Alan Reynolds

"Here Come the Economic Populists," according to New York Times reporter Louis Uchitelle. Thanks for the warning, Lou.

This is stale wine in new bottles. The word "liberal" lost its appeal after being strangely transformed from describing an advocate of limited government into meaning an advocate of nearly unlimited government. Collectivists have experimented with alternative euphemisms for their fundamental goal -- which is to grant politicians and lawyers the power to run everything and boss everyone.

Early efforts with "economic planning" and "social democracy" (a twist on democratic socialism) were too obvious. Most recent re-labeling efforts have focused on defining big government as "progressive." Yet that never really caught on, either. It sounds pretentious, as though calling yourself "progressive" means you get to define what constitutes progress and then to label as an opponent of progress anyone who disagrees.

The word "populist" is a strange choice -- an indefinable expression used by irrational hot-heads of all sorts. The last time the hard left made a serious effort to seize that old "populist" label was in 1972, when the late Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield (now with CNN) wrote "A Populist Manifesto."

"The majority of Americans are victimized," wrote Newfield and Greenfield. They carefully named the privileged "epicenters of power" behind all this victimization: "General Motors and the First National City Bank, the National Broadcasting Company and Columbia University, the American Medical Association and the AFL-CIO, Getty Oil and AT&T." That is now a comically quaint list, yet it conveyed the still-essential paranoid element of them against us.

The "new populist movement" of 1972 was supposedly "a broad popular upsurge," according to Newfield and Greenfield. But naming the book after "The Communist Manifesto" was no accident -- the so-called populist manifesto was just socialism with a more confusing label. There was no "broad popular upsurge" behind the policies advocated by leftist journalists and economists in 1972, and there is none today.

In the name of populism, Newfield and Greenfield wanted "public ownership of utilities ... limits on land ownership ... strict controls on the profits of banks; and an end to corporate power and control." They wanted to redistribute land and restrict its use. They wanted to "break up" the biggest corporations, with the five divisions of General Motors (which shared many parts) "sold to new owners." Most of all, they wanted punitive, confiscatory taxes -- including a 90 percent estate tax -- on anyone foolish enough to build a business or accumulate stocks, bonds or real estate.


Alan Reynolds

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