What Killed the Four Horsemen?

Once upon a time, in the first half of the 1800s, we had something called a free economy. It was not fully free, only nearly so. But freedom brings little glory to the politicians, so they decided to get more involved. In return for favors, they gave taxpayer loot to their friends to build railroads. During the latter part of the 19th century, the economy thrived but so did corruption. The politicians, who are selfless and therefore good by nature, passed laws to fix the corruption but that only made the problem worse. The politicians pondered this result. So did the people. Both blamed the problem on crooked entrepreneurs. Unlike the politicians, the entrepreneurs were anything but selfless. The people read about dishonesty, they read about rich tycoons and believed all of the rich got their wealth by robbing the honest. So they demanded more laws. They voted for politicians who promised to help them. And help them they did. In 1913 the politicians created an income tax to soak the rich. They also created a central bank called the Federal Reserve to avoid periodic business slumps. The people's selfless servants would bring justice and stability to the market at last. All went well for awhile, except for a brief world war. Then it was better than well -- the economy soared. One day in 1929 it stopped soaring. The politicians, who had done such a good job establishing a central bank, which had funded the war and the good times, decided they should make the economy soar again. So they passed laws, lots of laws. It was fun passing laws. It made the politicians feel important. But there was a problem: the economy got worse. The politicians knew why. Many of the laws they passed were struck down by a group that wasn't elected by the people. This group was called the Supreme Court. Certain members of the Court said the politicians' laws violated the Constitution. The politicians explained to the people that the Constitution now meant something different than what it had meant all along. To help the people understand, the politicians called it a Living Constitution. Things that live, change. And so the Living Constitution had changed. But certain Court members were too old to understand this. When they struck down laws that the politicians said would help the people, these justices said things like, "If the provisions of the Constitution be not upheld when they pinch as well as when they comfort, they may as well be abandoned." [1] Another time, one of the justices said employers and employees should agree on wages through free bargaining. He said this after the Court ruled against a law setting a minimum wage for women. Setting a minimum wage is not free bargaining. But, gosh, the law was only trying to help women protect their health and morals. For example, one lady had been an elevator operator working at $35 a month, the going rate. The law raised her salary to $71 a month. So the company, borne of selfishness and therefore evil by nature, fired her and hired a man. [2] Some justices just didn't get it. The people were tired of being pinched. They just wanted things to get better. The people didn't understand economics. They trusted their elected officials to understand it. But the politicians were worried. They were afraid the people in their innocence might blame them for their misery. So the politicians had an idea. They called these Court members who hated change the Four Horsemen. Like the Four Horsemen of the people's religion, they brought great evil to the land. The people didn't understand their religion very well, either, but they never questioned it. And they never questioned the politicians' explanation. The evil Four Horsemen -- that was all the explanation they needed. In 1936 the people elected the politicians to office again. The people were very grateful to the politicians for explaining why they still suffered so they gave them lots of votes. The people believed the Court had bad people on it. "Get rid of those Four Horsemen!" they demanded. Because the Four Horsemen were so old, the Chief Politician tried to make them retire. But they were too evil to retire. Finally, the people's voice was heard. It happened like this: The court had nine justices. Three of the justices had usually agreed with the politicians and voted for new laws. That left two justices who sometimes did and sometimes didn't go along with the politicians. Quite suddenly, these two justices heard the people's cry for compassion. They voted for the politicians' laws. That meant five voting for, and four voting against the laws. The people had triumphed. Realizing their evil days were over, the Four Horsemen gradually stepped down from the Court. A new era was born. The politicians helped the people in other ways. The government had been printing money. But the law made them give people gold on demand in exchange for the paper they printed. The politicians didn't like that. They said the law was holding back recovery. If they could print money without giving out gold, they could print all the money the people needed. The people liked the sound of that and gave up all their gold to the government. That way the only money around would be the government's paper money. With a new Court and printing press money to fund a compassionate government, the people received countless benefits, except for another world war, a succession of lesser wars, unfathomable debt, devalued currency, deplorable education, and so on. The new Court blessed the Social Security Act. The new Court said the National Labor Relations Act was just fine. In fact, the new Court said just about anything the government did was fine. The government was no longer restrained by archaic laws. The people had won. 1. Robert Higgs, Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government, Oxford University Press, 1987. P. 184. 2. Wall Street Journal, "The Father of Natural Rights"

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George F. Smith is the author of The Flight of The Barbarous Relic, a novel about a renegade Fed chairman.  Visit his website.