Leftists often appropriate “freedom” and “rights” in a way that twists the meaning of ideas that are fundamental to a free society.
For example, the issues page on Pete Buttigieg’s 2020 presidential campaign website claims he runs on three values: freedom, security, and democracy.
“Freedom is not just ‘freedom from’ but also ‘freedom to’,” it says on his site.
He uses this slogan, which he often repeats, to justify providing universal healthcare and higher education through government programs and regulation.
A recurring theme of his campaign is the conflation of two concepts: (1) freedom for people to live their own lives, and (2) the idea that the government must ensure all have certain material goods or services.
But Buttigieg’s so-called freedom is actually antithetical to freedom of choice; it takes away the freedom for people to choose how to spend their own money independent from the government.
After all, how much freedom will people have to choose their healthcare under “Medicare for All”? (Of course, Mayor Pete wouldn’t institute Medicare for All – yet – just “Medicare for All Who Want It,” which “will create the glide path toward Medicare for All.”)
DISTORTION AND ITS PROBLEMS
On a fundamental level, for the government to give people material goods is not the same as giving people the freedom to attain them, and it will not accomplish the same effects.
But Pete Buttigieg is not the first left-winger to fudge the concept of liberty away from its traditional meaning: freedom from forcible infringement of rights. It is a trend dating back as far as 1880 of muddling and co-opting the meaning of words central to classical liberalism, as chronicled by Professor Daniel Klein of George Mason University.
It would be good for everyone to have important commodities, but when the government mandates this it has unintended consequences. After all, the government’s existing involvement has caused education and healthcare prices to skyrocket.
Also, as a government adopts more social programs and regulations, it expands its power and influence over individuals. As British philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote:
“If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government; if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the employees of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherwise than in name.”
Those who support government guarantees must consider that someone must produce a good for people to have it, and whether government programs will actually increase or discourage its production. They must also consider whether it will increase or limit freedom.
Instead, policies should create economic opportunity and make it less costly for people to afford these on their own, rather than making taxpayers pay for it.