Hey, I wanted to say one last thing on the topic because I've enjoyed this discussion with you (but my time is fairly limited because of work and thoughtful entries are time consuming).
I think there are interesting points to be made with regard to the differences between the actions made by an individual vs as part of a group or corporation. The law does to an extent protect individual property from the other members of a group (and the obligations the group makes), but I think that's really just contract enforcement...you don't really need any additional laws to create these sorts of protection. When I join a corporation (sign on to be part of the group), I don't automatically put my personal assets at stake, and when I sign contracts as part of a corporation, I'm taking different risks than when I'm doing it as an individual.
As far as speech goes, I do feel that individuals and corporations should be able to say whatever they please, provided they don't break any other laws while doing so (corporations and individuals shouldn't commit fraud or threaten others, etc). If this means that corporations can rally support for a candidate, I'm not really sure how you could prevent that. Even if you had campaign finance laws, there are other ways corporations (or the individuals who are part of them) could support the candidates that allow them to benefit at the expense of others.
The other part of what you said involving the various governments and their successes is a more involved conversation, but very interesting. I have not studied much Chinese, Japanese, or Korean history so I don't know the various factors that led to the growth in their economies. I have heard it said though that over the past 20 years or so, the Chinese have loosen a lot of the restrictions on the market over there and that the loosening of those restrictions have contributed to the incredible growth China has experienced. Though the Chinese government is communist in ideology, their market is surprisingly free (despite incredible social regulation).
US History I know quite a bit more about. As far as the depression goes, I (and many others) really doubt how much the depression was a result of a bad American economy as opposed to an inevitable consequence of new regulation on an economy that thrived off being unregulated. For example, the formation of the Federal Reserve occurred in 1913, as a response to the panic of 1907. The problem was that there was a fear of bank runs in this country at the time, and the nervousness was that banks could be spread potentially too thin to survive a severe run. At the time, the way this problem was handled was through a system of checks among the banks themselves...the larger banks would keep reserve money on hand that they could use in times of crisis, and indeed, during some of the panics in the early 1900s, the bigger banks tended to purchase the smaller banks and prevent them from going under and defaulting.
The Federal Reserve's role at the time was to become a centralized way of protecting banks. The Fed would loan the money to banks in need so that the larger banks wouldn't need to keep money on hand for this purpose. So, instead of keeping that reserve capital, a lot of the larger banks invested that money because the Fed stepped into that role.
Fast forward to 1929, and fears that Britain was planning to switch off the gold standard caused some ripples in our economy as people worried that our government would take economic action to protect Britain from the fallout of such a move. Though I don't remember all the details, I believe these fears led to the initial panics on the banks. In previous crises, when banks were run, the bigger banks stepped in, but with the Federal Reserve in place, the bigger banks just hung back (and didn't really have the funds to do anything away). Now, from what I've read, the Federal Reserve simply didn't act fast enough (and the degree to which it was legally allowed to intervene was also not really established) and so, a lot of the smaller banks went under without sufficient support from either the larger banks or the Fed. This led to the cascading disaster of bank runs on larger and larger banks that the Federal Reserve was created to prevent in first place!
Now, all this is to say that the initial causes of the 1929 Panic were a result of largely untested new system put in place by the government that failed to deal with the problems it was created to deal with in the first place. The depression that resulted I personally think was far more severe than it should have been precisely because of all the steps taken by FDR and others to fix the problem. Ultimately, the depression probably would have been just a short period of turmoil and adjustment as money shifted hands and the banks renegotiated its debts and reestablished themselves on firmer ground. Instead, the entire nature of our economy completely changed with FDR's New Deal.
Anyway, there's plenty to be said about these topics, but I just wanted to give some of the information and thoughts I had on the topic. There are important questions worth thinking about with regard the role regulation and intervention has played in the history of this country and others. From what I've read myself, the extent to which we've regulated is tied with the extent to which we've hurt our economy while the degree to which a market is allowed to be free has largely been correlated with the degree to which that market flourishes. That's not to say I endorse anarchy...there is a proper role of government in terms of defense, security, criminal justice, and contract enforcement. But the government needs to keep its hands off the economy...and this would go a long way to ending the corruption and back door deals that exist in Washington today.