A Liberty Makeover for Bush
by Ari Armstrong, October 15, 2004
By most accounts President Bush looked and sounded great during the third debate. Unfortunately, he did not sound much like a supporter of free markets or the "ownership society" he has mentioned. Federal spending and economic interventionism have increased dramatically during Bush's first term, leaving many advocates of economic liberty wondering if split-party control of government is the best they can hope for.
Bush's position on immigration made a lot of sense. But on matters of education and the minimum wage, Bush brought back the era of big government. He made some excellent points about health care, offset by his advocacy of more federal health welfare. Bush failed to make the case for globalization. His plan for Social Security -- so far left on the drawing board -- would do little to restore choice in retirement planning. Finally, Bush's plan to send tax dollars to religious organizations undermines both free markets and religious independence.
What might Bush sound like if he got a Presidential makeover by those who champion economic liberty? I'll give it a go. I'll mark what Bush said during the debate with "Bush," and what I wish Bush would have said with "Liberty Bush."
Bush on the outsourcing of jobs: "[H]ere's some help for you to go get an education. Here's some help for you to go to a community college. We've expanded trade adjustment assistance. We want to help pay for you to gain the skills necessary to fill the jobs of the 21st century... Education is how to make sure we've got a workforce that's productive and competitive."
Liberty Bush: "In a free, dynamic market that's always growing and changing to meet our needs as consumers, the best and most important way to create the best jobs is to make sure we keep building the tools of production, keep improving our technology, and keep improving the skills and knowledge of our workforce. We must remember that, while economic transitions such as the outsourcing of jobs create short-term difficulties for some, the gains of free trade with people in other regions increase the wealth available to all and enable American workers to specialize in the most productive fields. I agree with Senator Kerry that the tax code should not be used for social engineering, and I'll strive to make sure the tax code is simple and fair. Even more important, the U.S. government should stop punishing American businesses with high burdens of taxation and regulation. Of course, politicians are always tempted to trade people's tax dollars for votes. I believe the best way to keep the economy strong is to reduce the burdens the federal government places on businesses and individuals."
Bush on education: "We're spending more money, but let's raise the standards and measure early and solve problems now, before it's too late."
Liberty Bush: "It's not the federal government's job to educate your children. Education is primarily the responsibility of parents, their children, and their teachers. Federal intervention in education creates bureaucracy, it creates red tape, it wastes resources, and it weakens local control. The Constitution spells out the appropriate tasks of the federal government, and education was intentionally left to the states and to the people. We all want high standards in education, but standards start at home, and they are incompatible with interference by federal politicians."
Bush on the minimum wage: "Actually, Mitch McConnell had a minimum-wage plan that I supported that would have increased the minimum wage."
Liberty Bush: "Real wages do not increase because of legislative fiat. Why do wages rise? It's because businesses and individuals produce the machinery, the technology, and the skills that enable workers to make more goods in less time. The great thing about America is the rate of upward mobility. Almost all working people quickly move to higher income levels. The lowest-paid workers in our economy are people who rapidly improve their skills and then move up. Many immigrants and young people enter the work force at relatively low wages of pay, because pay is commensurate with skills. We don't need a minimum wage to make people at the lower end of the pay scale better off: we need a vibrant economy that gives people the tools to create wealth. All the minimum wage accomplishes is to throw some of the least-advantaged people in society out of work. The minimum wage hurts poor people by reducing the wages for some to zero."
Bush on health care: "I think government-run health will lead to poor-quality health, will lead to rationing, will lead to less choice... Health care costs are on the rise because the consumers are not involved in the decision-making process... We have a problem with litigation... [O]ur seniors will get a prescription drug coverage in Medicare."
