Up Front: July 2007

The whelp of nations

As Stalin’s first Five-Year Plan and Mao’s Great Leap Forward both show, efforts by the state to manipulate economic activity can trigger tragedy. But blood also stains Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” It was, after all, market forces that pulled wagons groaning with grain from Ireland’s rich midlands past ditches heaped with dead peasants, their rictal grins stretching lips stained green by grass, all they had to eat during the depths of the potato famine.

History’s lessons teach much, though there’s little to learn by examining only the extremes. I, for one, want government’s nose out of my business — unless I need help. Then it should plunge in headfirst. Such inconsistency in political belief, I confess, would be shameful were not this a nation ruled by conservatives so profligate that their behavior would surely shock a horndog tar into spitting out what he is pouring in to slake a heroic thirst. To judge by the actions of our betters, best we make up the rules as we go.

But there are those who do hew to a true course, and this month’s cover story has much to delight them. It’s a tale of how the market accomplished what government, despite its meddling and millions, has yet to achieve. Still — and well am I aware that this phrase affronts true believers of every stripe — things are not that simple. Except as rough translation of the title of the last Beatles album, laissez faire has little relevancy of late, much less anything to do with any airport, the very spawn of government. Nor are roads and rails and all the rest that make such a place so attractive to business bereft of largesse from public treasure. Free enterprise carries a cost.

True, as the story points out, the market is what is creating an aerotropolis in the Triad, the agent of its transformation. But if guided by an invisible hand, it’s certainly one whose palm has been greased, time and again, by the wealth of this nation.

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