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An Inevitable Result of Populism

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:


You justly decry the Securities and Exchange Commission’s new 886 pages of requirements that corporations report how they deal with climate-related risks (“The SEC’s Political Climate Control,” March 8). Unfortunately, such government overreach inevitably results from the populist ideology that today prevails on both the left and the right of the political spectrum. This ideology holds that constitutional and judicial restraints on the current majority – including on that majority’s empowerment of bureaucrats to do whatever they fancy – is an affront to the “will of the people.”

All wise people reject this infantile understanding of democracy, and no one did so with more eloquence than Walter Lippmann. He wrote in 1937 that “though it is disguised by the illusion that a bureaucracy accountable to a majority of voters, and susceptible to the pressure of organized minorities, is not exercising compulsion, it is evident that the more varied and comprehensive the regulation becomes, the more the state becomes a despotic power as against the individual. For the fragment of control over the government which he exercises through his vote is in no effective sense proportionate to the authority exercised over him by the government.”*

Because the powers exercised by government today are even more varied and comprehensive than they were in 1937, the urgency of grasping Lippmann’s insight has never been as great as it is now.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

* Walter Lippmann, The Good Society (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1937), pages 104-105.