Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are vastly different in terms of style, background, and platform. But, at a more fundamental level, the candidates are remarkably similar: Each embraces policies to violate people’s freedom of contract and, more broadly, their freedom of association. Both candidates are essentially statist in orientation: They want to employ government force to achieve perceived benefits for some at the cost of others’ wealth and liberty.
Start with Trump. His two signature issues are restricting immigration and restricting international free trade.
Regarding immigration, Trump does not merely wish government to keep out known and suspected jihadists, to deport non-citizen immigrants who commit violent crimes, and to refrain from subsidizing immigrants—policies consistent with protecting the rights of Americans.
Instead, Trump wishes to severely restrict immigration even of people known to be peaceable and productive, for the express purpose of “protecting American jobs.” Trump thus begins with the statist and collectivist premise that jobs somehow belong to the nation-state and that the national government, rather than the employers who create jobs, rightly decides how to fill those jobs.
Trump also parrots socialist “fixed pie” presumptions along the lines that one person’s employment necessitates another person’s loss, and he wrongly blames the employment of immigrants for the unemployment of others. In reality such problems are caused by myriad statist programs including minimum wage laws and failing inner-city schools.
Some of Trump’s immigration policies are outright fascist in nature. He insists that employers ask the national government’s permission for every person they hire—a Republican policy that the Founders would find repugnant. In the past he’s said government should violently round up and deport millions of peaceable immigrants for lacking the legally required paperwork—an action that would require the imposition of a police state. At least Trump seems to have changed his mind on this latter point.
A job does not belong to the national government. It belongs to the person who created the job—and to the person who contracts consensually with the employer to perform the job. An employer has a moral right to hire the peaceable person of his choice who agrees to the terms of the position. But Trump cares nothing about the rights of employers and prospective employees to contract by mutual consent. Trump is essentially a nationalist, and his attitude is essentially “All your jobs are belong to us.”
It’s a little unclear precisely how Trump wishes to interfere with international free trade—what “deals” he wishes to make—but it is obvious that he does wish to do so. So Trump would violate the rights of American citizens to contract freely with foreign sellers of goods and, by extension, the rights of American consumers to buy those goods. It is telling that Trump joins the self-described socialist Bernie Sanders in opposing free trade.
Trump obscures the issue by damning international trade agreements such as NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership—without specifying what about those agreements he finds objectionable or what he would try to do about it.
Free market advocates are split on the legitimacy of such agreements. Some argue that they actually restrict trade and reward cronyists; others argue that they are good even if imperfect mechanisms for binding nations to freer trade. But obviously Trump is not arguing that the United States should dump such agreements in favor of unilaterally free trade; he is saying that the United States should dump or modify such agreements to achieve greater restrictions on trade. Trump is fundamentally antagonistic to people’s rights to contract freely in this realm.
All of Clinton’s major policies can be summarized as “forcibly restrict how people may associate” or “give people free (tax-funded) stuff.”
Clinton joins Trump in opposing people’s right to contract freely for employment; she differs in the details of what restrictions she’d impose. Among other things, Clinton would:
- Prevent people from negotiating a salary below a higher, legally mandated “minimum” wage, thereby ensuring that more people, particularly the young and inexperienced, get the actual minimum wage—zero—along with zero work experience.
- Force businesses to either scale back their operations, replace staff with machines, or scale back long-term expansion plans in order to cope with government-mandated higher labor costs.
- Prevent women from negotiating lower wages in exchange for such benefits as more-flexible work hours.
- Force businesses to comply with, and absorb the costs of, more bureaucratic oversight of employment contracts and additional litigation risks.
- Interfere with employment contracts to force employees to accept lower wages in exchange for politically-defined “benefits” they may not want or need.
In short, Clinton cares nothing about the rights of employers and prospective employees to contract by mutual consent. Her essential view is that the American people are just too stupid to negotiate their terms of employment without the “help” of national politicians and bureaucrats.
In other important ways Clinton wishes to restrict people’s freedom of association. As examples, she wishes to violate people’s freedom of speech when it comes to financing certain forms of political speech (such as certain films critical of her), and she wishes to violate people’s right to self-defense when it involves purchasing politically-disapproved firearms.
Of course, any time Clinton promises to provide some people with “free” stuff, such as a debt-free college education, she does so only by threatening to violate other individuals’ moral right to dispose of their wealth as they judge best. To the degree that people are forcibly stripped of their wealth, they cannot enter into consensual relationships with others to exchange that wealth for goods and services.
Meanwhile, Trump has expressed no serious interest in cutting government spending, even though he’d try to cut taxes and consequently boost deficit spending.
The Liberty Alternative
The full case for liberty in employment contracts and other associations requires much more than a short article such as this. Here the point is that the liberty alternative is not even part of the national debate, as far as the presidential candidates of the two major parties are concerned.
Instead, Trump and Clinton offer two variants of more statism, one more focused on racial nationalism, the other on supposed class conflicts. Both candidates think the solution to our problems is to have government intervene more forcefully in our lives, not to have government more-consistently protect our rights to associate freely and choose how to spend our money.
Regardless of who wins in November, liberty will have an active foe rather than a champion in the White House. Those who fight for the rights of the individual will need to bring their case directly to the American people and to such lower-office politicians who may remain open to it.