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Afraid to be Free II

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I blogged recently [2] on a new paper by James Buchanan, entitled "Afraid to be Free."

Here’s economic-historian Robert Higgs [3] making a similar point in a talk he delivered at a regional meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society [4] last year in Chattanooga.

Laissez faire is unrealizable, too. Not because it could not “deliver the goods.” Indeed, it could deliver them in undreamt-of abundance if it were allowed to operate. But no population anywhere will allow it to operate. In today’s world, no substantial group of people is prepared to accept the personal responsibilities and to shoulder the personal risks inherent in genuine capitalism—which is, after all, as Joseph Schumpeter emphasized, a system of creative destruction. Certainly throughout the economically advanced world, people have come to demand that governments relieve them of nearly every personal responsibility, from caring for their own health to preparing for retirement to teaching their children about sex. In more ways than anyone can count, people now expect the government to take care of them, in the classic phrase, from the cradle to the grave. Thus, in the European Union, whose peoples exemplify this syndrome at its worst, “the European social-welfare system is thriving despite a decadelong call for change,” even as “a report from the European Commission shows Europe faces a looming crisis unless it enacts changes” (Grow 2003). Personal responsibility has become too painful for the citizens of the economically advanced countries even to contemplate. Locked in this ideology of dependency on and belief in the capacity and rectitude of state provision, they have no interest in living in a free society. (It goes without saying that a government cannot provide even a semblance of the demanded personal security unless it regulates and controls the people in countless ways and taxes them heavily to pay for its many “services.“) Thus, the dominant ideology of modern populations has rendered them uninterested in and incapable of living in a full-fledged market system, and by their participation in modern democratic political processes, they can make sure that no such system ever comes close to realization.

A great irony is that life actually is far less precarious, threatened — risky — under capitalism than under any other feasible system.

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