Here comes state capitalism. There go our liberties.

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CEI’s own Wayne Crews told the Washington Examiner recently, “Everything from local tap water to space commercialization is being turned into a government project.”

Crews’s keen observation highlights a massive shift in the economic organization of society that is happening with virtually no debate. Free enterprise capitalism is being replaced – not by socialism, as was feared a few years ago, but by state capitalism.

Daniel Henninger has a column on this very topic in today’s Wall Street Journal. As he notes, using the take over of the sport of golf by the Saudi government as an example,

What we’re seeing is the inexorable rise of state capitalism, a system that deploys the state’s authority and money to force acquiescence to its version of social organization.

Anyone familiar with the sport of soccer has seen something similar in recent years. Government funded entities have taken over Europe’s top competitions, resulting in sides rising from obscurity to win out over more traditionally-run clubs that previously ran the roost.

This isn’t happening in just sports. Many of Britain’s privatized industries are generally run now by foreign state-owned enterprises like EDF, the Qatar Investment Authority, or Deutsche Bahn. The idea behind the privatizations had been to make Britons investors in the industries they used.

It isn’t just direct SOE ownership that’s at play here. It’s a web of subsidies, regulations, and transfer payments. All of them inject government decisions into many aspects of how we conduct our lives, and that has a cumulative effect on liberty. As Henninger notes, this isn’t about economic efficiency but something far more fundamental:

My concern here has more to do with how the spread of state capitalism—whether in China, Mexico or especially the U.S.—is altering the essential status of the individual. If we concede that the government is the primary, or most important, source of capital, the message is clear: You’re no longer a completely independent operator. You, John Q. Public, work for us, the state.

This transformation of the nature of not just the economy but the relationship between the individual and the state is currently being driven by the center-left forces in American politics, while the center-right is seemingly distracted.

However, to take Britain as an example, it is the conservative party that is taking the lead in this regard, spending more and more on “investment” and announcing plans to be the world leader in AI regulation.

The response is likely to be that this is all for the common good – an argument that is also heard more and more on the conservative side of the aisle.

We should be wary of that. First of all, one man’s definition of the common good is not necessarily that of the next man. In a free society, we need to attend to that difference. More importantly, however, a tyranny established for moral purposes is still a tyranny. As C.S. Lewis put in in God in the Dock,

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

If the loss of liberty under state capitalism is bad enough, the loss of liberty under common good state capitalism will be profound. That is why we here at CEI pay attention to things as simple as the regulation of water and the nationalization of space.