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The Myth that Laissez Faire Is Responsible for Our Present Crisis

Professor George Reisman contributes the excellent (and lengthy) article The Myth that Laissez Faire Is Responsible for Our Present Crisis. I’ve had the distinct honor of attending a number of Professor Reisman’s lectures at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and I’m slowly working my way through his monumental book Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. Here’s a few excerpts from this article:

“Laissez-faire capitalism is a politico-economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and in which the powers of the state are limited to the protection of the individual’s rights against the initiation of physical force.

Then Professor Reisman lists some of the ways in which our present system is far removed from anything resembling laissez-faire capitalism:

The utter absurdity of statements claiming that the present political-economic environment of the United States in some sense represents laissez-faire capitalism becomes as glaringly obvious as anything can be when one keeps in mind the extremely limited role of government under laissez-faire and then considers the following facts about the present-day United States: 1. Government spending in the United States currently equals more than forty percent of national income … 2. There are presently fifteen federal cabinet departments, nine of which exist for the very purpose of respectively interfering with housing, transportation, healthcare, education, energy, mining, agriculture, labor, and commerce … 3. The economic interference of today’s cabinet departments is reinforced and amplified by more than one hundred federal agencies and commissions … 4. the Federal Register contained fully seventy-three thousand pages of detailed government regulations. This is an increase of more than ten thousand pages since 1978, the very years during which our system, according to one of The New York Times articles quoted above, has been “tilted in favor of business deregulation and against new rules.” 5. And, of course, to all of this must be added the further massive apparatus of laws, departments, agencies, and regulations at the state and local level.

What this brief account has shown is that the politico-economic system of the United States today is so far removed from laissez-faire capitalism that it is closer to the system of a police state. The ability of the media to ignore all of the massive government interference that exists today and to characterize our present economic system as one of laissez faire and economic freedom marks it as, if not profoundly dishonest, then as nothing less than delusional.

Then, under the heading “Government Intervention Actually Responsible for the Crisis:”

Beyond all this is the further fact that the actual responsibility for our financial crisis lies precisely with massive government intervention, above all the intervention of the Federal Reserve System in attempting to create capital out of thin air, in the belief that the mere creation of money and its being made available in the loan market is a substitute for capital created by producing and saving. This is a policy it has pursued since its founding, but with exceptional vigor since 2001, in its efforts to overcome the collapse of the stock market bubble whose creation it had previously inspired.

I could go on for some time with more quotes from this article, but it is well worth reading the entire piece. Please do so at The Myth that Laissez Faire Is Responsible for Our Present Crisis.

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2 Comments

  1. Rothbard October 25, 2008

    Good stuff Bob. Reisman nails it in the last portion you quoted.

    I’m jealous that you have been to Auburn for lectures/seminars and I have not.

  2. Bob Weeks Post author | October 25, 2008

    Mises University, held at the Mises Institute in Auburn, Alabama, for one entire week starting the last Sunday in July (terribly disgusting weather!) is a great experience. It’s mostly for college-age students, so I went as a Member Observer and paid my own way. I want to go again in a year or two.

    It’s really quite a hotbed of radicalism there. I remember one adult who attended who was, by his own admission and by our collective judgment, a conventional conservative Republican. Someone who’s probably quite comfortable with John McCain and Sarah Palin. He left during the middle of the week. He just couldn’t take it there.

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