Home > Human Limits, Utopia > Realism about Capitalism from Donald Boudreaux

Realism about Capitalism from Donald Boudreaux

Over at Cafe Hayek, the inimitable Donald Boudreaux has a piece called “An Undeniable Asymmetry” that is well worth the time it takes to read.  Briefly, it touches on the non-linear nature of the political world, in that moving closer to statism may not create the horrors of North Korea, and moving closer to freedom may not create a harmonious and peaceful society.

This idea, that we do not and cannot know exactly what consequences lie ahead of incremental changes in policy, is a pet project of mine.  Anyone who attempts to sell the idea that they know what the future holds, even with regard to a single piece of legislation or policy, is either lying to you or stupid, or possibly both.

And therefore, it necessarily annoys me when advocates of the free market make promises that are impossible to keep.  Letting people do what they desire to do in a peaceful and non-coercive way will, I assert, absolutely make things better.  Will they make them perfect? Absolutely not.  And those who innocently advocate freedom as a solution to all of our societal ills are setting themselves (and me) up to fail.

And when statists see that freedom and free markets do not stop criminals completely in their tracks, do not resolve all negative externalities, do not stop certain people from losing their jobs or dying of disease, the statists point to these failures as failures of freedom, not as failures of our baser human natures.

This is why I particularly appreciate the realistic tone taken by Boudreaux in this piece:

But we must never lose sight of this important asymmetry: complete or near-complete state control of the economy has proven to be a sure recipe for deep impoverishment and brutal tyranny, while historical periods that have been close to laissez faire – that is, much closer to laissez faire than is America at the dawn of 2012 – have produced nothing remotely of the sort.  Indeed, whatever problems might be caused by more and more reliance upon laissez faire capitalism are always accompanied by – and are at least partially (and arguably more than completely) off-set by – unambiguous benefits of capitalism such as the elimination of starvation, more abundant supplies of clothing, and better housing.

Any problems promoted by greater and greater reliance upon capitalism, in short, are first-world problems (which isn’t to say that these problems should be tolerated); they are problems incomparably more tolerable than are the horrors promoted by the elimination of capitalism.

If you read the whole piece you will see that it frankly and honestly addresses the problems correlated with freedom and free markets, but it weighs them against the problems of statism.  It does not attempt to sell us a free lunch or naively take up a utopian cause.

Because those liberty-loving folk who expect freedom from government to wash all of our sins and indiscretions away are merely providing ammunition to other side when things turn less than perfect, as they always do.  Realistically, libertarians can offer the world more safety, more prosperity, more comfort.  No one can provide the whole thing.

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