The historic rip-off of the American public that has just taken place met with little resistance from the victims. Lest any inconvenient contrarians or clear thinkers rise up from the masses, the Great Rip-off comes with a Great Lie to justify it. While there has never been a shortage of factions ready to decry the evils of capitalism, it is important during a heist of this proportion that EVERYONE get on board. Therefore, virtually every politician, including the Republican nominee for president, and the entire media are blaming the current meltdown as a failure of free market capitalism. This is government’s Great Lie.
A lie this enormous is necessary when you are stealing trillions of dollars from 300 million people who are watching your every move. To pull off a crime like that, you have to convince the victims you are really helping them out.
Despite decades of government intervention into the economy, including massive expansion of entitlements and regulation during the Bush administration, the American public seems to accept the narrative characterizing the past decade as “an experiment” with laissez faire capitalism. House majority leader Steny Hoyer told RTTNews,
“With inflation, everybody who had any investment has lost money, 401(k) savings plans, pensions, they’ve lost money,” he said. “That’s a stark failure of the economy and this administration’s laissez faire, take the referee off the field, let anyone do whatever they want to do and everything will be fine.”
In an article published Saturday morning, AFP reported,
“The top Senate Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, blamed the crisis on Bush’s laissez-faire policies, then called on the president to better explain why such a sweeping program was needed as the country prepared for a presidential vote in less than six weeks’ time.”
While such rhetoric might be expected from Democratic Party leaders, especially during an election year, there is no substantive rebuttal from the other side. Quite the contrary, as John McCain’s interview with the New York Times makes clear.
“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt Republican. Teddy Roosevelt was the first one that took on the big trusts, first time we began to have regulatory agencies. He said, unfettered capitalism leads to corruption. I’ve always agreed with that.”
If the Great Lie is this crisis representing a failure of capitalism, there are a lot of little lies that help support it. Congressman Hoyer’s characterization of laissez faire capitalism as letting “anyone do whatever they want to do and everything will be fine” is just such a supporting lie. It is a variation of the attack on freedom itself as if it places no limit on anyone’s actions. In both cases, the limit is harming another individual.
Laissez faire capitalism does not allow contracts to be broken, nor does it allow force or fraud to be initiated in forming them. While these limits are vital to laissez faire capitalism, Congressman Hoyer would have us believe otherwise. Take note of Hoyer’s choice of words. Even in the absence of any harm to others, Hoyer has an aversion to people doing “whatever they want to do.” He personifies statism.
The real substance of the Great Lie is the characterization of the American economy in any recent decade as “capitalism.” It isn’t. Even our government and media establishments acknowledge we have a “mixed economy,” supposedly combining the benefits of free market capitalism with socialist central planning and redistribution. The Lie says that it has been too much “unfettered capitalism” that has caused our current crisis, rather than too much socialist central planning. How can we know which is to blame?
It’s a false dilemma. In reality, there is no such thing as a mixed economy.” We are witnessing the inevitable failure of that idea. It is doomed from the start, because the moment any central planning is introduced, capitalism ceases to exist. Once government intervention is introduced anywhere, it must eventually be introduced everywhere, resulting in all of the failures of socialism throughout history.
In truth, there is no “capitalism” at all in our mixed economy.
The proof? Let us consider what capitalism is, and whether its definition applies to the U.S. economy. Merriam-Webster defines capitalism as,
“an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.”
Of the three elements in this dictionary definition, private ownership of capital, voluntary exchange, and competition, it is the second that is fundamental to the other two. Why? First, as long as there is voluntary exchange of property, there will be private ownership of capital. There is no way for government to acquire property in a “voluntary exchange.” Even a revenue generating enterprise started by government has to be funded into existence by tax money, and taxes are collected under the threat of force. Therefore, in a system where all of the transactions are voluntary, all property, including capital goods, remain privately owned.
Second, when all transactions are voluntary, most buyers and sellers are going to try to act in their best interests. Sellers will constantly try to convince buyers to purchase their products or services, rather than those of others. Likewise, buyers are going to try to find the best products at the lowest prices, motivating sellers to maximize their quality and minimize their price so that their products will be chosen over those of other sellers. Therefore, voluntary exchange naturally results in competition. It is competition that motivates innovation and improvement in efficiencies, and lowers the cost of production. Thus, it is free choice that ultimately drives the wealth-creating mechanism of capitalism. Without free choice, there is no capitalism.
