The Total Failure of Modern Liberalism

Modern, as distinguished from classical, liberalism has been harming and continues to harm the well-being of Americans whenever its ideas are imposed on them, in any form, whether that of progressives, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Lyndon Baines Johnson, cultural Marxists, or those who promote political correctness and unqualified equality. Modern liberalism creates one disaster area after another in human affairs, and it will keep on doing this as long as its ideas gain adherents and are implemented. The reason why liberalism screws things up is that its ideas are screwy. They typically involve invasions of rights.

Washington is dominated by the ideas of modern liberals and so are the individual state governments. Right and left no longer make a difference. The two major parties no longer make a difference. Modern conservatism has endorsed the ideas of modern liberalism to such a great extent that it is not a viable alternative to modern liberalism.

The only alternatives to choose from are those that have a strong and consistent understanding of rights, liberty, markets, property, contracts, the State, and government.

Let’s take a look at FDR’s contribution to liberal ideas in his 1944 State of the Union address in order to see why certain of his ideas were and still are screwy. We need to do this because the U.S. government has imposed these ideas on Americans for 70 years.

Roosevelt has a section on a “second Bill of Rights.” He starts with a portion of the classical liberal narrative, but then veers sharply away from it. Here’s the start:

“This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.”

This is all right as far as it goes, but it doesn’t reference property rights directly. It doesn’t reference the Amendment V: “…nor shall any person…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

FDR could not possibly emphasize property rights when almost everything he was about to propose involved invasions of property rights.

He immediately denigrates and shelves his abbreviated version of the factors that facilitated the growth of the Republic with this putdown:

“As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.”

He not only dismisses these political rights as inadequate, when there is no justification for doing so, he points to a new goal. It is not “the pursuit of happiness” but “equality in the pursuit of happiness” (my emphasis). This unqualified goal of equality is totally wrong and leads to all sorts of mischief and unhappiness. If he had said “equal rights”, the meaning would have been entirely justified and different, but he instead opens a Pandora’s Box. He is suggesting, it seems, the impossible-to-attain goal of equal opportunity. He is opening the door to broader interpretations pushed by later liberals, like equality of outcomes, equality by quota, numerically proportional equality, equality by gender, equality by sexual preference, and income equality.

FDR presents his justification for his new ideas:

“We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.”

Here FDR expresses more screwy ideas in defense of replacing traditional rights with his Second Bill of Rights. The first and more important assertion is that a man is not a free man unless he has economic security. The classical idea is that a man is free as long as his rights are not being invaded by others. He can be poor and free. This definition of freedom is unambiguous, and it also means that poor and rich can co-exist, each having his or her rights intact. FDR says that a poor man cannot be a free man, but we do not know what he means by “free”. He doesn’t mean the classical definition, so what does he mean? He means that unless a man has economic security, he doesn’t have freedom of action. FDR equates freedom with power orcommand over resources. Why is this idea screwy? It’s because FDR believes that freedom can be increased by increasing a man’s goods. This idea is not troublesome if each man does not invade the rights of other men while attempting to increase his goods. This is not what FDR has in mind, however.

As a direct introduction to his economic proposals, he states that his idea of freedom is true and self-evident, which it is not:

“In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.”

We now see what FDR has in store for Americans, and it is invasion of property rights under the guise of being rights! FDR lists 7 so-called “rights”. The first is

“The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;”

There is no such right. There cannot be such a right, because it trenches on the rights of others. A right is a term signifying that which is due you, and this means without impairing the rights of others. If you had a “right” (an FDR right) to a “useful and remunerative job”, it would mean that someone or some people owe it to you, and that’s why it is due you. But no one owes you a job simply by virtue of your being an American or a person. If people owed you a job, for no other reason than who you are, then this would trench on their true (classical) right to their belongings. It would impair their freedom.

FDR doesn’t make clear who is going to supply these useful and remunerative jobs. If he thinks the government is to do it, this hides the rights violations behind the government’s taxing power. In addition, it makes the government the controller of jobs and pay. This replaces rights, markets, freedom, contracts and private property by government control.

FDR’s second “right” is similar, and it’s the father of the minimum wage:

“The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;”

The same criticisms apply.

The next “right” leads to government control and subsidies for the agricultural sector:

“The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;”

Exactly the same criticisms apply. There is no such classical right and there cannot possibly be such a right. FDR is completely subverting the term “right”. No one owes a farmer a particular price for his product or payment such that he and his family have a decent living. If that were so, everyone’s classical rights and freedoms would have to be curtailed and their own product diverted to support the farmer.

FDR’s program says that everyone owes everyone else a job and a living. This is a logical impossibility. It is also a nightmare to implement, which is why modern liberalism pragmatically screws up whatever industry, market or sector it touches. A flaming modern liberal who seeks a distribution of incomes that he considers “just” will find that he is constantly expanding the sectors under control, due to their complex interrelations. He will become a complete regulatory socialist. The more “practical” modern liberal will stop short of total control. He or she will mess up some particular industry or sector and leave it at that, creating economic distortions that are ignored.

FDR’s next “right” has led to nothing but grief because “unfair competition” is impossible to define. In practice, implementing this policy penalizes price-cutting, innovations and success.

“The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;”

The next “right” has most recently given rise to a housing boom and bust. It has led to an unstable banking sector. It has encouraged urban sprawl and messed with the kinds and locations of both businesses and housing that might have occurred if housing markets had not been subsidized:

“The right of every family to a decent home;”

As with earlier “rights”, there is no such right. No one owes anyone a job, a price for their goods, much less a home or a “decent” home. FDR’s program meant that the government would control economic activity in such a way as to create these results or try to. This could only impair rights and impair economic activity.

Further examples of this impairment occur in each of the sectors associated with the next three “rights”:

“The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;”

“The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;”

“The right to a good education.”

Modern liberals do not admit that liberalism has seriously undermined the medical sector. People going overseas for medical care recognize it. Modern liberals do not admit that liberalism’s signal programs, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, have all sorts of serious negative effects, that these programs have serious problems, and that these problems are growing. “The right to a good education” is still a goal of modern liberalism, despite the huge failures of public education.

Roosevelt asked for legislation on these “rights”:

“I ask the Congress to explore the means for implementing this economic bill of rights- for it is definitely the responsibility of the Congress so to do. Many of these problems are already before committees of the Congress in the form of proposed legislation.”

He got his legislation. More came later. America is living with these laws and so-called “rights” to this day. They are a drag on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Second Bill of Rights of Franklin Roosevelt was a complete fraud, mired in goals that distort and undermine the classic concept of rights. No person could get an “FDR right” without losing a “classical right”.

Every part of his program has been implemented and every part has led to negative effects and failures.

Americans turned away from growth, progress, invention and the creation of greater wealth. They instead focused more on wealth redistribution, regulation, government controls and regulations, all financed by higher taxes. The overall results are showing up more and more after 70 years of this punishment.