Editor’s Note: This piece is extracted from Forgotten Lessons: Selected Essays of John T. Flynn, edited by Gregory P. Pavlik and published by The Foundation for Economic Education this month.
The road we are traveling is sufficiently clear. We cannot delude ourselves with the expectation that we may go a little way further and then stop in the belief that we can combine socialism and capitalism and preserve the best features of each. The very first hard and cold fact we must face is that these two systems cannot live together in the same society.
If we keep on the way we are going, nothing can save the capitalist sector of our economy from extinction, because it will inevitably be called upon to pay the cost of operating its own sector and the greater portion, if not all, of the cost of operating the socialist sector. In the United States the few Government-operated industries we have are operated at a loss. Private industry must produce the income out of which the losses of these Government industries are paid, and the attendant costs of Government as well.
We must arrest the course of the social disease that is destroying us and set our hands to the hard task of lifting up and revivifying our shattered system of free enterprise. If we do not, we shall go on stumbling down the path along which Europe has slipped.
It is not possible to lay down a program in detail for checking and reversing our direction. And it is not necessary. What is necessary is to see clearly the general principles which must govern our effort. These I shall now attempt to enumerate as briefly as possible.
We must put human freedom as the first of our demands. There can be no security in a nation without freedom. Let us work to make our country a more bountiful home for all to live in, but the first and indispensable test of every plan must be whether it will impair our freedom. A better life for all, yes—but not at the expense of our liberties.
We must stop apologizing for our capitalist society. It has made us strong, and has provided us the highest standard of living in world history.
Not one more step into socialism. There is, of course, much to be done to repair all the damage already done to our system by the advocates of socialistic measures, but the first militant maneuver must be to hold the line for the American way.
Get rid of compromising leaders. Let us put a mark upon every man in public life who is willing to surrender further.
We must recognize that we are in a social war, and that we must fight it as such. Our enemies have managed to capture many of the instrumentalities of the classroom, the platform, the pulpit, the movies and the radio upon an amazing scale, and to use them not for their traditional purposes but to carry on an attack upon the minds of the American people.
We must put an end to the orgy of spending that is rapidly bankrupting the nation. Among the most critical conditions that menace us are the fantastic commitments for spending countless billions and the crushing weight of our national debt upon our economic system. . . . We must not permit one more cent for any purpose beyond our present commitments.
We must stop “planning” for socialism and begin planning to make our free system of private enterprise operate at its fullest capacity. Since 1933 the Government has waged relentless war upon the capitalist system—at first ignorantly, but recently with a definite design to cripple and destroy it. The man who runs a business has been pilloried as a criminal, and the Government has taken measures to prevent him from accumulating those savings which make expansion possible. It has held him up to public scorn and hatred. It has taxed away his savings, and it has so choked the streams through which savings flow into investment that our system is wilting away.
Our system is in an appalling mess now, what with the public debt, the confiscatory taxes which draw the blood from its very veins, Government intrusions, and the threats of ultimate extinction that are taking ever more terrifying shape. The task calls for patriotism and courage; it must not be delayed another day.
We must set about rebuilding in its integrity our republican system of government. We cannot depend on any political party to save us. We must build a mass organization outside the parties so powerful that all parties will be compelled to yield to its demands. Our forefathers gave to the world the sublime example of statesmen who cast off the tyrant State and built up the sovereign people, unleashing the energies of free men. It was this historic experiment which set off the astonishing surge of human energy that created here such abundance and freedom as the world has never known.
The task before us is clear. For our principles of action we must go back to our Constitution, to our Declaration of Independence, to our history and to the example set by our national fathers. We must begin now to dismantle the tyrant State in America and to build up once again the energies of a free people.
—John T. Flynn (1949)