The Party of Small Government and Free Markets Has an Identity Problem

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There’s been a fascinating dynamic within the Republican party ever since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for President, and it’s shined a light on how the talking points of vocal Republican voters don’t meet their real desires for governance.

States’ rights has been the battle cry against the evil, overpowering Federal government since the Civil War. One could even argue the general idea began with the colonies before the Revolutionary War. Every time democratic policy or liberal ideology hits a red-held stronghold nowadays, the roar for states’ rights strengthens.

What did states like Alabama and Arizona argue when passing immigration laws a few years ago? States’ rights.

Which argument are they using against Planned Parenthood funding right now? States’ rights.

What devilry did Obamacare do on a local level? Violated states’ rights.

Marriage equality? Nope. States’ rights issue.

…So why do these ideas only apply when it is convenient? When it fits the goal of the selected ideology?

North Carolina won’t let a city dictate its own transgender bathroom policy, but they certainly whined about government overreach when the federal government threatened their funding. That might be a bit hypocritical when you’re acting like big government yourself.

Alabama will not let cities like Birmingham set their own minimum wage. Apparently, small government only means we let states make the decisions. A real small government approach would let cities and towns create their own regulations within reason, but then those cities might not tow the strictly conservative line. We can’t have that, but we sure can let local municipalities choose to refuse to issue marriage licenses since gay marriage is legal (thanks, Alabama).

Attorney General Jeff Sessions thinks marijuana is on par with hard drugs, and if he could wave his magic, wrinkly old hand, states that legalized recreational pot would be on crackdown notice. I thought he advocated states’ rights?

Republicans talk about selling health insurance across state borders, but wouldn’t that have to violate states’ rights? First, companies can technically already do that with Obamacare, but they do have to follow individual state regulations and spend the money to set up their networks. Second, if you allowed a company to set up shop in Idaho with eased regulations and sell insurance with said regulations in Florida, aren’t you violating Florida’s rights to require certain standards for health insurance sold in the state? It’s hard to talk about federal overreach with some sort of national system when you’d violate states’ rights, too.

This is all nice red meat for the base, especially when they’re fighting for conservative policies that get voters in a regular tizzy. The facts, though…well, they just don’t line up. I don’t find the so-called “party of small government and states’ rights” to actually want small government and advocate states’ rights much when they’re in power. I mean, at least the Democrats admit they’re going to tax and spend. Republicans sell tax cuts and don’t pay the bill for their deficit spending.

I have a hard time believing Republicans are the type of hardcore small government that they sell, just like I have a hard time believing they really like free markets and trade.

Free trade hit the backburner with Trump leading the party into the White House. NAFTA and the TPP were just the most horrible ideas ever created, and suddenly trade wars and tariffs were options on the menu. Nevermind the fact that automation, advances in technology and techniques, and increased productivity caused the biggest change to American manufacturing; apparently, it was all NAFTA, so boo trade. (Yes, Democrats are guilty of this, too.)

Now, I’m not arguing that either agreement is free trade, because they’re not, but research shows that NAFTA itself had a small, yet positive, impact on the American economy. TPP would likely do the same, along with showing our power in the Pacific. But that doesn’t matter. The party that once argued for trade agreements now has a constituency that hates them because catchy talking points get votes and discussion of complicated issues does not.

At least they’re still advocating free markets, right? The Trump Administration is rolling back Obama-era regulations to give the market more wiggle room. Congress is trying to put the free market back into healthcare. Trump wants to let the energy sector rip.

Let’s be completely honest here, though: There is no real free market that exists because governments all have some form of regulation. Energy companies and farmers get subsidies. The FDA regulates medications on the market. Companies get the joy of having the government protect their patents and trademarks, something that shouldn’t happen in a true free market. Even freest-ballin’, financial capital Hong Kong put in place more finance regulations after the recent global financial disaster.

Most Americans and companies themselves would not be happy with an entirely free market, if it existed. We can deregulate a bit, though, and that’s what Republicans are doing, even if they do still in many ways protect their pet sectors.

It’s good for votes. It’s nice rhetoric. But are Republicans really fans of a free market?

I’d argue that they have a huge, flashing yellow caution light that says they romanticize the idea more than they stick to its full implications.

One of the biggest promises of Donald Trump’s campaign was to build a wall along the border, make Mexico pay for it, and put a stopper in the illegal immigration pipeline. We’re going to avoid talking about how the use of eminent domain is not a small government principle, taxes on Mexican goods would be paid by Americans, and the rate of border crossings has dropped since its peak in the 2000s (just to name a few things). Instead, there’s a more compelling concern to tackle: how is the limitation of the free flow of labor a free market principle?

