Over the last century, America has lurched down a path toward statism. And Presidents Bush and Obama accelerated the expansion of government power by seizing an opportunity in the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.
The past year alone has brought full-on assaults from the left in the form of efforts to nationalize health care, impose crushing energy taxes and bail out failing industries. It illustrates all too well Thomas Jefferson's dire warning that the natural tendency is for the state to advance and for liberty to retreat. But there is a new sort of hope and change under way.
Anti-statist forces are likely to be ascendant in 2010. The Europeanization of America has long been a goal of Chattering Class Intellectuals but their message isn't selling. After all, we, like our statist opponents, favor change; we too seek a fairer, more secure, freer world. But, unlike our opponents, we favor empowering individuals, rather than restrictive regulations, as the better path to these goals.
Even in this first year of the Obama administration, there is growing resistance to the forced march toward ever-larger government.
To restore crucial freedoms and rights in this country, we need to advance a reform agenda, starting this New Year. To stimulate, we must first liberate:
c Repeal the Sarbanes-Oxley Act: This costly law has slowed innovation and growth and driven businesses abroad. This year, Congress delayed for small businesses the burdens of "Sarbox." In 2010, they should complete the task, repealing the whole act.
c Discipline the regulatory state: Regulations now constitute a $1 trillion hidden tax - a tax for which Congress has been allowed to evade responsibility. Those taking the tax pledge should now be required to support a law that no regulation can become law until its tax costs have been evaluated and until it has been approved by Congress.
c Abolish Fannie and Freddie: These half-private, half-political hybrids in which the firm remains nominally private but, via subsidies and mandates, is forced to advance some political goal have become very popular. This government-will-steer-the-market-will-row model seeks to reconcile the wealth creation role of the market with the wealth redistribution role of government. As our current financial crisis demonstrates, it does not work. We should end all government-sponsored enterprises - placing their market tasks in a truly private firm, their political tasks in some government agencies. We need no more financial collapses.
c Stop picking technology winners: History is replete with failed government innovation projects, from the Carter era SynFuels program to the ethanol programs of today. Slowing innovation to bureaucratic speed is a sure way of reducing America's economic growth. Move away the rocks of regulation and taxation and let a thousand entrepreneurial flowers bloom.
c Adopt European corporate tax rates: Statists want to emulate Europe - adopting the lower corporate tax rates that exist there would be a good place to start.
c Liberalize immigration: Many individuals from around the world are educated in America. We should remove all barriers to these people becoming citizens. Their skills would do much to enhance our economic growth.
c Restore constitutional spending restraints: Americans once understood that many "good" things should not be done by government. Isn't it time to do so again?
c Allow energy supply to meet demand: Current energy programs "solve" imbalances by suppressing consumer demand - cap-and-trade taxes to ration energy use, "smart grid" technology to give government control thermostats, fuel efficiency mandates to force consumers to buy smaller cars, mandates on TVs and light bulbs. The goal? A less mobile, darker, less comfortable world. Instead, allow our energy reserves to be developed, for consumers to make their own energy choices. With Cuba soon drilling for oil off the Florida coast, with consumers already beginning to horde light bulbs, it is time for government to expand, not restrict, our choices.
c Don't encourage suicidal economic policies: Many states have adopted Not-In-My-Backyard policies allowing almost anyone to block energy projects - from windmills to nuclear power plants. States and local communities should be free to adopt such suicidal policies, but Congress should no longer rush to assist them when their economies falter.
c No more bail-outs: The American taxpayer has bailed out Fannie and Freddie, along with a large number of other politically preferred firms. This must stop. To handle future failures, the bankruptcy laws should be revised to allow the orderly liquidation of these dying dinosaurs. No firm should be Too Big Too Fail!
c Don't stop medical progress: Government steps to reduce health care costs threaten medical progress. That fact has already largely eliminated innovation in Europe. Our 2010 goal must be, first, to block the nationalization of health care, mount legal challenges to whatever might emerge and pledge now to repeal any law that might be enacted when balance returns to America.
This year holds promise for a new start for America. As 2010 begins, we may be teetering on a cliff, but Americans aren't lemmings. Support for statist policies is dropping, and taxpayer anger is growing. There is a renewed understanding that the limitations on government of the Constitution are the best protections of our liberties. Their restoration should be the primary hopeful change advanced by all friends of liberty.
After all, while the Constitution is not perfect - it is vastly better than what we now have. This year, 2010, should be the year in which that fact becomes obvious.
Fred L. Smith Jr. is founder and president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.