Back on the Road to Serfdom
by Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
It was not difficult to predict a major consequence of the Panic of 2008: disparaging the market economy and the free society is now more chic than it has been in half a century. In light of recent events, the argument runs, only a hopeless naïf would champion these things. What we need now is greater supervision by our public servants, and less adherence to the discredited dogmas of the past.
Just how much the free market was in fact responsible for the crisis, or the extent to which government itself and its central bank may have been the culprits (and thus whether the “free market” could have been to blame in the first place), is the subject of one of the essays in this volume. The unifying theme of this book, though, is the brute fact that a shift toward statism is indeed occurring, and that it will not end happily. History is littered with foreign and domestic crises that became pretexts for the expansion of government power, and the present instance appears to be no exception.
When we argue that the winds are blowing in the direction of an ever-larger role of the state in American life, we must be careful not to imply that prior to 2007–8 a broad consensus in favor of the free market and against state coercion had taken root. Even during the 1980s, when free-market ideas were said to be sweeping the country, the net effects were modest. Larry Schwab makes a persuasive case in his overlooked study The Illusion of a Conservative Reagan Revolution that the transformation that was supposed to have overtaken America during the 1980s was rather more limited than either liberals or conservatives have been willing to admit. There is little evidence of a lasting ideological shift among the population, and government grew rather than shrank, with the federal budget doubling over the course of the decade.