David Brooks, The Whigs, and Corporate Welfare

TycoonThomas DiLorenzo writes in today’s Mises Daily

Either Brooks knows nothing at all, whatsoever, about the Whig Party tradition in American history, or he is lying through his teeth about it. For he describes it as having been devoted to “using the power of government to give marginalized Americans the tools to compete in a capitalist economy.” The Whigs, says Brooks, “fought against the divisive populist Jacksonians” who supposedly sought to “pit classes against each other.” Every bit of this is exactly the opposite of the truth. The Whigs were the party of crony capitalism, of government of plutocracy, by the plutocracy, for the plutocracy. That is why so many historians have marveled over how a man like Abe Lincoln, who grew up so poor, would become the political water carrier for the Northeastern moneyed elite in American politics.

The most divisive economic issue in American politics during the heyday of the Whig Party (1832–1852) was the battle over free trade versus protectionism. If the Whigs stood for anything, they stood for corporate welfare in the form of high protectionist tariffs that would plunder the masses for the benefit of the few. This meant, for the most part, plundering Southern farmers more than anyone for the benefit of Northern manufacturers who would be protected from international competition by the high tariffs. As John C. Calhoun once said, what “protectionism” protects the public from is low prices. Next to slavery, protectionism was the biggest assault on property rights in America during the first half of the nineteenth century. The Whigs did not believe in “sacred” property rights, as Brooks foolishly writes. Their entire political agenda was based on the government-enforced attenuation of property rights for the benefit of the wealthy and politically-connected.

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