Thoughts, essays, and writings on Liberty. Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.

October 18, 2008

A Coming Dark Age For Liberty ?

by Doug Mataconis

In a rather somber article over at Forbes, Henry Manner, former Dean at George Mason University School of Law, sees dark times ahead for freedom:

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.

And, although Manne doesn’t say it, we can expect this move toward a corporate state to be supported by members of both parties — just look at the votes for the bailout to confirm that one.

Despite this, Manne doesn’t think that all hope is lost:

[U]nlike during the New Deal, there is a substantial intellectual establishment to ride herd on leftist proclivities. There are numerous free market blog sites, which, for instance, can be properly credited with forcing modification of the recent short-sale ban. There are countless free market think tanks in Washington and all around the country exerting considerable influence on government policies. Libertarians are a small but growing political factor, and there are even a few university economics departments and law schools where sanity prevails or is at least occasionally evident.

Like it or not, these few intellectual bastions of freedom philosophy will be about the only thing that keeps these ideals alive in the coming years. But we should never underestimate the power of good ideas. Like the bad ones we are about to witness in large numbers, they may just have to bide their time until a new crisis causes the fickle and uninformed public to demand a new direction.

Unfortunately, that new crisis is likely to cause a lot of pain for everyone.

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