Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving, Freedom, and the Rule of Law

As I enjoy this Thanksgiving holiday I can't help but consider why America enjoys such a high standard of living: Our prosperity is directly proportional to freedom and our respect for the rule of law. Without both, poverty is certain.

Where people can depend upon laws that are equally and consistently enforced, societies prosper. Uncertainty is the bane of prosperity. To the degree that people can predict the future they are willing to invest their time and resources into projects that will increase those resources. But when the outcome of a project is uncertain, people are less willing to invest.

The only thing more destructive to prosperity than uncertainty is lack of freedom. People that are denied the freedom to keep what they create, that are denied the freedom to decide what to create and how to do it, don’t create. It doesn’t matter how impoverished they become. If they are convinced that they can’t keep what they make, people are more likely to starve than work.

These facts have been proven throughout the world. Let’s take three Caribbean islands for example. If you had to choose, would you rather live in Cuba, Haiti, or Puerto Rico? They all have about the same natural resources, in the same region. So, they’re all the same, right? Wrong. Cuban citizens have little freedom, but probably have relative certainty when it comes to the rule of law. Haitian citizens are more free than Cubans, but have little certainty when it comes to the rule of law. Puerto Ricans can count on the rule of law and have freedom (at least to the degree that all Americans still have freedom and law). Cubans and Haitians live in abject poverty, at least compared to Puerto Ricans. Similar comparisons can be made throughout the world and throughout history.

It is simply undeniable that both freedom and rule of law are both required if prosperity is to be obtained. Laws must be enforced equally and consistently and the laws must be limited to only those that are absolutely necessary to protect fundamental rights of individuals. When the rule of law is honored and the law is designed to enhance freedom, prosperity follows.

America has the standard of living it has because it used to have relatively high levels of freedom, protected by laws that were consistently and equally enforced. We’re now living off what is left of that legacy. America has lost its greatness and its prosperity in recent years BECAUSE it lost its freedom and its rule of law.

Why does it matter that the 1942 Supreme Court interpreted the commerce clause to mean that Congress could pass a law prohibiting a farmer from growing wheat on his own land to feed his own family? It matters because it was a stark example of the supreme law of the land being ignored in a way that destroyed freedom. Once courts can twist the meaning of plain language to mean the opposite of its intended meaning, the rule of law is lost. At that point there is no longer certainty. Soon after that, there is no freedom. America has been on this road for a long time. Wickard v. Filburn was a fork in the road. We took the wrong turn. The only way to fix our nation is to return to that fork in the road and go down the right path. If we don’t our future Thanksgiving holidays will be very different. Please help us do all we can to return our country to the right path.

In Liberty,

Van Irion
Co-Founder, Lead Counsel
LIBERTY LEGAL FOUNDATION

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