But anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.
In the 19th and 20th centuries ordinary Europeans were hurt, not helped, by their colonial empires. Economic growth in Russia was slowed, not accelerated, by Soviet central planning. American Progressive regulation and its European anticipations protected monopolies of transportation like railways and protected monopolies of retailing like High-Street shops and protected monopolies of professional services like medicine, not the consumers. “Protective” legislation in the United States and “family-wage” legislation in Europe subordinated women. State-armed psychiatrists in America jailed homosexuals, and in Russia jailed democrats. Some of the New Deal prevented rather than aided America’s recovery from the Great Depression.
Unions raised wages for plumbers and auto workers but reduced wages for the non-unionized. Minimum wages protected union jobs but made the poor unemployable. Building codes sometimes kept buildings from falling or burning down but always gave steady work to well-connected carpenters and electricians and made housing more expensive for the poor. Zoning and planning permission has protected rich landlords rather than helping the poor. Rent control makes the poor and the mentally ill unhousable, because no one will build inexpensive housing when it is forced by law to be expensive. The sane and the already-rich get the rent-controlled apartments and the fancy townhouses in once-poor neighborhoods.
Regulation of electricity hurt householders by raising electricity costs, as did the ban on nuclear power. The Securities Exchange Commission did not help small investors. Federal deposit insurance made banks careless with depositors’ money. The conservation movement in the Western U. S. enriched ranchers who used federal lands for grazing and enriched lumber companies who used federal lands for clear cutting. American and other attempts at prohibiting trade in recreational drugs resulted in higher drug consumption and the destruction of inner cities and the incarcerations of millions of young men. Governments have outlawed needle exchanges and condom advertising, and denied the existence of AIDS.
Germany’s economic Lebensraum was obtained in the end by the private arts of peace, not by the public arts of war. The lasting East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere was built by Japanese men in business suits, not in dive bombers. Europe recovered after its two 20th-century civil wars mainly through its own efforts of labor and investment, not mainly through government-to-government charity such as Herbert Hoover’s Commission or George Marshall’s Plan. Government-to-government foreign aid to the Third World has enriched tyrants, not helped the poor.
The importation of socialism into the Third World, even in the relatively non-violent form of Congress-Party Fabian-Gandhism, unintentionally stifled growth, enriched large industrialists, and kept the people poor. Malthusian theories hatched in the West were put into practice by India and especially China, resulting in millions of missing girls. The capitalist-sponsored Green Revolution of dwarf hybrids was opposed by green politicians the world around, but has made places like India self-sufficient in grains. State power in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa has been used to tax the majority of farmers in aid of the president’s cousins and a minority of urban bureaucrats. State power in many parts of Latin America has prevented land reform and sponsored disappearances. State ownership of oil in Nigeria and Mexico and Iraq was used to support the party in power, benefiting the people not at all. Arab men have been kept poor, not bettered, by using state power to deny education and driver’s licenses to Arab women. The seizure of governments by the clergy has corrupted religions and ruined economies. The seizure of governments by the military has corrupted armies and ruined economies.
Industrial policy, from Japan to France, has propped up failing industries such as agriculture and small-scale retailing, instead of choosing winners. Regulation of dismissal has led to high unemployment in Germany and Denmark, and especially in Spain and South Africa. In the 1960s the public-housing high-rises in the West inspired by Le Courbusier condemned the poor in Rome and Paris and Chicago to holding pens. In the 1970s, the full-scale socialism of the East ruined the environment. In the 2000s, the “millennial collectivists,” Red, Green, or Communitarian, oppose a globalization that helps the poor but threatens trade union officials, crony capitalists, and the careers of people in Western non-governmental organizations.
Yes, I know, you want to reject all these factual findings because they are “right-wing” or “libertarian.” All I ask you to do is, once in a while, consider. Don’t believe everything you read in the papers.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Highlights from AEI's Special Sites