Liberalism

by Don Boudreaux on November 15, 2011

in Civil Society, Complexity & Emergence, Hayek, Hubris and humility

Here’s a letter to the Wall Street Journal:

Ivan Hills says that “There is no place in the Democratic Party today for true (classical) liberals” (Letters, Nov. 15).  Sad, that – but largely true, given the original meaning, especially in Britain, of the term “liberal.”  Today’s “liberals” trust the monopoly state over the competitive market, and see in a vigorous, all-warmly-embracing state humankind’s best hope for achieving order and prosperity.  For them, expanding the power of government might not be sufficient to ensure harmony and widespread wealth, but it is certainly necessary.

Experience and reason recommended to liberalism’s founders the opposite view, namely, restraining the power of government might not be sufficient to ensure harmony and widespread wealth, but it is certainly necessary.

Read F.A. Hayek’s description of the politics of British liberals at their zenith in the mid-19th century and ask how much of this program today’s “liberals” endorse: “Their predominant free trade position was combined with a strong anti‑imperialist, anti-interventionist and anti‑militarist attitude and an aversion to a expansion of governmental powers; the increase of public expenditure was regarded by them as mainly due to undesirable interventions in overseas affairs.  Their opposition was directed chiefly against the expansion of the powers of central government, and most improvements were expected from autonomous efforts either of local government or of voluntary organizations.”*

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

* F.A. Hayek, “Liberalism” (1973).

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{ 66 comments }

John Lynch November 15, 2011 at 10:04 am

Unfortunately, there is also no place in the Republican Party today for true (classical) liberals. I have a hard time patting someone one the back for pointing out that the Democratic Party is deficient in this respect when they are only using it as an opportunity to boost another deficient political party.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 10:11 am

I disagree. Certainly, he’s not describing mainstream Republicans, but there is a place for classical liberals in the deficient political party.

Ryan Vann November 15, 2011 at 10:26 am

And that place is in the corner.

John Muir November 15, 2011 at 10:31 am

No, the corner is where the big-government advocates of both parties should be — for their overly controlling behavior, smug arrogance at thinking that they can solve the world’s problems with enough power and other people’s money, and sheer stupidity for their destructive economic policies. They should all be wearing “dunce” caps.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 10:52 am

Yes, it is. But the corner is not that small and, unlike in the Democrat party, there is one.

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm

“ould we have the worst federal assault on individuality-Obamacare-if McCain had won?”

Probably. Republican Romney did it in Mass, and McCain gets randy at the very thought of teaming up with the most venal socialists he can find to embroider his name on a big government boot upon the neck of liberty. The ONLY benefit, is that the government would’ve been split between the parties, thereby MAYBE preventing a villains’ agreement.

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Sorry, meant as a reply to GAAP.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 15, 2011 at 11:24 am

And therein lies the conundrum with third parties. While the Republicans are terribly flawed, and to often acquiese or engage in statism, at least once in a great while, they do the right thing, or don’t do the wrong thing to the same degree. Whereas the party of the jackass is full-throated statism. W

ould we have the worst federal assault on individuality-Obamacare-if McCain had won? Doubtful. Many other noxious federal initiatives, such as a renewed call for the resistance suppression gleefully called “campaign finance reform”? You bet ol’ Johny would be pushin’ that Kool-Aid, just not the ne plus ultra of federal economic totalitarian feudalism-and where our best hope of repeal lies with a Supreme Court, not a reasurring prospect.

What people forget is ideology is trumped by structured incentives everytime. The D’s have been busily erecting a fiscal feudalism for decades and their constituencies are Stockholm Syndrome afflicted captives, thinking they are loyal, not subservient. They have carefully construct narratives and structures to ensure fealty.

The third party is the Linux of politics. Its adherents are as intense as they are dense, constantly believing in a future where people suddenly discover its virtues, ignoring the fact that the reason it isn’t afflicted with all the pathologies of the dominant platforms is that it’s too insignificant to be a target and its insignificant because there are inherent defects.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of inertia in the polity, and before course is reversed (if it can be), it must be slowed and then stopped before reversal can begin.

If Classical liberalism can’t infuse its principles into the Republican party, it has no chance of being anything other than the dominant voice of this and similar forums. Remember, Free markets offer diffuse, imperceptible general benefits to all of society. The state offers very conspicuous cash money to individuals. Guess who wins?

