There is no such thing as society; there are just individual men and women— Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

The watchwords of the American and French Revolutions were liberty, equality, and, for the French, fraternity. Redefining fraternity as traditional community values, I see today’s conservative and liberals attempting to balance these three principles.

America’s conservatives focus on traditional values and economic liberty, whereas liberals place greater weight on equality and personal liberty, especially with regard to private interactions. Libertarians heartily agree with liberals on the latter, but they champion unfettered economic liberty at the expense of equality and community.

Libertarians are just as stubborn and intellectually dishonest as Marxist ideologues on the left. The latter ignore the devastation brought on by completely planned economies, but the former refuse to admit that the world’s pragmatic “mixed” public-private systems have been successful.

To her credit, Margaret Thatcher did not privatize either government health care or the railways. With better results than in the U.S., government doctors in Europe and Canada serve their patients well, but everywhere it has been tried, government farming has been a failure. Contrary to libertarian critiques, high taxation in Europe and elsewhere has not destroyed economies there; indeed, these nations are prospering with much better social and health outcomes.

For example, with regard to economic innovation, seven European welfare states are found in the top 10, according to Bloomberg Business. With the most libertarian economy, the U.S. has dropped to 11th in this survey.

Just think what would have happened if libertarians had been in power during the Great Depression. Massive government intervention was necessary to save the nation, just as it was to win World War II. Government secured home loans and college grants allowed returning soldiers to enter the workforce as professionals or workers with high union salaries. With government help and collective bargaining rights they built the middle class.

After Ronald Reagan fired the unionized Air Traffic Controllers in1981, major law firms engaged in union busting on a large scale. Private union membership has fallen from over 30 percent at its highest to below 9 percent today. As a result, the middle class has eroded as income and wealth inequality have risen.

Government intervention and deficit spending is necessary in times of depression, war, and now the pandemic. The vote for the Cares Act in March 2020 was overwhelming, but 40 House Republicans and 8 Senate Republicans, led by cocky libertarian Rand Paul, voted against it. Just think of where we would be today if they had prevailed.

This bill saved millions of jobs and gave the economy a huge boost — a record 33 percent increase in the Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter. For six months, Sen. Mitch McConnell refused to consider more aid, and the government, primarily because of Trump’s incompetence in controlling the virus, the economy fell back into recession at the end of the year.

The Democrats proposed a second bill in May insisting that the first was only a down payment. After Memorial Day, the pandemic raged out of control and the Republicans finally, after losing their Senate majority, agreed to only $900 billion in relief. The new Senate has now passed a bill that will make up for the disastrous six-month delay.

Containing a pandemic can be compared to fighting a war, and for about a week Donald Trump called himself a virus war president, but he quickly lost interest in what that would actually entail. It would have at least required of him to listen to his public health “generals,” engage the Defense Production Act, and coordinate with the states instead of fighting with their governors. One year and tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths later, President Joe Biden is finally doing what Trump and the Republicans should have done long ago.

Ronald Reagan would have been 100 years old on Feb. 6, and libertarians celebrate his “nine most terrifying” words: “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” I’m sure that tens of millions of Americans were glad that this year the government did knock on their doors.

Nick Gier is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. For more on libertarianism and Reagan see webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/liberalism.htm and /reaganmyths.htm. Email him at ngier006@gmail.com.

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