True Economic Liberty: Not a Conservative Idea

Alexander McCobin (“Considering a Conservative Plea for Libertarian Support,” Students for Liberty, 08/04/10) makes an excellent rebuttal to the claim that libertarians are just a faction of conservatism. The label “libertarian” indicates someone who consistently supports the liberty of the individual — a standard that most conservatives just don’t reach.

Unfortunately McCobin’s article, like many free-market libertarian works, does not look deeply enough into the assumption that conservatives support economic liberty. Are conservatives in general really in favor of a free economy?

Conservatives do not appear to be more likely than liberals to support the freedom to compete against patent monopolists. Or the liberty of Iraqis to use their property to transport wounded people without being shot at by helicopter gunners.

Conservatives are more likely to support dictatorships than the freedom of developing-world workers to organize for better bargaining power. And they are more likely to back developing-world plutocrats who have been handed land titles by government privilege than to back those who actually work the land. When one segment of the economy is supported by state intervention, the economy is not free, but is instead based on military-backed domination.

McCobin rightly notes “the inability/lack of desire by conservative leaders to turn the rhetoric of economic freedom into substantive reform.” But how consistently does conservative rhetoric support economic freedom?

Immigration is often motivated by personal economic concerns. Conservatives are likely to advocate the building of walls and the arming of enforcers to keep immigrants away from the jobs they want, using government force to prevent people from creating wealth that will benefit themselves and others.

Any time someone imposes a tax on you, he is telling you what to do with your money. He is requiring that a portion of your earnings go to government programs. Conservatives who support government war policy are telling you that you have to spend your money on enriching war profiteers.

Just as police protect and serve power first, conservatives have a tendency to support economic freedom for the powerful, not equal liberty among all individuals.

But the division between economic and personal liberty is nonsensical anyway. The absurdity of liberty falling under one of two categories based on whether or not money changes hands might be best illustrated by the Drug War. Why should growing marijuana shift from a matter of personal liberty to a matter of economic liberty once the grower starts selling it to friends? And are conservatives more likely than liberals to oppose state restrictions on either activity?

Oppression of queer people interferes with their economic freedom. The decision to marry is often partly an economic decision, and conservatives are likely to advocate government interference in this decision. Harassment sanctioned by governing homophobes makes it harder for targeted people to participate in economic activity, and transgendered people categorized against their will by government documents will be less able to meet employer requirements.

Identifying conservatism with economic liberty obscures true freedom with the darkness of government-backed privilege. The liberty to create any consensual economic arrangement that individuals choose to work with should not be confused with the “liberty” of the rich to keep the poor from competing against them.

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