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Think of the potential for corporatist rent-seeking.
There’s more. The power to pay direct subsidies (after consultation) is delegated to agency heads to “ensure the supply of raw or nonprocessed materials from high cost sources, or to ensure maximum production or supply in any area at stable prices of any materials in light of a temporary increase in transportation cost.”
The agencies are also authorized to “procure and install additional equipment, facilities, processes, or improvements to plants, factories, and other industrial facilities owned by the Federal Government and to procure and install Government owned equipment in plants, factories, or other industrial facilities owned by private persons” (emphasis added). Further, they are empowered to “provide for the modification or expansion of privately owned facilities” (emphasis added).
In the section on personnel we learn that the secretary of labor shall “collect and maintain data necessary to make a continuing appraisal of the Nation’s workforce needs for purposes of national defense” and upon request by the Director of Selective Service, and in coordination with the Secretary of Defense, assist the Director of Selective Service in development of policies regulating the induction and deferment of persons for duty in the armed services.”
Maybe the government is making a first claim on all labor after all. Selective Service of course is the government agency that would oversee a military draft. We haven’t had a draft since the 1970s, but 18-year-olds are still required to register for it. So along with the commandeering of private resources in the event a president declares an emergency, there will be the commandeering of military (and other?) labor–slavery by another name. (Here you’ll find the old FEE pamphlet “The Conscription Idea” by Dean Russell.)
Advocates of the freedom philosophy have a dual concern: that the executive has virtually unchecked authority to declare an emergency and that in an emergency the private economy would be commandeered by government officers. The Executive Order is a breathtaking reminder that, as Higgs put it, “private control of economic life in the United States, to the extent that it survives, exists solely at the president’s pleasure and sufferance.”
Sheldon Richman is editor of The Freeman, where this article originally appeared.