West Hits the Spot on Economic Freedom
Kanye West grabbed attention Wednesday when he Tweeted a quote that could have been lifted straight from a Milton Friedman book.
What is your definition of true freedom? There is no true freedom without economic freedom.
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) February 24, 2016
Generally considered one of the most controversial and talented performing artists in the world, it’s hard to argue with West in this instance. Liberty of property and economics has been linked with more general political and social freedom throughout the history of the world.
More specifically, on topics that West has addressed in his music, particularly regarding racial equality, there is no argument. Throughout the history of the world and the United States, minorities have been disproportionately and negatively affected by so-called economic “reforms.”
For example, there is the minimum wage. Whether intentionally (as in South Africa during apartheid) or unintentionally, this price floor has been consistently used to deprive black citizens of job opportunities. It is no coincidence that black teenage unemployment is often double that of their white counterparts, with a nationally-mandated $7.25 wage and most major urban areas having a significantly higher wage.
In addition to minimum wage, there are hurdles like occupational licensing which prevent poorer Americans from reaching the market to compete with the already-advantaged elites. The Institute for Justice exists almost purely to combat injustices like these, and last year, it gained a major victory in the Texas Supreme Court when it successfully challenged onerous requirements in order to enter the eyebrow-threading business.
Another market restriction which is less-discussed in such terms is the War on Drugs. Rather than allowing individuals to market their “goods” on their own merits in a market economy, the government has inserted itself into the purchase and sale of such “illicit” substances. In doing so, the government has incarcerated and fined millions of poor, young black men, leaving behind broken families and massive collateral damage.
In large part, the government has derived this extensive power through courts’ expansive view of the Commerce Clause. While the Clause grants Congress the permission to regulate commerce “among the several states,” courts since 1937 have interpreted this to mean that government may regulate anything merely involved with interstate commerce. This has equated to government having the power to regulate nearly every facet of our lives.
More fundamentally, this view of the Commerce Clause violates one of the most important principles of both economic freedom and freedom at-large: the freedom to contract.
In 1905, the Supreme Court of the United States did indeed recognize the freedom to contract in the case of Lochner v. New York, wherein the Court struck down an ordinance placing a restriction on how many hours a baker may work. In the thirty-plus years after, the Court continued to recognize such a right, marking the “Lochner Era,” wherein the Court consistently struck down the overreach of government.
However, when President Franklin Roosevelt attempted to “pack” the Court, Justice Owen Roberts “switched sides” on these critical issues, therefore giving Congress massive leeway in regulating economic affairs. This had major ramifications for the size and scope of government, and in the eighty years since, with no checks provided by the judiciary, the state has grown larger by the day.
Kanye West’s expression of libertarian principles is great for the causes of individual freedom and personal liberty. It is unclear what West’s more broad sentiment is concerning his Tweet, but if he so wishes to join in the fight for liberty on all levels, he is more than welcome.
When it comes to regulating the pocketbooks of everyday citizens, no one man (or group of people) should have all that power.