Monday, 6 August 2007

It's the 1930s All Over Again

I often wondered how the German people could allow Hitler to do what he did, looking at the USA in 2007 I begin to see it much more clearly!


Jittery stock markets, an economy drunk on credit, and politicians calling for varieties of dictatorship: what a sense of déjà vu! Let us recall that the world went bonkers for about ten years way back when. The stock market crashed in 1929, thanks to the Federal Reserve, and with it fell the last remnants of the old liberal ideology that government should leave society and economy alone to flourish. After the federal Great Depression hit, there was a general air in the United States and Europe that freedom hadn't worked. What we needed were strong leaders to manage and plan economies and societies.

And how they were worshipped. On the other side of the world, there were Stalin and Hitler and Mussolini, but in the United States we weren't in very good shape either. Here we had FDR, who imagined himself capable of astonishing feats of price setting and economy boosting. Of course he used old-fashioned tricks: printing money and threatening people with guns. It was nothing but the ancient despotism brought back in pseudo-scientific garb.

Things didn't really return to normal until after the war. These "great men" of history keeled over eventually, but look what they left: welfare states, inflationary banking systems, high taxes, massive debt, mandates on business, and regimes with a penchant for meddling at the slightest sign of trouble. They had their way even if their absurd posturing became unfashionable later.

It's strange to go back and read opinion pieces from those times. It's as if everyone just assumed that we had to have either fascism or socialism, and that the one option to be ruled out was laissez-faire. People like Mises and Hayek had to fight tooth and nail to get a hearing. The Americans had some journalists who seemed to understand, but they were few and far between.

So what was the excuse for such a shabby period in ideological history? Why did the world go crazy? It was the Great Depression, or so says the usual explanation. People were suffering and looking for answers. They turned to a Strongman to bail them out. There was a fashion for scientific planning, and the suffering economy (caused by the government, of course) seemed to bolster the rationale.

All of which brings me to a strange observation: when it comes to politics, we aren't that much better off today. It's true that we don't have people running for office in ridiculous military suits. They don't scream at us or give sappy fireside chats or purport to be the embodiment of the social mind. The tune is slightly changed, but the notes and rhythms are the same.

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