Toward A Free Society
This is part one of a seven part series, with a new post each day. Each post will be linked to the preceding post. The essay in its entirety can be found on the “Page” titled “Politics and Social Philosophy.”
Some years ago, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Empire, I was a speaker at a conference of company CEOs and presidents in Acapulco, Mexico. Another of the speakers was Gennady Gerasimov, who you may remember was Gorbachev’s spokesperson to the West. I went to hear his talk, which he opened with a joke. And the joke went like this: The Soviet Union has invaded and successfully conquered every country on the planet, with one exception: New Zealand. The Soviet Union has chosen not to invade New Zealand. Question: Why? Answer: So it would know the market price of goods. And everybody in the audience got the joke, and laughed, and I sat there stunned.
My mind went back 40 years to when I met Ayn Rand, who directed me to the works of Ludwig von Mises, the economist who first pointed out the impossibility of economic calculation under socialism and explained why a socialist system would have to end in economic collapse. And I thought of my first years at the University of California at Los Angeles, when I attempted to explain Mises’s argument, and the ridicule that I encountered. I recall one professor in particular, a professor of government, who told me, “The trouble with you is you’re just prejudiced against dictatorships.”
Now, 40 years later, a representative of the Soviet Union is acknowledging the truth of Mises’s observation in a joke, and it’s treated as self-evident.
So the world has turned. And at one level the battle between capitalism and socialism appears to be over. Very few people any longer take socialism seriously as a viable political form of social organization. At the same time, the battle for capitalism, in the laissez-faire sense, in the libertarian sense, is very far from over. It’s as if the enemies of capitalism in general and business in particular have a thousand heads. You chop one off and a hundred more appear, under new names and new guises.
A great deal of work is being done these days in one area after another, by such institutions as Cato and by scholars around the world, to provide an increasing mountain of evidence that no other social system can compete, in terms of productivity and the standard of living, with free-market capitalism. Moreover, there is an impressive amount of scholarship demonstrating why most government efforts to solve social problems, not only fail, but worsen the very conditions they were intended to address.
One has to be more and more committed to unconsciousness as a political philosophy to retain the belief that government can lead us to the promised land. At the same time, as a long-time advocate of the libertarian vision, I have been absorbed by the question of why the battle for a free society has been so long and so hard and seems to encounter new challengers every time one falls away.