The President’s insistence on spending trillions of dollars won’t solve our problems; we must reject socialism and defend economic freedom
NIKKI HALEY FORMER US AMBASSADOR TO THE UN
5 November 2021 •
Capitalism is the greatest driver of prosperity and destroyer of poverty in history. It’s the single best way to help families, boost wages, create jobs, and discover the breakthroughs that improve all our lives. Now more than ever, our hopes and dreams depend on economic freedom.
Yet the most Left-wing President and Congress in US history are fighting hard to end it. If 2020 was the year socialism went mainstream, 2021 is the year socialism took control. The Left is tearing down the American people, and too many on the Right are rolling over, when we should be fighting back. Capitalism is on the out for many conservatives who should know better. They look at a rapidly changing world, and assume our principles don’t work anymore. They see the rise of socialism and want to meet it halfway. They’re wrong.
The Right must recapture its passion for economic freedom. It’s the only way to stop the socialist wave crashing over our country. Inspiring leaders show the way. 41 years ago, in October 1980, the Iron Lady taught us a great lesson. It came about a year-and-a-half into her first term, when things were going badly.
The United Kingdom in the late 1970s was much further down the road to socialism than the United States is today. The biggest industries were government owned. Corrupt labour unions trampled workers and job creators. Politicians bought votes with enormous entitlements and unaffordable promises. Inflation soared. The economy stagnated. Taxes crushed families and small businesses alike. The United Kingdom was on the road to ruin. Then Margaret Thatcher hit the brakes. She knew the truth: socialism steals the people’s strength, while capitalism unleashes it.
She promised to restore capitalism – full stop. And she did. She shrank the size of the state. She got rid of nationalised companies and ripped up restrictions on competition. She empowered millions of families to buy a home, something socialism made impossible. More importantly, she gave them something they had lost – hope. It was nothing less than a revolution.
With the benefit of hindsight, we know Margaret Thatcher’s leadership worked. But by the autumn of 1980, that wasn’t yet obvious. The Prime Minister understood that socialism had taken a massive toll, and that undoing the damage would take more than a year-and-a-half. Not everyone agreed with her.
Unsurprisingly, the Left and the British media howled. They accused Thatcher of attacking workers, crippling families, and not caring for the poor. But they weren’t the only ones. Many of her fellow conservatives headed for the tall grass. They’d spent so long living under socialism, they forgot their own principles. And when the media piled on – which always happens – those bedwetting conservatives got scared. They joined the liberal chorus in calling for Margaret Thatcher to U-Turn. Since Thatcher’s free-market policies had not yet succeeded, they wanted her to head back in the other direction. The socialist direction.
But Thatcher refused to go along. Instead, she rose to say what her country needed to hear. The setting was the Tory Party Conference. Every Conservative MP was there, including those who thought she was wrong. When Thatcher took the stage, she struck a defiant tone. She acknowledged a “winter of discontent”, but also spoke of an “autumn of understanding” regarding socialism’s failures. And then she brought down the hammer as only Margaret Thatcher could. She said: “We shall not be diverted from our course. To those waiting with bated breath for that favorite media catchphrase, the ‘U’ turn, I have only one thing to say. ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.’”
You know what happened next. Margaret Thatcher made no U-turn. Instead, her embrace of economic freedom turned the corner for the UK, and turned around the lives and futures of millions of people who’d suffered so much from socialism. Four decades later, we could use some of Thatcher’s steely confidence and moral conviction. We’re headed down the road to socialism ourselves.
A funny thing happens anytime a Republican brings up socialism. The media loses its mind. They shout and scream and say we’re lying. They point to the time Joe Biden said, “I am not a socialist”, and demand we take him at his word. Well, I don’t care what he says. What Joe Biden is doing is socialism, plain and simple. The Democratic Party is now a socialist party. Democrats are on the verge of creating the first cradle-to-grave welfare state in US history; a country where dependency is the default. It’s a guaranteed recipe for national decline.
