American politics has long had a populist strain that rises and falls like the tide. The current populist tide is still high, influencing both major political parties and their prospective candidates for office.

But for all this, populism is no friend to free markets or individual liberty. As Steven Greenhut writes, populism’s long-understood problems make it all the more puzzling to see the ideology embraced among self-styled conservatives.

Consider the backlash against social media companies, which the new populists/statists want big government control:

Conservatives have come a long way and often dominate the rankings on those social-media sites they seem to abhor. They’re willing to risk going backwards by letting the federal government take control over freewheeling private social-media platforms or even re-impose the Fairness Doctrine. They ought to be more appreciative of how far they have come before asking the government to fix things.

“Every year, Facebook, Google and other technology companies receive hundreds of thousands of orders from law enforcement agencies seeking data people stash online,” according to a recent investigation by the Washington Post. “Often, those requests are accompanied by secrecy orders … that require the tech companies to keep their customers in the dark, potentially for years.”

The tech firms are trying to keep government agencies “from secretly snooping on private accounts.” Do you think such abuses will get better or worse if the feds gain control over these networks?

The greatest threat to liberty isn’t a tech company that must compete for business in the global marketplace. It’s always been government regulating speech, intervening in markets, picking winners and losers, and more. Populists, of all stripes, forget that giving government more power only ensures government will find creative ways to use it. Against anyone.