BZ November 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Amen. At the 2008 Texas Republican Convention, I listened to Mike Huckabee tell folksy stories about the glories of the welfare state, and the importance of our big compassionate government. I then listened to a room full of Texas Republicans applaud. The general theme of the convention was War. It was all downhill from there.

Our place may have been in the corner, but it wasn’t the corner of any room above the basement.

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 1:16 pm

When Ron Paul made the choice between Dem and Rep, why did he choose Rep? Was it simply a coin toss?

That’s the most I’ll say in favor of those goddamned Republicans. The Democrat Party, however, lacking even a trivial redeemable quality, doesn’t even enter into consideration. It is nothing more than a dumping ground for the worst and dumbest, a cabal of villains, a pirate band of the most ignoble sort.

El Diablo November 15, 2011 at 8:37 pm

No, VV. Don’t hold back. Tell us how you really feel.

vikingvista November 16, 2011 at 12:02 am

“Tell us how you really feel.”

I can’t. I don’t want to sound angry.

El Diablo November 16, 2011 at 12:23 am

I don’t want to sound angry.

You failed.

vikingvista November 16, 2011 at 3:03 pm

I also failed to sound sarcastic, apparently.

kyle8 November 15, 2011 at 3:06 pm

We have a horrible system, to be sure, but I find that the blanket condemnation of the republican party to be unfair. There is a strong and growing movement for fiscal conservatism. and there is a smaller but still growing libertarian movement within that party.

There is no such thing whatsoever within the Democrat party. They have become totally statist.

Greg G November 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm

“Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

– Dick Cheney

Greg Webb November 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Obama proved that Dick Cheney was wrong about deficits.

Greg G November 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Did Bush not prove it for you before that?

Greg Webb November 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm

He did. But, that is now ancient history. And, considering Obama’s huge increase in unnecessary government spending and equally huge increase in the amount of the deficit, what Bush did, though wrong then as now, seems like small potatoes.

Greg Webb November 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Greg G, you might want to catch up with the times. Bush is not running for re-election. Now, let me see where you agree that you will vote against Obama in his re-election attempt.

Greg G November 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm

I’ll have to see who his opponent is. I’m hoping it will be someone who knows which countries have nuclear weapons and which departments they want to eliminate.

Greg Webb November 17, 2011 at 4:07 pm

LOL! Weaseling again. You will vote for Obama despite his not knowing economics, foreign policy, law, the Constitution, or even how many States are in the United States.

JBaldwin November 15, 2011 at 10:30 am

Thanks for the Hayek link.

Ryan Vann November 15, 2011 at 10:35 am

Indeed, and that place is in the corner.

Ryan Vann November 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

Sorry for the double post.

Will November 15, 2011 at 10:46 am

The general public is out of touch with history and it is scary. Don points out a great example with the term “liberal.” Another great example is “Republican” and “Democrat.” How many times are “Republicans” claimed to be racist. I wonder how many people who believe that know that the Republican Party was formed largely based on opposition to Slavery, that Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican President, and that Democrats supported slavery.

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Not to mention that, up until the 1960′s, the South was solidly Democratic.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 12:19 pm

What do you mean “up until the 1960′s”? All of the governors committed to upholding Jim Crow laws in the early 1960′s were Democrats. The Dixiecrats were committed to segregation.

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 12:22 pm

When the Civil Rights Act was passed under LBJ, the heads of the Democratic party told him, if he passed that law, the Democratic party would abandon him and the South would become solidly Republican.

Seeing as I cannot remember when in the 60′s the bill was passed, I hedged my bet and just said the ’60′s.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 12:53 pm

1964.

Will November 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

And in a lot of States, the Republicans have only recently (that is in the last 20 years) begun to be elected to state wide offices.

Invisible Backhand November 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Parties change over time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_strategy

Neoliberals chanted the mantra that everyone would benefit if the public sector were privatised, businesses deregulated and market mechanisms allowed to distribute wealth. But as economist David Harvey argues, from the beginning it was a doctrine that primarily benefited the wealthy, its adoption allowing the top one per cent in any neoliberal society to capture a disproportionate share of whatever wealth was generated.

Invisible Backhand November 15, 2011 at 2:31 pm

economist David Harvey

NOT! David Harvey is a Marxist, not an economist. There is a difference.

