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Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Free Markets And Free Minds–The Demise Of Big Government

Governments intervene in personal affairs – that is their raison d’etre. It is the nature of politicians to dictate moral behavior, to arrogate the right to reform, transform, and right social behavior, and to be the arbiter of value, responsibility, and fidelity to the state.  

It is never a surprise when governments overreach, raising taxes for spending on issues they have nominated as worthy, punishing private corporations for their challenge to public policy, and championing those segments of society they have deemed more deserving than others of government largesse.

It is not surprising when governments assert regional or national interests and go to war – playground bullies grown up, assuming a country’s patriotism, throwing youth away, and strutting like the cock of the walk at victory.  

Henry V assumed all the above when he went to war against the French and fought a decisive victory at Agincourt; but his enlisted men knew better.  He torturously justified a family war as a national affair, settling old accounts between York and Lancaster, returning lands rightfully his while claiming patriotism, the pride of England, and sovereign rights.   He went disguised into the trenches to hear what the men thought, and was surprised that they to a man agreed that they were being used as cannon fodder for arrogant, presumptive, personal reasons of the king.

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Bush II’s NeoCons claimed the right and obligation of America to spread and defend democracy throughout the world.  Politics was not a Machiavellian enterprise but a moral one; and more young men were sent into battle.  

The next war will be no different – our government pushing and shoving, taunting and provoking until shots are fired.  The Gulf of Tonkin all over again, LBJ’s infamous casus belli that expanded the disastrous war in Vietnam and sent more young men to their deaths.

So whether it is the received wisdom of social justice, the assumption of righteous power, or the simple dislike of this or that, governments can’t help themselves.  We may elect our representatives to serve our interests, but such is the vain hope of electoral politics.  Once a politician sits in his chair, the rest is history – a sorry history of arrogation of authority and dismissal of popular concerns.

There was nothing but individualism in the early days of the American Republic.  The English settlers who first came to Jamestown under the auspices of the Virginia Company of London had shipped on to make their fortunes in the New World, enticed by reports of vast fertile lands, plentiful game and natural resources, and a congenial climate.  As private contractors they had no interest in founding a colony for the Crown.  Although they knew that they had to work together to build shelter and grow crops, their intentions were purely self-interested.

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They quickly found out that life in the New World was far harsher than they ever had imagined, realized that they had few of the skills necessary to survive in the wilderness let alone to build a settlement, and they barely survived their first winter. 

They did survive, however, and Jamestown became a successful and profitable colony, especially after the initial cultivation of tobacco.  The settlement grew, new settlers arrived in greater numbers from England, and before long Tidewater Virginia was one of the wealthiest regions under English rule.  The Carter family who first came to Virginia in the late 1600s soon built a dynasty, and the second generation of Carters – Robert (King) Carter - owned vast lands in the Northern Neck by 1732.

King Carter had royal patronage, but was an ambitious, intelligent, and adventurous entrepreneur; but there were many like him.  He and those who followed knew how to profit from the rich bottom lands of the Tidewater, invested in indentured servants and slaves purchased from the Caribbean, and organized large, profitable tobacco plantations.

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Other English migrations completed the early settlements.  Scots-Irish settled in the Charleston area, and in the early 1800s plantation owners whose tobacco lands in Virginia and North Carolina were becoming depleted began their westward expansion to the Mississippi Delta.

Once America had won decisive victories over the French and Spanish in West Florida, that area became open for development. Private companies – the American equivalent of the Virginia Company of London – began their development of the Florida Gulf coast of the Panhandle.  These American entrepreneurs developed the ports of Mobile and Apalachicola, the river waterways from the interior, and railroads.

The Louisiana Purchase opened the West to settlement and development, and before long settlers no different than the original economic adventurers of Jamestown, had laid their claim to vast farm and ranch lands.

