Thomas Sowell

Woodrow Wilson's Progressivism was very much in the same mindset. Government intervention in the economy was justified on grounds that "society is the senior partner in all business."

The rhetorical transformation of government into "society" is a verbal sleight-of-hand trick that endures to this day. So is the notion that money earned in the form of profits requires politicians' benediction to be legitimate, while money earned under other names apparently does not.

Thus Woodrow Wilson declared: "If private profits are to be legitimized, private fortunes made honorable, these great forces which play upon the modern field must, both individually and collectively, be accommodated to a common purpose."

And just who will decide what this common purpose is and how it is to be achieved? "Politics," according to Wilson, "has to deal with and harmonize" these various forces.

In other words, the government -- politicians, bureaucrats and judges -- are to intervene, second-guess and pick winners and losers, in a complex economic process of which they are often uninformed, if not misinformed, and a process in which they pay no price for being wrong, regardless of how high a price will be paid by the economy.

If this headstrong, busybody approach seems familiar because it is similar to what is happening today, that is because it is based on fundamentally the same vision, the same presumptions of superior wisdom, and the same kind of lofty rhetoric we hear today about "fairness." Wilson even used the phrase "social justice."

Woodrow Wilson also won a Nobel Prize for peace, like the current president -- and it was just as undeserved. Wilson's "war to end wars" in fact set the stage for an even bigger, bloodier and more devastating Second World War.

But, then as now, those with noble-sounding rhetoric are seldom judged by what consequences actually follow.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate