Posts Tagged ‘History’

The Short Version / Reviews

December 8, 2014

Newsboy

“Read All About It!”

(The Growth of Government)

 Crisis and Leviathan

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

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From the Editor’s Perch…

October 11, 2013

scan0062

A Brief Review

 

History is written by the winners, as they say, but it’s not because there is not lots of material about losers in the public and private archives, says Scott Sandage.  “The voices of and experiences of men who failed (and of their wives and families) echo from private letters, diaries, business records, bankruptcy cases, suicide notes, political mail, credit agency reports, charity requests, and memoirs.”

As anybody with eyeballs is apt to see, failure is the much more likely result of business enterprise than success.  And if we are to celebrate the fruits of a Darwinian process, such as successful enterprise is – then we ought, as a culture, to explore ways to reap fertility from failed enterprise.  Not just economically, but culturally; making use of losers as a cultural resource, a fertile bed from which our next generation of achievers arise.  Just look around.  We paddle through a Sargasso Sea of failures every day.   History is stuffed with the biographies of high achievers whose upbringings came from families of failed patriarchs.   There is good fertile soil here.  But what is done to respect it?

It’s no surprise that our society produces much more failure than success, and much more quiet desperation than joy.  Competition naturally produces many more losers than winners.  And yet, Sandage would point out, we structure our social interchange as if success were the only virtuous possibility.  And in doing so, create a lot of suffering.  (And also, by the way, limit a lot of social potential.)  An interesting example he points out is contractual law.   The act of signing a contract “is a promise to be successful”.   Otherwise obligations could not be met.  Of course, this is preposterous.  Most enterprises fail.

And then, culturally, when we see failure, we look for a “reason in the man”, a phrase Sandage notes often passed around in the 19th century.  But if you examine the victims of the 19th century financial panics, which Sandage does, the most common plea of the pending bankrupt was that, he could pay his debts if only his customers would pay him!  Business naturally placed even the most shrewd and enterprising businessman within a web of contracts which turning together greatly contribute to either his success or failure.  This is as true today.

There is an awful lot more to be said about Sandage’s book, but I’ll close this short review with these two of his comments:  “Nineteenth-century Americans swapped liberty for ambition, adopting the striver’s ethic as the best of all possible freedoms.”  “Soon a man would be nothing more nor less than his occupation.”

But readers!  Hope springs eternal.

My next post reviews an article from The New Yorker about how a new entrepreneurial culture in San Francisco tends “to regard success in terms of autonomy”.  “This braiding of tech-business growth with life-style values and aesthetics – and from there, the world of art- creeps many people out.”

More to come.


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