Even the totalitarian governments of the 20th century eventually learned the hard way the limits of what could be accomplished by power alone. China still has a totalitarian government today but, after the death of Mao, the Chinese government began to loosen its controls on some parts of the economy, in order to reap the economic benefits of freer markets.
As those benefits became clear in higher rates of economic growth and rising standards of living, more government controls were loosened. But, just as market principles were applied to only certain kinds of slavery, so freedom in China has been allowed in economic activities to a far greater extent than in other realms of the country's life, where tight control from the top down remains the norm.
Ironically, the United States is moving in the direction of the kind of economy that China has been forced to move away from. China once had complete government control of medical care, but eventually gave it up as the disaster that it was.
The current leadership in Washington operates as if they can just set arbitrary goals, whether "affordable housing" or "universal health care" or anything else -- and not concern themselves with the repercussions -- since they have the power to simply force individuals, businesses, doctors or anyone else to knuckle under and follow their dictates.
Friedrich Hayek called this mindset "the road to serfdom." But, even under serfdom and slavery, experience forced those with power to recognize the limits of their power. What this administration -- and especially the President -- does not have is experience.
Barack Obama had no experience running even the most modest business, and personally paying the consequences of his mistakes, before becoming President of the United States. He can believe that his heady new power is the answer to all things.
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