The Lincoln – Douglas Debate Rematch
As House speaker Nancy Pelosi publically alleged, the Republicans are “domestic enemies of the (deep) state.”
The central campaign issue of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election has been the response to the Corona Virus pandemic, which roughly follows along party lines. Based on the administrative state’s scientific “consensus” Democratic politicians generally argued for a nationwide lockdown of most “non-critical” economic activity as a civic responsibility of all citizens, enforced by state police powers. Republican politicians generally question the “consensus,” reject a one size fits all statist solution, and (mildly) complain about the violation of constitutionally protected individual rights.
In the 1858 Lincoln Douglas debates, Douglas, the incumbent Democratic Senator and Committee Chairman who had extended slavery into Kansas and Nebraska based on majoritarian democracy, i.e., the majority of white male voters, believed in the scientific theory that slaves were inferior and hence property. Lincoln argued that slaves had the same inalienable individual rights as all Americans that “government of, by and for the people” could not take away.
Douglas maintained his incumbency, but a few years later Lincoln became POTUS and in defense of his principles engaged in a Civil War that sacrificed a tenth of his population and devastated the country. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments protecting former slaves were passed before Southern Democrats rejoined the Union, further enhanced by the Civil Rights Acts of the early 1960s proposed by a Democratic President but passed only with large Republican support. While the demographics have since shifted dramatically – the Democratic Party is now 40% people of color – the philosophical divide remains unchanged. Contemporary Democrats still argue the state is sovereign, subject to a majority coalition, but governed by an administrative state.
Follow the Scientists and Technical Experts
That’s the siren call of every utopian society. In the case of the COVID 19 Political Pandemic the data was scarce, misleading and frequently mis-interpreted, the existing models seriously flawed or inapplicable, medical understanding imperfect and learned from scratch, and understanding of how it spread continuously revised. Nevertheless, the statistics were massaged and a consensus declared, always in support of greater state intervention. The indirect consequences of this excessive intervention on public health were multiples the protection offered, if any.
To some extent the massive extended lockdowns reflect a political impulse to take charge and appear to be doing something. The wide disparity in the use of such measures between red and blue states may reflect the stronger totalitarian instincts of the latter, but it is hard to avoid the conclusion that election year politics played a role, shifting the debate from the Republican strength of renewed economic growth to the perceived Democratic strength of administrative management. (While there is no reason to believe Democratic management would have been any better than Republican, who generally have more accountable private sector experience, the main stream media generally ignores or lauds it.) Democrats countenance mass demonstrations and ignore riots while demanding more and greater business lockdowns, with counter-productive multi-trillion dollar bailouts.
America’s Economic Foundations: from Tzu/ Zhu and laissez-faire to Mussolini and Biden/Sanders
American Founding fathers were aware of Adam Smith’s contemporaneous works, including the “invisible hand,” and undoubtedly of the French laissez faire – let it be – and perhaps the prior work of Aristotle. Murray Rothbard’s first volume of the history of economic thought starts 2500 years ago with to the Chinese version of “let it be” (put to music by the Beatles in 1969). The point of the American Constitution was to weaken the restrictions for collective action in the Articles of Confederation, not eliminate them. This tradition of resistance to a heavy political hand has generally been elaborated by the Austrian School of economics. The current Germanic school of statist direction or control started with Karl Marx, and was imported in numerous variants to Russia and much of Europe, with the English (i.e., Germanic Anglo-Saxon) Keynesian mixed market/statist model finding its greatest support among American intellectuals. The debates of almost a century ago between the interventionist Keynes and his laissez-faire Austrian colleague Hayek still resonate in spite of an additional century of empirical evidence of the dangers of political over-reach.
The Democrats’ Democracy: Tocqueville’s Tyranny of the Majority
Democratic President Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address invocation was: “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” Now, with over a hundred thousand federal regulations and a million pages of fine print, the Administrative State will tell you what you can and cannot do. The institutional constraints on democracy have withered. The left of the Democratic Party, whose control is a matter of weeks, months, or maybe as long as a year or two away, is wedded to fascist methods most directly stated by ANTIFA (antifascist), based on the writings of Berliner neo-Marxist Herbert Marcuse: “intolerance, aggression, coercion, and intimidation in order to subvert—in their estimation—the oppressive patriarchal capitalist society” that feeds, clothes and houses them.
Multiple histories will emerge from the political spin of the next four months.
Kevin Villani, chief economist at Freddie Mac from 1982 to 1985, is a principal of University Financial Associates. He has held senior government positions, has been affiliated with nine universities, and served as CFO and director of several companies. He recently published Occupy Pennsylvania Avenue on the political origins of the sub-prime lending bubble and aftermath.