Monday 16 June has been chosen as Liberalism Day. The idea is to recapture the world ‘liberal’ from the American left – who, with their extravagant plans for government spending and taxation are far from Liberal in the true sense. As Milton Friedman put it in his 1955 article, Liberalism, Old Style:
“Liberalism, as it developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and flowered in the nineteenth, puts major emphasis on the freedom of individuals to control their own destinies…. Liberals favoured free competition at home and free trade among nations. They regarded the organisation of economic activity through free private enterprise operating in a competitive market as a direct expression of economic freedom and as important also in facilitating the preservation of political liberty.”
That is all a far cry from American ‘liberalism’. as the term has been used since the 1930s. That is not about free competition and individuals controlling their own lives, but about the New Deal era of public works, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and direct market interventions like the Community Reinvestment Act (which kicked off the whole sub-prime mortgage debacle) and Barack Obama’s recent, forlorn, efforts to completely reconstruct the healthcare sector, not on market principles (which it sorely needed) but according to the political conception of himself and his party.
Liberalism is a perfectly good word, but it does not actually mean anything like all that. it is about time that we Liberals took back out own word, without having to quality it by the foreword ‘Classical’ or the afterwords ‘in the European sense’. Check out the website, and tweet the hashtag #LiberalismDay on or around 16 June.