Arizona legislators want to make "American free-market capitalism" their state religion.
This week, Arizona Rep. Bob Thorpe (R – Flagstaff) introduced a bill that would designate "American free-market capitalism" the state's official "political-economic system", and declares the legislature's intent "that taxpayer dollars not be used to promote or to provide material support for any political-economic system that opposes the principles of free-market capitalism."
I am as much a fan of free markets as the next Reason commenter, but I find this bill to be absolutely infuriating. It manages to be simultaneously unconstitutional, cynical, and damaging to the very ideas it is supposedly intended to promote.
For starters, the bill contains a naked content-based restriction on the use of taxpayer dollars to promote something other than "free-market capitalism". From what activities Thorpe would want to yank state support is not entirely clear; his bill says only that it would include the promotion of "socialism, communism, and fascism."
Over at the Phoenix New Times, Antonia Noori Farzan notes that "taken to an extreme, it could potentially mean that state universities would be banned from providing any resources to campus chapters of the Democratic Socialists of America." Depending on your definition of free-market, the bill could be used to deny resources to college Democrat and Republican chapters too.
This would obviously run afoul of the First Amendment. The government cannot choose to support or deny funding to a group solely on the content of that group's beliefs. (What free market group worth its salt would be accepting government support in the first place?)
In addition to being unconstitutional, Thorpe's bill is also unnecessary. The official political-economic system of Arizona is already free market capitalism, thanks to the U.S. and Arizona constitutions.
The Privileges and Immunities Clause in the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guarantees U.S. citizens economic liberty to earn a living. Reason's own Damon Root has written extensively on the topic, and the Institute for Justice has made an art of getting economic regulations struck down on these grounds.
Arizona's constitution includes many of these same guarantees, and goes even further in some areas. The Gift Clause of the state constitution, for instance, prohibits special favors being given to individuals or corporations by state or local governments.
Of course, the guarantee of a free market system on both constitutions are routinely violated by legislatures and regulators, while state and federal courts give their actions a rubber stamp.
Which brings me to my main problem with Thorpe's bill. It does absolutely nothing to advance the cause of free markets. If reducing the role of the state in our lives really was the goal of a sitting legislator, he could introduce any number of bills to make that happen.
Thorpe could, for instance, introduce a bill that would abolish Arizona's array of licensing boards that require 1,000 hours of training to blow dry hair. He could introduce a bill that would repeal the state's recently increased minimum wage, which is already playing havoc with the ability of disability service providers to attract and retain staff. Thorpe could even introduce a bill barring cities from owning and operating hotels, a practice that has already cost taxpayers some $200 million in Phoenix.
Instead of using his position to advocate for actual free markets however, Thorpe has decided to use his time in the legislature to propose meaningless bills designed only to piss off the right people.
Far from advancing a free market, Thorpe's bill only works to discredit its proponents.