The Ultimate Battle of Freedom and Socialism… Winner Take All

by | May 11, 2022 |

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Patrick Henry once said, “Give me Liberty or give me death,” and there was a time when this was the prevailing vision of our country. That time has passed, and today we are deeply divided. I want to explore that division.

There are two reasons our nation is so thoroughly divided today: time and values.

Time is the reason both sides in every debate have so many different sets of facts; in economics, a given policy often has very different short-term and long-term consequences. As an example, look at the use of gas taxes to fund road maintenance.

The demand for gasoline is very inelastic in the short term, which means that demand moves very little even when prices move a great deal (which is why everyone is putting Joe Biden ‘I did that’ stickers on gas pumps). No matter what happens to gas prices, in the near term, people still have to get to work and have no choice but to still buy about the same amount of gas as before.

Gasoline is, however, very elastic in the long term, meaning that gasoline demand changes a great deal in response to price changes in the long run, as over time, people move closer to work and buy more fuel-efficient cars.

It works the other way, too… we prefer bigger cars with more amenities when gas prices are low relative to our incomes.

Our behaviors change a great deal as gas prices change, but it takes time.

Because of the elasticity of demand for gasoline, which is inelastic in the short term but elastic in the long term, gasoline taxes generate a lot of revenue in the short term but often cause a reduction in revenue in the long term ⏤ when less gasoline is used.

Similarly, the demand for labor is very inelastic in the short term and very elastic in the long term. Someone looking short term will focus on the immediate effect of a minimum wage: more wages in the hands of the least skilled workers. Someone looking long term will see a very different effect: more low-skilled workers are priced out of the workforce. Both sides can point to legitimate studies that support their positions ⏤ because the short-term and long-term consequences are very different.

The time frame someone focuses on, be it short or long term, affects the data they choose to base their opinions on, and this has a huge impact on what someone will believe about the world around them. Long-term thinkers tend to prefer free people in free markets. Short-term thinkers tend to look for government solutions to all problems. To the short-term thinker, the long-term thinker wants to ignore society’s problems and is a heartless bastard. To the long-term thinker, the short-term thinker causes far more problems than they solve.

They are both right, from their own perspectives.

The second thing that divides our country is a difference in values. Some people value liberty over equality of outcomes, and others value equality of outcomes over liberty. Those who value equality over liberty will see different outcomes for different groups and assume that some form of privilege must exist. They will point to the gender pay gap, for example, and tell you that we have a male-dominated, paternalistic society. Those who value liberty over equality might look deeper and will point out that men work on average more hours than do women and that when you factor out all factors other than discrimination, by looking at only people who have never been married or had children, for example, women make more on average than men. Liberty lovers will say that as long as the gender pay gap is caused by choices people freely make, it is not a problem. Those who put equality first will then point out that women only work fewer hours and make other decisions than men because women are raised in a paternalistic society that has different expectations of men than of women, and that we must change society’s values to make men and women the same.

Who is right? Both groups are, based on the values they hold. Someone who values liberty would never want to tear down society to get people to act differently than they otherwise would – we should all be free to do as we wish, and let the chips fall where they may! Those who put equality first will view any difference in outcomes as proof that society is flawed, and will work tirelessly to tear society apart until those injustices can be rectified. Those who prefer equality will never tolerate a free society, and those who prefer liberty will never tolerate an egalitarian society.

You cannot have a free, egalitarian society, as free people will not remain equal. As such, those who want egalitarianism also want chains – though they may not know that…

Values and time frames interact to make the conflict in society even worse than it already sounds. Socialism, for example, works in the short term. Nobody can deny that if the government seized all income and all wealth – all cars, houses, stocks, bonds, bank accounts..everything – and gave each person an equal share of the pile, we would be economically equal for at least one brief moment. Nobody can deny that the government could control production and consumption in such a way as to keep everyone equal.

At the same time, nobody can deny that people can only be equal if they are tightly controlled, for a free society will immediately see different people doing different things, causing inequality to recur. Only a fool would believe that people will make the same choices and put in the same levels of effort that they put in when they can keep the fruits of their labor, if instead, they get the same outcome no matter what they do.

In the long run, egalitarianism cannot work and does not work.

All of the rich nations on Earth got that way through free markets. All of them. Every one. And ironically, when you look at command economies like those that existed in the Soviet Union, or that exist today in China (or Cuba, or North Korea, or Venezuela, or wherever), you see far more inequality than you see in nations that operate (or have recently operated) under free markets.

