There's normal life, then there's government.
In normal life, things change. Our fortunes go up, they go down. Our lives are in constant flux. One day we fall in love and move across the country, another we have a child or change jobs and our lives are magically altered.
Life as a consumer is much the same. A few years ago, few of us had cell phones. Today, people will stand in line for hours to buy a cool new iPhone because it is the one thing that will complete our lives that moment.
In real life, we break bones, change jobs, meet new people-our lives are chaotic. Generally things are getting better every year as we gain experience and the economy grows, but we all face lean years and flat. The primary task of ordinary life is to bring order out of chaos, each of us doing so within the small platoon of our family and friends.
Then there's the world of government.
In government, chaos is the enemy. Individuality is a problem. The change that we all inevitably deal with cannot be handled by a bureaucracy or by laws. Choice is the essence of freedom. The opportunity to improve our lives or start a new business or have children or do just about anything are variables that mess up their attempt to regulate and stabilize daily life into something they control.
This is why advocates of big government are always looking for ways to tame the inevitable chaos of life. Instead of people moving all over the place in individual cars, they want a centralized transportation that moves masses of people all to the same places.
Instead of a health care system with millions of individuals choosing personalised health care options and thousands of doctors practicing numerous approaches to medicine, they want a centralized and regulated universal health care system. Instead of the seeming chaos and uncontrollability of free markets, they prefer socialized or centrally controlled systems. Instead of the "creative destruction" of capitalism they prefer socialism or "third way" policies that undermine freedoms to choose and the chaos that involves.
It's pretty clear to see who stands on what side of the dividing line between the reality-based freedom and inevitable chaos of life and the ever expanding role of government and regulation and stasis in life. Republicans have until recently been on the side of freedom. Democrats have stood for stasis and the increasing regulation of daily life.
This is a broad generalization, of course. Bill Clinton, for all his flaws, expanded trade abroad, opened markets, and for his efforts (against the will of the majority of his party) presided over one of the great booms in American economic history. Once Hillarycare was defanged, Clinton was a pretty good President on economic issues.
Bush has had a mixed record, largely because the growing anxiety of parts of his coalition to the inevitable upheavals that international trade has brought along with prosperity.
By any measure, though, living with chaos and creative destruction is better than the alternative. A brief glance at the economic agenda of the Democrat Congress shows a bizarre nostalgia for the economics of the 1950's, when Americans were immeasurably poorer but lived more predictable lives.
Americans have traditionally understood that our society is based upon infinite opportunity, not assured mediocrity. And the simple fact is that any attempt to smooth out the disruption that come with freedom undermines the creative destruction that has been the engine of our economic growth for over 200 years.
Change and contingency are the prices we pay for increasing prosperity and the freedoms we enjoy. Communism and Socialism are proven failures as prosperity generators, although they promised and failed to deliver equal access to poor products and health care for all.
The American experience, on the other hand, is that every time we try to tame the vicissitudes of life we undermine freedom and slow the march to greater prosperity and opportunity for all. Contrary to the luddites of today, Socialists and the Michael Moore fanatics, the worst products and medical care available in America exceed the best almost anywhere else in the world because we are prosperous.
America is not perfect. But in almost every case the solution to our problems is less government control rather than more. Even the most egregious market failures are small prices to pay for the progress and prosperity almost every American enjoys. And for those market failures, private initiatives rather than government solutions will provide a superior solution in the end.
July 31st marks the birthday of Milton Friedman, one of the greatest minds of the 20th Century. His legacies include the all-volunteer army (the best in the world) and a movement toward deregulation of our economy that has helped create the single-longest period of economic expansion in world history.
His life's work was evangelization of freedom to choose. We would do well to honor his memory by taking up the banner of freedom against all those who want to regulate, stabilize and neuter our freedom to choose.