Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.
In this series, “We As Young Conservatives Believe”, we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.
“We as young conservatives believe…”
“That liberty is indivisible, and that political freedom cannot long exist without economic freedom;”
Before he was ever elected into public office, Ronald Reagan launched himself into the national political spotlight with his powerful 1964 speech “A Time for Choosing” in favor of Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. His riveting performance set him on the path that would lead him to becoming the 33rd Governor of California and then the 40th President of the United States. (He was already well known to YAF, having been on the National Advisory Board of Young Americans for Freedom since 1962.)
In his speech, Reagan looked at the expanding power of government and asked, “What does it mean whether you hold the deed to the— or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property?”
The point that he was making is that there is necessarily a chilling effect on political freedom when the government has the power to destroy a business through regulations and other bureaucratic measures. Who would risk supporting a cause or organization that they believed in if a controlling politician or bureaucrat who disagreed with that position had the power to destroy that individual’s business or employment? It would be far safer to keep one’s head down and not get involved in public affairs than to risk angering power-hungry law makers. The mere threat of a loss of economic freedom can limit political freedom.
There are other ways in which reductions in economic freedom infringe upon political freedom. For example, taxes are a necessary part of having a functioning government as the government does require resources to operate and perform its legitimate duties, such as defending its citizens from enemies foreign and domestic. However, the more that the government takes from a worker’s paycheck through coercion, the more it reduces that worker’s choice of how to spend their money that they earned from their labor. When the government steps beyond its limited role it forces citizens to spend money on causes that they may not support.
For instance, Leftists have longed to do away with the Hyde Amendment which limits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions. If they are successful, pro-life taxpayers would be forced to fund abortions through their tax dollars. This reduction in economic freedom directly reduces the political freedom of taxpayers to choose which causes they support.
Additionally, this principle extends beyond the United States. The Heritage Foundation annually releases their Index of Economic Freedom, which measures how economically free every country is and ranks them based on several factors such as regulatory burden and the size and scope of government. The Index consistently finds that economic freedom and democracy— the political freedom to choose our leaders— are closely related to each other.
Economic freedom is what gives us the resources and ability to exercise our political freedom, and political freedom enables economic freedom. We need both for liberty to flourish.
To read the previous post in this series, click here.
Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.