I’ve been an amateur student of history over the last few years, and most of my historical reading has been an effort to find the answer to one question:
How in the Hell did we get into this mess?
It’s tempting to look for a powerful villain, such as Roosevelt, Wilson, or TR, and lay the blame on him, and indeed these men were the immediate cause of a lot of damage. But that’s not the whole story. They were as much a symptom as a cause – millions of people voted for them, knowing a great deal about what they were up to. Did one person, or a small group of people, manipulate them into doing that, and continuing to do that for a hundred years straight? Doesn’t seem likely to me.
How about the establishment of the FCC, nationalizing the airwaves and enabling the government to weasel its way out of the First Amendment, pick and choose the stations allowed on the air, and impose content restrictions on them? Much of the damage was already done by this point, although it may have helped perpetuate attitudes hostile to individual liberty to the present day.
If you argue for individual economic liberty long enough, you’ll find an interesting general pattern. Once you establish that liberty works, and refute all of the opposition’s arguments in favor of socialism, the opposition will fall back on the same argument – violence. They’ll tell you that letting some people get too wealthy will cause “social unrest”; i.e., the “masses” will become enraged and kill people and destroy property. They’ll tell you that you’ll live with socialism or the “masses” will string you and your plutocrat friends up from the nearest lamppost. They’ll even threaten you with the prospect that those “masses” will overthrow the government and completely destroy society rather than let people get too wealthy.
(And all the while, they’ll insist that these “masses” are the good guys!)
The sad fact is that, for the last century or so, the opponents of economic liberty have been willing to use or threaten violence to get their way, and we generally haven’t. We’ve been trying to use appeasement instead. When labor unions used threats, assault, and vandalism to scare off competitors and extort money from their customers, government (with our acquiescence) generally responded by giving them most of what they want. To this day, even those who deplore FDR’s economic policies will insist that he needed to give the socialists practically everything they were demanding lest those socialists stage a revolution.
So far, our only answer to these thugs has been along the lines of “we’re feeding you, you idiots! What the Hell are you doing?”. And, indeed, the opposition does generally limit its appetite for loot and power sufficiently to keep Atlas at his post, at least so far. But there’s an awful lot they can take from us without bringing civilization crashing down on their heads, and pointing out that they’ll starve right along with us if they don’t let us do any work and profit from it isn’t sufficient to neutralize their threats to riot if we don’t play ball. We give into their demands again and again, and they slow down enough to let society keep running and even advancing here and there, but our dreams of colonizing the Solar System and producing, buying, and selling miracle after miracle in every industry the way everyone once thought we’d be doing just fade away, and as long as the refrigerator is full, the TV keeps working, and us plutocrats are put in our place, they don’t care. The best of us go on producing miracles when we can, and we all quietly accept the time we had to waste in their schools, the time we go on wasting complying with their pointless rules and regulations, and the money that they tax away from us for all sorts of useless purposes, and they rest secure in the knowledge that we value our property and our civilization enough that we won’t quit, disappear, or stage our own revolution as long as they stick with the gradual approach. They’re willing to play chicken, because they’ve been winning for more than a century, and our appeasements have only whetted their appetites for more concessions.
And, spooked by the “social unrest” boogeyman, we keep voting for the sacrifices that they claim will appease the “masses.”
So what do we do now? I think we should call their bluff. If those murderous “masses” ever existed, I’m willing to bet that they’re long gone. Our friends on the left have started noticing this – they’re claiming that we’re tricking the masses into abandoning the righteous retribution that they ought to be plotting against us by feeding them false hopes that they, too, can one day become plutocrats. (And never mind that we’ve been delivering on those “false hopes” for centuries – they’re more than willing to steal the credit for that.) They’re screaming as loud as they can about the most trivial cuts and modifications to their beloved laws and programs in the hopes that Bush and the rest of us will be scared away and they won’t have to reveal their paltry hand. I only wish that our Republican leadership was 1/10 as “arch-conservative” as they’ve been hysterically screeching about, because I think now’s the best opportunity we’ve had in ages to repeal their laws and dare them to put up or shut up.