Scott Brown: A Mere Speed Bump on the Conservatives’ Road to Serfdom

by | Jan 20, 2010 | Elections

Most polls in recent years reveal that Americans believe the country is "on the wrong track." That's surely true -- and both political parties are taking them there. Yet few people know what the right track actually entails. It's time to pave a new road entirely -- not the road to serfdom, but a purely capitalist road, undergirded by a selfish-individualist ethic.

Yesterday’s allegedly “surprising” election of Republican populist Scott Brown to the Massachusetts Senate seat occupied by the late Ted Kennedy since 1962 — a win which removes the 60-seat, filibuster-proof “super-majority” for Democrats in the U.S. Senate — seems to worry the illiberal-regressive Democrats who’ve control Washington since 2006, while it heartens the religious-conservative Republicans who are now itching to regain control. Yet neither reaction is justified. America still treads a road to serfdom, with Democrats and Republicans alike paving the way. Brown is a mere speed-bump on this road, which will only slightly decelerate the speed of the journey.

Like Brown, today’s religious-conservative Republicans don’t in the least oppose socialized medicine — only the speed, manner and cost by which it’s ultimately adopted — because they share with the illiberal-regressive Democrats a whole-hearted (and irrational) belief in altruism, the notion that it’s moral and noble to sacrifice oneself and to serve. Emotional commitment to this virtue’ of service necessarily leads — however long it takes — to serfdom in politics.

In 1944 the Austrian religious-conservative Friedrich Hayek wrote the best-selling book, The Road to Serfdom, which argued that the welfare state model of political economy — what many called the “middle way” between capitalism and socialism — was unsustainable. Government controls, he showed, necessarily bred distortions and then further controls unless the initial ones were repealed; the alleged “middle way” wasn’t a stable equilibrium between the liberty of capitalism and tyranny of socialism but instead a one-way path to ultimate serfdom. Even those social democrats then resurgent in Europe — those who sought socialism by evolution (ballets) rather than revolution (bullets) — had to concede that Hitler’s National Socialist (“Nazi”) Party was democratically elected by “the people.”

Knowing all of this, nevertheless Hayek and his ilk — still venerated by today’s religious conservatives — advocated the middle way anyway; even while knowing it would lead to political serfdom. Hayek’s subsequent book, The Constitution of Liberty (1960), endorsed all the basic aims and schemes of the post-war welfare statists. Hayek and his like had to do so, for their Christianity demanded it. “Love of money is the root of all evil,” they’d been taught — and they believed it. “The rich man shall never enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” they were told — and believed it. “The meek shall inherit the Earth,” they were told — and believed it. “Pride in self-achievement is a sin,” they were told — and believed it. “Far better to give than to receive,” they were told — and believed it. “Serve your neighbors and befriend you enemies,” they were told — and believed it. “Reject reason,” they were told, and just “believe,” regardless of the facts — and they believed that one above all. In the end, by embracing each of these falsehoods, they couldn’t possibly also embrace a life-affirming, money-making, free-market capitalism — any more than could the equally-religious illiberals. Thus in the grand larceny which is the welfare-warfare state, Republicans and Democrats are not “opponents” but accomplices.

Although Scott Brown seems to be a decent man and deserves credit for running an honorable, winning campaign in Kennedy-land, he’s also a populist and a diehard Christian — thus no advocate of laissez-faire capitalism. He goes by the “people,” not principle — by what Jesus Christ, not John Adams, would do. Nor does he pretend otherwise. Others are now trying to make him out to be more or less (or other) than what he truly is, but neither Republicans nor Democrats should worry. Brown is not, as he claimed today, “a new breed,” but one of them — indeed, a blend of them.

Having lived in Massachusetts for many years (between 1969 and 2003), I know first-hand that it’s not a “Red” state (one dominated by Republicans), but neither is it a “true-Blue” state (dominated by Democrats), as today’s pundits claim. In fact, Massachusetts is a Purple state — one ruled by those whose ideas and policies, like Browns’, constitute a mixture of those adopted by Democrats and Republicans. Roughly 51% of the Massachusetts’ voters are registered as Independents, compared to 32% as Democrats and 12% as Republicans. In the November 2008 presidential election Obama beat McCain by 62%-36% in the state, in large part by winning 57%-40% among Independents. In 2006 Ted Kennedy won re-election to the seat by 69%-31%, winning the votes of local Independents by 65%-35%. Last night, Brown beat Coaklie by 52%-47%, but enjoyed a margin of 73%-25% among Independents. Yes, Brown was one of only five state senators in a 40-member chamber, but voters in Massachusetts have chosen Republican governors three times since 1990, occupying the office for 16 years: William Weld (1991-1997), Paul Cellucci (1997-2001), Jane Swift (2001-2003) and Mitt Romney (2003-2007). The state also twice favored Ronald Reagan for president — in 1980 and 1984. Thus Brown’s victory shouldn’t be so surprising; it’s certainly not likely that he would have beaten Ted Kennedy himself, even when the latter was saddled with brain cancer.

