Liberal Delusions about Freedom" and "Up from Serfdom".
I don't want to quibble too much over the argument that if you must ignore over half the population in order to say there was a "Golden Age of Liberty" that there was no such period of liberty. It's easy, and correct, to say that no such period of time could be considered a "Golden Age of Liberty" if such liberty did not extend to most, if not all, of the people. A Libertarian may use that argument, as Aaron Ross Powell does, to brush aside any talk of Libertarian theory as applied in history since the consequences of these policies are quite terrible and they would understandably not want the horrors of life in the Industrial Revolution compared to their ideology. Liberals would likewise use this critique of an historical "Golden Age of Liberty" to simply mock the assertion. It is very easy to simply mock and laugh at most things Libertarians say, it's something I've been prone to do, but it is not sufficient to simply laugh at an ideology that is becoming more widespread in the United States.
Hornberger, in "Up from Serfdom", describes the conditions under which such a "Golden Age of Liberty" could come about:
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.Hornberger was very kind to list out what he considers essential to his (and many Libertarians) very specific idea of liberty. Most would have a hard time pointing out how OSHA, the EPA, public schools, paper money, Social Security, and other items referred infringe on personal liberty. In fact, many of these items that Libertarians believe infringe on liberty exist to protect the liberty of the individual from other entities. Instead, Libertarianism is less concerned with individual liberty than it is with laissez-faire capitalism and the ability of an individual or a corporation to avoid democracy.
breaker boy, as a textile mill laborer, as a prostitute, or in many other occupations that demanded 12+ hour work days. It's a shame society has fallen so far from this apex of liberty.
Adults were also free to sell their labor in this marketplace as well. Many thousands of free men and women who were unshackled by government interference would die each year in factories and mines that looked like they were designed for a modern-day horror movie. Often, the lucky ones were given a quick death at the hands of grotesque gears, whereas those that survived did so with permanent injury and illness that tortured them until they died at the ripe old age of 40.
The 1880s were truly a "Golden Age of Liberty" as they were free from the tyranny of city governments working on public sanitation projects that greatly expanded the length and quality of life.
|Democratic government cleaning up this mess would diminish liberty!|
Both boys and girls who worked in factories were subject to beatings and other harsh forms of pain infliction. One common punishment for being late or not working up to quota would be to be "weighted." An overseer would tie a heavy weight to worker's neck, and have them walk up and down the factory aisles so the other children could see them and "take example."Adults, likewise, suffered greatly at the hands of their employers. Workers who threatened or went on strike found themselves murdered by Pinkertons or other hired thugs.
Most of his other claims, such as about money and the EPA, are also quite baffling. One could spend days just going through and pouring over how incredibly awful it would be to live in this "Golden Age of Liberty".
This period is very exciting as there is a lot of movement and activity by American heroes who fought for the rights of workers, children, women, African Americans, and everyone else. This period showed the excesses of capitalism and the reaction the American people eventually had against these monstrosities. That modern Libertarians now advocate for the same policies which brought about these horrors, while also fighting against democratic government and trade unionism, is incredibly sad.
You can expect a lot more writing in the future dealing with this time, the heroes that rose from it, and how this period is so very relevant today.