Conservatives Want to Take America Back to the 1880s?
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It took the Republican Party sixty years of dedicated effort to make the word "liberal" radioactive in some parts of the United States. In less than half that time they've also done a pretty good job of making "Republican" just as disliked, associated as it is with the politics of wretched excess, fetishizing ignorance, bowing to K street lobbyists, and diaper-wearing-toe-tapping-lesbian-bondage sexual hypocrisy.
So lately conservatives, and especially the most hard right wing of conservatives, have been on the lookout for other terms they can use rather than the dreaded "R" word when describing themselves. Some of them have jumped on board the Glenn Beck self-promotion tour. Considering that it's an artificial movement generated around a cheap media persona, declaring yourself a supporter of the Tea Party is a bit like being a proud member of a Monkees Fan Club (and you don't even get to hear "Last Train to Clarksville"), but hey, it plays better than being a part of the George W. Bush legacy.
Other conservatives have jumped in a different direction and declared that they're really "small government Libertarians." Only they don't seem to understand what Libertarian actually means. Take for example this article in which Jacob Hornberger anoints 1880 as the peak of America's Libertarian golden age.
Let’s consider, say, the year 1880. Here was a society in which people were free to keep everything they earned, because there was no income tax. They were also free to decide what to do with their own money—spend it, save it, invest it, donate it, or whatever. People were generally free to engage in occupations and professions without a license or permit. There were few federal economic regulations and regulatory agencies. No Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, bailouts, or so-called stimulus plans. No IRS. No Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor. No EPA and OSHA. No Federal Reserve. No drug laws. Few systems of public schooling. No immigration controls. No federal minimum-wage laws or price controls. A monetary system based on gold and silver coins rather than paper money. No slavery. No CIA. No FBI. No torture or cruel or unusual punishments. No renditions. No overseas military empire. No military-industrial complex.
As a libertarian, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a society that is pretty darned golden.
Ah, the 1880s. I can hear people getting wistful from here.
A golden age in which people kept all that they earned. Of course, what they earned in the absence of those debilitating minimum wage laws could be nothing more than worthless tokens from the company store. What they earned from twelve hours of work seven days a week could be actually be a bigger debt to the company that sent you into a mine or factory and made you pay for the wear on your tools, the water you drank, the fuel for your lamp, even the blasting powder you used.
Still, a lifetime of debt wasn't so bad in a golden age without OSHA and its safety laws, since lifetimes could be quite brief. Mining accidents didn't kill a piddling 29 men, they killed thousands every year. Over 3 miners out of every 1,000 died on the job each year (twice the rate of Great Britain with it's freedom-robbing concern for safety). But miners were pikers compared to folks on the railroad. Trainmen fell at a rate that made each year of work roughly equal to the risk of being among the troops on D-Day. Now that's freedom you can feel (well, briefly). It was an age where any construction project worth its salt could measure progress by body count and factory workers were privileged to know that they really were valued far less than the machines they tended. And death wasn't all that this golden age had to offer! It was an age when American workers could look forward to the liberation of being disabled for life, and know that they wouldn't be burdened by the crushing burden of worker's compensation or government aid.