Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Invisible Hand vs. The Heavy Hand

The field of political economy interested me at an early age and I have been immersed in for almost 50 years, studying economic regulation (L.L.M.) and practicing law in Washington before a number of the alphabet soup of administrative agencies there.   From the outset I was opposed to the notion of a political economy. --  i.e., a politically controlled economy -- similar to the lawyer who enjoys practicing criminal law but doesn't think crime is good idea.  Law school gave me an enriched opportunity to evaluate the the theory and practice of U.S. economic regulation and compare it to my carefully studied political and economic philosophy.   That evaluation confirmed my worst fears.

Now that the financial crisis has publicly exposed corruption,  crony capitalism and government overreaching, to the greatest extent in history, many people are outraged .  Some are even beginning to understand that giving politicians the power to control and influence the economy, is not a good idea. They are mad and are blaming the politicians and bureaucrats for running the country into the ground.  And they are protesting, loudly.  The mass media brush off the Tea Party movement and Oppose Wall Street as insignificant.  But they are symptomatic of a national disgust with the corrupt deficiencies and ineptitude of the Federal government and politicians' arrogant assumption of powers over people that the Constitution forbids.

Attempts by government to control an economy cannot happen if it is opposed by the people (who are, in fact, the economy).  And control is much easier if the people know of no reason to oppose it.  Even if that control is misguided and destructive, if no one knows about it or its negative effects, there ought to be little opposition -- or at least so the thinking goes.  So part and parcel of running a political economy (be it the USSR or the USA) is maintaining a firm grip on the information received by the people, and suppressing bad news and the people who spread it.  Thus the connection between political and economic freedom. Political freedom and economic freedom are interdependent.  Erosion of one is accompanied by erosion of the other.

For the above reason, while I mostly report about economic matters, I occasionally identify and report threats to our civil liberties,  especially those threats that can apply to people who want to speak out about against the government's actions in the realm of political economy.  Those threats have been around almost since the founding of the Republic (e.g., Google the Alien and Sedition Acts).  While many of them have been neutralized (primarily by the Supreme Court), some laws nevertheless have been placed on the books over the past two centuries that can be used and have been used to suppress and punish mere vocal opposition to government policies and actions.

Congress periodically proposes more such laws when a pretext arises that causes popular support for them.  Typically,  the argument for such laws is that a sufficiently sizable emergency exists that requires that people sacrifice personal liberty for more security.  Domestic crises and all wars provide such a pretext.  Examples of such crises are the recent financial crisis, Cold War, the War on Poverty, the War on Drugs and the War on Terror (Note that the term "war" is now being used as an action against a concept as distinguished from action against another nation.  A war against a concept is less specific and can cover a wider range of government activity. It also gives the President broad executive powers over domestic matters, powers that are more appropriate to a hot war.)  The passage of laws that threaten civil liberties has mushroomed in recent years as the powers that be ("TPTB)") have learned how to create a continuing crisis to frighten people into acquiescing to more government control and intrusion.  We are now experiencing a "forever war" and a continuing "national emergency."

I have been collecting articles about recent laws and government activity that threaten our civil liberties and economic freedom.  But because many of the articles are burdened with speculation, I have refrained from posting links to them, preferring to extract the facts and produce an objective study.  But the continuous stream of relevant articles has slowed the process. Here is the most recent, from USA Today: "Government Smears Journalists Who Investigate Government Corruption" The details in the article are more ominous than the title implies.   The alleged activities fly in the face of the Federal Government's own published information regarding the First Amendment, which makes worthwhile reading.