IPR regulars hate when I do this, but I promise this is the last one for a while. I’m writing this to see what IPR readers (especially the libertarians) think about something that’s been bothering me.
Libertarians and anarchists often get challenged with an annoying question. If libertarianism is so great, why hasn’t any country tried it? Many struggle to answer. I’ve been stewing on it.
We have a great answer to that question. America was extremely libertarian from the founding until 1860, and still very libertarian until roughly 1930. Am I right?
Consider this graph from USGovernmentSpending.com:
That’s total spending, federal, state and local combined. Until 1860, total government spending was less than 5% of GDP. Today it’s nearly 40%. So the US was much more libertarian in its early days. It stayed mostly under 10% until World War I and close to 10% until the 1930s.
Spending is not the only way to look at it. The country was far less regulated then. Occupational licensing was trivial until maybe 1950 or later. The average individual in the early 1800s had little interaction with government on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. There was no income tax and relatively few other taxes. In some places, like the frontier, life was arguably anarchic for decades.
I’m curious what IPR readers think of this thesis – that the United States of American was extremely libertarian until 1860 and still very libertarian until roughly 1930.
Is there a good book on the subject? I haven’t found it yet. Some of the writing by Tom Woods and Tom DiLorenzo touch on it but they don’t really hit it in the way I’m thinking. Most history writing for the period seems to focus on what the federal government was doing, or not doing. I’ve seen little about state and local government.
Please let me know what you think in the comments.