Thursday, July 2, 2009

Until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable

"I've been meaning to read this one," the clerk at the bookstore says when I buy Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom. That's unexpected. It feels like a secret handshake. Perhaps we're both members of the underground society of people who find that the classics of the libertarian tradition are relevant, not as infallible guides but as a source of ideas, a default to make carefully justified exceptions from. "Everything should be free, except.."

Some of the arguments in this 1962 book feel contemporary, such as when Friedman discusses the pros and cons of voucher-based education, or the side effects of license-based occupations. Others do not, such as when he argues against anti-discrimination laws from a purely economic standpoint. The achilles heel of much libertarian philosophy is that a policy may be economically inefficient, but still worth doing for other reasons.

What I admire here is the search for policies that are more compatible with freedom, and work as well as or better than policies that rely on compulsion. That search should be kept alive.

Personally I find Hayek more relevant today than Friedman. Friedman is an economist, Hayek a philosopher, whose ideas about information and complexity in an economic system are subtler than Friedman's practically oriented "the market could do this better"-arguments.

Still, anyone who wants to be politically relevant today must be familiar with both these and other thinkers of the liberal and libertarian traditions. (At the very least it may help you to avoid embarassing strawman mistakes.)



At 03 July, 2009 09:34 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kommentarene dine på (hans artikkel om kapitalismen) er eksempel til etterfølgelse mht debatt på nett.

De var saklige og velskrevne og uten den ironien og sarkasmen som så lett blir en del av debatten på nett. Håper du fortsetter i samme spor.

Det hjalp selvsagt at jeg var enig i kommentarene dine...

At 03 July, 2009 09:53 , Blogger Bjørn Stærk said...


"Det hjalp selvsagt at jeg var enig i kommentarene dine..."

Det hjelper ofte. ;)

At 07 July, 2009 17:00 , Blogger Sigve Indregard said...

For what it's worth, I'm still not embarassed, and I still believe my antagonist Bergesen actually lives (despite your efforts to render him a strawman). But I definitely see your point: I am however inclined and in my right to discuss ideology as such, even though noone has held the actual position of said ideology.

And I have read Capitalism and Freedom, so I guess I'm a living falsification of your last selling point.

At 07 July, 2009 19:16 , Blogger Bjørn Stærk said...

"And I have read Capitalism and Freedom, so I guess I'm a living falsification of your last selling point."

Then why did you not recognize that the arguments people on the right use for getting the state involved in the environment, which you held as proof that they had no principles left and might as well become communists, are essentially the same as the neigbourhood effect argument Friedman made 50 years ago?

That's what I meant when I said you have misunderstood the ideology you're criticizing.


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