But that only tells part of the story. It’s when we look at ratings rather than rankings that things get interesting. While the United States has been kicking around in the top ten, even if falling, for decades, it is not doing all that well when compared to itself over time. Indeed, the US’s cumulative rating of 7.97 is considerably lower than its 1980 rating of 8.34. Digging into the recent data, the United States dropped in rank across all five indexed categories from 2019 to 2020. The most significant changes have been in the size of government and regulation categories, where the United States fell 7.32 to 6.79, and 8.68 to 8.11, respectively. Both measures directly reflect the COVID era’s unprecedented expansions of government, as federal spending was unleashed from any semblance of fiscal constraint and draconian regulatory intrusions on daily economic life reached every single American.
In short, the United States finished 2020 less economically free than we were at the tail end of the Carter years.
In the time since COVID, these problems have only continued to compound. The United States appears to be entering the same economic malaise of bloated bureaucracy, excessive taxation, and spiraling inflation that typified the Carter years. Back then we had to wait in line, sometimes for hours, just to buy gas. Now we have rolling blackouts and energy crises in some states, impending electric vehicle mandates, perpetual budget-busting deficits that were unheard of even two decades ago, and – yes – a return of inflation that tops 8 percent for the year. Perhaps the most telling fact of all is that our elected officials and policymakers haven’t a clue how to reverse these trends. Indeed, they are still feeding them.
The Pentagon is the world’s largest employer. The military-industrial sector is characterized by entanglements between government and private firms, with the latter earning large profits from war preparation and war-making.
These entanglements are a hallmark of political capitalism—a system where political decision-making influences private decision-making and where private parties influence politics to further their interests, usually at the expense of taxpayers. The same you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours exists in other areas where the government is heavily involved as well, such as education and infrastructure, where private firms and other special interests spend millions of dollars attempting to influence policy for their own benefit in the name of some “common good.”
For the last ten years I have been baffled as I watched the conservative movement devolve into a weird wing of progressivism—especially on economic issues. While once at least paying lip service to limited government, fiscal prudence, and personal responsibility, conservatives now ignore the size of government and fiscal responsibility. They increasingly call for a larger child tax credit, a universal basic income, and paid leave arranged and ensured by the federal government. Many conservatives now also proudly embrace tariffs, hyperactive antitrust, and industrial policy (often justified, of course, as necessary to ‘fight’ China).
Mr. Yass, ecumenical with his money and his vote, remains a registered Libertarian and longtime member of the Cato Institute board. He argues that history’s “libertarian arc” is manifested in the advance of gay rights as well as the $50 trillion valuation of America’s corporate sector, dwarfing China’s or Europe’s.
But if the odds in favor of liberty and progress are 51 to 49 on any given day, that leaves room for long runs of bad outcomes. Worryingly, a wave of destructive ideology is emanating from America’s universities. Young people are being encouraged to hate the capitalism and free markets that gave them their opportunity-rich lives. And renominating Donald Trump isn’t the answer.
A Never Trumper in 2016, the Bronx-born Mr. Yass later found himself pitching school choice to a fellow product of New York’s outer boroughs: “Jared, let’s go do this,” he imitates the 45th president barking to son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.
But Mr. Trump has become the Democrats’ “most valuable player.” Mr. Yass and allies have been noodling how to discourage a 2024 bid: “He doesn’t have any donors. He doesn’t need the money. He gets so much free publicity. It’s not like you can influence him at all. The only thing you can appeal to is, ‘You’re gonna lose and be humiliated.’”
Mr. Yass is instead throwing his weight behind the rising Mr. DeSantis, who eked out his 2018 Florida victory with help from black moms who wanted options for their kids. The Florida governor is a “little gruff” and “not a libertarian” but good on school choice and the best bet “if you’ve had enough of the political warfare,” Mr. Yass says.
Electric cars’ impact on air pollution isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The vehicles themselves pollute only slightly less than a gasoline car because their massive batteries and consequent weight leads to more particulate pollution from greater wear on brakes, tires and roads. On top of that, the additional electricity they require can throw up large amounts of air pollution depending on how it’s generated. One recent study found that electric cars put out more of the most dangerous particulate air pollution than gasoline-powered cars in 70% of U.S. states. An American Economic Association study found that rather than lowering air pollution, on average each additional electric car in the U.S. causes additional air-pollution damage worth $1,100 over its lifetime.
Science is not a tool for power, it is a powerful tool.