There’s a popular historical legend that goes like this: Once upon a time (for this is how stories of this kind should begin), back in the 19th century, the United States economy was almost completely unregulated and. But then there arose a movement to subject business to regulatory restraint in the interests of workers and consumers, a movement that culminated in the presidencies of Wilson and the two Roosevelts.
This story comes in both left-wing and right-wing versions, depending on whether the government is seen as heroically rescuing the poor and weak from the rapacious clutches of unrestrained corporate power, or as unfairly imposing burdensome socialistic fetters on peaceful and productive enterprise. But both versions agree on the central narrative: a century of, followed by a flurry of anti-business legislation
Every part of this story is false. To begin with, there never was anything remotely like a period ofin American history (at least not if “laissez-faire” means “let the market operate freely” as opposed to “let the rich and powerful help themselves to other people’s property”). The regulatory state was deeply involved from the start, particularly in the banking and currency industries and in the assignment of property titles to land. (Even such land as was not stolen from the natives was seldom appropriated in accordance with any sort of Lockean homesteading principle; instead, vast tracts of unimproved land were simply declared property by barbed wire or legislative fiat.)