Many on the right, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, argue that the economic examples provided by Texas will ultimately sway voters to reject an intrusive, interventionist government. As he writes in Fed Up!,
In order to find like-minded people, under federalism Americans can exercise true liberty and ‘vote with their feet’—choose to leave a climate in one state that is incompatible with their beliefs and go to one more to their liking….
This mobility put competitive pressure on states. Policies that undermine progress and the well-being of a state’s citizens will not be long-lived. State politicians have an incentive to identify and satisfy resident preferences so that dissatisfied citizens do not leave, taking their tax dollars with them (pages 27-8).
In one sense, Perry is incorrect. In another sense, he is correct. And the extent to which he is correct illustrates the destructive consequences of collectivism, and specifically democracy.
In any community, the preferences of residents are not monolithic. Individuals have different desires, values, and preferences. In a democracy, politicians have an incentive to identify and satisfy the desires, values, and preferences of the majority. And this is precisely what has happened in both California and Texas.
California voters and legislators have supported liberal/progressive ideas for decades. They have imposed draconian regulations and exorbitant taxation on businesses and individuals. Even as evidence mounted that this is wrecking the state’s economy, Californians have continued to support those policies. Remember, in 2010 California voters overwhelmingly approved the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was projected to kill 1.1 million jobs and cost each family nearly $4,000 a year. Despite the economic consequences, the majority of Californians have preferred increased government intervention in the economy and legislators have responded accordingly. This is democracy in action.
While it is inarguable that the Texas economy has outperformed California’s, there has been no “competitive pressure” on California to change its policies. Even while businesses have fled the state, taking their tax dollars and jobs with them, the same policies have continued. Indeed, in October 2010, just before voters approved the Global Warming Solutions Act, unemployment in California was 12.4 percent, the third highest in the nation. Why did Californians approve such a destructive measure? If the evidence presented to Californians to date is insufficient, what will it take to change their minds?
Perry may disagree with the policies enacted in California, but he cannot challenge them morally. Californians have found “like-minded people” and are enacting the policies that they prefer. Californians are acting on Perry’s premise. And this illustrates the danger of democracy, in both California, Texas, and anywhere else it is practiced.
Similarly, in Texas like-minded people have banded together in the past to restrict the freedom of blacks, and more recently anti-sodomy laws, alcohol prohibitions, and obscenity laws have imposed restrictions on other individuals. Texans have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to make illegal actions that the majority finds distasteful. In both California and Texas, like-minded people have used government to impose the values of the majority upon the citizenry.
The proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, not the imposition of the values of “like-minded people” upon the entire citizenry. Individuals should not have to “find like-minded people” and move to another state in order to exercise their rights. Individual rights are not subject to a vote.
Texans have failed to identify the real lessons we can learn from Texas and California. And the reason is because Texans, like Californians, have embraced collectivism. If that continues, the future will not be as rosy for Texas.