As classical liberals, we cannot hide our dismay with contemporary politics. On the Right, the fusionist coalition that once offered old-fashioned liberals a voice within the GOP is falling apart. On the Left, Democrats treat as enemies of the state anybody who dares dissent from extreme progressivism. Now, even elements of the Libertarian Party are turning against classical liberalism, preferring outrage-stoking and noxious racialism to a principled defense of human freedom.
Federalism, free markets, and even the Constitution have few defenders in the public square. While we don’t expect sweetness and light from partisan contests, surely it’s reasonable to demand the political process respect quintessentially American beliefs. Turning away from liberalism means leaving behind part of what makes us who we are. Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians have forgotten the difference between policy disagreements and civic loyalty.
There’s little room for our economic ideas in the Democratic Party. They’ve opposed free enterprise since the New Deal, if not earlier. But another, more recent illiberal turn is far more alarming: Democrats have turned their back on basic values such as free speech, toleration of dissent, and open scientific inquiry. Instead, they prefer totalizing wokeness, seasoned heavily with authoritarianism. Left-illiberalism infuses every aspect of life with “social justice” activism, from the ESG investment schemes of Wall Street to the monetary policy priorities of the Federal Reserve to the kinds of cars and appliances permissible to purchase. If Democrats get their way, everything social and cultural will necessarily become political. There’s no room for liberalism here.
Conservatives once paid lip service to freedom of contract, voluntary exchange, free trade, and fiscal discipline. Alas, those days are gone. Under the misleading cover of pursuing America’s “national interest,” their policies single out politically connected industries as recipients of public largesse. Some are even heralding the revival of Henry Clay’s “American System” — a discredited platform of trade protectionism and subsidized infrastructure from the 19th century. These policies invariably devolve into political cronyism, as happened in the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930, which triggered an international collapse in commerce and helped put the “Great” in the “Great Depression.” As history shows, right-wing illiberalism is dangerous, too.
At a time when the American economy could use more people, restrictions on immigration continue to trap a lot of unused talent in low-productivity countries. To unleash it, the United States could simply let these immigrants in and let them work. They’d become a productive part of the system that makes this country so wealthy. But politicians are getting in the way.
Forget for a moment about the usual fear-based talking points. Ignore the recent use of immigrants as political props. As George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan said on PBS, “if you don’t know anything about economics, just learn this: the secret to mass consumption is mass production. Countries that produce a lot of stuff have a high living standard. Countries that produce a small amount of stuff have a low living standard. That is why people want to live in rich countries, because production per person is high in rich countries.”
Those persons who are convinced that Beijing’s industrial policy has China’s economy on track to overtake America’s economy (whatever such an overtaking is taken to mean) might revise their opinion after reading this short piece by Derek Scissors.
It’s easy to believe that life on Earth is getting ever-worse. The media highlight one catastrophe after another and make terrifying predictions. With a torrent of doom and gloom about climate change and the environment, it’s understandable why many people — especially the young — genuinely believe the world is about to end.
The fact is that while problems remain, the world is in fact getting better. We just rarely hear it.
We areincessantly told about disasters, whether it is the latest heatwave, flood, wildfire or storm. Yet the data overwhelmingly shows that over the past century, people have become much, much safer from all these weather events. Indeed, in the 1920s, around half a million people were killed by weather disasters, whereas in the last decade the death-toll averaged around 18,000. This year, just like 2020 and 2021, is tracking below that. Why? Because when people get richer, they get more resilient.
I would argue that such a concentration of studies could be useful even at the graduate level. Take for instance the Adam Smith Fellowship program offered by the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in partnership with Liberty Fund. They bring together a selected group of graduate students from different universities for a year-long program in which the teachings of Austrian Economics, the Virginia school of Economics, and the Bloomington school are combined. Think about that as a conversation between Frederick Hayek, James Buchanan, and Elinor Ostrom, along with their respective colleagues.
The integration of concepts about the nature of the market process (as Austrian Economics can provide), with concepts about the logic of collective action (as Public Choice theory can provide), and the insights about poly-centric orders (as the Bloomington school can) certainly will help students understand and apply the economic way of thinking in ways that narrow neoclassical theory would never do alone. Neoclassical economics is a much poorer guide to understanding social reality than the one you can gain with a grasp of the political theory behind Public Choice, or of the relations between the different institutional settings and the psychology explaining the behavior of the economic agents under those different set of rules.
Paraphrasing Hayek: “an economist that is only an economist is not only a nuisance, he may become dangerous.”