Big government out only for itself

By Tibor Machan: Freedom columnist

The theory of the big (but good) lie goes back to a certain reading of Plato’s most famous dialogue, the Republic. There are more or less crude versions of it but the gist of the theory is that for reasons of state — to secure the chance of the ruler to rule smoothly — telling lies can be justified and may even be necessary.

Indeed, the big lie could well have been the very idea of the perfect political system itself that Socrates sketched in that dialogue.

Some have concluded from this that Plato (Socrates) never meant to advocate what the dialogue depicts as the perfect regime but merely presented it as a kind of model.

But ever since Plato appeared to make the big lie respectable in politics, quite a few regimes have made use of it. And in our era no less seems to be the tactic, at least for the cheerleaders of more government planning who routinely appear on the Op-Ed pages of The New York Times.

Check out the article by Alan Tonelson and Kevin L. Kearns:

“Trading Away Productivity” (March 6).

The gist of the piece is nothing less than the defense of international economic protectionism, a policy thoroughly discredited by now except for diehards desperate to keep their establishment and industry intact at the expense of domestic consumers and foreign competitors.

Nothing new here — every politician is tempted to offer to square the circle; just watch how in Washington nearly everyone believes that one can indeed get blood out of a turnip and pay for goodies with, well, nothing.

What is far more egregious than the advocacy of defunct theories is the premise with which these authors begin their discussion. What they say is, well, a big lie.

They state, clearly without any hesitation, that “For a quarter-century, American economic policy has assumed that the keys to durable national prosperity are deregulation, free trade and a swift transition to a post-industrial, services-dominated future.”

There is no truth to this claim at all.

American economic policy has been protectionist in nearly every age. Indeed, such protectionism is often held to explain some of the anger of the Japanese at America that precipitated the invasion at Pearl Harbor.

Administration after administration has tried to boost the fortunes of American businesses and labor by way of imposing duties on foreign imports.

The means by which obstacles to honest trade were implemented are various — sometimes outright tariffs or duties, sometimes phony requirements that manufacturers needed to meet before their product would qualify for importation, thus making it very expensive to import and to buy the products.

America has always, from its beginning, been a mixed economy and the mixture is now markedly lopsided toward government interference, including thousands and thousands of pages of government regulations which keep increasing year by year.

But the big lie and the big liars will not hear of any of this and keep cheering on as the American government moves farther and farther away from even a semblance of a free market system.