There was a later time in recent history when the concept of laissez-faire economics had currency, a time when enterprise and competition were unbridled and when America became an industrial power.  Rockefeller, Vanderbilt, Mellon, Morgan, and Astor built America.

While these men were indeed driven opportunists who had no compunction about using any means available to destroy their competitors, make profits out of labor, and to fight any public attempt to control them, they were also great entrepreneurs whose enterprise built America.  Vanderbilt was responsible for building a great transportation network.  Rockefeller for first lighting the country with kerosene and then powering the nation with oil. 

Carnegie’s steel made the growth of cities and their industries possible. J.P.Morgan built America’s financial sector without whose support, the electrification of the country would have been impossible.  Enterprise was the sine qua non of their success.  They had insight, took advantage of opportunity, took great risks to achieve their goals, and took on all comers to protect their vision.

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It is no different today.  Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, and Jeff Bezos are classic entrepreneurs, men who had an idea, and the will, determination, and enterprise to make it profitable.  They are all as tough businessmen as Rockefeller and Carnegie ever were.  Only the times have changed, and the bare-knuckles, unregulated marketplace of 100 years ago is no more.  Today’s captain of industry has to play by different rules, but he is no less ruthless.

Yet government cannot and will not leave them alone.  They are economic predators, preying on the unfortunate, making billions on the backs of the poor, amassing the wealth of Croesus without giving anything back.  They are not the engines of the economy, but the war machines of destruction.

Of course nothing could be further from the truth.  The accumulated wealth of corporate enterprise is not secreted under mattresses but re-invested.  That harpy of capitalism, Wall Street, is responsible for the creation of jobs, the increased value of individual wealth, the encouragement of new technology, and the overall economic strength of the nation.  

Yet the captains of industry are vilified, shamed for their successes and their wealth, named the villains of America, latter-day slaveowners and straw bosses.

Individuals who refuse to be caught in the government net, left to flounder without air and room to move and then thrown into vast communal tanks, are as dismissed as their corporate cousins.  Individualists are ipso facto selfish, dismissive of the plight of the less fortunate, anti-democratic, and seditious.  Their resentment of imposed ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ is tantamount to treason.  They are society’s supernumeraries, throwbacks to American primitivism, social savages. 

Yet who, in this censorious age would not want a return to the Wild West? No adjudication, settlement, and propriety.  No bended knee, no right thing.  Whores and drunkenness as rites of passage.  Mail order brides, quick death, and short lives the ethos.   Land was staked out and defended.  Horse thieves were shot, cattle thieves strung up.

The Wild West is iconic and romantic.  There can be no returning either to the OK Corral or the early days of American capitalism; but the spirit remains.  Despite the current drumbeat of communalism and enforced fraternity, asexuality, and the idealism of ‘a better world’, individualism – the core value that has characterized America since its beginnings – has not gone away.

Men have not changed despite women’s attempted feminization of them.  They are still polygamous, adulterous, jealous street fighters.  Women are no less the opportunistic, manipulative, equals to men than they have always been.  At best one can hope for a Lawrentian epiphany – a sexual, satisfying equilibrium after a willful struggle for dominance.  At the very least a guerrilla war between the sexes with surprising outcomes.

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Government power is endemic in all societies; and if left alone it will grow, expand, and find its way into every cranny of society.  Its inertial force increases with longevity.  A government tide is hard to turn.  Government if unchallenged assumes even more power and arrogated authority until it falls under its own weight.  Even the most repressed and oppressed societies have revolted.

America is like Poland under Soviet control.  The state was never able to control, marginalize, or neuter the Church; and the Polish diaspora fed the Polish home with seditious, democratic ideas.

America can never become a totalitarian state thanks to its divisions and divisiveness. Free markets have been the rule of all societies since barter and cowrie shells.  Economic, social, and sexual freedoms have underlain all societies.  Men and women have ruled themselves well.  Competition and self-interest have regulated human affairs since the earliest settlements and will continue to do so.

Free markets and free minds will always rule. 

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