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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Roosevelt and Hamilton

Max Boot contines to defend, rightly, Theodore Roosevelt against "T.R.-was-no-conservative"-type attacks such as the latest by a Prof. Ronald Prestito. Prestito's WSJ op-ed at least takes the novel approach of contrasting Roosevelt with Alexander Hamilton, contrary to any number of conservative critiques that see both as dangerous deviationists from free-market orthodoxy. Both T.R. and Hamilton were defenders of limited government. Both favored some degree of government activism at times when government was much, much smaller than it is today. Both were examples, moreover, of government competence. A major problem with activist government is that the people in charge of it aren't usually as talented as a T.R. or Hamilton, because that kind of talent doesn't show up regularly or on demand.

UPDATE: Jonathan Adler goes negative on T.R. (and Boot) here, the gist being that various state interventions Roosevelt called for are no longer in favor. I'm not very impressed by Adler's response. For one thing, it's not true that the idea of government ownership of resources such as timber has been utterly rejected; there's no great push for privatizing national forests, though I know some have called for that. Nor is there much momentum for getting rid of all antitrust, which would be the "complete repudiation" Adler claims has befallen T.R.'s antitrust policies. And even if that were so, it would tell us only so much about whether Roosevelt's policies were appropriate for the economy of his time, in which power was concentrated in big companies in a way hard to imagine now.

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