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America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Monday, July 17, 2006

"The Tariff is the Mother of Trusts"

In articles such as Roy Childs's "Big Business and the Rise of American Statism," Murray Rothbard's "War Collectivism in World War I," and Joseph Stromberg's "The Role of State Monopoly Capitalism in the American Empire," advocates of the freedom philosophy have laid the blame for big government largely at the door of business. This may conflict with the way we'd expect things to be, but ultimately this is a historical matter is to be settled empirically.

Besides, why should we expect business people to favor laissez faire and to abhor government intervention? Few people outside of business do so. Why would people in business be different? As Albert Jay Nock noted long ago, people tend to favor the path of least exertion. If a business owner can increase his profits with a tax, regulation, or import quota on his domestic or foreign competitors, why not go for it? You and I may expect his ethical governor to stop him. But what if he, like most other people, doesn't equate government action with plunder? In that case he won't see himself as a hooligan once removed. Rather, he'll seem himself as a citizen in a democracy petitioning his government for badly needed relief, which, as it happens, will also serve the general welfare.
The rest of my "Peripatetics" column in the June issue of The Freeman is here at the Foundation for Economic Education website.


Kevin Carson said...

Great article! Outside of those directly involved in lobbying, I doubt most of the constituencies for corporate rent-seeking are as cynical or self-consciously corrupt as Dwayne Andreas. It's a normal human trait to filter one's notion of the "general welfare" though the grid of self-interest.

Arguably the private benefits of government policy that follow successful promotion of it in "general welfare" terms is a positive feedback that promotes some ideas in the public arena.

Sheldon Richman said...

Thanks, Kevin. I agree with your remarks. Until one grasps the notion of "legal plunder" one is likely to falll prey to all kinds of appeals to the general welfare.