On the Road to Serfdom: CNN Suggests Obama Should Bypass Congress on Economy, Rule by Executive Fiat

Yesterday CNN asked its viewers whether President Barack Obama should bypass Congress to enact his economic policies, using–and expanding–his executive powers to control vast swathes of our economic life.

Adopting Obama’s premise that our economic woes are all the fault of Republicans on Capitol Hill, agreeing with his view that more government intervention is necessary, and accepting his assurance that his new mortgage and student loan plans will actually work, CNN’s Carol Costello all but urged viewers to applaud Obama’s rule by decree:


What is clear? Unless Congress acts in a big way, the economy will continue to suffer. And Congress does not appear likely to do that. So President Obama is moving forward on his own. Monday, the home mortgage plan. Tomorrow a plan to help with student loans. The President’s intent: to show Americans he’s doing something, and of course to shame Congress into acting.

So the Talk Back question for you today: should the president bypass Congress if he thinks it will help the economy?

Note that Costello did not just ask viewers about specific policies that may or may not already be within Obama’s executive jurisdiction. She presented the general conclusion that the president should bypass Congress to “help” [sic] the economy–in the form of a question, to be sure, but with the answer already a foregone conclusion.

Predictably, three out of the four responses Costello later read supported the idea that Obama “should take whatever executive actions he can to get things happening for America,” that Obama should have “done this YEARS ago,” and that Obama “should definitely bypass Congress.”

Executive fiat is preferable, CNN has now suggested, to democratic deliberations that might limit the government’s or the president’s power over the economy. And it expects citizens to be able to “talk back” in such circumstances.

That is the dangerous fallacy that F.A. Hayek warned about in The Road to Serfdom (1944)–namely, the idea that we can increase the power of a central economic authority without losing our cherished political freedom.

In fact, Hayek warns, economic dictatorship leads directly to political dictatorship, whatever good intentions the advocates of central planning may have:

…[P]eople who abhor the idea of a political dictatorship often clamor for a dictator in the economic field….But, in consequence, the substitution of central planning for competition would require central direction of a much greater part of our lives than was ever attempted before. It could not stop at what we regard as our economic activities, because we are now for almost every part of our lives dependent on somebody else’s economic activities. The passion for the “collective satisfaction of our needs,” with which our socialists have so well prepared the way for totalitarianism, and which wants us to take our pleasures as well as our necessities at the appointed time and in the prescribed form, is, of course, partly intended as a means of political education. But it is also the result of the exigencies of planning, which consists essentially in depriving us of choice, in order to give us whatever fits best into the plan and that at a time determined by the plan.

It is often said that political freedom is meaningless without economic freedom. That is true enough, but in a sense almost opposite from that in which the phrase is used by our planners.

The mainstream media helped put America on the road to serfdom when they urged voters to choose the most radical president in our history, in spite of his thin, murky, and troubling political record. Now, three years into Obama’s economic failure, some journalists are encouraging the public to give him even more power.

The mainstream media is no longer a watchdog, but a lapdog. And it may soon learn that it is not immune to the consequential loss of freedom that it has urged upon others.

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