Foibles and Their Consequences

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If a mandatory evacuation from your storm-threatened holiday leaves you with time on your hands, or you have energy left for reading after the hassles of airport security and can block out the incessant blared warnings over the airport loudspeakers, here are some diverting suggestions.

For light reading with a weighty message, try Bill Fawcett and Brian Thomsen’s You Did What? These short readable essays require little concentration and are just what you need to reinforce your opinion that those in power seldom know what they are doing. Airport security cannot tell grandma from a terrorist, but Joseph Stalin managed to murder every general and officer in the Red Army just in time for Hitler’s invasion.

You may envy those highly paid executives being decanted from luxury jets into limousines who know little of canceled flights and long airport waits. But Fawcett and Thomsen will soothe envy’s string as they serve you a scrumptious smorgasbord of "mad plans and great historical disasters" perpetrated by those in charge.

Here are three of them:

In 1985, Coca Cola’s bigwigs were anxious about Pepsi’s growing market share. Their solution? They abandoned Coke’s time-proven vintage recipe for something bland and sweet called the "New Coke." Four months later, after the eruption of public hostility to the new product and the creation of a black market in the old Coke, Coca Cola executives returned to the tried and true formula.

In 1966, politically savvy California Democratic Governor, Pat Brown, influenced the GOP primary vote in favor of an "easy to beat candidate," Ronald Reagan, who went on to become a two-term governor of California and a two-term president of the US.

In 1920, Boston Red Sox owner, Harrison Frazee, traded a "has-been" pitcher to Colonel Jacob Ruppert, owner of the New York Yankees for $125,000 cash and a loan just over twice that amount to finance a Broadway production. Ruppert utilized the "has been" pitcher as a hitter, thus launching the stellar career of George Herman "Babe" Ruth and repaying Ruppert’s investment dozens of times over. Alas, "Frazee’s Red Sox never managed to recover their dominance."

Feel better now? With your fresh awareness of the foibles of the high and mighty, you will be all the more able to enjoy Robert Higg’s Against Leviathan, Llewellyn Rockwell’s Speaking of Liberty, and James Bovard’s Terrorism and Tyranny. These authors are liberty’s sentinels. They document the chains we acquire as we defer to "government knows best."

Government decision-makers are wrong more often that CEOs, the best of whom are right just 45% of the time. Whereas a bad corporate decision can harm employees and shareholders, a bad government decision affects everyone.

Take the Great Depression for example. Believing that the 1929 stock market crash was caused by too much liquidity, the "all-wise" Federal Reserve central bank withdrew liquidity from the banking system precisely at the time when more liquidity was needed to prevent mass unemployment.

Once the government caused the disaster, government proceeded to make matters worse. Americans have been brainwashed to believe that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal saved the US economy. But as Higgs shows in his chapter, "The Mythology of Roosevelt and the New Deal," Roosevelt’s policies delayed the economy’s recovery for an entire decade.

Roosevelt’s success was not in ending the depression but "in revolutionizing the institutions of US political and economic life and in changing the country’s dominant ideology." In place of a nation of independent citizens, America became a collection of government-dependent interest groups and welfare beggars.

Rockwell’s essays show how government uses everything from compassion to patriotism for self-aggrandizement. In "The Economics of Discrimination," Rockwell tells about some of the absurdities and economic rip-offs that have been spawned by civil rights and disabilities legislation.

Did you know that a man in a wheelchair sued for the right to coach third base on a baseball team and that a blind man sued for the right to be a firefighter? Did you know that the Shawmut Bank in Connecticut was forced by the US government to provide millions of dollars in loans to "preferred minorities" who couldn’t pass a credit check?

If you believe that your government is protecting you from terrorism with the Patriot Act and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, you desperately need to read Bovard’s book. The war on terror has taken a far greater toll on American civil liberties and the lives of American soldiers than it has taken on terrorism. In trying to chase down one man, Osama bin Laden, the US government has invaded and abused two Muslim countries and made 1.3 billion Muslims America’s enemies, while simultaneously destroying our own alliances with our own kind.

Will the follies we are witnessing today be the modern renditions of Napoleon’s march into Russia and Stalin’s elimination of the Red Army’s officer class on the eve of Hitler’s invasion? Perhaps the events of our own time will qualify for the second edition of "You Did What?"

Dr. Roberts [send him mail] is John M. Olin Fellow at the Institute for Political Economy and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. He is a former associate editor of the Wall Street Journal and a former assistant secretary of the U.S. Treasury. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions.

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