22A018 Three Flashes of Liberty by Jim Davies, 5/3/2022


The Twentieth was a truly dreadful century for freedom, with hundreds of millions of human beings being oppressed and killed as never before by newly strident governments around the world; but here and there, a few brilliant exceptions took place; and I'm omitting the key contributions of thinkers and authors like Mencken, von Mises, Hayeck, Rand, Rothbard, Friedman and others in the pantheon of liberty, without having read whom nobody can have much understanding of what was going on.

I refer instead to three government people, who did things politicans usually don't.

First, and just one hundred years ago, came Warren Harding. He was known as the "Do-nothing President", and that's why he heads this short list; all the others rushed to do something, however stupid or ruinous. Unemployment was at a record high in 1921, due largely to the return of men drafted into WW1, unable to find peaceful work. And that President did not lift a finger. As recessions usually do, this one cured itself.

Ten years later FDR failed to follow his wise example and did everything he and his "New Dealers" could imagine, thereby prolonging the misery of unemployment for a decade and a half, ending in the disaster of WW2; but Harding took no action, and as a result the labor market healed itself, in about one year. In consequence the 1920s became one of the most prosperous ever.

Harding could and should have done something to end the idiotic and disastrous prohibition of liquor, but he didn't, so this is by no means a blanket endosement - but it gives credit, where credit is due. Laissez Faire works, even when partial.

Second comes a German politician, Ludwig Erhard. He was Economics Minister as West Germany was trying to recover from the defeat of 1945. The surviving population had suffered twelve years of National Socialist control, plus four years of similar restrictions by the Allied Control Commission, which governed all economic activity just as if that could help.

In one single, epoch-marking weekend in 1949, Erhard announced the end of all wage and price controls, so that when the ACC moguls returned to their desks on the Monday, it was a fait accompli; controls were gone, everyone could buy and sell goods and labor at whatever prices they agreed, so the market recovery began. Ten years later Germany was prospering again and after twenty, it had returned as the economic power-house of Europe. It's still there. That recovery became known as the Wirtschaftswunder, or "Economic Miracle" - but it really wasn't; it was just the free market at work.

Third in my trio comes a Communist, also acting way out of the line of his supposed beliefs: Deng Xiaoping, premier of China from 1978 to 1997, during which period "GNP increased 500 percent between 1978 and 1995; per capita annual income rose from a few hundred dollars to $1,800; savings increased 14,000 percent; and exports went from $10 billion a year to $153 billion" according to Facts and Details. Reason: his government relaxed its rules against starting and operating a business for profit; and amazingly, after so many years of communist indoctrination, millions of Chinese seemed to know exactly how to go about the business of making money. GDP now equals America's, though its per-capita rate is only about a quarter as high.

Deng did not do much to remove government from other aspects of liberty such as freedom of speech, and his successors have clamped down more tightly on those, for example intensifying the replusive "social credit system" described on this Prager U video. But what he was able to do is a brilliant spark in the history of hundreds of years of oppression and poverty.

These three examples are rare. Each gives just a brief glimpse of some aspect of freedom, and since every politician is an integral part of the system that is suppressing it, little wonder they are seen so seldom. The fix is not somehow to find good people to elect to power; the fix is to take away the means of exercising power... like the guy stepping off the support plank.

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