One of the early debates about the governing and growth of America was how best to promote and protect economic independence. Surprisingly, both major viewpoints involved direct government action whether in the form of tariffs, subsidies, or other incentives. It was so important to the Founding Fathers that we not depend on imports or lending from other nations but instead produce our own goods and provide our own labor. To both Hamilton and Jefferson, this is what constituted a free economy, one that was independent of foreign pressure.
How our ideas of a free economy have changed! Instead of seeing it as a network of mutually beneficial (and nationally beneficial) industries that must be preserved in order to maintain a healthy and free civic order, we now see it as a system of allowing any economic unit the freedom to do with its money what it wishes, no matter the effect on the civic or moral realm. A free market philosophy tells us that industries go where the greatest profit can be found and that restriction on trade results in less economic movement and therefore less economic growth.
If I recall correctly, the health of a national economy is not how measured by how many economic connections a nation has made globally but GDP, Gross Domestic Product. I am no economist, but it seems to me that the more our production and services are outsourced via a “free” market the worse our economy becomes. As our economy worsens and we depend more and more on foreign credit and imports, the less free America becomes.
This is of course only relevant if we believe that a nation is more than just an agreement by individuals to coexist for the benefit of each. If the freedom of corporations and individuals to make money in whatever manner they wish is more important to us than the general economic and civic health of our cities and nation, then we should indeed embrace a free market philosophy.
I argue instead that ensuring the general political welfare, including economy, of our cities and families is a more important consideration than the ability of certain economic actors to do with their money whatever they will. We are not men with rights but no obligations. We can not ensure the rights of the people without acknowledging that we as individuals and as a society have an obligation toward them. A political and economic philosophy that denies this is unsustainable, for we can not receive that which is not first given and if we ought to receive something, then someone ought to give it.
A truly independent economy is one that is self-supported and self-sustaining through the regular exchange of goods according to the goals and needs of a community. If we examine this more closely, however, we will see that although we call it an independent economy relative to other communities or outside forces, there are two ways in which all economies are necessarily dependent.
One, not all communities have the resources to provide for all the needs of its members. An exchange between communities then becomes necessary. This is the basis of trade, namely that one person or group has something that another needs or wants. This establishes an interdependent economy and it can take many forms depending on the resources of the various communities. Sometimes it results in the assimilation of one community into the other to more effectively serve the needs of the members.
And secondly, within a community, this interdependency is more pronounced. In a family, each member must cooperate in order to make the household run well and for interactions with other families to be peaceful and cooperative. Each family, each group, and each individual in a community must cooperate in order for the safety of the members and so that the common goals and needs of the members are met.
This cooperation, which is both easier and more effective on a local level, is what makes an economy self-supported and self-sustaining. The freedom that a community experiences when it is self-supported and self-sustaining is the basis for civic order, but it not an autonomous freedom nor is it a freedom absolutely. In order for an action or initiative to be both truly human and effective, it must be ordered. Ordering requires authority and accountability. In other words it requires a plan, someone to communicate the plan, and an agreement to work according to the plan. Our freedom, then, must always submits to some authority and in all human activity, an authority inevitably arises.
And this is why the Founding Fathers weren’t economic libertarians. They knew that if our goal was economic independence, there had to be a plan and thus some authority to which to submit. Of course the nature of that authority, its scope, is the next question and one which divided the Founding Fathers.