Through the mist: American liberty and political economy, 2065.

AuthorTwight, Charlotte A.

One certainty in writing about America's political economy fifty years hence is that the author will likely be proven wrong. The best one can hope for is to try to appear wise (or at least thoughtful) in the process. Even if the future were determined solely by competitive markets, the outcome would be unknowable. But developments exogenous to private markets will greatly shape the future, making most predictions implicitly or explicitly contingent--impossible to specify in detail without reference to those exogenous events.

A major source of risk and uncertainty that makes predictions contingent is the vast and continuing accretion of discretionary power in America's central state, eroding previous restraints on government authority. Indeed, the U.S. political economy has been so transformed by this accretion of power as to erode any expectation even of stable constitutional constraints on government authority. For example, in the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision on the "Affordable Care Act" (King v. Burwell, 576 U.S. [2015]), the Court undermined our nation's constitutional "separation of powers" by rewriting (through reinterpretation) specific language in the congressionally passed Affordable Care Act already signed by the president--clearly a judicial exercise of legislative power. The Court thereby remolded our original countervailing legislative, executive, and judicial powers into seemingly collaborative powers potentially wielded by two to three branches of government in concert.

Another potential exogenous event that poses the risk of nationwide--perhaps civilization-destroying--disablement of our energy infrastructure and incapacitation of motor vehicles is an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), whether caused by an inevitable solar flare or by terrorist/enemy attack using missile-launched, EMP-generating nuclear warheads. Either type of EMP could destroy our unprotected electric power grid and, with it, the lives of most Americans. The power grid is also vulnerable to destruction by direct physical attack on our transformers (a tactic already tested successfully in America by unknown attackers using simple rifles). America's civilization-sustaining electric power grid is thus far more fragile than most Americans imagine.

Despite the uncertainties going forward from unpredictable forces and events exogenous to private markets, broad contours of likely changes to our political economy nonetheless are discernible. I begin with what currently exists: a nominally capitalistic market economy combined with a massive regulatory state having vast internal surveillance capabilities, enormous domestic and international military power, and broad wealth-transfer systems. As a result, government officials now seemingly treat the extent to which private assets and privately produced output remain private as largely a matter of the government's unilateral discretion. The current accumulation of unprecedented government debt and unfunded liabilities, resolvable only by currency debasement and increased taxation, will deprive both private and public sectors of resources throughout the next fifty years, potentially altering the division of resources between them.

In the sections that follow, I briefly survey how the central government acquired and maintains its existing powers and then assess the likelihood of reducing those powers and revitalizing liberty in America.

Establishment of Government Control

Individuals' and businesses' control over their daily economic choices in America is now circumscribed by a vast array of statutory and regulatory powers, many enforced by delegation to state and local officials. Regulations are now so...

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