Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When I was a kid...

...and someone pointed out a shortcoming in the Soviet Union or some other Communist country, it seemed always to be met with the response, "But we haven't yet achieved true Communism." Okay, I always thought, let us know when you do. Until then, I'll stick with capitalism.

It reminds me a little of the knee-jerk response I keep hearing to critics of the free-market ideology of the last 30 years or so, "But the markets weren't truly free." Reagan (and Bush) apologists, e. g., The Wall Street Journal, usually go on to explain how it was actually the federal government that was to blame for FILL IN THE BLANK. (The government is always to blame for any and all of society's ills. I'm sure if The Journal thought about it hard enough they could find a reason that the government was behind the lack of Cubs' World Series appearances.)

Okay, for the sake of argument, I'll accept the answer that markets in the last thirty years weren't truly free; libertarians have a legitimate point. But my response would also be to ask, "When have markets in the United States (or anywhere) ever been truly free?" Many libertarians would point to the late 19th Century as a time of great prosperity due to limited government intervention in the economy. I can agree with the first part but not the second.

Abraham Lincoln and the Republicans were the intellectual and political heirs of the Federalists and the Whigs, both of whom were big believers in the power of the federal government to foster economic growth. Unlike Jefferson and the Democrats, the Federalists and Whigs believed in a strong central government and a national bank. Under the Whigs and later the Republicans, roads and canals were built and railroads were encouraged to promote commerce. Lincoln also introduced a national currency and a federal income tax for the first time. And let's not forget the tariffs, which were not only intended to raise revenue but also to protect domestic industries.

So was it actually the government's intervention in the economy that promoted such growth in the late 19th Century? Beats me. But just don't tell me it was a time of laissez-faire capitalism. Oh, and if you ever do find a period that meets that description, please let me know.

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