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Patrick Zabawa: A movement for liberty

BY PATRICK ZABAWA

Published March 4, 2009

The Feb. 16 edition of Newsweek magazine had an interesting but unsurprising cover story: “We Are All Socialists Now”. The story demonstrated how the size of the U.S.’s government spending as a percentage of the economy is quickly approaching European levels. Government spending was 34.3 percent of the country's Gross Domestic Product a decade ago — it’s projected to be 39.9 percent in 2010. But despite Newsweek’s arguments that U.S. public policy is shifting toward socialism, there are still strong contingents of Americans who are not socialists. For one, strong anti-socialist movements are developing on campuses across the world. And Americans’ increased opportunity for choices ensure that their freedom is increasing even as the government takes over their banks. Indeed, we are not all socialists now.

Yes, it’s worth noting that Obama, who favors an interventionist government, attracted most of the country’s young voters. For every young adult who voted for Republican candidate John McCain on Election Day, two voted for Obama. But while it may seem that young voters are becoming ever more socialist in their views, the Ron Paul campaign revealed otherwise. In many states’ Republican primary elections, Paul — who supports dismantling the federal income tax and significantly shrinking the size of government — received from young voters nearly twice the percentage of votes than he received from other age groups. His college-student support was bolstered by his frequent visits to university campuses, and he even spoke at the University of Michigan while Obama and McCain did not.

But even now that the 2008 presidential election is over and the energy surrounding the Ron Paul campaign has diminished, students around the nation are continuing to pursue efforts to counter the nation’s socialist policies. Just two weeks ago, I joined students from college campuses around the world for the International Students for Liberty Conference in Washington, D.C. The conference, first held last year by a group of Ivy League students, brought together student leaders to hold discussions with prominent pro-liberty, anti-government advocates. In just one year, the conference has expanded to include students from over a dozen countries outside the United States.

One of the conference’s keynote speakers, editor in chief of Reason.com Nick Gillespie, spoke not only about how anti-government movements are growing but why government’s growth hasn’t prevented the expansion of freedom. He argued that despite increasing government in the economy and our personal lives, we are more free today than ever before.

Gillespie’s point was thought-provoking and surprisingly accurate. Over the past twenty years, the size of the government has grown to unprecedented levels. Even the conservative Bush administration enacted the biggest social welfare program ever, implemented senior prescription drug coverage and nearly socialized the banking and mortgage industries. Government has become increasingly involved in overseas warfare and now has restricted gay marriage in 29 states.

But despite government’s new involvement in American’s personal and economic lives, Gillespie had a point when he stated that we are in fact more free today than we were twenty years ago. We are more free because we have more choice. Travel opportunities abound as airlines travel to nearly every small city in the United States now, not only large ones. The advent of personal computers, the Internet and cell phones has brought about a new era of communication. Information is now accessible to people of any educational background through user-friendly sources such as Wikipedia.

It is the human desire for choice that has continued to increase its freedom. Choice has continued to motivate innovators to make new products and come up with new ways for people to communicate. Socially, more people today support the ability to “choose” to marry a partner of the same sex or allow women the right to “choose”. Is the similar word usage coincidental, deliberate or just inevitable?

So while Newsweek argues that we are all socialist now, students’ activism and the number of choices we have today points to the contrary. Yes, government is gaining more control of our lives at an alarming rate, but there are many factors working against that control. And as anti-government student groups rise and innovations continue to develop, government will have many forces to reckon with in its quest to limit our freedoms.

Patrick Zabawa can be reached at pzabawa@umich.edu.