Investments in the U.S. economy can hardly be described as being determined by private decision when government actively steers the investment decisions of capitalists. It does so either by outright subsidization of investments it favors, or by providing tax breaks to companies that make those investments. It is ironic that government often characterizes this second method as positive action to stimulate growth. After taxing all business activity to the brink of insolvency, it then gives back a small portion of the booty to investors willing to do its bidding. By doing so it wins political support, and at the same time distorts the economy, creating new problems to solve with future interventions. Thus, the government protects the job security of its incumbents and creates the need for more government all in one fell swoop.
Neither are prices really determined by competition in a free market in the U.S. economy. Prices are routinely fixed by government intervention, such as the prices of agricultural produce by government farm subsidies or the price of healthcare by massive government subsidization through entitlement programs. The price of labor is distorted by minimum wages and massive regulation that makes employing people infinitely more expensive than it otherwise would be. Interest rates, or the price of borrowing money, are set by the central bank, which is the most harmful price fixing of all (we will look more closely at this momentarily). While some prices are set by market forces, a large percentage is affected in one way or another by government.
Similarly, the distribution of goods in the U.S. is sometimes determined by competition in a free market, but that is only after government has taken over 12 percent of all goods and services produced in the economy and redistributed them through massive welfare programs, destroying the possibility of any real, voluntary savings. For those goods that are distributed in part as a result of competition, it can hardly be described as occurring in a “free market” when employers cannot really decide for themselves who to hire, employees cannot accept any wage they wish to, massive regulation protects large companies from smaller competitors, and even imports and exports are subject to over 20,000 pages of regulation in “free trade agreements” like NAFTA.
Most harmful of all is the supreme intervention into the economy by the central bank, which not only artificially sets the interest rates that ultimately determine the cost of investment, but artificially controls the volume and purchasing power of the money supply itself. While truly free markets are characterized by a steady decrease in general price levels over time, the artificial inflation of the currency by the central bank reverses this process. While the business cycle is relatively mild in a free market, the bubble-bust cycle caused by central banking ranges from painful to castastrophic.
Thus, the economic problems facing America today are not caused by capitalism, because it doesn’t really exist in the U.S. economy. Capitalism results in a natural, economic equilibrium. Central planning disrupts this equilibrium. In fact, not only are our economic problems caused exclusively by government intervention into the marketplace, rather than capitalism, these problems are the INEVITABLE RESULT of government intervention.
Why? Central planning, by definition, precludes free choice, and therefore capitalism, but does not change human nature. Human beings will still attempt to make choices in their rational self interest. This is one of the reasons for all of the unforeseen consequences of central economic planning. When government forces buyers and sellers to make choices other than those they would make otherwise, those economic agents seek another way to pursue their rational self interest. As these alternative decisions naturally run counter to the government’s desired result, more force is needed to prohibit those choices by economic agents, or to force other economic agents to address the consequences of its intervention. That in turn causes further unforeseen results, requiring further use of force by government. Once government intervenes in the market, it is inevitable that it will have to continue to intervene until it controls every aspect of economic activity. This has been the trend in the U.S. economy for the past 100 years.
In addition, government intervention cannot change economic realities, such as the cost of production. Only innovation can do that, and innovation cannot be created by government decree. Therefore, when government intervenes into the economy, all of the economic forces that were acting upon the market before the intervention continue to act upon it. For example, as Von Mises pointed out, if the government sets a price ceiling for milk, the smaller, marginal producers of milk can no longer afford to continue producing it, and may decide to produce cheese or butter instead. By intending to make milk more available to the poor, government has actually caused a decrease in supply. It then has to fix the prices of factors of production that are necessary to produce milk, causing the same pressure on marginal suppliers in that market and a decrease in supply of those factors of production. The cycle continues to repeat until the government either ceases to intervene in the market completely or nationalizes the entire industry. At that point, even private ownership of capital no longer exists.
Thus, there are some conclusions that can be drawn. One is that there is really no such thing as a “mixed economy.” Economic forces do not allow it. Allowing some economic agents to choose freely in some circumstances does not produce the same results as when all economic agents are allowed to choose freely in all circumstances. Economic events are too interrelated. If the government subsidizes ethanol production, it decreases the supply of corn for food, and drives up food prices. When it imposes a minimum wage, it causes workers that would otherwise have jobs to be unemployed. That in turn decreases supply and drives up the prices of consumer goods. Economic agents making free choices under these circumstances necessarily choose differently than they would if conditions were different. There is no such thing as controlling part of a free market. Therefore, our mixed economy really is no such thing. If the choices of all agents are not free, there is no capitalism. The economy that results simply doesn’t fit the definition.