Far more important for today’s political context is the fact that Scott Brown has endorsed and voted for the same kind of socialized medicine that Ted Kennedy himself endorsed and actively sponsored from 1962 to 2009. For example, Brown voted for the socialistic “MASS-Care,” adopted in his state in 2006 — a government scheme which compels health-insurance coverage for 98% of the state’s populous, has caused less freedom for health-care providers, rising costs, huge state spending deficits, supply shortages, and diminished access to actual care. Two decades earlier, in 1986, a referendum in Massachusetts, directing the state legislature to urge the U.S. Congress to enact a national health care program, won 66% “yes” votes. Subsequent referenda demanding socialized medicine were approved by Massachusetts voters in 1994, 1998, 1999, and 2000, and in 2008 ten state districts voted by large margins (averaging 73%) to instruct their legislator to support such a scheme. A state politician since 1998, Scott Brown didn’t oppose any of these referenda.

In announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat last fall, Brown said Massachusetts needed an “independent thinker,” but he surely doesn’t think in ways that are much different from the ways of Massachusetts or Washington. Nor is it likely that “independent thinking” — especially, pro-capitalist policies — will emanate from the administrations of recently-elected GOP governors in Virginia (Bob MacDonald) or New Jersey (Chris Christy). One factor in Brown’s favor, from the standpoint of being pro-liberty, besides his support for tax-cutting, is his pro-choice position on abortion rights, a stance which his new-found allies among religious-conservative Republicans conveniently evade.

Unfortunately, Brown is not also principled and pro-choice when it comes to people choosing in the health care sector or the economy broadly. Joining most politicians, he endorses the welfare state, which robs people of free choice. A true opponent of socialized medicine would endorse the statement that “Guaranteed medical care to all citizens is not a responsibility of state government,” but Brown specifically refused to endorse it, when asked. [1]He also acted in full accord with this view when, in 2006, he joined Democrats in voting for MASS-Care — socialized medicine in Massachusetts. He’d likely vote for a similar bill at the national level. Brown has made very clear that he is not opposed to socialized medicine or even Obama-Care, but only the possibility it might impede socialized medicine as now practiced in Massachusetts, or might entail back-door deal-making that excludes Republicans or special favors for Massachusetts. This is also the view of conservative Republicans like Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Eric Cantor (R-VA); they do not oppose a government take-over of health care sector; what they want is a “bi-partisan” approach, meaning: they want to join Democrats in gaining the power and receiving the favors that a socialized scheme entails.

In his victory speech the night of the election (January 19th), Brown said he opposed Obama-Care, in part, because “it will hurt Medicare” by cutting its spending levels; thus he opposes less government involvement in medicine. Brown joins other Republicans who endorse the substance of socialized medicine while quibbling about the procedural ways it’s being adopted. “I will work with Democrats to reform health care in an open and honest way,” he said — which means he wants socialized medicine to be adopted, albeit openly and honestly. There should be “no more closed-door meetings, back-door deals, with an out-of-touch party leadership,” he added, “no more hiding costs, concealing taxes, collaborating with the special interests and leaving more trillions of dollars in debt for our children.”

Thus Brown wants to make deals with transparently socialistic colleagues, not those who hide their scheming. Like Obama, he believes socialized medicine is perfectly fine so long as the deal-making is broadcast on C-Span and so-long as special favors go not only to Senators in Louisiana (like Sen. Landrieu) or Nebraska (like Sen. Nelson), but for those in Massachusetts (like Sen. Brown). Effectively pledging his support for President Obama’s main aim of intensifying the degree of socialized medicine in America, Brown told NBC’s “Today” show, the day after his election, that “I never said I was going to do everything I can to stop health care reform. I believe that everybody should have health care. It’s just a question of how we do it. Do we have a one-size-fits-all plan or do we allow the states to get more involved and do what we did [in Massachusetts].” He elaborated on these supposedly “independent” views in a press conference the same day:

