The Free Market Shouldn't Be Just For The Economy
June 18, 2006

The United States and the Soviet Union provided a side-by-side experiment directly comparing a free market economy to a centrally planned and controlled one. The experiment ran for 70 years but no one had to wait for the end to figure out which system provided superior results in all areas, except two, of human endeavor. Those two exceptions were corruption and despotism. Both flourished in the Soviet Union while the people starved.

Centralized planning and control diminishes liberty and concentrates power without concentrating knowledge. The free market, built on liberty, does not concentrate power or knowledge. It leaves both where they can be most effectively used, with the individual person. The U.S. with its free market flourished while the Soviet Union struggled and finally collapsed in 1991.

Centralized planning and control of an economy is recognized as a failed idea by all but the dedicated Left in America and other countries. Indeed, the American Left still favors it in all areas of society and pursues the growth of government relentlessly. Even some Americans who are not explicit Lefties still favor centralized planning and control for other areas of society, for example elections and speech.

The Free Market for Ideas

In the pursuit of wealth and happiness, the economy is the battlefield and money is the artillery. In the pursuit of power in a free country, politics is the battlefield and communication is the artillery. An economy operates best if the playing field can be made as level as possible with as few rules as possible. The same can be said of politics.

Parties and their candidates have ideas thatthey want to communicate to voters in order to get elected. What they communicate may be truth or it may be misleading. It's the competition between the parties and between the candidates that is the best process available to the voter for sorting out the truth.

Assault on the First Amendment

In the late 1980s McCain was named in the embarrassing Keating Five scandal in which he and four other Senators provided help to Charles Keating, who was secretly manipulating savings and loan banks. The Senate ethics committee's special counsel concluded in 1991 that McCain was not substantially involved in the influence-peddling scheme, but criticized him and three others for "questionable conduct". McCain remained in the Senate and made campaign finance reform a key legislative interest. McCain has subsequently remarked that he was, 'shocked,' and, 'ashamed,' of being involved in the matter, and has subsequently cited his experience with the Keating Five scandal as one of the driving forces behind his legislative efforts for campaign finance reform. (From Wikipedia, here)

Late in 2002 John McCain succeeded, with the help of co-sponsor Russ Feingold, in his efforts to enact a law that greatly increased federal control of campaign financing. He chose one approach from among many to solve a problem that had touched him personally and damaged him politically. The direction he took was away from freedom, away from personal liberty and specifically away from the First Amendment.

In our world, money buys communication. If the money is regulated communication is regulated but not necessarily equally for everybody. On 3/23/2005, the Wall Street Journal has this to say about the McCain/Feingold Campaign Finance Reform law.:

Since 2003, when the Supreme Court upheld it, McCain-Feingold has failed spectacularly in its stated goal of reining in fat-cat donors. Yet its uncompromising language has helped to gag practically every other politically active entity--from advocacy groups to labor unions. Now the FEC is being asked to censor another segment of society, the millions of individuals who engage in political activity online.

The internet had become the loophole in McCain/Feingold with predictable results. The WSJ goes on to say this:

The problem facing the FEC is that McCain-Feingold broadly restricts coordination with, and contributions to, political candidates. So what is the agency to do with all those people who use their Web sites to praise a candidate? Computers and Web access cost money, which could be construed as a financial contribution to a campaign...

To its credit, the FEC tried to avoid this headache in 2002 by exempting the Internet from campaign-finance rules. This proved far too sensible for the sponsors of the law, who sued the commission for allowing "loopholes" and got a federal judge to strike down the exemption... Full text here.

Which of these is more desirable in a free society, A - rules designed so that less is communicated or, B - rules designed so that more is communicated? This is not to say more messages should be communicated, it is to say more information should be included in the message. Who is sponsoring the message, who is donating to the candidate, how much of the total funding is this sponsor or group of similar sponsors providing? Answers to these would all be good information to have when deciding how to vote. If you hear a message asking you to call your senator and praise or object to a bill that had something to do with import taxes on sugar would it be helpful to know if that message was sponsored by a sugar producer or a soft drink manufacturer?

McCain's earlier attempt at Campaign reform legislation actually went in this direction. Here's a press release from his own website, note the date.

Immediate Release
Wednesday, Jun 07, 2000

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In an effort to increase accountability and end the practice of political ads being paid for by secret donors, U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today introduced an amendment that mandates that the names of contributors to entities operating under Section 527 of the tax code be disclosed. Early this evening he delivered the following statement on the Senate floor:

"Mr. President, this amendment would mandate that the names of contributors to entities operating under Section 527 of the tax code be disclosed. This amendment is simple. It is straightforward. It would impose no substantial burdens on any entity. And most importantly, it is constitutional and in no way infringes on the free speech of any individual or group. Full text available here

In mid 2000 it seemed, John McCain had more regard for the First Amendment. Seventeen months later however, his McCain/Feingold bill became effective. It is hard to imagine how McCain/Feingold could have moved in a more perfectly opposite direction. McCain/Feingold was put to its first test in the 2004 national campaign. It turned out to be pretty bad for politics in general. Browsing the internet will turn up plenty of opinions both pro and con but the ones pointing out the flaws in the legislation tend more to be fact-based and less demagogic.

John McCain's position today

In USA Today dated 11/3/2004 John McCain said:

While McCain-Feingold ended the soft-money game, a new problem has emerged in the form of tax-exempt 527 groups, named for a section of the tax code for a category of non-profit political organizations. Political operatives in both parties created new 527 groups to circumvent campaign finance laws and continue to inject soft money into federal elections. The 527 groups illegally raised and spent tens of millions of dollars in soft money on ads and partisan voter-mobilization efforts to influence the presidential election.

He ended the article with this:

It is clear that the FEC is a failed agency with overtly partisan commissioners who oppose both new and longstanding campaign finance statutes. The FEC has proved its ineffectiveness and its willingness to run roughshod over the will of the Congress, the Supreme Court, the American people and the Constitution. In January, the new Congress will convene, and we will initiate a new round of necessary reforms beginning with a new enforcement agency to replace the FEC. Full text here.

Evidently, John McCain is committed to expanding his assault on the First Amendment. His leadership tendencies in this critical area are toward less freedom and more regulation. Even if this tactic was purposed to give his party an advantage over opponent parties, this assault on the First Amendment is inexcusable. A CATO Institute article of 3/17/04 available here ends with this:

Two centuries ago, Congress passed the Sedition Act, which punished critics of the government. Inveighing against the Act, James Madison pointed out that "the right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of communication thereon, is the only effectual guardian of every other right."

The rumblings are growing weekly that John McCain is the Republican party's obvious choice for presidential candidate in 2008. Given his position on free speech alone, John McCain would make a very poor choice for Republican candidate for President of the United States.