If there is no difference between regulating and requiring and between incentives and mandates, why did Congress bother creating the Cash for Clunkers program? If buying fuel-efficient cars is so important for the economy, Congress could just require people to buy them. Why does Congress need complicated bailouts when it could simply order people to deposit their paychecks in certain banks, invest in certain companies or purchase certain products? In this brave new world, Congress can tackle obesity by mandating that people buy fruits and vegetables. Perhaps this might also lead to a new chapter in regulating campaigns, with Congress requiring contributions to certain candidates to “level the playing field.”
Liberty requires limits on government. That is why we have a Constitution and why it delegates enumerated powers to the federal government. Those limits mean nothing and cannot protect liberty if the Constitution means whatever Congress wants it to mean. Requiring that individuals use their own hard-earned money to purchase whatever the federal government wants them to purchase would boldly go where the government has never gone before — and would undermine the liberty of all Americans.