Ubiquitous November 15, 2011 at 9:47 pm

David Harvey is a Marxist, not an economist

True. Moreover, David Harvey advertises himself as a “Marxist geographer.”

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises November 15, 2011 at 2:46 pm

that was before all the Southern Demos, lead by Strom, became republicans, who are now the party of racists, followed by Tricky Dick—the rest is history

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 2:49 pm

Is still prefer them to Democraps, the party of idiots and racists.

kyle8 November 15, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Leave it to you to repeat that lie.

I grew up in the south during that period of time. The number of democrats who actually became republicans is extremely small.

All my old racist uncles were yellow dogs, they would never have changed to the republican party for any reason.

Four things actually happened. (1) most of the old Democrats died out. (2) the younger people like myself became republicans or independents in big numbers During the Reagan years as we responded to the political changes going on, especially in fiscal matters.
(3) A lot of people, many of them republicans, fled the rustbelt states and moved to the more dynamic south.
(4) A lot of previously apolitical religious people joined the republican party over the abortion issue.

What you regurgitated was the lie that the democrats tell to paint their opponents in the worse light. The democrats were always racist and are still racist. They still use race baiting in their politics, they still divide us by race. They still treat people differently by race.

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 3:37 pm

I’ve lived for a time in the Deep South, having grown up in the North. Having come to know a great many drawl-afflicted folks, some of the most congenial and generous people I have ever known, I can only say that the blanket accusations of Southern racism from some Northerners is both ignorant, and itself bigoted.

Rather than attacking the more independent Southern spirit, which is what Northern socialists *really* despise, they choose to instead marginalize the South by perpetuating a disgraceful myth.

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 3:42 pm

“Rather than attacking the more independent Southern spirit, which is what Northern socialists *really* despise, they choose to instead marginalize the South by perpetuating a disgraceful myth.”

That’s the American way, is it not? You don’t like someone, or disagree with them, they’re racists.

“You didn’t vote for Obama. You must be a racist.”
“You don’t support the Civil Rights Act. You must be a racist.”
“You don’t support government welfare. You must be a racist.”
“You have no minorities at your company. You must be a racist.”

I despise a man who uses race as an excuse to demonize his opponents.

Greg Webb November 15, 2011 at 3:48 pm

Calling someone a racist is the last resort of the intellectually deficient.

SmoledMan November 15, 2011 at 3:35 pm

Actually I think the general public is more in touch with history now then ever before. With the internet, Wikipedia, online history courses how could it not be? Name me a time in the past where the general public was more informed.

Will November 15, 2011 at 4:56 pm

I agree that knowledge and information is more readily available, but that does not me the general public is taking the opportunity to learn it. I suspect there is a larger portion of the population today than there was fifty years ago that do not even know who the vice president is or tell you when the Declaration of Independence was signed.

SmoledMan November 15, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Trivia does not equal knowledge and wisdom. I bet you 50 years ago more people though we were a democracy rather then a republic. Now if someone says something stupid, you can instantly refute them via the power of internet. Back then you had to take it silently.

Will November 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

Based on my experience, I suspect the majority of average Americans would not know even no what a Republic is. However, you are right, they at least know how to pull out their iphones and google it to give me the correct answer although I would argue that is not wisdom or knowledge.

BZ November 15, 2011 at 5:24 pm

March 2, 1836

Invisible Backhand November 15, 2011 at 10:55 am

Today’s “liberals” trust the monopoly state over the competitive market…

“Seeing market failure on such a grand scale as Wall Street erodes trust in the market.” — Invisible Backhand

“utopian libertarianism nearly always gives way to the needs and desires of the business class” — Thomas Harvey

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 15, 2011 at 11:35 am

Jackass! There was no “market failure” on “Wall Street”, there was “market disruption” from K Street.

What free market is there in Finance? We have the SEC, PCAOB, CFTC, FDIC, Comptroller of the Currency, Fed, Fannie, Freddie, just to name a few. Not only did the Securities ACt of 1933 not stop various “crises”, FDICIA (1991) and SOX (2002) and hundreds of other laws and agencies didn’t either.

And now we find out that the SEC, that spent time prosecuting Martha Stewart and allowed Bernie Madoff to continue defrauding people (of course since a lot of greedy leftists lost oodles, he can’t be all bad) not only won’t but CAN’T prosecute “insider trading”, so long as said trader is in Congress.