You could classify economies into four groups: those who are growing under relatively free markets, those who previously grew under free markets and are stagnating or perhaps even shrinking as they transition toward egalitarianism, those who have never used free markets and have always been poor, and those who have fully transitioned to egalitarianism and have subsequently collapsed.

Socialism does not lead to equality. It leads to luxury for the political class, and poverty for everyone else.

The reason socialist nations have the most inequality, in the long run, is really very simple – the political elite has all the power, and are just as apt to use it to benefit themselves as would be the economic elite in a free market. In a free market, economic power is widely distributed. Even the CEO of the largest corporation can only control that one corporation, but the dictator of an egalitarian society can control everything. Unless you believe that political self-interest is somehow nobler than economic self-interest, in the long run, you should prefer free markets.

I am, of course, speaking in extremes, with egalitarianism on one end and libertarianism on the other. Most people want to be somewhere in the middle. I’m not an extremist myself; I want to be somewhere in the middle. But I have never heard the left discuss what the proper point on that scale is. I have never heard an egalitarian say, “We have regulated enough and can now stop.” I have never heard an egalitarian say, “Government should not fix that,” to any issue that has ever come up.

In some sense, we are all relatively extreme in the sense that we differ on the most fundamental question of all: is the role of government to maximize the liberty of all of society, or to maximize the equality of all of society? One side wants freedom, and the other wants control. We cannot have both.

Interestingly, if you ask people, even the most fervent believer in egalitarianism wants to be free. I have never met someone who does not want to be free, and I’ll bet you never have either (let us know in the comments if you have). The egalitarian does not want to give up their own freedom so much as that of their neighbors. The equalitarian is, as such, always a little Stalin, or a little Mao, wanting not only to see society controlled, but also wanting to be one of the ones controlling it. The fact that this does not make them equal to everyone else is somehow lost on them.

Libertarians are egalitarians as well, but in a very different way. We want people to be equal under the law, but to be free to live their lives without government interference, beyond having their liberty secured against those who would coerce them into doing things they do not want to do. Equality under the law is very different from equality in outcomes, and in fact, you cannot create equality in outcomes unless you treat people very differently under the law. Furthermore, if you want a society in which people are treated differently under the law, someone, or some group, will have to decide how to apply the law to different people, and this group will by definition, be above the law. There is nothing equal about that.

Those who claim to put equality over liberty are either naive, or if they are honest, they do not believe in equality at all, wanting to be in the group that is above the law and in charge of others. These people do not want to eliminate the rich so much as they want to replace it, such that they can enrich themselves.

And such people always claim the moral high ground, as crazy as that sounds.

Freedom is the only form of equality that ever has, or ever could exist, and it is high time for those who still love the promise this nation is supposed to stand for to take the moral high ground back, and tell the socialists that their time is done.

Our motto must be the same as that of Patrick Henry: “Give me Liberty, or give me death.”

Wallace Garneau

Wallace Garneau is a two-service military veteran, with four years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, and four years in the US Army. He has twenty-three years of experience in process improvement roles, having served as the E-Commerce Manager, IT Manager, and Director of Business Systems for a variety of medium to large manufacturing companies. Wallace holds a Bachelors of Science from the University of Phoenix, and an MBA in Lean Manufacturing from the University of Michigan. Wallace is currently finishing a Masters of Science in Lean Manufacturing, at Kettering University.

Wallace is a published poet and essayist, and recently finished his first book - The Way Forward: Lean Leadership and Systems Thinking for Large and Small Businesses.

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Patricia Anthone
10 days ago

Terrific article, Wallace! I loved that you pointed out that because short-term and long-term consequences are very different, it’s possible for BOTH the long-term thinker and the short term thinker to be accurate in their assessment of a policy’s “results.” Of the four economic groups you describe, I would guess America to be in the “previously grew under free markets and are stagnating” group. In you estimation, do economies in this condition reverse course toward growth or does such a course correction require political capital that only a collapse can generate?

Col Edward H R Green
Col Edward H R Green
9 days ago

Just as constructing a building starts with a foundation and not with the first and higher floors, a course correction cannot be successfully implemented at the political level, for that is a high-level conceptual abstraction that is based upon and derived from foundational metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical premises, all of which comprise the branches of philosophy. The correction must begin with examining those foundational premises at the grass-roots level by discussion, dispute, and debate of Statist (socialist; communist; and fascist) and libertarian philosophies between and among individuals guided by rational (factual) and logical suasion.

For further elaboration, read Ayn Rand’s non-fiction essays, particularly her essay titled, “What Can One Do?”.

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