Liberty Bush would keep the fine statements about consumer choice and excessive litigation, but add: "The Constitution wisely reserves most powers to the states and to the people. Health care is simply not something the federal government should be involved with. Indeed, federal intervention is what got us into the current mess. The federal government has artificially increased the cost of drugs by keeping life-saving drugs off the market for too long. The federal government has encouraged the system of non-transferable insurance that encourages waste and buries health care in a mountain of paperwork and red tape. What we do not need are federal programs that cover entire segments of the population without regard to economic need. If our goal is help the poor, let's have targeted help for the poor. I'd prefer even this be left to the states and to the people, but I'll see where Congress and I can reach an agreement."
Bush on Social Security: "[Y]ounger workers ought to be allowed to take some of their own money and put it in a personal savings account..."
Liberty Bush: "The reason Social Security is in trouble is that the number of retired people will expand dramatically in the coming decades relative to the number of workers paying the bills. Solving this problem will be tough and painful, but the problem also gives us an opportunity to fix the fundamental problems with the system. So here's my plan. Right now, everyone can voluntarily choose to opt out of Social Security. Even wealthier retirees might voluntarily choose to forego their benefits in order to reduce the burden on young working families. People under 30 are free from the system -- they don't have to pay into the system, thus effectively getting a huge pay increase, and they can choose to invest their money as they see fit. Workers over 30 can choose to stay in the system or opt out. You can choose to stop paying the Social Security tax and forego benefits. We can make up for the short-term crunch by cutting other programs the federal government shouldn't be doing anyway."
Bush through his "faith-based initiative" wants to spend tax dollars on religious institutions.
Liberty Bush: "The Constitution seeks to protect government from religious influence, and it also seeks to protect religion from the influence of politicians. Spending tax dollars on religious charities would endanger the independence religions in America now enjoy. Beyond that, the Constitutional role for the federal government is intentionally limited, and matters of charity are best left to the states and especially to the people."
If the real Bush would take even some of these ideas seriously, he would excite the fiscal conservatives of his party and pique the interest of the defenders of economic liberty wherever they might be found.
* * *
Bonus Round: The Civil Liberties Makeover
Bush: "I did think we ought to extend the assault weapons ban... I believe in background checks at gun shows or anywhere..."
Liberty Bush: "We don't need to ban the production or importation of arbitrarily selected semiautomatic guns or of regular-capacity magazines. These tools are useful for self-defense, which is a fundamental human right. Nor do we need to register gun owners with the state, as the Brady registration scheme does. As England, Australia, and other places prove, the registration of gun owners often leads to the confiscation of guns. Instead, what we need is vigorous enforcement of laws against all violent crimes, no matter what weapon is involved."
Bush: "I think it's very important that we protect marriage as an institution, between a man and a woman."
Liberty Bush: "The state has no business licensing marriage. Marriage is a matter for couples to decide, and religious institutions may recognize marriage or not as they choose. Benefits for employees are best left as a contractual matter between businesses and employees. In the United States, marriage licenses have a sordid history of being used to institutionalize racism by blocking interracial marriages. Today, marriage licenses institutionalize bigotry against homosexuals. By repealing marriage licensing, homosexual couples would be on equal footing with heterosexual couples, without government involvement one way or another."
Bush supports anti-free-speech campaign laws, the prohibition of select drugs, and the PATRIOT Act without any modifications. He hasn't had much to say about Howard Stern or Janet Jackson's breast.
Liberty Bush: "I will work to restore fundamental liberties in this country in the following ways. First, I want to repeal the campaign laws that restrict free speech. Second, I want to end FCC interference with free speech on television and radio stations and let the voluntary market serve to regulate content. Third, I want to end the war on drugs. Prohibition massively increases rates of violent crime by creating violent underground markets. And throwing people in prison for consuming drugs violates their rights and prevents them from getting the help they need. Who knows: some poor young black man sitting in prison today on drug charges might have gone on to become President, if only our laws hadn't destroyed his life. As everyone knows, young rich white men who use drugs rarely do prison time, especially when they're the sons of prominent politicians. Fourth, I want to make sure that the PATRIOT Act serves to let people in law enforcement do their jobs without violating the privacy rights of American citizens."
I have even less hope that Bush will learn from Liberty Bush on matters of civil rights.