“Read All About It!”
(The Growth of Government)
Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs
The growth of the private sector is rather magical. You simply enforce property rights and a few other nurturing legal traditions, and commerce grows. It’s rather like planting seeds in the proper soil and providing them with sun and water. The miracle of economic growth occurs, and with it, the rise in individual income and comforts.
There is nothing magical about the growth of government. It happens because certain people enforce it, and many more persons either allow or agree to it. Most governments began as what nowadays would be seen as criminal enterprises.
The nature of the private sector is rather splendid and wonderful, both because of its natural quality and diversity – and because of its complexity that passes our understanding.
The complex, brutal, many times exasperating nature of government, on the other hand, can be byzantine, but it rarely appears wonderful, except in its self-limitations. For example, with our own system of “checks and balances”, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, the wonder of humility has been introduced to government. A twig of humanity has been grafted onto an otherwise powerful, unfeeling enterprise, which, from time to time, casts its entire monolithic pre-eminence in a noble light. (Picture the glowing Dome of Congress.) Other citizenry have found other ways to ‘humble’ their governments. But, for the most part, “shock and awe” and raw power, the barrel of a gun – and not wonder – are the glistening aspects of most government.
Because the private sector grows from a natural action, whose nature passes our complete understanding – when it fails, when the economy fails us, we believers are left with little but our faith to sustain us. When the seeds of enterprise we have planted grow and wither, there are many factors we can look at, and remedies we can try… but mostly we must have faith that the seeds still contain life and the plants can be saved. And that the miracle which passes our understanding will blossom again.
Believers in government, however, need no faith. In fact, they often disparage faith. Believers in government are natural atheists and pragmatists. They are “show me the money”, people. And when a crisis occurs, the government offers to “show people the money”. It’s rather like looking for your keys outside the tent, rather than inside where you lost them – because the light outside is better.
The theme of Higg’s book is that what happens when a crisis occurs depends upon the prevailing ideology of the times; that is whether we will hew to a faith in our natural occurring systems, and the value creating miracle of the private sector – or whether we have more faith in governmental directives, whose nature would seem more rational and apparent, and who can print money at will.
In Crisis and Leviathan, Robert Higgs traces the evolving nature of our national ideology, and the crisis’s which have formed it. And what he has shown, is that in times of crisis, action tends to be valued over faith by the populace. These crises’s stimulate governmental action which manifest as governmental expansion, which, assuming that the crisis is surpassed and the nation survives, creates a change in ideology. This changed ideology, which is more comfortable with a larger government, insures that the governmental expansion which occurred, never shrinks to pre-crisis size but solidifies as real growth. And, over time, and successive crisis, our faith in the natural guiding order of the private sector shrinks in comparison with our comfort in governmental solutions. And just as a plant grows exponentially, the government grows as each succeeding crisis provides it with the ideological support to do so. Of course, much of this growth depends upon concealed costs and fiat (printed) money. And from there comes a sobering foreboding.
Higgs also notes that an ideology is a creation of its time. Just as a plant cannot shrink back into a smaller plant or a seed, neither can an ideology ever become what it once was. There is no going back to the yesteryears.
Crisis and the Leviathan is an engrossing, step by step, factual, sobering account, of why our government has gotten to the size it is, and why we are where we are as a nation – and he offers a rather dismal outlook, for anyone who values individual freedoms and the joy of personal enterprise.
Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating tour through history as situations are seen through the differing ideological lenses of history, as black becomes white and white, black – and laws are taken to mean just the opposite of what they appear to have said, when written. You can almost hear the street paper boy shouting, as if hawking some lurid murder, “Read all about it!”
Picture from Google Images