18 Oct 2008

America Turning Left

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Henry G. Manne predicts a long period of the expansion of statism, economic stagnation, and freedom’s retreat.

The political direction of the country is now determined for a long time to come, and it is inevitably leftward. Politicians would never resist a popular but massive demand for more government regulation (even the few with enough brainpower to recognize what is going on). The business community has never been a strong supporter of free market capitalism, and it certainly cannot be counted on to change its stance this time around. The media, the various leftist trend-setting elites and university faculties have been waiting a long time for an opportunity just like this, and we can be sure that they won’t squander it. The shrillness of their attacks on free markets will reach new heights of righteous indignation and assumed moral and intellectual superiority.

No policy issue based on private property, low taxes, small government or free trade will escape the charge that any unregulated free market will lead to disastrous excesses just as happened with the great financial crisis of 2008. This will be true for such soon to be rebuffed ideas as tuition vouchers for private schools, private health care, lower estate taxes, deregulation in its many forms, reduced use of eminent domain, tort liability restraint and free trade.

We can anticipate a new reign of mercantilism, as the protectionists among us wield this strong new weapon against globalization and open markets. And all of this is true in large degree regardless of who wins the forthcoming election.

If Sarbanes-Oxley was any indication of the kind of legislation that results from crisis, then we can be sure that even more ham-handed regulation of all kinds will be the main product of the next Congress. Henry Waxman’s grandstanding this past week about bankers’ greed has been merely the warm-up for what is to follow.

Bankers eager for federal help now will find themselves regulated not far short of total federal control of their business behavior. Banks won’t be permanently nationalized, but what we will get will differ from that result semantically more than factually. Derivatives, for all their promise of alleviating panics and distributing risk, will not now be allowed to evolve into the brave new system once predicted for them. Accounting rules will become even more convoluted as we continue to ask for more information out of double-entry bookkeeping than it can ever deliver.

Still, there is a glimmer of hope left to those who detest this seemingly inexorable slide into socialism or its first cousin, the super-regulatory state. That glimmer comes from the ghosts of Adam Smith, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek, who still haunt the halls of the left. And in spite of all the claims made that this debacle marks the demise of free market philosophy, it won’t go away so easily.

Read the whole thing.

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Scott D

Milton Friedman would make a slightly different point, and that is that all regulatory bodies eventually function to try to protect the incumbent entities that they regulate from competitive forces. A US banking industry operated that way will eventually atrophy the way the steel and auto industries have. The real financial power and capital will simply migrate elsewhere. Dubai?



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