Book: Getting It Right: Markets and Choices, by Robert Barro—Mises Review

“As Barro points out, the United States has tended to react with suspicion toward secessionist movements: “if the U.S. government had supported the right of secession in some other parts of the world, such as the Soviet Union, then it would have indirectly challenged the basic premise of the Civil War. Why was it desirable for Soviet republics to have the right to secession and undesirable for U.S. states to have the same rights” (p. 27)? Surely Barro knows that the sanctity of the Union cause is a given. How can he dare to challenge it? Against the conventional wisdom, Barro adduces some simple facts. “The U.S. Civil War, by far the most costly conflict ever for the United States … , caused over 600,000 military fatalities and an unknown number of civilian deaths, and it severely damaged the southern economy. Per capita income went from about 80 percent of the northern level before the war…to about 40 percent after the war. … It took more than a century after the war’s end in 1865 for southern per capita income to reattain 80 percent of the northern level. … Instead of being the greatest of American presidents, as many people believe, Abraham Lincoln may instead have presided over the largest error in American history” (pp. 26 27).”  David Gordon