The power to subsidize is the power to destroy
[This was written before I read Pierre Lemieux’s recent post on this topic, which makes some related points.]
There’s a famous old saying (by John Marshall?):
The power to tax involves the power to destroy.
Subsidies are essentially the same as taxes, when viewed from a certain angle. Not surprisingly, it’s also true that the power to subsidize is the power to destroy.
Suppose you are a libertarian, and you oppose government subsidies to farmers. A new president is elected in 2024 and he announces that henceforth any farmer caught criticizing the president on social media will no longer receive government farm subsidies. How should you feel about that?
Some people might think to themselves, “This new provision will make the bad farm subsidy program smaller, and hence it’s a good thing.” I would focus on the way the new policy inhibits free speech, and oppose the policy.
In a recent post, David Henderson correctly pointed out that in trying to punish Disney for speech they didn’t approve of, Florida’s legislators were ending a very useful public policy. I agree. But I’d go even further. I would oppose this action even if I thought Disney’s special status was a bad policy. (And perhaps it’s not so special, given that Florida has 1844 such “special” districts.)
Even when government policies are bad, they should not be selectively dismantled if the change is being used as a bludgeon to go after speech of which they don’t approve. If we go down this road, we’ll end up like Viktor Orban’s Hungary.
Years ago, Hayek pointed out that expanded government control over our economy threatens our liberty. This is why policies such as replacing the public school system with education vouchers are so important.
If Florida Republicans were serious about liberty, rather than merely looking for weapons in the culture wars, they’d abolish the public school system and let parents decide what sort of education their children would have.
Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasing clear that many conservatives are no more serious about liberty than are the extremists on the left.
PPS. National Review has a good article on the broader issues involved here:
On one side, there are those on the right who see conservatism as a set of clear and timeless principles that should be consistently adhered to, regardless of whether they lead to preferred short-term outcomes in every circumstance.
Those on the other side of that line may be sympathetic to many of the same principles, but they believe that any principle that gets in the way of achieving their preferred outcomes should be discarded without remorse. . . .
[I]f we look at the battles on the right that in recent years have ended friendships, severed institutional relationships, and pitted long-time conservative allies passionately against each other, they all, at their core, come down to the same disagreements over the proper approach to politics.
PPPS. FWIW, I don’t think Florida’s state government should be policing the curricula of local schools and I don’t understand what this poorly written law was supposed to accomplish. Should legislators incapable of writing a law in plain English be lecturing school teachers on how to teach?