Having read the Labour and Conservative manifestos, it’s clear there will be no escape for free society from authoritarians on the political Left and Right. Despite having different visions for the ideal society or, in other words, aiming at different ends, both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May want to use the same means: more state power.
They either want to increase the number of ways in which the state is already intervening into the economy and into the lives of peaceful and productive people, or increase the degree to which the state is already doing so. This means we may rightly refer to both as economic authoritarians. Whoever comes to power, the role of legal compulsion in the lives of British citizens is guaranteed to increase. That’s the bad news.
This is how state power grows and freedom erodes over time in a democracy. State power is like a muscle that grows bigger and bigger as the political Left and Right exercise it. In the UK, as in the rest of the western world, economic freedoms have mostly been the target of governments lead by devout statists and interventionists for several decades. As if these are optional and can be removed without bad consequences.
But economic freedoms, by which I mean private property rights, are basic human freedoms. Property rights are human rights and they are as essential and legitimate as social rights.
Just as being able to freely exchange ideas and to associate freely is necessary for maintaining and advancing human knowledge, the free exchange of goods and services (what we call capitalism) is necessary for maintaining and advancing everyone’s standard of living.
Last year, Richard Lorenc, COO of the Foundation for Economic Education, wrote: “the world we live in is a product of human action, not human design.”
In other words, every single thing we value in our lives, from indoor plumbing to caviar and everything in between, isn’t the result of government experts ‘managing’ society from the top, but rather emerges spontaneously and unpredictably from the economic action of free people with property rights.
Our world is constantly emerging from this action from which the order of markets emerges. And that’s the thing, the economy is never still or evenly rotating as politicians must assume it is in order to try to plan it.
To appropriate the famous John Lennon quote about life, society is what happens when politicians like Corbyn and May are making plans. Our amazing world of abundance and rapid technological progress happened and continues happening despite government action designed by politicians, not because of it.
But egotists like Corbyn and May will forever deny this fundamental truth because, if they didn’t, then it would lead to the realisation that they had dedicated their lives not to serving their fellow man and enabling his flourishing, but instead to ruling over him and hampering it. Admitting this would require humility, intellectual courage and a high regard for the truth, which are qualities that politicians rarely possess.
The choice facing the people of Britain in the forthcoming general election is a bleak one. In truth, it’s barely a choice at all. A man who is given the choice between drinking two different slow-acting poisons can hardly say his circumstances present him with good choices.
Any hope or optimism people might be feeling about Corbyn or May solving any of the social problems they claim they can solve through government action, of which the genuine ones are the unforeseen results of previous government interventions, will turn out to be misplaced.
The one thing always to remember when elections come around is that people’s lives are improved through mutually beneficial economic exchange and through advancing knowledge. They are not and cannot be improved through law-making; better lives are not magically summoned into being by the pens of lawmakers – however intelligent or well-meaning they are.
Politicians cannot create prosperity through laws and through expanding state power; they can only inhibit the productive human action that creates it. What our society needs now more than it has ever done in the last centuries isn’t more laws, but more liberty. However, restored liberty is the one thing Corbyn and May are not offering to the people of Britain.
Corbyn and May and the rest of today’s political class see themselves as enlightened, but their thinking is rooted in a thousand-year-old belief. One that holds that Man must be ruled by men, and therefore all men are not politically equal and must forever live in eternal conflict as masters and slaves (they believe they should play the role of masters, of course). This is a degraded and hopeless perspective on humanity, one which I do not want to subscribe to.
But let us not despair because all is not lost. The world doesn’t revolve around people like Corbyn and May. They believe themselves to be the architects and conductors of improvement in our society, but this is a delusion shared by most politicians.
Our amazing world of abundance and technological wonders is the product of human action constrained only by property rights, not the freedom constraining plans of lawmakers. Our world will keep improving and lifting more people out of poverty wherever it can because people will keep living, inventing and innovating according to their own will wherever they can.
And that, my friends, is precisely what will forever frustrate the plans of men and women elected into government power and why rulers always fail to manifest the better world they try to engineer by brute force.
The general election is a choice between red or blue poison masquerading as a magical elixir. Society should refuse to take its medicine.