If obstinate stupidity was a crime, you’d be in chair awaiting an injection.

Invisible Backhand November 15, 2011 at 11:41 am

He can’t help himself, G. We are off our meds again and awaiting Dr. Muirgeo in our basement.

Andrew_M_Garland November 15, 2011 at 3:41 pm

To IB (black),

Why are you using the same name as IB (blue)?

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Multiple personalities. Blue is the evil side and Black is the apologetic side

Invisible Backhand November 15, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Andrew, it is my name. My other personality stole it.

Why are you calling me black? Are you a racist?

Invisible Backhand November 16, 2011 at 11:40 am

Regards, Ken couldn’t stand being himself any more and had a psychotic break.

Nikolai Luzhin, Eastern Promises November 15, 2011 at 2:47 pm

not catching crooks is not market failure

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 12:12 pm

It’s funny how people often see market perversion as market failure.

I guess that’s the whole Seen & Unseen thing again.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 12:13 pm

It’s more of an idiot thing.

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I wouldn’t quite say that. Many common people see the same thing. I wouldn’t classify most of the people at OWS as idiots (other things yes, but not necessarily idiots). I think, in addition to bringing back Latin, we should teach economics at the high school level.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Sorry, Jon. It is idiotic to seek to pass judgement on something you know nothing about. These people define “market failure” as “bad outcome”. They don’t give a damn why the outcome was bad. They just want an assured good outcome – defined as freebies for them. That’s idiotic. I have yet to hear a well reasoned argument from the OWS lot. If you have one, pass it on.

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Well, Methinks, in my latest saunter around Occupy Boston, I cam across a female who made a lot of sense. She was calling for the complete divorce of the government from the private sector (elimination of regulations and the such) could we achieve better equality. By removing government controlled monopolies and the barriers to entry in the market, she argued, it would level the playing field. She did have something of a crowd around her (of course, many more jeers).

They ain’t all bad down there. Just…misguided.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Right. There’s one of those for every 100 who can’t work out how to use toilet paper.

SaulOhio November 15, 2011 at 1:59 pm

When you can list a vast number of government interventions in the financial markets, quote numbers in the hundreds of billions, even trillions that the government directed or injected into the system, and explain the economic theories which say that those government actions will cause the problem in question, and yet they insist on blaming it on the free market, what can you conclude, except that they are stupid, lying, biased, or downright insane?

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Yep. They see a man jump off a four story building, and they proclaim it a failure of free will. They don’t really care to know about the unseen other guy on the rooftop pointing a gun at him and ordering him to jump.

Methinks1776 November 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm

Yep. It’s more a matter of willful ignorance.

Jon, you can teach anything you want in high school. There’s only one problem. The teachers in the teachers union aren’t fit to teach economics and the students don’t necessarily learn what’s taught. Ever teach high school (i.e,, turned from illustrating a problem on a the chalkboard to face a sea of glazed eyes staring into space)?

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 12:54 pm

“turned from illustrating a problem on a the chalkboard to face a sea of glazed eyes staring into space”

The school-as-concentration-camp model does something to them. Before kids enter into it, their little sponge minds never turn off, and the incessant asking of questions is usually more than an adult stamina can handle. After a few years in the penal system, and they most aspire to the back row seat with the best view of either the clock, or the window.

Jon Murphy November 15, 2011 at 2:02 pm

“Ever teach high school (i.e,, turned from illustrating a problem on a the chalkboard to face a sea of glazed eyes staring into space)?”

I must admit I have not. My experience with teaching is limited to tutoring economics.

vikingvista November 15, 2011 at 12:17 pm

“Their opposition was directed chiefly against the expansion of the powers of central government, and most improvements were expected from autonomous efforts either of local government or of voluntary organizations.”

That’s before it was proven scientifically that the way of the gun is much more efficient at producing the outcomes…that the gun holders like.

John F November 16, 2011 at 8:24 am

Thanks for the info about 19th century liberals. So, it wasn’t England’s coal that was the primary cause of the Industrial Revolution or that they had an abnormally high incidence of “births of innovators”? It was a cultural thing including incentives for the innovators to exploit the available resources.

Just like the trends in today’s U.S., as evidenced with the “occupy whatever with unbridled envy movements.” Why are corporations sitting on so much cash? What is regime uncertainty?

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