Recently I had a socialist economist as a guest speaker in my classroom. She was delighted by Alan Greenspan's apparent concession to Marx and Keynes that capitalism is unstable. Last week Time predicted that the new interventionist order would rule for a generation. At least "until Sasha and Malia have kids." Why? Because Joe the Plumber is sick of living in the market jungle. Even some of the WORLD's readers are beginning to doubt the practicality of the principles of classical liberalism.
Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz notes that the world has not been kind to free market ideas. But that is not news-after all, the world is run by elites, not consumers. The history of the world is a history of tyranny interrupted by brief periods of economic liberalizations. In those rare cases where bureaucracy has been pushed off the back of the entrepreneurial, there has always been a significant increase in living standards for the poor.
It makes no sense for those at the top to embrace philosophies that threaten their privileged position in society. If laissez-faire policies had the tendency to redistribute wealth to the rich, the Caesars, the Hapsburgs, the Bourbons, and the Romanovs would have used such policies. But historical experience teaches that when the rich have all the political power, they suppress economic freedoms in favor of government controls. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is right to warn against "over-regulation," but his personal mistakes and association with an unpopular administration make his voice "a voice in the desert."
It is too easy to blame the current mess on neo-liberal policies to justify an increasing intrusion in the market. Joe, beware-bureaucratic regulators claim to protect you but they always lead to monopolistic abuses. They promise you safety-what you get is an alliance of special economic interest with political elites. Anarcho-capitalism is not the answer and neither is the tyranny of control. Let our lawmakers adjust periodically the "rules of the game" to the changes in the market, and let us all pursue our own happiness within the established boundaries. But, for goodness sake, don't let the referee decide what counts as a penalty kick on a case-by-case basis.