From 2015, this essay was met with some derision. How has it aged in the era of COVID-19?
“It’s a free country,” as the saying goes. We as Americans have been brought up to believe this. Our Founding Fathers even put it in writing. We say it without giving it much thought. It’s cliché. If we were forced to answer this question honestly, could we really answer in the affirmative? Even if we allow for some moral restrictions on our actions, can we with intellectual honesty say that America in the 21st century is a truly a free country?
In 2010, a law was passed requiring Americans to engage in commerce– whether they wanted to or not, whether they needed it or not. On top of that they product was product was made more expensive by requiring services that the buyers in some cases could not possibly use. The law of course is the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Worse than such a law even being passed is that the Supreme Court of the United States actually upheld it, or at least a key provision of the law known as the individual mandate. Their decision, apparently arrived through a lot of legal gymnastics, was that the individual mandate penalty is a tax and as such could be broadly regulated. At that point any pretense that America was a free country went up in smoke.
This SCOTUS ruling meant that the government could make its citizens purchase anything! Yes, anything. This is not hyperbole, exaggeration, or hysteria. The government indeed could force you to buy a book, a car, any manner of goods or service, so long as the penalty for not doing so was called a tax.
Government’s power over commerce need not stop there; by the same logic it could forbid, even hand-pick which goods are allowed to be sold. Under SCOTUS’ reading of the Government’s power to tax there would be nothing keeping Congress from decreeing only American made electric cars be sold. Of course the American people would first have to vote in legislators with sufficient disregard for individual liberty, but we’re too smart to let that happen, right?
OK, so we learned our lesson with the Affordable Care Act and threw out those in Congress willing to play fast and loose with our liberty. The Constitution says that Congress makes the laws, so we are therefore (for the moment) safe from our Government forcing us to buy American made electric cars, yes? No, not necessarily. President Obama has decided he does not need Congress. He has a phone and a pen (read staff and flail) that give him the power though executive order to instruct the proper regulatory body to create virtual law through regulation. He believes he can rule through Executive Order, and in fact has managed to do so. He as he sees it, could issue an order to the EPA, an non-elected body, to regulate the production of fossil fuel out of existence and thereby make gas-fueled vehicles no longer a viable option for transportation. Crazy? He is attempting to do exactly that. Onerous regulations in the coal industry at his direction already make it almost impossible to build an economically viable coal fire plant. He will not allow a pipeline to be built to move Canadian oil despite the fact that it is actually safer to transport it that way than with rail or over the roads. As for the American made part? He basically federalized GM through the bailouts, too bad their electric car has so far not met consumer needs. That window has closed, but should the automotive industry ever need another bailout… Hope (if not change) springs eternal.