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How America’s Wars Cut Down American Liberty

How America’s Wars Cut Down American Liberty

If we forswore military intervention in other countries, we could still affect the world in a positive way through free trade.

Professor Tucker argues in his Liberty Forum essay that a grand strategy, at least one that is dreamed of by experts, “is not a possibility for the United States,” and that if it were, we Americans would have fewer liberties. I agree. But I think he should have pursued that point much more aggressively. Partly because U.S. governments in this century and the last did pursue ambitious goals in other countries, we already have fewer liberties.

That does not mean that we, as Americans, should not have a grand strategy. I believe we should. Our strategy should be to maximize our liberty subject to the constraint that we should be relatively safe in the larger world. Fortunately, this strategy of maximizing our liberty would likely increase the liberty of many others in many other countries.

The Government Ratchet

Let me first explain why the previous grand strategy of intervening in other countries’ affairs has led to our having fewer liberties. I’ll start with the “ratchet” model of governmental spending and control that economic historian Robert Higgs identified in his 1987 book, Crisis and Leviathan.

Higgs pointed out that much of the growth in state spending, taxation, and regulation in the 20th century was a result of three crises: World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. To deal with these crises, Washington dramatically increased federal spending and regulation. Federal taxes went up, as well. When the crises ended, spending, taxation, and regulation did recede some; but they never returned to their pre-crisis levels. In each case, the federal government gained substantial power.

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