I’m not arguing for wide open borders. I’m not saying that we should just let anyone in, consequences be damned. But while I understand the whole “Americans first” slogan, you cannot be a true advocate of the free market and at the same time tell companies that they cannot have easy access to labor that suits their needs, even if it’s not American workers. Yes, make sure that they follow labor laws and minimum wage requirements since we have them. Prosecute companies that hire illegal workers, which we’re avoiding like the plague right now. Make sure taxes are paid. But don’t limit the available workforce because that’s not a free market. The United States should look at immigration in a way that would benefit the free market rather than go against its values via protectionism that causes unneeded distortions in the labor market. Let’s fix the problems that are already there by changing our policies and enforcing the obvious ones.

If republicans want a free market, the United States should look at immigration in a way that would benefit the free market rather than go against its values via protectionism. Let’s fix the problems that are already there by changing our policies and enforcing the obvious ones.

Either way, comprehensive immigration reform is vital to tackle the problems we have. Right now we’re just continuing to ignore the issue of our backed up, antiquated system, which takes forever to navigate through. We need immigrants. They create jobs by opening businesses and spending in the economy. They also play a significant role in the future of our tax system.

One of the biggest reasons America does not have a population that is aging as quickly as Japan and Europe is our immigrants, especially the influx from Mexico and South America. Americans are having fewer children, but immigrants are having more, which helps keep the future tax base from drastically shrinking. The percentage of Americans over 65 years of age is expected to grow from 15 percent in 2016 to 24 percent in 2060, and Medicare and Social Security are projected to increase from 8 percent of the gross domestic product to 12 percent by 2050. If you think the problems with funding Social Security and Medicare are bad now as baby boomers begin to retire, just wait until the tax base is even smaller and a larger chunk of the population is out of the workforce. We need to once again embrace our history as a nation of immigrants and learn from the countries that are struggling with an aging population.

The first step is easy. The free market is begging Republicans to embrace immigration reform the way it was meant to be. It doesn’t want a divorce; it wants to get counseling and save their marriage! There’s also a support group just waiting to lend a hand, as the Democrats want comprehensive reform.

Politicians could start by streamlining the immigration system so it’s easy to come in and work if you pass a background check. Require people to check in periodically and renew at specific intervals, require them to have a job before they enter the country or within a particular frame of time, and require them to file taxes as proof they’re working. If they fail to comply, they get deported, but by complying, both parties could benefit. These are just some ideas to start from, but I’m sure among all of the mostly useless politicians in Washington they can find something that works.

There also needs to be a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants currently in the country. I don’t even mean a path toward citizenship; they can get to the back of the line after getting a work visa. Many immigrants have contributed to their communities for years, and others have been in the process of trying to legalize their residency already. Some are even small business owners, which we should love, right?

By getting current undocumented immigrants some sort of legal status and making it easy for the labor to flow into the country, there’d be a more level playing ground for American citizens. Legal immigrants would not be working under the table as much as they are now, as they’d be subject to labor protections. Businesses would also be required to pay them the minimum wage instead of undercutting Americans by paying less on the sly. Hell, there’d probably be less tax fraud to investigate because they’d have their own tax information with which to file.

There would undoubtedly be some Americans hurt by such a free flow of labor. I typically have one of those bleeding hearts, but for the sake of argument, if we expect those that we automatically assume are “lazy, welfare-suckling” drains on society to grab onto their bootstraps and pull, why is it so different with others? Why should I feel sorry for those who, like in the rust belt or coal country, refused to adapt to the changing economy and get a new job or career?

Bootstraps, guys! Bootstraps! It’s not my nor the government’s problem to save your job or get you a new one, right? The free market wouldn’t interfere on your behalf. I thought that’s what you wanted? A free market? Perhaps you didn’t think this concept through.

In the end, our economic problems aren’t about immigrants or even really about a lack of free market. It’s not even about NAFTA or outsourcing.

We had a boom after WWII while helping other major countries recover, but they caught up.

We have developing countries moving into their own industrial eras, just like we did, and they’re improving their living conditions even if they may be taking some of our jobs, though not as many as you’d think. Isn’t that a good thing?

Our economy is transitioning to be more service-based and technological in response the changes over the past 30 or so years. We simply weren’t ready for it, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to respond.

It’s time for Americans to realize personal responsibility isn’t just for others, it’s for all of us, and we need to start with some self-reflection. Admitting the jobs of the past aren’t coming back may not be pleasant, but it’s reality, and the best way to move forward is to stop looking back.

Instead of spilling out talking points that have motivated voters in the past, politicians need to be honest: We need little bit of big government to help those struggling to adapt to the changing economic landscape, whether it’s job training programs, trade school investments, or other education opportunities; we need to embrace some free market principles, but maybe not others; and we need to stop pointing fingers at others and take some responsibility for our own stagnant response to change.

Republicans may not be consistent in the practicing what they preach, but neither are the Democrats. Perhaps if instead of focusing on these political buzz words that don’t we don’t actually mean, we focused more on the goals where both sides agree, we might finally get something good done.

Krista Johnson

Krista's a freelance proofreader and writer with a focus on medical editing and teen story-based games. She also makes a few bucks with photography. When she's not working with words, she's spoiling her English bulldog and trying new things in the kitchen.

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