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Separate economy and the state

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For centuries, governments established, controlled, regulated, and subsidized religious activity. Then some people began asking a revolutionary question: Why not separate religious activity and the state in such a way that the state would be barred from involving itself in any religious activity whatsoever?

The question shook the world. Having been born and raised under systems in which the government played a heavy role in religious activity, many people simply couldn’t imagine life any other way. The idea of separating church and state was initially considered ridiculous.

Gradually, however, the idea gained sway and ultimately gripped the hearts and minds of the American people. That’s why the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits Congress from involving itself in religious affairs.

For centuries, governments have also managed, controlled, regulated, and subsidized economic activity. So here’s another revolutionary question: Why not separate economy and the state the way our ancestors separated church and state?

Here is a constitutional amendment I propose: “No law shall be enacted respecting the regulation of commerce or abridging the free exercise thereof.” It could be called the Freedom of Commerce Amendment or the Economic Liberty Amendment.

That would mean that whenever Congress passed a law regulating economic activity, the aggrieved party could go into either state court or federal court and have it declared unconstitutional under the Economic Liberty Amendment of the Constitution.

No longer would people have to concern themselves with an endless slew of economic regulations coming out of Congress. Everyone would know that regulation of economic activity would be as unconstitutional as regulation of religious activity.

Isn’t that what America’s heritage of “free enterprise” is supposed to be all about? The term “free enterprise” doesn’t mean “less-regulated enterprise.” It means enterprise that is free from government regulation.

What would the separation of economy and state mean as a practical matter? It would mean that people would be free to engage in any economic enterprise without licenses, permits, restrictions, or other government controls. It would mean that the federal government would lack the power to manage, regulate, control, or subsidize economic activity. It would mean that people would be free to engage in mutually beneficial economic transactions with anyone in the world without governmental interference.

In fact, here are two more proposed constitutional amendments to consider:

The federal income tax is hereby abolished, along with the Internal Revenue Service.

No program or law shall be enacted respecting the establishment or regulation of welfare or charity or infringing the free exercise thereof.

Those two amendments would ensure that as people freely engage in economic enterprise under the Economic Liberty Amendment, they would be free to keep the fruits of their earnings and decide for themselves what to do with it. No more mandated charity in any form.

Aren’t economic liberty, free enterprise, free markets, private property, and private charity what genuine freedom is all about? Indeed, isn’t that what economic prosperity is all about — the ability of people to improve their economic status in life through trade and capital accumulation?

Modern-day Americans are, of course, free to continue the economic system under which they have been born and raised — a system of government-managed and government-controlled economic activity, income taxation, and mandated charity. That is what people have done for centuries with respect to both economic activity and religious activity.

But there is another option. Rather than accept what has gone on for centuries, modern-day Americans can lift their vision to a higher level, just as our ancestors did with respect to religion. They have the opportunity to separate economy and the state, just as our ancestors separated religion and the state.

What better way to lead the world out of the statist economic morass in which it has been mired for centuries?

Jacob G. Hornberger is president of The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).

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