The Primacy of Principles

Posted on November 04, 2002 | Type: Op-Ed | Author: Tom Jenney
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Every few weeks during an election year, an Arizona pundit or civic spokesman announces that the state is in dire need of "leadership," and needs people who will make the "tough decisions" necessary for the future of the state.

Such proclamations ignore the other key factor in the leadership equation: having the right principles. For political change to secure lasting benefits to the public, leadership must be informed by right principles. Strong leadership informed by wrong principles brings disaster.

For an excellent example of leadership informed by right principles, Arizona needs to look no further than its own homegrown political icon, Barry Goldwater. Here in the final stretch of the election, it's a good idea to review some of Goldwater's principles:

Do the Job Right, or Don't Do It.

In 1954, Goldwater opposed American involvement in Vietnam. Ten years later, with the US sinking deeper into the Vietnamese quagmire, Goldwater urged the country to do what was necessary to win the war. He warned that a "defensive war is never won." At the time, the choices seemed too extreme: win the war, or get out. In 1975, with 58,000 dead Americans, the nation learned that Goldwater was right: the reality of war rarely admits a "third way."

In much the same way, the reality of economics rarely allows politicians to steer a middle course between free markets and government control. As people are learning across the world, from Australia to Pennsylvania, electrical deregulation is a marvelous thing. But California's half-baked version of electrical "deregulation" should serve as a standing warning to Corporation Commissioners who think Arizona's regulators can "manage" competition for the benefit of consumers. Although California set its wholesale market free, it kept the prices in its retail market artificially low, giving consumers no incentive to cut back on usage. The result: massive shortages.

Avoid Hand-outs.

In 1960, Goldwater wrote that the recipient of welfare would experience the "elimination of any feeling of responsibility for his own welfare and that of his family and neighbors." Five years later, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan's famous report reiterated Goldwater's warning by suggesting that welfare was contributing to the creation of a vast underclass in America's inner cities. Four decades later, we see that they were right.

If welfare for individuals is destructive, welfare for corporations is unsightly. In a recent report, Goldwater Institute economist Stephen Slivinski identifies over $20 million in subsidies to Arizona businesses, including the entire budgets of the Office of Tourism and the Department of Commerce. Such subsidies waste taxpayer dollars and cause recipient businesses to run less efficiently.

Avoid Feel-Good Legislation.

In 1964, Goldwater told the nation that the latest civil rights act was a mirage, that "no law can make one person like another if he doesn't want to." Although he had a strong record as a desegregationist in Arizona and was committed to integration in his personal life, Goldwater knew that the public accommodation clauses in the act would "destroy the rights of some under the false banner of promoting the civil rights of others."

As governmental mandates pile up on businesses, we see that Goldwater was right. Just ask the Tempe bar and restaurant owners whose property rights and freedom of association have been destroyed in order to promote the "rights" of non-smokers.

Never Promise Anyone a Free Lunch.

In 1964, Goldwater sounded utopian when he suggested that Social Security could be made voluntary, saying, "if a person can provide better for himself, let him do it." Forty years later, it is increasingly clear that the crown jewel of the New Deal is a bad deal for workers. According to the Cato Institute, "Even with the recent stock market decline, a worker investing only in stocks would receive benefits 2.8 times higher than he would had he 'invested' the same amount of money in the current system."

Arizona voters should be leery of politicians who promise a free lunch. A popular item on today's political menu is having Medicare expand its prescription drug coverage for seniors. But watch out: Medicare's unfunded liability over the next 75 years is already approaching $9 trillion dollars-bigger than America's yearly Gross National Product. Our children and grandchildren will be paying for that "free" lunch.

Of course, having the right principles didn't make Barry Goldwater's political career easy. He lost the presidency to a strong leader whose principles, when he had any, were disastrously wrong. But Goldwater's principles did sustain him through many years of public service. And because they were the right principles, they have endured.

Tom Jenney is Director of Outreach for the Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based free market think tank.

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