Free Societies

In 2022, Americans Have Two Options: Freedom or the Ugly Alternative

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Brad Lips

Brad Lips | CEO, Atlas Network

This op-ed originally appeared in RealClearPolitics.

Gas prices are spiking. Consumer confidence is teetering. The baby formula crisis presages the threat of more consumer shortages. Americans in 2022 are experiencing all sorts of pain.

Is there a fundamental flaw in democratic processes? They can be messy, contentious, and frustratingly slow. At different points in their tenures, both President Obama and President Trump seemed to yearn for authoritarian powers. Famed New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman openly hoped to be "China for a day."

But, as hard as 2022 has been for Americans, it’s been an even worse year for dictators. China and Russia are reeling from disastrous errors made by rulers who have deprived themselves of the feedback loops that exist in democracies. People are taking notice. Swedish author Johan Norberg recently pointed out that the decline of “dictator envy” may be the most significant story to come from 2022.

Xi Jinping had expected this fall’s 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party to solidify his standing as “President for Life,” pointing to his successes in managing COVID-19, stewarding the Chinese economy, and boosting China’s standing on the world stage. But today’s Chinese economy is shaky, its “Covid Zero” policy brought starvation to once-wealthy cities, and proof of genocidal crimes against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang shows that no country should wish to emulate China.

Protests are becoming more frequent in China, with the communist government weaponizing COVID-19 health codes to squash them. Fears of a Chinese bank run are real.

Xi’s alliance with Putin has backfired as well. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine now appears to be a massive miscalculation. Russia’s military is weakened, its economy is in shambles, and the Russian government deems it necessary to clamp down on dissent over the Ukraine war. In recent weeks, thousands of Russian protesters have been targeted by their government, which is levying hefty fines and even years in prison as punishments. Family members of Russian solders are increasingly aggrieved, and rightly so.

China and Russia provide examples of what can happen when governments do not value human dignity and are not accountable to democratic processes. A new report from the Atlantic Council affirms that Americans should be thankful to still live in a liberal democracy. The report proves there is a clear correlation between freedom and prosperity. Indeed, every single country in the report’s “Prosperous” category also falls in the “Free” category. Nearly two-thirds of the variation in prosperity around the world can be explained by freedom (or the lack thereof).

More than a mere correlation, the Atlantic Council’s report suggests there is a causal link between freedom and prosperity. A country’s level of prosperity today is best explained by its level of freedom in 2006, meaning that freedom in the short term leads to prosperity in the long run. According to the report’s authors, “Freedom begets prosperity, which, in turn, begets more freedom.”

The lesson for Americans? Count your blessings to live in what remains one of the freest countries in the world. At the same time, we must remain vigilant in protecting our individual liberties. They are not guaranteed. Perhaps lockdowns made sense in the early stages of the pandemic, but why do governors in dozens of U.S. states continue to wield “emergency powers”? Why does President Biden still cling to his?

Government bureaucrats will not lead Americans out of our present malaise. The path forward requires entrepreneurship, innovation, and the other hallmarks of a market economy. According to recent research from the U.S. Census Bureau, new business owners applied for more than five million Employer Identification Numbers (EINs) in 2021 – the most in over a decade. Entrepreneurs and innovators – when freed from government interference – can shine a light at the end of the long, dark pandemic tunnel. They are worth celebrating.

Those pursuing a different direction – full of government mandates, price controls, and “emergency interventions” – will only lead us to a dead end.

In 2022, Americans have two options to consider: Freedom or the ugly alternative. Let’s choose wisely.