Bounty of Freedom

Originally Published In:

Fairfield County Weekly (12/4/2008) Link

Imagine the frustration of the first Yankees, struggling mightily to convince their Puritanical brethren that private property — not communal wealth-sharing — brings prosperity, freedom and enlightenment. Were they mocked, burned as witches or simply ignored?

How did they eventually sway the masses to their view? Not just temporarily, in a fine-whatever kind of agreement, but as the kind of deep change that, within just a handful of generations, saw the Puritans evolve into the rugged Yankees that would pen the world's first written constitution, establish individual freedoms, protect private property and free speech and eventually revolt against the British?

Without those first Yankees, likely our ancestral forefathers would have been wiped out, much like the French Calvinists who had landed in Florida half a century earlier (about whom we never hear) were wiped out by a Spanish slaughter.

Last week, we celebrated Thanksgiving, and though Connecticut was one of the first places to have an annual day of thanks, the very first thanksgiving was of course in Massachusetts. There, after several years of disappointing harvests under a communal, share-the-wealth regime, the desperate settlers tried liberty as a last resort. Each family was allowed to keep the crops they grew on their own plots of land. Suddenly, those who had been deemed too weak or ill or elderly to work the communal fields were out at dawn. The resulting abundance of food the next harvest, a surprise to them and socialists everywhere, caused a celebratory feast. Similar stories took place in other parts of the new world.

We are living in a similar world today. We spend trillions bailing out wealthy institutions out of a sense of "systemic" or "communal" risk. We spend trillions on maintaining a global empire because it is supposedly every American's duty to ensure democracy exists in any and every place on Earth. We redistribute trillions more from productive workers to the weak or ill or elderly rather than simply lifting restrictions that prevent them from working or being cared for by loved ones.

How did those early libertarians change the minds of the most stringent communalists ever to be found? How can we change the minds of the modern ones today?

Morality also seems to be self-serving — in other words, what we believe tends to be what helps us get what we want. If we want minimum wage laws, unemployment insurance, state-sponsored health care and retirement benefits, then we will tend to believe that government ought to provide those things. We will use terms like "safety net" or "share the wealth."

We are now seeing the cost of such beliefs: unlimited government. If your beliefs allow the government to do whatever the government claims is in the public interest, then you have provided a moral justification for the invasion of Iraq, the infringement of our civil liberties, the inflation of the dollar and the bailout of industry.

Fortunately in Massachusetts, the crumpling of communalism did not mean deterioration into anarchy — which is not libertarianism; it's a total lack of government and law. Libertarianism, the Yankee belief in private ownership of property, requires a government to protect that property. That is the proper role of government, nothing more and nothing less.

In colonial Massachusetts, the government simply collapsed to the essentials. It would be as if the federal government today simply abolished the departments of energy, labor, education, transportation, and homeland security, the Federal Reserve, the Securities and Exchange Commission and a bevy of other unnecessary bureaucracy, withdrew all troops from foreign lands, repealed the Patriot Act and similar legislation — if it basically came back to its constitutional limits.

In that situation, we could again experience a Thanksgiving miracle by next year's harvest as investment and credit boomed, innovation exploded and profits were kept by those who earned them.

With the recent ratcheting up of federal debt and government spending, a collapse is inevitable, and in a collapse, chaos is likely. If we are as lucky as the pilgrims, we may yet find freedom again.