Have we progressed from mercantilism?

Murray N. Rothbard wrote about mercantilism in Conceived in Liberty (1975), volume 1, chapter 32: “Mercantilism, Merchants, and ‘Class Conflict.'” A portion follows:

The economic policy dominant in the Europe of the 17th and 18th centuries, and christened “mercantilism” by later writers, at bottom assumed that detailed intervention in economic affairs was a proper function of government. Government was to control, regulate, subsidize, and penalize commerce and production. What the content of these regulations should be depended on what groups managed to control the state apparatus. Such control is particularly rewarding when much is at stake, and a great deal is at stake when government is “strong” and interventionist. In contrast, when government powers are minimal, the question of who runs the state becomes relatively trivial. But when government is strong and the power struggle keen, groups in control of the state can and do constantly shift, coalesce, or fall out over the spoils. While the ouster of one tyrannical ruling group might mean the virtual end of tyranny, it often means simply its replacement by another ruling group employing other forms of despotism.

 

In the 17th century the regulating groups were, broadly, feudal landlords and privileged merchants, with a royal bureaucracy pursuing as a superfeudal overlord the interest of the Crown. An established church meant royal appointment and control of the churches as well. The peasantry and the urban laborers and artisans were never able to control the state apparatus, and were therefore at the bottom of the state-organized pyramid and exploited by the ruling groups. Other religious groups were, of course, separated from or opposed to the ruling state. And religious groups in control of the state, or sharing in that control, might well pursue not only strictly economic “interest” but also ideological or spiritual ones, as in the case of the Puritans’ imposing a compulsory code of behavior on all of society.

 

Our modern fascism in the USA does not differ all that much from the above described mercantilism. In particular we see that the government controls the entry of individuals into various occupations and professions. Try to become a doctor without the approval of the state: or a cab driver even. Government still seeks to control, regulate, subsidize, and penalize commerce and production in all areas of American life. What has changed? The regulating groups have changed. The church is no longer part of the mix and the special interest groups seeking political power and handouts are different; but nothing has changed in reality.

We have to accept the fact that as long as we allow government to control the economic activities of Americans then we can expect no liberty or freedom. We will be endlessly subjected to arbitrary and punitive rules and regulations. Government seeks to dominate you in all areas of your life and it finds dominating you in your economic activities is the easiest way to enslave you.

 

 

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