Fredric Williams

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Location: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, United States

teacher, writer, father, husband, former government official, former corporate executive, former college teacher, former consultant

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Give Me Liberty: A Way Forward

Executive Summary

For more than three decades I have wanted to show Americans a way to escape from the downward path the nation has been following. The way out is not to tinker with what we have. It is not to follow a political philosophy suited to another time or place. Because so many people are violently attached to specific political ideologies, I have been reluctant to publish anything more than an occasional comment on current events. Changing minds is very difficult, and I do not wish to do anything that is unlikely to be beneficial.

The inspiration for this work goes back to 1981, when I met Benjamin Victor Cohen, financial and legal advisor to FDR, architect of the New Deal, and someone far more conservative than most people would imagine. Cohen was the smartest person I have ever met — at least on subjects about which I had some knowledge. Because of him, I believe I have an obligation to state what I believe is the only practical solution to the difficulties we find ourselves in. 

What I hope to present here is an approach that will give people the best possible life, knowing that as time passes, even the best solution will require adjustments. The solution is radical — that is, it goes to the very root of our problems. It may seem impossible to implement, since it requires so many changes. Nevertheless, if these changes are made, every member of society will benefit.

America is in trouble. It makes wars which it cannot win. Its Government spends borrowed money unwisely. It has a long history of inflation and inflationary bubbles. It has enemies both at home and abroad — some of whom use violence to express their anger. It has millions of unemployed, millions in prisons, tens of millions of poor, and innumerable people who are unhappy with their lives and jobs.  

If America is to become a prosperous and happy nation, it must begin by eliminating wasteful spending — by individuals, institutions, and governments. Each year we should save half of what we are able to produce. This will, over time, make the nation far richer, eliminating poverty and increasing our freedom to pursue our goals and our ability to achieve them.

At the root of our problems is our management of government. We have built into our system great incentives for corruption. Instead of doing productive work, most people recognize that they can extract wealth from the system by investing in manipulation of the government to their benefit. Political contributions and lobbying are just two facets of a system that in some cases robs a few to benefit everyone, and in far more cases robs everyone to benefit a few. In the end, a system based on robbery — taking money by force — is a corruption which impoverishes the society.

We would all like to be healthy. If we believe that this can be accomplished by doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, and governments, we are largely in error. Our health depends on us. Nearly half of all Americans suffer from chronic diseases — and most of these are caused by their own acts. If we remove responsibility from those who are in a position to act, we assure that expenses will be shifted to those who have acted responsibly. The society will be poorer because our sympathies are extended to those who injure themselves and consequently us.

To finance the errors of our Governments, we must force people to provide money. This robbery is permissible only in the sense that the Government has the guns and a pretense of legitimacy. Since this pretense is unlikely to be abandoned in the immediate future, we must begin by assuring that all taxes and other means of extracting wealth have the effect of discouraging harmful action and encouraging beneficial action. As a result, most of the taxes currently assessed must be discarded. 

We do not wish to discourage productive work by income and payroll taxes. We do not wish to discourage exchanges of products and service between individuals and businesses by the imposition of sales or value-added taxes. We do not wish to discourage the security of home ownership by taxing our homes. It is, however, reasonable to discourage hoarding of assets, consumption of limited resources, and destruction of our environment.

We wish to live at peace and in harmony with all of the people on our planet. If we see a powerful military machine as the means to destroy our enemies, we can be sure only that we will spend great sums of money each year to disturb the peace of others. In exchange, they will disturb our own peace. Our goal should be defense, not war. It should rely on preventing conflict, not engaging in it.

Because of the defects in our current system, many people do require welfare. In a more properly managed society, welfare should be necessary only to a very limited degree. These days I receive payments from Social Security and insurance from Medicare. I am glad I do. However I recognize that these payments to me are, or will soon become, welfare paid for by those who are working. To the extent they are a return of the payments I was forced to make, they are mine by right. Beyond that, they are not. Those who have assets at their death should make full restitution of any amount that exceeds their contributions and the interest on those sums.

We are often fond of saying that America is a nation of immigrants. It still is. When my great-grandfather came to America, there were no laws restricting people’s movement — just as there are no laws restricting the movement of Americans from one state to another. Just as trade produces wealth, the right to travel freely is an invisible hand that is essential to our freedom and prosperity and to the freedom and prosperity of people everywhere.

Government has a powerful role in all formal education. As a teacher, I enthusiastically endorse the value of learning. There are few things as important as having skills, knowledge, wisdom, and moral guidance. Unfortunately, our system of education is poorly equipped to provide what is needed. Adam Smith, author of the economics classic Wealth of Nations, explained how the incentives work. Teachers must be hired, fired, and paid directly by individual students. Payment by anyone else assures that the quality of teaching -- and thus of education -- will suffer.

A major issue for most people is abortion. Setting aside the slogans about right to life and right to choose, this comes down to much deeper questions regarding Life, Free Will, and Parasitism. Where do the rights of one individual human being end and where do those of another begin? Is an individual free to make choices, however mistaken, or is society correct in compelling an individual to do what it believes to be right? Does one human being have a right to live wholly at the expense of another? 

If we are to have world peace, we must have peace among ourselves, peace within the family, within the neighborhood, within the community and within the nation. This cannot be achieved between nations until it is achieved between individuals. Our goal must be to increase harmony, not to stop war. There are means to this end, but violence and the use of force, legal or otherwise, are not among them.

Over a period of several hundred years, democracy has grown to be the preferred basis for governing. It has the undoubted advantage of giving a very large number of citizens some role in ruling society. 
However it has been clear since the time of Plato that democracy is fatally flawed and that it inevitably sets citizens at each other’s throats. Under representative democracy, as John Stuart Mill recognized, the majority has the power to tyrannize over the minority. Power corrupts.

If we are to harmonize liberty, government and society, we must choose a system which maximizes individual freedom, minimizes the use of force by government, and recognizes the immense value of cooperation in assuring peace and prosperity.

The solution to this problem begins from where we are by changing the rules by which we live and the philosophy which underlies those rules. It begins here and now with education — with being led to the truth. With such knowledge, we will recognize the wisdom in what Plato argued in The Republic. The best form of government is that in which the best qualified to govern are given the task of governing.