Monday, June 02, 2008

The Big Lie Again

Tibor R. Machan

Just to make it clear that association with prestigious institutions does not guarantee veracity, Professor Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, has chimed in with yet another distortion of reality, one that several prominent folks have been perpetrating over the last few years. I am thinking, for example, of Paul Krugman, Princeton University economist and columnist for The New York Times.

Both of these folks have been repeating the claim that ideas favoring the free market are widely championed in America. Foner wrote this in The New York Times Sunday Book Review recently: “Arthur Schlesinger Jr., ‘The Politics of Upheaval: 1935-1936’ [is a book the presidential candidates ought to read] because it demonstrates how the marriage of engaged social movements and an activist government can promote the common good even in the most dire economic circumstances, and offers and alternative vision of the market fundamentalism that now dominates American politics.”

I have dealt extensively with the myth of government’s capacity to promote the “public” good and how that idea tends to mean the agenda of people who differ from what most others like to promote. In the American political tradition the public good comes to nothing less or more than securing everyone’s fundamental, unalienable individual rights!

What jumps out at a reader in the quote from Foner is the out and out myth he is peddling, namely, that “market fundamentalism dominates American politics.” If you doubt me, just listen to Senators Obama, Clinton, and McCain and notice how little confidence each of these major contemporary political figures shows for the free market. The current Congress has no interest in free markets either. Instead it keeps supporting farm subsidies and numerous protectionist measures. Liberal Democrats, in turn, are openly hostile to free trade--notice how both Senators Obama and Clinton keep hammering away at NAFTA (which, by the way, Bill Clinton supported), a measure that gives at least lip service in favor of the free market. (Not that even NAFTA fully endorses economic freedom!)

Why on earth is it so necessary for Professor Foner and his ilk to peddle this big lie, namely, that the free market is favored in America these days? No one but Congressman Ron Paul treated it as a good thing and his vote totals did not come close to suggesting that the idea dominates American politics. So why the lie?

I believe that enemies of the free market are worried that any problems in the American or indeed world economy might be laid at the feet of the real culprit, the mixed economy or welfare state. Because it is welfare states that in fact dominate politics nearly everywhere, including in America. The mixed economy is an uneasy combination of extensive government economic intervention and pockets of free market activity.

American political opinion, pace Professor Foner, has been swinging back and forth between more or less extensive government interventionism. That is what has dominated American politics, what with all the regulatory agencies, minimum wage measures, eminent domain policies, subsidies, protection from foreign competition, etc., etc.

But if one can convince people that economic problems stem not from this mess of the mixed economy but from market fundamentalism, they may decide to try even more interventionism, more government regulation, more central planning exactly as advocated by Senators Obama and Clinton and not at all vigorously opposed by Senator McCain.

The Big Lie! It was once associated with Plato’s Republic, where the philosopher king was required, in the imaginary perfect state, to mislead the public for its very own good! Maybe Professor Foner shares this idea: Lie to the American public about what kind of economic philosophy is dominant so they will then accept the opposite idea, namely, socialism.

In fact, however, this lie is of no help to anyone, not even Professor Foner (since his reputation is seriously sullied from perpetrating it).

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