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Perhaps the most dangerous thing a nation can do is stop defining itself – especially our nation, which was founded for the purpose of protecting and preserving liberty, justice and opportunity for all.
We don’t like labels these days – we’re told they are “too confining.”
But defining what system of government we have in place and what economic system is actually practiced is an exercise free people would be wise to undertake frequently.
Now that we’ve recognized that our state is run by a handful of powerful legislative leaders who aren’t elected statewide, it’s discouraging to realize how hard it will be to change that.
But change it we must, and the best reason for doing so should be clear when we attempt to define our economic system. Because whatever that is in our state, it is not true capitalism.
The free market is a thing of the past in South Carolina, where politicians have slowly taken charge of our economy to the point that it is, quite literally, centrally planned.
“Crony capitalism” is defined by Wikipedia as “an economy in which success in business depends on close relationships between business people and government officials. It may be exhibited by favoritism in the distribution of legal permits, government grants, special tax breaks ... ” and also when “self-serving friendships and family ties between businessmen and the government influence the economy and society to the extent that it corrupts public-serving economic and political ideals.”
What’s beyond crony capitalism? Wikipedia defines socialism as characterized by “social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy. ‘Social ownership’ may refer to cooperative enterprises, common ownership, state ownership, citizen ownership of equity, or any combination of these.”
Again, it’s dangerous to ignore what we have become in practice. Whatever our politicians espouse, the reality is that South Carolina has a state-owned utility, a port managed by a board of political appointees and multiple state and local agencies charged with planning and managing the economy. Central planning is no longer simply a danger in South Carolina – it is a deliberately created reality.
All “for the good of the people” through job creation. And there truth meets rhetoric – politicians can’t manage the economy or produce statewide wealth. It’s never been done because it isn’t possible.
But our state leaders stubbornly insist that they can, resorting to vague goals that sound good but ring false. A good example is the stated purpose of the S.C. Research Authority, the state-created agency that legislative leaders tasked with running the economy:
“The project authorized by this chapter is in all respects for the benefit of all the people of the state, for the improvement of their welfare and material prosperity, and is a public purpose and a corporation owned completely by the people of the state.”
The SCRA is an agency with nebulous goals and little accountability – even most elected officials can’t describe what it actually does.
Here’s another quote:
“The revenues of Cuban state-run companies are used exclusively for the benefit of the people, to whom they belong.”
Yep, that’s Fidel Castro! Can’t deny the similarity in language.
I’m not promoting political science theory so much as an honest discussion of what’s actually happening in our state. If we aren’t actually on this path (though the evidence suggests we are), then state leaders need to set the record straight with clear goals and constant reporting and transparency in every activity surrounding economic development.
We need to recommit to what South Carolina ought to be – a free state in the freest nation on earth.
America has stood alone as the nation of equal opportunity for greatness, where excellence is pursued for a better quality of life and where humans are free to achieve all that is possible. That’s what we should be, and no politician in this state should want less.
Ashley Landess is president of the S.C. Policy Council.