Henry Clark reviews George Smith’s splendid 2013 book, The System of Liberty. A slice from the review:
In stark contrast to those critics of globalization who find rampantly triumphant “neo-liberalism” to be the scourge of the modern world, George Smith believes that liberalism has failed, and concludes his book by reprising the early twentieth-century debate involving Hayek, Mises, and others over why it has done so. His story is tragic because nothing, it would appear, could have prevented it: unlike socialism and nationalism, which appeal to the emotions, liberalism depends upon abstract concepts that can only be grasped by reason. Thus, it has always had “an ethereal quality to it,” he writes. “This was the nature of the beast.” (215)
Another factor is that a true modern defense of liberty requires interdisciplinary perspectives of the sort that Hume and Smith elaborated. With the hyper-specialization in academe that has emerged since the nineteenth century, that breadth of perspective is more difficult to develop in academe; one may extrapolate that it therefore falls to extra-academic organizations to foster the capacious vision necessary for the true promise of liberty to be realized. (216)
But my main objection to a guaranteed minimum income is rooted in the wisdom of public choice: The poor structure of government incentives ensures that good intentions and elegant theories rarely equal expected results in public policy. The biggest risk in implementing a guaranteed income is that it won’t completely-or even partly-replace existing welfare programs, but instead simply add a new layer of spending on top of the old. Friedman learned this the hard way: After years of promoting the NIT [negative income tax], he wound up opposing Richard Nixon’s NIT-inspired Family Assistance Plan precisely because it would not displace the preexisting welfare state.