Robert Higgs at FFF Conference, Part 4 of 7

Robert Higgs on “War and Leviathan: The Trick That Works Every Time” at the Future of Freedom Foundation’s Restoring the Republic, 2007.

And the second war powers act march 27 1942 these sweeping delegations empowered the president to rearrange the executive branch as he pleased gave him a free hand to contract with munitions suppliers almost as he pleased and gave him far-reaching control over international financial transactions and censorship power over all communications between the united states

And any foreign country they expanded the government’s powers to seize private property for war purposes empowered the president to set priorities for deliveries of designated goods and services and gave the president effectively unrestrained power over resource allocation in the domestic economy at power he delegated to the war production board under his direct

Oversight wielding all this authority the president and his lieutenants became in effect central planners of a command economy for the duration of the war similarly just six weeks after the 911 attacks the government enacted the usa patriot act which greatly trenched on civil liberties and long established rights effectively demolished the fourth amendment and gave

A mighty boost to the us police state other measures moving in the same direction followed soon afterward including nationalization of the airline security industry and creation of the bureaucratic monstrosity known as the department of homeland security an organization as menacing in its ideological underpinnings as it is feckless in its day-to-day operations once

The government has expanded greatly at the outset of a war and then employed its new powers for an extended period getting rid of all the new weapons the government has added to its arsenal of power is virtually impossible even when the war ends and people clamor for a return to normal peacetime arrangements therefore many of the wartime measures become permanent

Parts of the government’s apparatus for dominating and robbing those outside the political class wartime organizations may be retained to carry out new functions as for example the war finance corporation of world war one was kept going for six years after the war to provide subsidized credit to exporter’s agricultural cooperatives and rural banks after finally

Having been discontinued in 1925 it was revived in 1932 as the reconstruction finance corporation a huge lender to politically favored railroads banks and insurance companies during the depression and later the government’s chief agency for financing a variety of under during world war two retained after 1945 the rfc continued to make subsidized loans to privileged

Borrowers until it’s sank in a storm of scandal in 1953 only to be replaced as part of the deal of killing it with a similarly egregious agency the small business administration which has continued its politically driven misallocation of taxpayer money ever since cases such as that of the war finance corporation and its direct descendants exemplify how war solidifies

So-called iron triangles alliances of government bureaucrats congressional overseers and privileged private sector beneficiaries these arrangements are called iron because they are so difficult to break their beneficiaries have great incentive to fight for the retention and even for the expansion of the triangles activities whereas the general public rarely has

Much incentive to fight against them even when it is aware of them because the public burden per capita is normally too small to justify anyone’s expenditure of much time or effort in the requisite politicking under modern conditions high wartime taxes always stick to some extent leaving the amount of the government’s plunder much greater after the war than it was

Before the war and the present so-called war on terror the government has partially concealed this increased seizure of private property by running up the national debt rather than by jacking up ordinary tax rates or imposing new kinds of taxes but this financial trick does not alter the raw fact that the government has been using more of the people’s resources for

Its own purposes that’s shown by the rapid run up of its spending leaving the public on the hook to pay for the end priests interest and eventually to repay the principal or to suffer the consequences if the government should attempt in effect to repudiate its obligations to creditors by inflating the money stock during the president bush administration public debt

Held by the public has grown from three point three trillion dollars at the end of fiscal 2001 to an estimated five point one trillion at the end of the present fiscal 2070 or by about fifty three percent in only six years apart from wars financial legacies that exacerbate the government’s burden on the public war leaves institutional legacies of various kinds that

Enhance government power at the expense of the public’s liberties the rent controls of world war two for example never ended in new york city for more than 60 years they have denied landlords and tenants there the liberty to contract on any mutually agreeable terms and they have created incentives that foster the avoidance of maintenance for rented apartments and

Discouraged the construction of new structures that would be built if only the housing market were free of these war born fetters perhaps most important war has effects on the dominant ideology that work in favor of long-lasting government power and the permanent reduction of public liberties during wartime governments take many actions that would be more or less

Unthinkable in a reasonably free society during peacetime because people would not tolerate them having tolerated them in wartime however people may come to regard them not only is permanently tolerable but even as desirable in peacetime for example nearly everything the us government did during the great depression had an obvious wartime precedent in the great

War president herbert hoover declared quote we use such emergency powers to win the war we can use them to fight the depression in quo everything from the depression-era agricultural price controls to the industrial cartal is a shin program the public housing program the schemes to control oil and coal prices the tax hikes and the promotion of labor unionization

Had a precedent during 1917-18 obviously many of these war inspired public policies became permanent after the 1930s as later did the military industrial complex created from 1942 1945 people can get used to almost anything especially if it has a plausible justification war softens up formerly free people and habituation to government controls and abuses that they

Would resist except for their alleged wartime necessity in this way government war measures change the very character of once free people by breaking down their will to be free and their determination to resist tyranny it’s important to appreciate that all the effects on freedom that i’ve been discussing occur regardless of the rationale for the war itself

Transcribed from video
Robert Higgs at FFF Conference, Part 4 of 7 By The Future of Freedom Foundation