We in Massachusetts already have 98% of our people covered under [state-run] health insurance. We know what we need to do to fix it. But to have the one-size-fits-all plan that’s being pushed nationally doesn’t work. What I have suggested and what I’m hoping to suggest is to let the states tell the federal government, “Hey, this is what we’d like to do, can we work with you in a team effort? Maybe you can incentivize us to do something better, so we can learn, or model it [federally] like we have it.” We’ve done it hear [in Massachusetts]. We have experience with it. I voted for [state-run] health insurance here, so obviously I care very deeply about it. . . . Now that we’re past the campaign mode, I think it’s important for everyone to get some form of health care, so to offer a basic plan for everyone is important. It’s just a question of whether we’re going to raise taxes, cut $500 billion from Medicare, and affect veterans care. I think we can do it better. To just be the 41st Senator and bring it back to the drawing board is important. There are some very good things in the national plan that’s being proposed. But in a parochial manner, we have to think about Massachusetts first, not Washington or the party first. In other words, what about us? . . . I think I can certainly offer guidance [to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid] as to what we’ve done here [in Massachusetts, with state-run health care] and how we could maybe do it better there [in Washington].

In short, Brown and those who voted for him in Massachusetts are perfectly happy with the socialized medicine they already now have, and simply don’t want to pay for it elsewhere; he likes socialized medicine in his state (MASS-Care) even though he says “we need to fix it” because it’s already insolvent after three years; he also believes MASS-Care could be a “model” for Washington to copy; he opposes any cuts in Medicare; he merely wants a different “drawing board” upon which the central planners draw their “national plan,” and doesn’t reject government planning per se; he doesn’t oppose Medicare, Medicaid or Harry Reid’s socialized medicine, but only wants to show Reid how to “do it better.” Thus Scott Brown has a handful of wholly-conventional suggestions about how to better tweak Washington’s socialized-medicine schemes, so as to help Massachusetts. This is hardly a fresh or “independent” politician.

Establishment conservatives and Republicans agree entirely with Scott Brown that socialized medicine should be adopted in America, but “slowly,” “transparently,” and with the full participation of GOP politicians. They don’t oppose a government takeover of any economic sector, really, and also don’t oppose the powers, the favors and the pork that come with it; they simply want their “fair share” of those powers, favors and pork; GOP politicians merely oppose Democrats getting all of the associated powers, favors and pork. Thus we hear Michael Steele, head of the Republican National Committee, complaining to ABC’s “Good Morning America” that “there’s been a pattern here that began last spring, of the Obama Administration refusing to acknowledge what people across the country have been saying: slow it down, step-by-step, bottom-up, let’s take a close look at what it costs, who pays and all of that.” This was precisely the strategy adopted by Ted Kennedy himself over the decades: enact socialized medicine in steps.

Notice how the GOP’s myopic focus is on the process, not the substance of policy. The party’s “leaders” don’t oppose socialized medicine in principle or substance; they only want to be part of the scheming by which it’s adopted. The GOP’s Minority Whip in the House, Eric Cantor (R-VA), said of his supposed political opponents that “there’s a way for us to work together. Republicans have proffered solutions in health care. I’m hopeful this [Scott Brown] election will send the message that the Democrats will begin to listen to the priorities of the American people, which is to put the economy and jobs first, as well as not to embark on a plan to spend $1 trillion causing a government takeover of health care without accomplishing the goal of reducing costs.” Thus Cantor would endorse a “government takeover of health care” so long as it lowered health care costs; that could include price controls, which would cause shortages and rationing. According to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, “This is a day of celebration, a day to gloat, because conservatism and smaller government won, while statism and liberalism lost.” He too seems unconcerned that Scott Brown endorses socialized medicine — and no wonder, since Limbaugh believes government “has a moral obligation to find some way to cover” people who lack health insurance, [2] in short, that there’s somehow a “right” to health care — which means, a “right” to the coerced and/or unpaid service of health-insurers and health-care providers (serfs).

Karl Rove, famed political advisor to George Bush (2001-2009) — the president who in 2008 said he “abandoned free market principles to save the free market system,” [3] after expanding the size of the U.S. federal government more than any other U.S. president since FDR — told a Fox News interviewer on election night that “this is a shocker,” and “at the heart of it is not two different competing candidates but two different competing philosophies, because the voters of a deeply Democratic state said they don’t like what we’ve seen from the Democrats in the past year.” Yet a “different, competitive philosophy” is precisely what the Massachusetts Senatorial election was not about. Scott Brown and his new GOP colleagues do not represent a fundamental alternative to the Democrats. Both endorse the welfare state and its step-wise expansion — just as the GOP expanded Medicare (with the prescription drug benefit) in 2003.

