Pubdate: Thu, 31 Jan 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2002 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Robert Higgs
Note: Robert Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy, The Independent 
Institute Oakland, Calif.


Michael Barone thinks that, this time, war will not give rise to 
significant increases in the size and scope of government ("Not a Victory 
for Big Government," editorial page, Jan. 15), because the war on terrorism 
does not require the massive spending and comprehensive economic controls 
of World War II, and because the voters continue, at least in certain 
polls, to favor smaller government in the abstract.

Having studied this topic for a long time and written a book on it ("Crisis 
and Leviathan," Oxford University Press, 1987), I am not convinced that the 
present crisis will differ from the previous ones, all of which, from World 
War I through the civil rights/Vietnam War episode, did cause a permanent 
upsurge of government.

Because the war on terrorism has just begun, it is too soon to conclude 
that the pattern that held throughout the 20th century has been broken. If 
the government decides to wage a full-scale war against Iraq, as a number 
of high-level officials and advisers are urging, or if it sends forces to 
fight on a front stretching from Africa to Indonesia to the Philippines, 
then the size and scope of government will certainly grow.

Already, however, the government has grown in significant ways. Especially 
important are the greatly enhanced powers the government has assumed to spy 
on and seize the property of all Americans. Several parts of the USA 
Patriot Act bulk up the Big Brother State, from sneak-and-peak provisions 
to asset-confiscation measures ostensibly aimed at abating money laundering 
- -- the latter premised on evidence inadmissible in U.S. courts.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has reactivated the FBI's notorious 
Cointelpro operation used from 1957 to 1971 to spy on domestic political 
and religious organizations. A number of states are considering the 
enactment of emergency laws that would give their governors Draconian 
powers over persons, property and personal information.

As such measures continue to augment the government's powers at all levels, 
the population remains in large part insensitive to the threats those 
measures pose to liberty, not just now but in all likelihood for many years 
to come. Pollster John Zogby declared recently that "the willingness to 
give up personal liberties is stunning, because the level of fear is so 
high." We can only hope that people regain their composure and their sense 
of proportion before the ratchet turns once again and our liberties sustain 
another irreversible crisis-induced loss.
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MAP posted-by: Beth