In her essay, “The Anatomy of Compromise,” Ayn Rand wrote: “When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.” An example of this can be found in an article by Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University.

In the article, which is titled “The Phony War of Markets vs. Government,” Zelizer writes, “The debate today is not between big government and free market capitalism but rather about how we should structure our mixture of these two systems.” In a sense, Zelizer is correct—it is a phony war. Most politicians and pundits, including many alleged defenders of capitalism, accept the mixed economy as a given and simply disagree over when and where the government should intervene. And, while this debate rages, the real issue—statism versus capitalism—remains unnamed.

Statism holds that the individual’s life belongs to the state, which may seize the individual’s property and control his actions in the name of the “common good.” Statism holds that it is proper to force you to pay for government schools, recycle your plastic bottles, and purchase medical insurance regardless of your own choices, desires, or values. Statism holds that you must place the “public interest” before your self-interest.

In contrast, capitalism holds that each individual owns his own life. Capitalism holds that each individual has a moral right to his own life, his own liberty, his own property, and the pursuit of his own happiness. Capitalism holds that you have a moral right to act on your own judgment in the pursuit of your own values, so long as you respect the mutual rights of others.

In a statist society, you are forced to act as government officials decree. Under statism, you can only act with the permission of government. In a capitalist society, you are free to act as you choose, as long as you refrain from using force or fraud.

A mixture of these two systems means a mixture of freedom and controls. It means that, in some instances you are free to act as you choose, and in other instances you are forced to act contrary to your judgment. In some instances your rights are recognized and protected, and in other instances your rights are ignored and violated. You are “free” to choose your profession, but if you want to be a plumber, electrician, veterinarian, or one of the 800 licensed professions, you must first get government permission. You are “free” to use your property as you choose, but first you must secure building permits and zoning permits.

Freedom is an absolute—either you are free to live your life as you choose or you are not. A slave who must toil for his master five days of the week is not a free man because he gets weekends off. Similarly, a taxpayer who must toil for the government for three months of the year is not free to spend his money as he chooses.

“Big government” is not the issue. A government with unlimited powers is. Government’s proper purpose is the protection of individual rights, and government should be as big as is necessary to fulfill that purpose. The issue is unlimited government versus limited government. Statism holds that government should have unlimited powers; capitalism holds that government should be limited to the protection of individual rights.

Until the issue is framed this way, government will continue to gain more control over the lives of individuals. Until Americans understand that their choice is between unlimited government and the protection of individual rights, government will continue to expand and individual liberty will continue to shrink. Until the fundamental issue is clearly and openly defined, it will work to the advantage of the irrational—those who wish to control our lives.

The following two tabs change content below.
Brian Phillips has been actively defending individual rights for the past twenty-five years. He has successfully helped defeat attempts to implement zoning in Houston, Texas, and Hobbs, New Mexico. His writing has appeared in The Freeman, Reason, The Orange County Register, The Houston Chronicle, The Objective Standard, Capitalism Magazine, and dozens of other publications. He is the author of Individual Rights and Government Wrongs

Latest posts by Brian Phillips (see all)