I have always been a big believer that free markets tend to lead to freer political societies.
The logic—and empirical evidence—of economics is pretty clear: free market capitalism works when free people make free decisions in a free society. Such societies are not only the wealthiest and most successful in the world today, but in my view the most morally decent that have ever existed.
Part of the logic I have long accepted, and still doubt hardly at all, is that economic and political freedom are essentially indivisible. In fact, Adam Smith dubbed his Economics “The Theory of Natural Liberty,” a name that I consider entirely appropriate today.
As always, there are those looking for a “third way” in between the top-down social and political orders that always fail and the freewheeling “cowboy capitalism” of America. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were famously “third way” politicians, but any fair examination of either of their Administrations shows that if anything their policies were basically benign or even expansive when it came to liberty. (Yes, I know how much better things should have and could have been).
In other words, the Blair-Clinton “third way” was Reaganomics with a bit of retooling.
Today’s “third way” theorists look more to the economies of East Asia, and especially China, and wonder openly about the development of essentially free economies operating comfortably with highly controlled, elite-driven political systems.
To many in today’s political elite, this is not a theoretical question at all. As the economic expansion of the last 30 years has economically and politically empowered the American middle-class to an extent never imagined before in world history, the political and economic establishment that reigned from the 1930’s through the 1980’s and early 90’s saw its power diminishing toward extinction.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but they don’t want to let that power go. Not without a fight. I think they see the “third way” possibly represented by China and a few of the more politically repressive Asian tigers as a very enticing possibility indeed.
You see elements of that battle raging everywhere you turn today in the United States. And unfortunately, with few exceptions in either political Party, very few politicians are on the true side of the “little guy” versus the “big and powerful.”
Because the only thing good for the “little guy” in the battle against the “big and powerful,” whoever that group is at any one time, is freedom. Freedom to work. Freedom to trade. Freedom to move. And Freedom to speak his or her mind.
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