The fact that Medicare and Medicaid have already curbed the freedom of health-care providers, have already made health care less affordable, and have already begun to bankrupt America, doesn’t deter the “bipartisan” power-lusters in the least, because both political parties believe themselves to be on a moral crusade. They believe altruism is a virtuous ethic, when in fact, as the ethic of self-sacrifice and service, it’s the ethic fueling serfdom. That’s the deeper reason why power-lusters of all political stripes have pursued the same end in the past. Socialized medicine was first proposed by Republican Theodore Roosevelt in 1912, when he ran for a third term as president on the “Progressive” Party platform. Democrat President Harry Truman pushed it again in 1948. Medicare and Medicaid were first adopted in 1965 with “bipartisan” political support. Further government expansions into medicine were actively sought or achieved piecemeal by GOP President Nixon in 1971, Democrat President Clinton in 1993, GOP President Bush in 2003 and now Democrat President Obama. As Ted Kennedy himself wrote last summer, in recounting this history, “Current versions of health reform are the product of decades of debate between Republicans and Democrats.” [4]

Despite Scott Brown’s claim about being a “new breed” of Republican, he’ll soon find himself perfectly at home among the current GOP compromisers in Washington. The road to socialized medicine in America will be paved still farther, with his help. We’ve already seen the GOP endorse the substance of socialized medicine, while merely quibbling about the process by which it’s adopted. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) exemplifies this approach. He told MSNBC “the message from [the Massachusetts election] yesterday was to defeat this health care bill, to start over on a truly bipartisan basis and get it right. There must be no more gamesmanship by Democrats. The reason the American people didn’t accept this health care bill is because they knew it had no bipartisan support, that it was cooked-up behind closed doors with a lot of special deals. That’s not the way to operate. Obama still has a chance here to move to the middle. He ought to take this as a message to recalibrate how he wants to govern, and if he wants to govern in the middle, we Republicans will be happy to meet him there.” Like others in the GOP, Sen. McConnell doesn’t favor capitalist medicine, but also doesn’t oppose taking further steps down the middle road to socialized medicine; he just wants to ensure that he, his colleagues and we all walk down that road in lock-step with Democrats.

Most polls in recent years reveal that Americans believe the country is “on the wrong track.” That’s surely true — and both political parties are taking them there. Yet few people know what the right track actually entails. It’s time to pave a new road entirely — not the road to serfdom, but a purely capitalist road, undergirded by a selfish-individualist ethic. [5]

[1] For this and Brown’s views on a range of issues, from a detailed survey he completed in 2002, see

[2] Interviewed by Chris Wallace, Fox News, November 1, 2009 (see

[3] Bush interviewed on CNN, December 16, 2008;

[4] Senator Edward M. Kennedy, “The Cause of My Life: Inside the Fight for Universal Health Care,” Newsweek, July 27, 2009 (available at

[5] See two of Ayn Rand’s books, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal (New American Library, 1966) and The Virtue of Selfishness: A New Concept of Egoism (1964).


Dr. Salsman is president of InterMarket Forecasting, Inc., an assistant professor of political economy at Duke University and a senior fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. Previously he was an economist at Wainwright Economics, Inc. and a banker at the Bank of New York and Citibank. Dr. Salsman has authored three books: Breaking the Banks: Central Banking Problems and Free Banking Solutions (AIER, 1990), Gold and Liberty (AIER, 1995), and The Political Economy of Public Debt: Three Centuries of Theory and Evidence (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017). In 2021 his fourth book – Where Have all the Capitalist Gone? – will be published by the American Institute for Economic Research. He is also author of a dozen chapters and scores of articles. His work has appeared in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, Reason Papers, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, the Economist, the Financial Post, the Intellectual Activist, and The Objective Standard. Dr. Salsman earned his B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College (1981), his M.A. in economics from New York University (1988), and his Ph.D. in political economy from Duke University (2012). His personal website is

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

Related articles

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Special interest groups and big donors make campaign contributions because they believe that the candidate will support legislation favorable to them and their agenda.

An Electoral College Within Each State

An Electoral College Within Each State

Instead of the United States abandoning the Electoral College, state legislatures should take us in exactly the opposite direction. From now on, they should abandon a statewide popular vote for president, and instead either appoint electors directly or implement an Electoral College-type system within each state.

No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

Pin It on Pinterest