The Great American Melt-Up

James Pethokoukis, Commentary Magazine

Democrats find themselves in a state of confusion. Not only is there no clear favorite for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination, it’s uncertain what economic policies the party’s eventual nominee will put forward. Among the ideas currently being argued and discussed by progressive activists and wonks are free college tuition for all, expanding Medicare, heavily regulating or breaking up the big-tech platforms, and a universal basic income or jobs guarantee.

Yet wherever Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and whoever else might climb the greasy pole come down, they will likely agree on at least one thing: While Trump and tax-cutting Trumponomics may be the immediate target of their ire, they will also argue that the U.S. economy has been on the wrong track for decades. Forget Ronald Reagan’s famous question to voters in 1980, “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” As Democrats see things, the American middle class is worse off than it was before Reagan took office. In their eyes, the pro-market tilt in U.S. economic policy since Reagan’s time—lower taxes, lighter regulation, freer trade—has resulted in little more than higher inequality, lower upward mobility, and middle-class income stagnation. The claim is no longer even remotely controversial on the left and is frequently repeated by its politicians as an incontrovertible fact.

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Tablets, said to be 200 years older than the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi ... show that the ancient kingdom of Eshnunna had wage control and price control. The news ought not to have come as a surprise. For the code of Hammurabi itself (unearthed in 1902), which was promulgated earlier than 2000 B.C., fixed prices, wages, interest rates, and fees. This makes price control at least about 4,000 years old. ...


Ironically, it is those who now wish to return to this ancient totalitarian device who are fondest of calling themselves “progressives.” They are also fond of saying that those who believe in economic liberty “are living in the nineteenth century.” These controlists have yet to learn that they themselves are still living, as the discoveries in Babylonia attest, in the nineteenth century—B.C.!

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