The Rise of Statism ---Rothbard
snip-- The key to historical change, and specifically to the growth of statism, North points out, was a change in ideology, in the ruling set of ideas in society. The crucial watershed was the adoption of statism by the American intellectuals during the Progressive period. As a result, any economic or political crisis could give a major thrust to statism that it could not do before.
World Wars I and II, coming on top of the adoption of statist ideology, were the critical thrusts for the triumph of statism, in economic and social affairs. Higgs points out that World War I, in contrast to previous American wars, was used to impose a collectivism that became a cherished model for all statists as a permanent feature of American life; and that World War II completed the job.
snip--Why did we begin as a quasi-laissez-faire country in the 19th century and end up in our current mess? What were the processes of change?
The orthodox answer, the answer given by statist apologists, is all too simple: the world grew more complex, the increasing need for statism was perceived by intellectuals, statesmen, and farsighted businessmen; hence government expanded in response to those needs. Of course, no one who is not a naïve apologist for the status quo will fall for such pap.
snip--But this is scarcely all. For in virtually every free-market economist of our time, there is one great big hole, one big gap in his critique of statism: war. War is sacrosanct, considered necessary, inevitable, and good; and so while free-market economists will devote a great deal of energy to the evils of government intervention in oil, or forestry, or the retail trade, there is little or nothing said about the horrors and distortions imposed by the Pentagon and the war-making Leviathan State.
Robert Higgs was a student of the Chicagoite school of "cliometrics" fathered by Douglass North, of the University of Washington. The Northian approach to economic history is marked by several features:
- a roughly free-market approach, but strongly tempered by the "Whig" notion that whatever existed in the past had to exist;
- a strict economic determinism that everyone is only out for his own economic self-interest; and
- the view that all of economic history can be encompassed by a few mathematical equations.
It should be pointed out that c is totally fallacious on its own, but only gains seeming plausibility if you hold b, and then add whopping assumptions about measurement of determined behavior. It is patently impossible, even for cliometricians, to embody ideology, people's values and ideas into mathematical equations.
We can also see that a, the Whig determinism that no status quo can be changed, combined with b, strict economic determinism, leads to total pessimism about changing any situation, past or present, in behalf of liberty. If ideas or principles are unimportant and can have no influence on history, as the public-choice wing of Chicagoites has emphasized, then there is no hope to overcome the more pointed and intense economic interest of groups clamoring for special privileges from the State.