Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Nonsense of "A new world order"

Tibor R. Machan

Business Week reports--July 6, 2009, page 8--that Roger Altman, Deputy Treasury Secretary under President Bill Clinton, now CEO of an investment banking boutique (Evercore Partners), has, like President Sarkozy of France, concluded that it's the end for capitalism. As Business Week tells it, Boltman wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that "The era of laissez-faire economics is over, and statism, once discredited, is making a comeback--even in the U.S. Also out of vague is globalization."

Yes, Virginia, there are still many grown up people who believe that there has been rampant laissez-faire economics around the world, especially in the United States of America and especially during the last few decades. Business Week's account of Bolton's opinions also seems to accepts, without any skepticism, that statism is something novel while the laissez-faire is old.

Sadly this is all wrong. Statism has been the norm for thousands of years, what with countries throughout history being ruled from top down and with their economies being managed as if they were firms instead of societies. It is only in the last 400 years or so that the classical liberal idea of a relatively free economy has caught on here and there, and even then mainly in the rhetoric of various, sometimes admittedly prominent academic economists, not in the public philosophies of nations. To its credit, Business Week does suggest that any move away from globalization is going to prove to be "an especially hard toll on developing nations." It might have added the plain historical fact that prior to the emergence of the halting policy of very partial laissez-faire most of the world lingered in utter poverty. Apart from the rulers and their minions, few people had any wealth to speak of. Only in the most recent and brief period of history has the limited measure of global free trade managed to bring forth prosperity for ordinary people who are constantly being badgered about it, what with all the denunciation of commercialization, greed and such in light of some degree of enthusiasm for this new development. Statism, which has retarded not only commerce but nearly every decent human endeavor way in discernibly brutal ways, has been the norm, just as one of the few--relatively speaking--prominent champions of laissez-faire, the late Milton Freidman observed. And Thomas Jefferson made it clear to that governments tend to expand in power and freedom tends to be in retreat more than not.

So, the point to get clear on, is that the current retreat from the small measure of laissez-faire around the globe and, especially, America, is quite routine. Such reactionary developments do not deserve to be designated as the dawning of "a new world order." Properly put, these developments would be a return to the miserable political economies that have dominated the world for over centuries but with a few short periods of relief here and there. And such statism has usually been promoted by those in the ruling classes, like Mr. Altman, who see in it the makings of a rightly ordered universe. It is the idea that you and I and all people ought to be in charge of their own lives and ought to pursue our various projects freely, in voluntary cooperation instead of as regimented by these rulers, that is new.

But those who insist on directing the rest of us even when no one asked them to, have no interest in getting the historical facts right. The idea of laissez-faire economics arises from the long suppressed and struggling idea, finally asserted by the American Founders, that no one may rule another or, as Abraham Lincoln put it, that “No man is good enough to govern another man, without that other’s consent.” The rulers, of course, would not hear of this, in large part because living by that principle would deprive them of the opportunity to rule. (This, more than anything else, is the source of anti-Americanism in the midst of the world's upper classes, given that America is closely linked to the idea Lincoln gave voice to, even if in reality it hasn't followed that principles by a long shot!)

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