Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Swift Path to Despotism

Editor Mort Zuckerman often writes the editorials for U.S. News & World Report. Sometimes I agree with him and sometimes I don't, but they're always well-expressed and worth reading.

His editorial in the March 2009 issue is entitled No Time To Lose. He refers to the need for swift action by the federal government to get the credit system working again, and his call is for massive fiscal intervention. The truly telling line is in the middle of the piece: "Speed is crucial. Ideology has to be junked. The question is simply pragmatic."

That theme is being heard more and more in the public discussion of the nation's economic troubles, and it is frightening. Those pushing it are saying in essence that guiding principles of government can be bundled up as "ideology" and thrown in the trash in the name of economic expediency. Hard won ideals which were rigorously debated, and for which people strove and sacrificed and died, should simply be dismissed as a hindrance to preserving material prosperity.

There is no swifter way to despotism than this.

There was a time in this country when everyone knew our founding principles, and valued the importance of adhering to them. Economic trends were deemed less important that being true to our Constitution and heritage. The reason was that the principles of our government were the key to our freedoms, which were the key to all other goods in our society. This included, but was not limited to, economic freedom - which included the freedom to fail as well as succeed. Those principles did not include the idea that the government was responsible for insuring the economy worked a certain way (at least, not until FDR's New Deal, the success of which is under serious debate.)

But it seems that Mr. Zuckerman is willing to throw over these principles in the name of getting the economy "working again" - by which he specifically means lenders lending and borrowers borrowing. The idea that there might be good economic reasons that lenders aren't lending or borrowers borrowing seems to be dismissed as simply "ideology" that must be "junked". Perpetuation of the economic standards to which we must become accustomed is the important thing - anything that hinders that should be thrown overboard, or at least stashed deep in the hold until it can safely be brought out again.

Those who join this chorus are forgetting their history. Time and again through the ages people have handed over their freedoms to those who promised safety from some catastrophe, be it economic or military or social. There are big, dramatic examples such as the Nazi takeover of the Wiemar Republic in the 1930's, but there are far more little ones where some village or county or nation succumbs to the promises of some demagogue and hands over their rights in return for some safeguard. Of course, the tragic lesson is that they rarely get handed back.

Ironically, many of those now clamoring the loudest for massive government intervention in the economy are the same ones who raised so many concerns about the provisions of the Patriot Act and how it would lead to the erosion of our liberties and excessive government intrusion in our lives. If those concerns were valid, then there should be much more concern about “junking” our basic principles in the name of economic expediency. The freedoms which will be ultimately demanded in exchange for this temporary economic patch will far exceed anything the Patriot Act ever threatened.

Sadly, this is just whistling in the desert. The intervention of which Mr. Zuckerman speaks is a done deal. The American public has already been told from so many sources that it is necessary that they have given in and permitted it. The only question is how much more will be permitted, and how many more freedoms sacrificed, in the name of economics.

Our forefathers had an opportunity for economic security. Remaining in the British Empire and participating in the mercantile system would have been a certain way of increasing the wealth in the colonies. But they chose the risky path of founding a new country because they valued freedom more than economic security.

What a shame Mr. Zuckerman and those like him would “junk” their principles to step back into the clammy embrace of government-assured economic salvation.

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