Michael Barone
"Pare down the parasitic fringe" of government. "Favor a gospel of work" instead of aristocratic entitlement. "Rationalize finance" and "reverse the Parkinson's law of bureaucracy."

All that sounds like rhetoric from the Tea Party or reform conservatives who assail what they call crony capitalism.

But it's not a contemporary criticism. Those are phrases from a long essay, written more than half a century ago, by the British historian H. R. Trevor-Roper, titled "The General Crisis of the Seventeenth Century."

In his plummy prose, Trevor-Roper sought to explain why revolutions or revolts of varying sorts broke out in the British Isles, France, Spain, Italy and Germany in the years between 1640 and 1660.

He was especially eager to refute Marxist historians' claims that these were the necessary predicate to what their master proclaimed would be the inevitable and beneficent communist revolutions that unaccountably had not yet occurred.

Trevor-Roper argues that the growing nation-states of the 1500s, engorged with New World silver and inflationary currencies, built up large bureaucracies that stifled trade and manufactures. The Counter-Reformation Catholic Church had a similar effect.

These bureaucracies were particularly expensive because rulers gave their favorites "the right to exploit their fellow subjects," with monopolies in particular commodities and grants of land they could profitably dispose of. Crony capitalism was squeezing out a potentially productive private sector.

It's not hard to see some resemblance to America today. The federal bureaucracy head count is not significantly larger than it was 50 years ago. But the federal impact is much greater, through entitlement programs, subcontracted welfare provisions and regulation that favors entrenched interests.

Thus the Dodd-Frank Act gives favored financial institutions too-big-to-fail status that enables them to muscle aside potential competitors. The Export-Import Bank provides special favors to a few giant corporations. But there are few loans to start-up businesses.

Government subsidization of health care, even before Obamacare, and of higher education creates huge dysfunctional bureaucracies that vacuum up supposed benefits to patients and students.

Agricultural subsidies and price-fixing, "green energy" programs, laws such as the Jones Act and Davis-Bacon that restrict work to unionized firms -- all siphon off money and resources from the productive private sector to politically well-positioned special interests.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM