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Thursday, April 1, 1993

Official Lies: How Washington Misleads Us

The federal government incessantly manipulates opinion and subverts both truth and democracy.

“An honest politician is a contradiction in terms,” Frank Chodorov said repeatedly. Chodorov was sharp on the devious ways that governments use to shape public opinion, to win friends and influence people on behalf of the state machine, to set back the cause of human liberty.

This sharpness is the purport of Professors Bennett of George Mason University and DiLorenzo of Loyola College in Baltimore in their hard-hitting and most worthwhile book. They contend that the federal government, no matter which party is in power, incessantly manipulates opinion and subverts, if sometimes inadvertently, both truth and democracy.

Such subversion is anything but benign. The Old Testament warns us: “Put not thy trust in princes.” The two professor-authors observe how Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America was concerned about the power of government to inculcate a “new servitude” in the people. Wrote Tocqueville in 1835, as quoted here: “Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to little better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

Similarly Professors Bennett and DiLorenzo note how Hayek argued that extensive government controls can produce “a psychological change, an alteration in the character of the people.” Nobody can seriously argue that controls in America from Social Security to antitrust, from credit expansion to minimum wages, from affirmative action to so-called environmental protection, and so on are not extensive. It follows that government propaganda on behalf of these controls serves to undermine individual freedom and that citizens need to read books such as Official Lies to alert them to the danger.

What lies? Take the one that governments can dispel ignorance and educate people, including the young. The authors wonder about this contention in the face of the fact that the “free” public school in America is essentially a monopoly financed by compulsory taxation and secured by compulsory-attendance laws. Others laws reinforce that monopoly. The authors note, for example, that a Texas state law states that textbooks “shall not contain certain material which serves to undermine authority.”

Professors Bennett and DiLorenzo see that virtually all textbooks in civics or American government throughout the land clothe government in almost saintly garb. Its servants are selfless, public-spirited bureau crats and politicians whose only aim in life is to serve mankind in general and America in particular. They cite the widely used American Government by Mary Turner, Kenneth Switzer, and Charlotte Redden, who find Congress an “effective” branch of government whose hallmarks are diligence and sobriety.

In like manner Professors Bennett and DiLorenzo take on the green lobby in and out of the government, a lobby whose daily propaganda hammers out the message that the sky is falling, that ozone depletion, global warming, acid rain, overpopulation, toxic wastes, and the like will soon wipe out the human race apart from the spotted owl. They analyze some of the misstatements and misconceptions in reports like the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth and the Carter administration’s Global 2000. Employing some of the analysis of economist Julian Simon, the authors say the nightmarish projections of Global 2000, now only seven years away, do not bear the stamp of objective science but are instead “the prejudiced opinions or even the hunches of a small number of government employees.”

James Bennett and Thomas DiLorenzo deserve credit for cutting through the steady fog of misinformation and disinformation emanating from the nation’s capital. Their readers will profit from their lively book on official deception.

William H. Peterson, an adjunct scholar at the Heritage Foundation, holds the Lundy Chair of Business Philosophy at Campbell University, Buies Creek, North Carolina.

  • William H. Peterson (1921-2012) was an economist, businessman and author who wrote extensively on Austrian Economics. He completed his PhD at New York University in 1952 under the supervision of Ludwig von Mises.