Instead of empowering workers and families, the Left empowers unelected bureaucrats. So-called experts, elites, and government do-gooders have never had more power to destroy jobs they don’t like, hurt families they don’t know, and create one-size-fits-all mandates for situations they don’t understand. This government takeover isn’t cheap. Democrats are pushing the biggest and most destructive tax hike in American history.
Working and middle class families will pay once in higher taxes, twice through lower wages, and three times when the bill comes due for the trillions of dollars that Democrats are adding to the national debt. Such are the wages of socialism. And what are families getting in return? Nothing good. The tax-and-spending binge is driving the worst inflation in over a decade. Families are paying more but getting less. It’s time to face the truth: spending trillions of dollars won’t solve our problems. Spending trillions of dollars is the problem.
These policies are bad enough. What’s worse is the world view behind them. Socialism is fundamentally at odds with America’s guiding principles. Our country was built on a profound belief in people. We know that everyone has the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, and we know that when people have access to those rights, they’re capable of achieving extraordinary things. Our history proves it. But socialism says the opposite. It doesn’t believe in people; it believes in power. Socialism says a select few in Washington DC are smarter and better than the 331 million people who call America home. It trusts central planners, not citizens, to determine America’s fate. We thought it was bad when Barack Obama said: “you didn’t build that”. Today’s Democrats say: “don’t even try to build that, just trust us.”
This sad world view is already holding America back. Our students are being taught, as young as kindergarten, that hard work doesn’t matter. Or worse, that America is racist. And worst of all, our fellow citizens are being told they’re victims with no control over their own lives and destinies. I can’t imagine a more dangerous way of thinking. It says to a single mother, give up, and let welfare take care of you. It says to a laid-off worker, don’t try, we’ll pay you to stay home. It says to a student, don’t strive or learn, you can’t get ahead because the country is rigged. And it says to all of us, don’t bother to dream – government’s got this. That’s the greatest tragedy of all. We can add up socialism’s cost in dollars and cents. But we will never know its human cost.
Defeating socialism is a moral necessity. It starts by retiring Nancy Pelosi in 2022 and Joe Biden in 2024. Yet winning elections isn’t enough. Stopping the Left won’t matter if the Right has forgotten what it stands for. It pains me to see some of our friends turning their backs on our principles. They’re similar to the frightened Tories Margaret Thatcher faced in 1980. You know what I’m talking about. The conservatives who claim capitalism no longer works. They conclude that economic freedom fails families and hurts workers. So they’re trying to create a hybrid capitalism – a hyphenated capitalism. It’s all a sham.
Tear off the window dressing, and they’re calling for more mandates, more rules, and more government control of the economy and daily life. They want to create more welfare programs and accelerate government spending. They’re fine with less personal freedom and more government power. That’s not capitalism. It’s socialism lite.
Good luck with that. Conservatives will never outbid the Left when it comes to growing government. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi are proving that. If all we’re offering is a cheaper welfare state, or slightly less bad mandates, we will lose. If the American people are asked to pick between actual socialism and a watered-down version, they’ll choose the real thing. Conservatives should know better. We have to fight. We have to offer a clear and compelling alternative. And we don’t have to wonder what that alternative is. It’s capitalism!
You know who else should know better? Corporate America. But they’ve decided to take the lazy, cowardly route. The C-Suite has rallied behind its own form of “socialism lite”. They call it “stakeholder capitalism”. When you unpack it, it’s nothing more than a desperate attempt to make the Left happy. Companies should be fighting for economic freedom, not bowing to government. Yet corporate boards won’t defend the very principles that allow their businesses and employees to succeed. They think it’s good for business to have the media pat them on the head and say, “you’re better than the rest of those crazies”.
But cable TV applause and cocktail party praise don’t matter. What matters is lifting up the American people. Socialism and socialism lite can never do that. Capitalism can – and has proven it time and time again. Donald Trump’s tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks are the most recent proof. They helped create the best economy of my lifetime, with the lowest unemployment in 50 years and real wage growth across the board. We should be proud of those accomplishments and double down on them – not undo them.
