Federalism, socialism and ‘dreams of fancy’

Explaining the incredible prosperity of New England in the colonial era and early American republic, Alexis de Tocqueville noted first that the people were left largely alone by the government.

“It seemed as if New England was a region given up to the dreams of fancy and the unrestrained experiments of innovators.

“The English colonies (and this is one of the main causes of their prosperity) have always enjoyed more internal freedom and more political independence than the colonies of other nations; but this principle of liberty was nowhere more extensively applied than in the States of New England.”

Today, only one New England state retains that independent spirit, and we live in it. (Except for you poor suckers who subscribe to this newsletter across state lines.)

As we wrote last week, New Hampshire was just ranked the most economically free state by Canada’s Fraser Institute. That study is remarkable in that New Hampshire ranks No. 1 not just in the U.S. but in all of North America.

Our cultural attachment to low taxes and limited government has made us both free and prosperous. Crucially, it’s a choice we’ve been free to make for ourselves just as our countrymen in other states have been at liberty to create their own destinies.

Vermonters don’t want to be Granite Staters (and vice versa). Montanans don’t want to be New Yorkers. (Nobody really wants to be a Rhode Islander, but inertia is a powerful force.)

Federalism leaves us all free to govern ourselves.

Until it doesn’t anymore.

And that’s the real threat from the ideological movement that bills itself as “democratic socialism” these days.

Vermont and Colorado really, really, really wanted to create a single-payer health care system. After lengthy planning, both states abandoned the project. The price was so astronomically high that even in Vermont, a state with an actual Progressive Party and a “socialist” U.S. senator, people realized that socialist Utopian dreams can’t always come true.

But as Sen. Ted Cruz pointed out during Thursday night’s Libertas Award Dinner (what, you didn’t attend?), some politicians (including one from Vermont) want to impose this Utopian dream upon every resident of every American state, leaving no American with any hope of escape.

What is being called socialism is a dark, continent-wide cloud full of plans that require 100 percent compliance. Whatever the issue, there’s a plan, and that plan brooks no dissent. All must comply. All most obey.

Under such a national regime, there can be no more “unrestrained experiments of innovators.”

Our laboratories of democracy would be transformed into ministries of compliance.

From the dictates of the state, there would be no escape.

Sen. Cruz, who hails from Texas, loves to point out that the price of a moving van going from California into Texas is three to four times as expensive as one going the opposite direction. Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute has documented this.

There’s little demand for a moving truck traveling one-way from Houston to L.A., but a lot of Los Angelenos are desperate to escape to Houston.

That’s because our American system leaves the people of the various states free to run their own experiments in self government (as long as they don’t violate their neighbors’ constitutional rights).

This experimentation is the essence of American republicanism. It’s what economists call permission-less innovation. Instead of government telling people what they’re allowed to do, it leaves them free to innovate, to create, to craft the future that they choose rather than the one some prince or minister chooses for them.

If Americans don’t defend their right to create and innovate, to live their own “dreams of fancy,” they will find themselves one day living the dreams of others and wondering what happened.

1 reply
  1. Deanne says:

    Unfortunately, New Hampshire’s number one rating has little to do with actual liberty, but is only an acknowledgement that New Hampshire is moving left only slightly more slowly than other states. I am thankful we don’t have income tax or sales tax, but believe me, I pay plenty in property tax (I intentionally live as simply as possible, making my life more difficult, to keep taxes low enough to reduce the possibility of losing my home).

    Just recently got a timber tax bill based on way more than I was paid by the logger. I am challenging this, but I was told the only way to get the late-fee interest clock to stop was to go ahead and pay the inflated amount … and, I guess, hope they will adjust for the difference.

    No, I can’t say that I’m celebrating New Hampshire’s “win.” Looking around this state, I can’t say I think we are anywhere near truly free here. The only way to claim we are, is to compare with other contemporary states that are less free. When compared to the constitution, or to any historical idea of liberty, we’re sunk.

    And I don’t see it getting better… People insist on asking for more and more from government. And the women who represent our state in congress are only too happy to try to oblige.

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