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It Takes a Government to Do an Auschwitz

David R. Henderson

The title of this post is a sentence from Matt Ridley's recent speech at the Association for Private Enterprise Education in Maui, Hawaii. His speech was excellent, by the way.

The statement is a good reminder that the most destructive and murderous actions in history were carried out by governments.

I wrote something along the same lines in my book The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey. In Chapter 7, "Free Markets versus Discrimination," I wrote:

Government use of force against ethnic groups is far more effective than private use of force against these same groups. I remember that when I first heard about Hitler at about age eight, and asked my mother who he was, I was told that 15 years earlier he had used tanks and other weapons to try to take over the world. I pictured a nut with some tanks he had bought coming down our highway and invading our small town in rural Canada. I didn't understand at the time why Hitler was such a threat; I had been raised to believe that the police would protect us. Imagine the shock and sudden surge of overwhelming fear I had when, years later, I learned that Hitler employed the police and, indeed, ran a whole government. That was scary. Even as a child I knew that the government, any government, had more power than anyone who was not in the government, and that when the government passed and enforced a law, you couldn't legally fight back. That's when the true terror of Hitler dawned on me.

Addendum: here's a review of Ridley's The Rational Optimist that I wrote in 2010.

Republished from the Library of Economics and Liberty.

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