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The Prosecution of Tariq Aziz

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U.S. officials might want to think twice before imposing price controls ever again in the United States, given what Iraqi officials are doing to Tariq Aziz, who served as deputy prime minister in the Saddam Hussein regime.

Iraqi officials are prosecuting Aziz for enforcing government-imposed price controls against Iraqi merchants during the time of the brutal sanctions that U.S. and UN officials were enforcing against Iraq during the 1990s. The Iraqi merchants who were caught violating the Iraqi price control law were given the death penalty and executed. Today, Iraqi officials are seeking the death penalty against Aziz for having participated in the enforcement of the Iraqi price controls.

Price controls are a favorite way for government officials to mislead their citizenry as to the causes of rising prices. When government officials wish to spend lots of money, either for domestic welfare or overseas adventures, they have three ways to do so: taxation, borrowing, or printing the money.

As the American people are now painfully discovering, government officials inevitably turn to borrowing and printing rather than taxation to finance their profligacy. The reason for this is that people tend to get angry when their taxes are raised. The advantage of borrowing and printing the money is that government officials can plunder and loot the citizenry secretly and surreptitiously.

Here’s how the process works.

To pay off its ever-increasing debts and expenses, government officials simply print the money. Due to the increased supply of paper money, the value of the money goes down. That drop in value is reflected by rising prices of things like food, gasoline, education, and other regular expenses. Those rising prices are simply reflecting that it takes more paper money to buy such items, due to the government’s debasement of the currency.

But most people have no idea why prices are rising. They think it’s all the fault of greedy businessmen, speculators, profiteers, big oil, and capitalists. The last thing they would suspect is that the federal government is behind the entire scam, especially during time of “war,” when the federal government is considered sacrosanct.

Inevitably, there are calls for price controls, which entail the enactment of laws that prohibit sellers from raising prices. Harsh criminal penalties are placed on violators. This is, in fact, what the Richard Nixon administration did during the 1970s. It is also what the Saddam Hussein regime did during the 1990s. From the standpoint of Nixon and Saddam, the advantage of price controls was that they make people think that the cause of rising prices are the businessmen rather than the government itself. The masses celebrate the government’s prosecution of the merchants, never suspecting that the real criminals are the government officials who are debasing the currency and enacting and enforcing the price controls.

Today, former Iraqi official Tariq Aziz is being put on trial by a new Iraqi regime for having played a role in the enforcement of price controls in Iraq. The crime with which he is being charged is “crimes against humanity.” The Aziz prosecution should serve as a valuable warning to U.S. officials: Beware enacting price controls as a way to disguise what you have done and are doing to the U.S. dollar to pay for your out-of-control federal spending.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.