Journal of Law and Political Economy
J.L. & Pol. Econ.
This essay investigates and ultimately rejects the claim that the United States’ comparatively heavily reliance on markets over government to provide the resources that families need is a natural outgrowth of the country’s longstanding veneration of capitalism. In tracing the nation’s economic ideology over time, it demonstrates that, at least until the end of the twentieth century, the constant in US history has not been the expectation of a free-market economy, but rather a commitment to ensuring that the economy, however structured, will enable families to thrive. The dramatic recent shift in economic ideology, when the prevailing commitment to government regulation was superseded by a commitment to free markets, this essay shows, was neither inevitable nor the spontaneous evolution of longstanding free-market ideology. To the contrary, that shift was grounded on the empirically unfounded claim that government support undermined the wellbeing of families. That claim was at least in part developed and popularized by a network of institutions funded by wealthy libertarians seeking to promote an anti-government agenda, and which used racist tropes to increase the resonance of its anti-government message.