Saturday, September 3, 2011

Freeing the "American Dream"

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In an email exchange with a friend, he said he was glad that I'm running for Congress and that it's "refreshing to have a candidate in the trenches with the rest of the American people, living the American dream, and reminding us it is still out there."

That got me thinking and asking: what is the "American Dream"? The Wikipedia entry cites author James Truslow Adams ("life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement") and the Declaration of Independence ("Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"). One of the most mentioned symbols of the American Dream is homeownership, which purports to demonstrate a move from working poor to middle class.

But homeownership is also a symbol of government policy gone astray in an attempt to sponsor and subsidize the American Dream. Without going into a lengthy rehash of the subprime mortgage crisis, the long-held policy of mortgage interest subsidies and the tenets of the "ownership society" drew Americans into houses and loans they could not afford -- putting our financial system in peril.

Let's free our dreams from outdated and biased policies. Government must stop subsidizing dreams and stop trying to pick winners. Instead, government needs to provide a fair, consistent, equitable environment where merit and free choice -- not favoritism and bias -- take the prize.

Government can support our "pursuit of happiness" by providing the physical and regulatory infrastructure needed to bolster commerce and competitive markets, and by performing those services (such as basic scientific research and transition training) that are not economically viable but open doors to private-sector innovation. Government can support "liberty" by enforcing accountability, property rights, and the rule of law. Government can support "life" by penalizing behavior whose spillover effects cause personal harm or environmental damage.

The free market is the embodiment of a democratic economy. Let people pick the winners without government rigging the game.