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Reasons for Hope

In my most-recent column for AIER I share sage counsel from two old friends – José Piñera and Bob Tollison – about the role in society of ideas. A slice:

The second insightful person whose counsel gives me comfort is the late economist Robert Tollison, a long-ago colleague of mine at George Mason University. One day, Bob and I were having a water-cooler conversation with Pete Boettke, who was then a graduate student at GMU. Pete expressed doubt that the work of any one scholar, except for that of a few greats such as James Buchanan and Ludwig von Mises, will ever have any effect at improving the world.

In his soft South Carolina accent, Bob replied: “Pete, take heart. We’re all part of the equilibrium.”

This expression was Bob’s economist way of saying that each person’s contribution to the world’s stock of ideas affects the existing ideological balance. Seeing the effects of any individual’s work is typically difficult. But every contribution, no matter how small, tilts the “fork” of ideology in the desired direction of that work’s author. If Pete didn’t publish some article about the perils of socialism, or if, say, George Selgin didn’t deliver an insightful lecture on the danger of central banking, the world would be a bit more inclined toward socialism and central banking.

The individual effects in these, as in most, cases are too small to detect. But Bob wisely insisted that these effects are nevertheless real. The world would be a tiny bit less free and the economy faintly less productive without each of the many, mostly small, contributions to classical-liberal scholarship and to the sharing of liberal ideas with the public.

In short, even if the state of the world at the moment appears to be hopeless, it would be even worse without the efforts of the many stalwart champions of liberty — and it would be truly hopeless only if those stalwarts lose all hope and give up.

I, for one, will not give up.


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