Most things don’t move in a straight line. Even in a bull market with stocks, there will still be down days.
For someone trying to improve at golf, it is easier to go from a 20 handicap (shoots 20 over par) to a 10 handicap, than for someone trying to go from a 10 handicap to being a scratch golfer (shooting par). Each player is trying to improve by 10 shots, but it takes a lot more detail, fine tuning, and innate ability to go from a 10 handicap to being a scratch golfer. Even while improving, people plateau.
I use this as an analogy in discussing liberty. Of course, liberty is even more complicated. While it is dependent upon what the government does, most people don’t realize that the government will only do what is allowed by the people.
In a society with democratic institutions, the government will rarely be any better than what is tolerated by the people. In most cases, politicians will get away with whatever they can. They aren’t really bound down by constitutions and laws. They are bound down by public opinion.
The only conceivable way of achieving greater liberty and maintaining it is if public opinion changes. People must view the state as an institution that isn’t needed, or at least is needed far less than what we currently get. This doesn’t have to include everyone, but it will likely have to include a majority of the people. It’s not to say that a majority have to be activists, but that a majority of people must be willing to follow the small minority who are preaching and actively promoting liberty.
Just like the golfer trying to improve his game, it will not be a straight line towards greater liberty. Most libertarians think we are getting worse. In terms of government action, they may be correct. But in terms of public opinion, I think there is no question that things are improving. But there will be certain plateau points where it seems that things are not improving. Some events may even set the libertarian movement back a bit. But as long as there are more steps forward than steps back, then greater liberty will be achieved.
There are a lot of factors going into a changing public opinion. I think the last two Ron Paul presidential campaigns opened a lot of eyes for people who had never been exposed to a real libertarian message before. Of course, another major factor has been the internet and social media. The rapidly declining price of technology has made communication wide open to most people. It is much easier to spread the truth and expose people to a diversity of opinions.
In addition, this has all come at a time where the government continues to overstep its bounds. Obama just went on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and said that the government is not spying on Americans. This was a blatant lie and I think it was obvious to many people. Why is Obama so worried about Edward Snowden then? Snowden provided the evidence that Americans should fear their own government. It is one more piece of news that makes the federal government lose legitimacy with the American people.
There are so many scandals coming out of DC right now that it is hard to keep up with them all. Meanwhile, Americans continue to grow more tired of war and interventionism, along with a struggling economy at home.
In conclusion, we may be nearing a perfect storm for the liberty movement. Instead of looking at each new government boondoggle as a loss of liberty, look at it as one more thing that damages the government’s legitimacy. I think we will see greater liberty in the next few decades. But remember that it won’t happen in a straight line. There will be ups and downs.