There’s one more supposedly “conservative” critique of capitalism. You hear it from the Left too. Either way, it’s the silliest argument of all. They say capitalism is bad for America but good for communist China; that if you’re for the free market, you’re for giving away the farm to Beijing. They say that economic freedom means shipping critical industries from Chicago to Shanghai, giving China everything it needs to hold America hostage. That’s a red herring.
Americans have always known that national security is our top priority. The pandemic proved that we can never be dependent on our biggest enemy for medicine. The same is true for advanced technology and security systems. There’s also some irony here. Those who accuse capitalism of strengthening China are the same people who want to do business like China. They’re calling for a “national industrial policy”, letting the government choose what companies make, pick which businesses succeed, and dictate what the economy looks like. They think government controlling and directing innovation is better than unleashing the genius of our companies and citizens. They might as well start calling each other “comrade” and saying that five-year plans are better than economic freedom.
You don’t have to think very hard to see how dumb that is. Imagine saying in 1980 that America should be more like the Soviet Union. Thank God Ronald Reagan said the opposite. We can’t out-central-plan a bunch of communists, and if we play by China’s rules, China will win. The better bet is to play the game the American way – and that’s capitalism.
In a fight between Chinese communism and American capitalism, America will win every time. The biggest reason socialism is gaining ground is because capitalism’s defenders are too afraid to speak up. The truth matters. It’s time to tell it – and be proud about it.
To start, we need to define capitalism, instead of letting the other side spread falsehoods and lies. Capitalism is not pro-big-business. It’s pro-people – all people, without exception. Economic freedom is all about empowerment, especially for the least fortunate and most vulnerable. We want a society where a single mom can support her kids, where a working family can get a better job and a bigger paycheck, where a college student can turn her big idea into a booming small business. We want a society where people don’t just dream it – they have the freedom to do it, and nobody has the power to stand in their way.
We need to describe what capitalism has done – namely, lifting more people out of poverty than anything else in human history. Economic freedom has doubled Americans’ life expectancy, from 40 to 80. It has cut infant mortality from a third of children to practically none. It took us from horses to cars to airplanes to spaceships, while turning the impossible into the inevitable. After watching America, other countries have followed our lead, including by ditching socialism. Now someone escapes extreme poverty every 1.2 seconds worldwide – and capitalism is to thank.
Finally, we must apply capitalism to the unique challenges of our time. Many assume that capitalism consists of lowering taxes, cutting red tape and wasteful spending. It is that, but it’s so much more. Today, capitalism means standing up to corporate America as much as to the government. Many CEOs think it’s fine to impose their values on the rest of us, dictating what we think, how we live, and how we vote. That’s wrong when politicians do it, and it’s wrong when tech giants or anyone else does it. Corporate America should stick to business and stop preaching.
Capitalism means transforming education from top to bottom. It’s a national shame that so many students leave high school and college without the skills they need to succeed in life. We need to inject competition into education. That means more school choice, more pathways to college degrees, more college alternatives, and more workforce training for people of all ages. Every child deserves a world-class education that helps them get ahead – regardless of where they are born and raised.
Capitalism means taking on special interests and taking away their special favors. We should all be upset that so many companies get handouts, bailouts, and carve-outs from the government. Economic freedom and fairness go hand-in-hand, and companies, workers, and families deserve a level playing field – no exceptions.
Finally, capitalism means defending the principles at our country’s core. America is not rotten. America is not racist. Freedom and the rule of law are not tools of oppression. They are essential to providing opportunity for all. Of course America isn’t perfect. But the principles at the heart of America are perfect. Margaret Thatcher was right. There’s no need for a U-Turn away from capitalism. It is the road that brought our people and country further than any other in human history.
My parents left India because of America’s promise, and that promise is still worth defending. Fellow citizens, and future generations, deserve better than a country that gives up on them and holds them down. They deserve to live in a land that believes in them – a land of realised dreams – the best hope on earth.
If we restore that kind of America, there’s no telling how far we’ll go. There’s no telling how much good we’ll do for all who call our country home. But we owe it to them, and ourselves, to find out.
This is an adapted version of The Margaret Thatcher Freedom Lecture which Nikki Haley gave at the Heritage Foundation, Washington DC, this week