Most helpful critical review
3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
My god, the author can't even get the title of the book right!! I'd need to write an encyclopedic review for the rest of the bo
on October 29, 2015
The USA is not a democracy. The word democracy isn't even mentioned, once, in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution. The Founding Fathers were contemptuous toward democracy. They were aware of the evils that accompany a tyranny of the majority. The Framers of the Constitution went to great lengths to ensure that the federal government was not based on the will of the majority and was not, therefore, democratic.
If the Framers of the Constitution did not embrace democracy, what did they adhere to? To a man, the Framers agreed that the purpose of government was to secure citizens in John Locke’s trilogy of the rights to life, liberty and property. The Framers wrote extensively and eloquently. On property, for example, John Adams wrote that “the moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”
The Founders’ actions often spoke even louder than their words. Alexander Hamilton, a distinguished lawyer, took on many famous cases out of principle. After the Revolutionary War, the state of New York enacted harsh measures against Loyalists and British subjects. These included the Confiscation Act (1779), the Citation Act (1782) and the Trespass Act (1783). All involved the taking of property. In Hamilton’s view, these Acts illustrated the inherent difference between democracy and the law. Even though the Acts were widely popular, they flouted fundamental principles of property law. Hamilton carried his views into action and successfully defended — in the face of enormous public hostility — those who had property taken under the three New York state statutes.
The Constitution was designed to further the cause of liberty, not democracy. To do that, the Constitution protected individuals’ rights from the government, as well as from their fellow citizens. To that end, the Constitution laid down clear, unequivocal and enforceable rules to protect individuals’ rights. In consequence, the government’s scope and scale were strictly limited. Economic liberty, which is a precondition for growth and prosperity, was enshrined in the Constitution.
For roughly a century after the Constitution was ratified, private property, contracts and free internal trade within the United States were sacred. The scope and scale of the government remained very constrained. All this was very consistent with what was understood to be liberty. The state of economic affairs in the United States, roughly until World War I, was in the spirit of the Constitution. The economy flourished, with large increases in labor and capital inputs as well as strong productivity growth.
Much of this anti-Constitutional apparatus was scrapped after World War I. However, residues remained and eventually resurfaced. All it took were other national emergencies — the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, and so on. With each, laws were enacted, bureaus created and the budgets enlarged. In many cases, these changes turned out to be permanent. The result is that crises acted as a ratchet, shifting the trend line of government size and scope up to a higher level.
It comes as no surprise that governments spend more money and regulate more actively during crises — wars and economic bailouts are expensive and complicated. But a more active government also attracts opportunists, who perceive that a national emergency can serve as a useful pretext for achieving their own objectives.
The U.S. and other countries seem no more aware of this today than they were in the past. And yet history has provided many examples to illustrate how damaging it is. Take the Great Depression. At that time, the organized farm lobbies, having sought subsidies for decades, took advantage of the crisis to pass a sweeping rescue package, the Agricultural Adjustment Act, whose title declared it to be “an act to relieve the existing national economic emergency.”
Almost 80 years later, the farmers are still sucking money from the rest of society and agricultural policy has been enlarged to satisfy a variety of other interest groups, including conservationists, nutritionists and friends of the Third World. Then, during World War II, when government accounted for nearly half the U.S. GDP, virtually every interest group tried to tap into the vastly enlarged government budget. Even bureaus seemingly remote from the war effort, such as the Department of the Interior (which is in charge of government lands and natural resources), claimed to be performing “essential war work” and to be entitled to bigger budgets and more personnel.
Within the U.S. government, the war on terrorism has given cover to a multitude of parochial opportunists, whose proposals range from bailing out the airlines to nationalizing vaccine production. As a result, former President George W. Bush — a so-called conservative — ushered in a record-setting expansion of government. This trend continues with the interventionist President Barack Obama.
What lessons can we learn? First, “democracy” and “freedom” are not interchangeable words. Second, only the first century of the American experience represents a standard for freedom. Expanding democracy is a slogan which requires great caution. It can easily result in elected tyranny. Freedom is the concept.
For those who complain that this review is not a review of the book, I say this, it is a review of the book.... I got as far as the title of the book. You want me to continue reviewing the book beyond the title? I'd need to write an encyclopedic review.