left in this country have actually led to greater concentrations of power and wealth. This is a big subject, requiring much delving into economics, so I will leave it to future columns.

For now, I want to leave you with this thought: freedom-lovers and egalitarians need to start working together again. It is time to put the liberty back into liberal, and to put liberal into libertarian.

Carl S. Milsted, Jr. is a senior editor of The Free Liberal.





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