Feudal and mercantilist economic systems were characterised by the lower orders of ordinary people being enslaved by, or subjected to, the commands of an elite.
Beyond basic subsistence, serfs and slaves were not enabled to consume other goods, nor were they given the means to do so. Communism was hawked as handing power to the serfs, or workers, united in and by the state. But again, it meant that workers remained serfs, employed and commanded by a state set up in their name. Freedom from the bourgeoisie became subjugation by the state. Only capitalism, founded on free markets and freedom of choice for all, held the promise of freeing the masses from a life of drudgery and servitude.
This was what the industrial revolution in Britain was about, particularly after the Corn Laws were repealed, and also the basis for the opportunities offered in America for refugees from European feudalism and mercantilism. And as the benefits of this freedom became enjoyed by those that were freed, so the abolition of slavery followed. A minimalist enlightened government based on democracy guaranteed property ownership and ensured that individuals’ rights were enforceable. These were the simple conditions of free markets, the conditions where the lowest consumer is the master of the mightiest producer, who endeavours to serve him. These are the conditions that led to a dramatic improvement in living standards for everyone in only a few decades, an improvement that had proved impossible in all the history of feudalism, mercantilism, and communism. It was the unique achievement of Anglo-Saxon laissez-faire.
But empires strike back. Just as communism enslaved the workers in their own name, so democratic states in the name of capitalism find ways to bind their own electors. Freedoms taken for granted by the British and Americans were never fully adopted by more socialistic states, and even the Anglo-Saxons have been slowly compromised to the point where their democratic systems are now breaking down.
Central to the loss of freedom, the road to serfdom as Hayek put it, is the creation of myths. The myth that the state acts on behalf its people, when it always acts to protect itself. The myth that the state knows better what its electors want than the electors themselves. The myth that only the state has the impartiality to right all wrongs. The reality is the exact opposite. The state intervenes to prevent people from deciding the matters that directly concern them. The middle classes have been taxed in the name of redistribution to the poor, and the poor themselves in turn have been relieved of the value of their earnings and savings by monetary debasement, always in the interest of the common good.
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