Another conclusion that can be drawn is that attempting to achieve a mixed economy inevitably leads to complete socialism. As we have seen, the first government intervention into the economy necessitates further interventions, which in turn necessitate further interventions still. The cycle continues until government controls all of the distribution and eventually must take control of all of the capital, as there are no longer private firms that are willing or even able to continue producing under the distorted economic conditions. For those who would argue on behalf of complete control of capital and distribution by government, the plain facts of history are against them. Socialism in its purest form has consistently resulted in mass shortages, famine, starvation, and eventual death for tens of millions of people.
The solution to all of our problems is simple: FREEDOM. While that may sound like a bland platitude, it is nevertheless 100% true, for all issues, without compromise. As Thomas Jefferson said,
“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.”
This “Non-Aggression Principle” is often associated strictly with libertarians or objectivists, but as you can see it did not originate with either. It was a central tenet of the founding fathers, because this principle is THE VERY DEFINITION OF FREEDOM ITSELF.
While it is possible to garner wide support for this principle on many social issues, such as gay marriage, somehow the great majority of people cannot seem to apply it to economics. Despite the fact that economic freedom is the most vital to our survival, as it is the means of sustaining our existence, there are even some libertarians that would apply different rules to economic policy than to the other “civil liberties.” It is vital to recognize that not only is this principle equally applicable to economics, BUT THAT IT IS IN REGARD TO ECONOMIC POLICY THAT IT IS MOST IMPORTANT. It is the only principle that prohibits government intervention and central planning. It is the principle upon which a truly free market is built.
The move toward a truly free market cannot occur without painful side effects. When resources are misallocated on a mass scale, especially human resources, reallocating them means losses, unemployment, and economic suffering in the short term. This would have been the result of government choosing not to intervene in the market to bail out Fannie, Freddie, Bear Stearns, and AIG, to buy up the bad debt of other debt holders, and to guaranty the assets in the money market. However, that economic suffering has not been avoided by government intervention, but merely postponed. In fact, the longer that government intervention succeeds in postponing the inevitable reallocation that must occur, the more resources become misallocated and the more painful the correction will be. At present, we are facing the largest correction in economic history, and government has postponed it longer than a correction has ever been postponed before. Make no mistake. The reallocation is inevitable, and we will experience it either voluntarily or involuntarily.
However, before considering how to survive the painful consequences of this correction, we must first decide that a free market is what we want. This will never happen until the vast majority of Americans recognize the Great Lie for what it is. Doing so immediately might bring political pressure to bear on our government to reverse its present policy while the Great Rip-off can still be undone. This is unlikely to happen anytime soon. It is much more likely that the trend toward socialism will continue until it reaches the conclusion that socialism has reached throughout history: economic collapse. We are closer to that end than most people think.
At that point, Americans will have a choice. They can continue to believe the Great Lie and allow government to try to solve the problem, or they can choose to see the truth and demand their freedom. Historically, the government solution to an economic collapse has been totalitarianism. The fact that the least economically free nations of history were also the most totalitarian is no coincidence. In order to avoid this, Americans must cease to apply special rules to economics and realize that there is no freedom at all without economic freedom. The economics of freedom is laissez faire capitalism. The Great Lie says that laissez faire capitalism doesn’t work. This is merely the application to economics of an even greater lie – government’s most insidious, Greatest Lie of All: that freedom itself doesn’t work. When Americans finally recognize and reject this fallacy, they will once again find themselves on the road to prosperity and peace.
 House Majority Leader Slams Bush For Economic Policies RTTNews
 “Top Democrats skeptical of Bush bailout package” AFP September 20, 2008
 Transcript of an interview with Senator John McCain by John Harwood of The New York Times and CNBC, as provided by CNBC and published in the New York Times on September 21, 2008
 Von Mises, Ludwig Middle-of-the-Road Policy Leads to Socialism from Two Essays by Ludwig von Mises (Auburn, Ala.: The Mises Institute, 1991, pp. 42-68). http://mises.org/midroad.asp
 Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Francis Walker Gilmer June 7, 1816
Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.